Living it up

Posted on March 16, 2012 by

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So, a few weeks ago at dinner, as I simultaneously seated myself and reached out for my piece of shotis puri, my eyes started to absorb the fact that besides the pile of four-inch long pieces of bread, my pat’ara phinjani of hot rdze, karaqi, taphli, qkhveli and home-made muraba; there was a small tray filled with tiny, orange balls, packed tightly together; a block of some white, spreadable substance; and a bowl containing a home-made, green paste on the table too.

But, before I had a breakdown brought on by my state of shock and perplexity at seeing other edibles accompanying our usual shotis puri and co. and before I expended my weary brain cells at trying to overcome my stupor, my deda gave me the low-down; we had wild-Alaskan salmon caviar, bona fide cream cheese and a mango and avocado chutney made from a real mango and avocado.

Earlier on that day, my Qartveli mshoblebi had brought home two large packages from the post office, sent by family abroad. They then spent over half a day working their way through the plastic bags, newspapers and bubble-wrap to discover what wonders they now possessed. As they were engrossed in unpacking, I took the opportunity to catch up with my emails; and did not pay much attention to the excited chatter in the background. If I had, I would have known that they were also sent caviar, cream cheese, a mango and an avocado.

I thought my situation could not get any more comfortable as I have access to an electric blanket, hot water, a western toilet (inside the house), unlimited family Internet and warm surroundings; but as soon as those gemrieli fish eggs popped in my mouth, I knew I was experiencing a whole new level of comfort. And this comfort has only just ended as we have worked our way through the foreign food stock during numerous breakfasts, lunches and dinners. Yes, I get fed three times a day too.

My first impression when I arrived in this house and became a part of this Kakhetian family, was one of comfort and warmth; and after exchanging host details with other volunteers I find that I have a pretty sweet deal, and friends who might want to ‘help’ me down some precarious hiking route in order to move into my room.

And this difference in our host family experiences has made me realise that we are experiencing the reality of the people of this country. We are feeling their good fortunes and their melancholy; and our comfort and discomfort is somewhat a reflection of the variation in the Georgian social strata. In western society, many of us have regular hot water and heat, an indoor toilet and we individually control our diet. Here, our lifestyles are to a great extent subject to the individual moods, experiences, stereotypes and characters of each host family member, as well as the host household’s ideas and norms regarding health, diet, culture and social etiquette. We are recipients of these social constructs and are not in a position to actively resist them.

Having returned to the three P’s: puri, pasta and potatoes; I find that although the diet is very different to my usual one, especially as someone who ate hardly any bread before coming here, it is manageable. If I want something particular to eat like spinach, I go and buy some, cook it myself and share the result with my family, reciprocating their sharing of food with me and exposing them to something different.

And of course, water and exercise are my best friends here.

On average, Georgians are not well-off and I compare our ‘poverty’ with theirs and I find that we are just poor in our comfort; we have been able to travel here hassle-free and we are employed, have money and some kind of shelter and food. I figure it is difficult only because we are used to so much more in order to be somewhat satisfied.

I believe that in the grand scheme of things, all of us are living it up just by being here.

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Posted in: Host Family