I have been living with my host family for three weeks now and I can honestly say now that I feel at home. I don’t think I could have had a better match than Alina, my host “mother” (who is actually just a year older than me!). When I arrived here, everything felt alien to me and I had a small bout of anxiety about being in this very foreign place. But, now I am honestly am in love with this country and the people around me.
Maybe it has to do with the fact that I am treated like a queen (at the very least it doesn’t hurt), or perhaps it’s that I am slowly beginning to understand, and thus appreciate, the culture around me. I was told before coming here that Georgians consider guests a gift from God. This is what I have been living since I arrived here. My host “mom” has been so unbelievably warm and generous with me that I’m honestly embarrassed because I have no idea how I could ever repay my family’s hospitality.
Whenever I need to go somewhere or find something, she is always there to accompany me with my arm locked in hers. She feeds me incessantly and I am never without tea or coffee. She has even taken me to many beautiful sites around the city and promises to explore with me more of this picturesque places. Our relationship is a strange fusion of maternal care and budding friendship.
True to her word, she took me to her husband’s village my first weekend in Georgia (a village in Western Georgia just outside of Zestaphoni). It’s kind of funny to hear the word village tossed around everywhere. In Tbilisi, it said that everyone has a village. Very few people have been in the city for generations, rather it’s usually the youth and young families that come here from the countryside. For some reason, my conception of a village was always of some sort of primitive small town in the country. Instead, a Georgian village is a small rural assembly of homes, each with their own agricultural rudiments in close proximity to one another.
Most homes have a small shed of animals, like cows and chickens, from which they produce their own cheeses, milk, eggs, and of course meat. These animals can often be found lolling around the village in packs, each eventually finding their way safely back home. The houses are rather large, and there are often generations of a family in one home. In the villages, everyone knows each other and family is the most important value.
The beauty of these villages begins with the surrounding landscape of blue snow capped mountains and ends with the warm people and their open doors. The night I arrived, we were greeted with a Georgian feast that included mts’vade, barbecued pork—a Georgian favorite. Though the food was delicious, much of it was definitely new to me. It’s always awkward when you are in a new culture and you don’t always know what’s appropriate when it comes to table manners or what to eat. In an effort to avoid seeming picky about the food, I forced myself to swallow whole pieces of bone and even cartilage to avoid the embarrassment of putting it aside on my plate.
Just to be clear, Georgians do not actually eat bone or cartilage.
It just happens that the plates of meat they serve include most of the animal they made it came from—and you’re supposed to pick it off. Either way, my ignorance did not fare well for my stomach, so I refused to make myself do something ridiculous like that again. But by then I managed to insult my host’s mother, the cook, who thought I did not like the food when she noticed the horror on my face of what I had just ingested. Though I insisted otherwise, they made pizza the next night, in hopes I would find comfort in some familiar food.
Though I was a guest and was treated like royalty (I couldn’t help clear the table or make the bed myself), I also felt like I became part of the family. I met every family member in the village and their many friends. I was once told that verbal communication is actually only about 10% of communication—the rest is body language, tone, etc. Though I was unable to understand anything that was said throughout the weekend, their gestures towards me were unmistakable. One family member, my host “dad’s” aunt, sent me a gift with her daughter: a very nice pen, a beautiful necklace, and a bag of potpourri. I have no idea what compelled her generosity for me when we had only just met the night before, but it was really touching to be given something so beautiful from someone who has so little. And she has not been the only one.
I was also able to visit her own village briefly this week for her father’s birthday. Same story of kindness all over again. This little trip had a little more adventure, since we tried to leave to following day and instead were forced to return to her husband’s village to await the many feet of snow blocking the mountain pass to the city. After two more days of obscurity (no electricity) in the village from all of the snow, Alina and I were able to escape via midnight train back to Tbilisi. Home sweet home.
There is so much to be said about Georgia hospitality—although not all of my friends have been as fortunate as I—but it’s a basic part of this country’s beautiful character. I hope you now have a clear picture of the place I now call home (for the next five months). All those things I found daunting and complained of at first have become so normal to me. I feel completely comfortable with this place and am eager to explore it more closely.