by Kimberly Berls with Greenheart Travel
For the past two days we’ve been out visiting host families in the mountains for about 14 hours a day. This has been exhausting, not for all the driving around on mountain roads, but mainly because at every host family one must indulge in rounds and rounds of food, wine, coffee, and “cha cha” a devilish drink that makes tequila taste like water.
Yesterday we were in the mountainous region of Adjara, in the west of the country. The host family experience is going to be pinnacle to this program. So far, the host family visit has gone a little like this: Our driver introduces me as “Pepela“… Georgian for “butterfly” which our driver has deemed my “Georgian name” since he can’t pronounce or remember “Kimberly” to save his life. I have responded to “Pepela” for the past three days now and I might have trouble re-adjusting to “Kimberly” when I get home.
Georgian hospitality is definitely something else. My guide David from the Ministry, who works specifically with the Teach in Georgia program, ( and picked me up from the airport), repeatedly refuses any food or drink, and then the host families trick him by saying “just juice.” (He refuses because we have so many families to check on and he doesn’t have time to feast at every house… then it turns into somewhat of a relay race… the men usher us into the dining room, attempting to make us sit down to drink “just juice” and as soon as we’re seated, sometimes with a bit of physical force, the relay baton is passed to the women who scurry around furiously bringing out plate upon plate of food until there are about 50 plates of food (no exaggeration), wine, juice, cha cha, coffee, and lots of other stuff on the table. At one household I had five glasses all with different concoctions in there.
And oh, the FOOD! Families outside the city and town centers in Georgia produce almost exclusively their own food. Living in large homesteads, sometimes with four or five generations of family living together, these families have large gardens, animals, apiary, coop houses for eggs, and their houses are draped with ornate grape vines, from which they make their own wine. The food is fresh… and delicious. Georgians eat lots of vegetables, and the most rich dish so far as been a regional type of Kachapuri (cheese bread that is served with every meal)… it was like a bread boat of cheese, egg, and butter – you then mix the egg, butter and cheese with your fork and dip the bread in there… very healthy indeed…
After the women have sufficiently filled my stomach to the point of explosion, they then inquire about my marital status… topic of hot discussion. I told them I’m not married and they appear quite concerned after learning I’m nearly 29 and unmarried. The women then continue to discuss who in the village they could marry me off to. I tell them I’m quite content and say “later, later I’ll marry” but they are concerned about my future. At the 15th host family I’ve finally devised an answer to avoid the attempt of marrying me off to a village man… I say my boyfriend is saving up to be able to support me, and then I’ll marry. Which is pretty hilarious, but it seemed to work. (I thought about explaining the term “sugar mama” and my future plans to be one, but this may not have been appropriate for the situation).
Then begin the toasts. The toasts are a Georgian tradition and known for ranging from lengthy to eternal. Sometimes I thought the toast was over, only to learn 10 minutes later that it was still going on. After about three hours of toasts, and peer pressure to drink more and more, I finally succumbed to peer pressure to do a toast myself. By this time the women are cleaning up and bringing out coffee upon coffee and scurrying around to fill up the various drinking apparatus (that I referred to in my head as “Georgian beer bongs”), and I realize it’s just me in the room with 12 Georgian men. No wonder I’m getting pressure to drink drink drink. So I do the toast, saying something about Georgia etc. and David (my guide films the whole thing, me with my goblet of homemade wine, toasting, and then of course I’m expected to drink the entire thing and turn the goblet upside down to show there is nothing left in the glass. I’ve avoided this up until this point, mainly because I get drunk after about 1.5 glasses of wine, but their expectations are high, so I drink the whole thing and then nearly puke. Don’t worry, it’s all on video so you can see it for yourself later.
Then begins the singing. Every family has a piano in the house and music is central to Georgian culture, especially in the villages. Four people begin singing traditional Georgian songs, in a polyphonic style that Georgia is known for. Their pitch is perfect… we should send Kesha and Britney Spears to come take some voice lessons from these guys, truly great singing.
Finally, as the sun is going down, we must get back on the rocky, dangerous mountain roads back to Batumi, so we attempt to leave, but only after another hour are we actually able to get in the car to go.
That’s the Georgian host family. They are all dying for Teach in Georgia participants to come.