Saturday, July 5, 2008

"In America, Men Work"

My host mother’s favorite story to tell about me is that on my first day, when I could basically only say 5-10 Georgian words, I recognized and correctly identified a bizhra.

For those that don’t know, (and why should you, really?) a bizhra is a gathering place for men. Basically, they hang out, drink, discuss politics, play cards, etc, on the side of the street. Some bizhras are covered, some aren’t. If you see more than three men standing around, you’ve found a bizhra. The literal meaning, in Russian, is ‘dog house,’ really it needs no explanation. Ironically, or not, there are usually also a number of stray dogs hanging around the bizhra.

In training we’re taught, as women, to stay far, far away from bizhras. When walking by a bizhra, we’re instructed to avoid eye contact and/or speaking to the men. According to our safety and security trainers, like everything in Georiga, bizhras are scary, horrible and to be avoided at all costs.

In all fairness, they’re right. Groups of men in various states of intoxication loitering on the side of the road should generally be avoided. But, in a super small village they’re not really of much concern. Cue my host mother’s laughter when I pointed out the bizhra. I can’t imagine what must have been going through her head. No, actually I can, it was something along the lines of:

“Crazy American, she can’t even figure out how to construct a sentence in Georgian but knows what a bizhra is? What kind of useless crap are they teaching her in class?”

So, if you’re ever in Georgia and recognize a bizhra (and really, you can’t miss them, one is located like every 20 feet) don’t let on until you know the basics of the language. It will save you more than a few awkward moments when your host mom is having a laugh at your expense.

While we’re on the subject of bizhras, as my host mom and I were walking to the store today, past like the fifth bizhra on our way, she asked me if they had them in Chicago. “Uh…ara?” My limited vocabulary kind of prevents me from explaining that no, we don’t have bizhras, but we have bars.

“Uh, ara bizhra Chicagoidan, ara bizhra Amerikeli.” I figured I’d go with the simple nope, no bizhras in Chicago or America in general. My host mom thought about this for a minute and her reply was ridiculously telling. “Oh, ara bizhra…in America men work?”


Yeah, in Georgia men stand around and drink all day and in America, men work. Of course it’s not so cut and dry, but for the most part that’s how it works. Here it seems like the women do all the work and the men just kind of hang out. This may of course be because I hang out with the women all day. I have no idea what the men do. For the most part, men don’t really talk to me. This includes my host father, who I’ve seen a total of one time and has said a total of 3 words to me.
In other important news, I have kind of mastered the outhouse and there is an extensive explanation of how to shower in Georgia included in my “Georgia” album on facebook.


It’s about a quarter after nine o’clock on the most surreal day of my entire life. Today we stepped out of the hotels of Tbilisi and the mountain resorts of Baukurani into ‘real’ Georgia. I’m living in a small village outside of Kashuri with a host family for the next 10 weeks.

After driving from Baukurani to Kashuri this afternoon, we were introduced to our host families and left for the countryside. My host mother and a neighbor girl came to pick me up. As soon as we hit the dirt road, I was informed by my host mother that we were now in Osuriari. Yes, the transition from pavement to dirt delineates the entrance to my new village.

My host family’s house is very nice. Especially my bedroom. It has everything I need, with the notable exception of hangers. Upstairs is where I live (I may still be confused about this, but there are three bedrooms on the second floor and I think I might be the only one sleeping up here….my Bebia (grandmother) totally can’t get up the stairs and I don’t think my two little da (sisters) sleep up here either.) The point is, it’s nice. The other important point is that I CAN’T UNDERSTAND ANYTHING.

I’ve been in Georgia for a week now, I think I’ve had a total of 5 hours of Georgian lessons. I can say stuff like “hello” and “goodbye” and even “I am American” but anything more complex than that and I’m totally lost.

This leads to a ton of assumptions and half getting it. Like, I think my dada (mother) does just about everything. She owns a clothing shop, which we visited this evening to close up. She had about 4 items of clothing for sale. One, notably, was a Salvatore Ferragamo knockoff sweater. Pimp, I know. When I somehow got it across that I needed to buy water, we walked to another store and she got water for me and cigarettes for her husband, but didn’t pay. This leads me to believe she also owns this store, but I can’t be sure.

Perhaps most notably, I haven’t figured out how to go to the bathroom. Its outside, I guess it’s an outhouse. I haven’t been brave enough to go investigate. My host family probably thinks that in addition to being crazy, Americans don’t pee. It may be true. We’ll see how long it takes me to get a kidney infection. Honestly, I think I can pretty much deal with anything…the exception being a bathroom that consists of a hole in the ground.

I’ll keep you posted on the situation as it progresses.

A Picture Interlude

I have no idea how to format any of this, but here are some pictures. The city pictures are Tbilisi and the mountain-y pictures are Baukuriani, a Georgian ski resort a few hours outside Tbilisi.
The picture below, of people, happens to be of my host mother, Gulo and host sisters, Russo and Mari. The picture to the right of my host family is of Osiauri, my training village, as is the picture of the church below.