There are two uncomfortable guarantees in ever traveler’s life: culture-shock and homesickness. Every traveler who stays away for some extended period of time will experience the joys of homesickness at some point and depending how long you stay away you may experience it on several occasions. What is frightening is when you are away long enough to experience homesickness of a foreign place. That moment when you want to go home and feel the distinct confusion of associating home with a “new” place.
Generally, I find that most people’s definition of home is a constant but for some of us it’s a term we struggle with. Georgia is by no means a place to sort that out… or maybe it is; in fact you might end up staying here forever. Upon leaving my village this past December for the big city I felt a lot of hesitation and uncertainty. Could I love Tbilisi like I love my village home? I staved off leaving for as long as I could extending my contract repeatedly. During my year’s stay in Baghdati I moved around quite a bit living with three families and finally in an apartment with another volunteer; working in two schools and two police stations. I collected a massive army of family, friends, colleagues, and patronis.
The night before I left was my father’s birthday soupra. After I gave my toast and congratulations my father stood up in the typical fashion to say thank you to everyone and complete the round of drinking. What came next I didn’t expect. “Tonight is not about my birthday. My daughter is leaving us and I have something important I need to say. Keti, you know how much we love you. And it’s no secret how old you’re getting. I’ve talked to your other dad and we’ve agreed that you have to get married this year. The Kokhodze family will pay for half and the Oqrochelidze family has agreed to pay for the other.”
The next day on the side of the main road waiting for the marshrutka with all my luggage and my roommate a small crowd of people started to amass. Anyone conveniently walking by on their way to lessons, friend’s houses, to the shop, or just to hang out in the center stopped to see me off. As the marshrutka sped off I looked back out the window at the mountains which had held me in for so long and felt that deep sadness a child feels being shipped off to summer camp for the first time which is partly fear and partly missing something before it has completely left your grasp.
Despite the fact that I have come to love Tbilisi, and all my fears about this place proved to be for nothing, I was still just itching to get back to the village for Easter break. I had kept in touch with everyone over the last four months… mostly getting calls from the village, “Hi. How are you? What ‘cha up to? Where are you? When are you coming home?” When I finally arrived Thursday night it was exactly like that first holiday break from uni when you go back home; you feel like you haven’t been there in ages but somehow you can still do everything with your eyes closed.
Anyone who’s been here for any amount of time can probably tell you without variation what the first question on everyone’s mind was… “Did you find a good guy in Tbilisi yet?” and let me tell you, there is no acceptable response to this question. Georgians will always want you to get hitched here- playing matchmaker with foreigners is one of their most endearing habits; but herein lays the nuance of real family. When I first arrived it really didn’t matter- if he was Georgian and had a pulse I should marry him. But over time things changed. I was told by my second father that when I met a guy I should bring him home because surely my father would know if he was a suitable man for me. Although my clock is ticking- at the ripe age of 26- my families are more interested in what’s best for me.
As for my families- they’re family- and that’s all there is to it but for the rest of Baghdati returning for Easter had a subtle meaning I didn’t actually expect… proof. More proof than staying for the whole year when I had options to leave. Proof that I really love them best, that I’m really in it for the long haul, that I really do- as much as I can- associate as one of them. Coming back led to this subtle feeling of closeness a step above the warmth that we shared before. And even a feeling of mutual pride in a sort of way.
If you thinking about coming to Georgia I can only suggest you throw yourself in unabashedly. Only another two months until I can get back to my mountains. Until I can get back to that place of calm, happiness, and comfort; where explanations aren’t necessary, that place I call home. And who knows, maybe I’ll have some better news for them when I get back in June. 😉