Living with the Host Family

Posted on October 2, 2012 by


“Time to wake up, it’s five-thirty,” the high-pitched, overly excited recorded voice of my alarm bleeps at me. I blindly reach to the floor for both it and my glasses, roll over from my stomach to my back, take a deep breath, and think gotta get up.

My bare toes search for my house slippers, a Georgian must-have (truly, shoes are not permitted in our home), and after sinking into the warm fleece, make their way to the door. I reach for the handle, forgoing the light switch in knowing that the electricity is probably out at this hour, and even if it’s not, the rest of the house will be bathed in darkness. I tiptoe past my host brothers’ room, although this is fairly useless, as our entire house seems to quake with even the slightest of movements. Nonetheless, I do not want to be thought of as discourteous.


It’s nearing breakfast time. I sit in the well-worn sofa chair, across from the couch with my two host brothers on it, and adjacent to the television. The channels switch from Spongebob to Mickey Mouse Club House, both of which they watch intently, and which I will my brain to focus on, as I figure it is a language learning opportunity. My host mother moves to and fro in the kitchen in the preparation of our meal. Despite the lack of variety that will grace our table—for breakfast is always bread and cheese, with butter and jam to add—a careful amount of time is taken to dress the dining area, and we always use the finest of dishes, with an additional plate for each potential mess. A plate for the bread. A plate for the jam spoon. A plate for the cup of tea. And then we eat, the sounds of slurping chai and mouthfuls of bread accompanied by the routine questions I ask in hopes of spurring the boys’ knowledge of the English language. But it is morning, and while I have now been up for 2.5 hours, they have barely risen, and sleep is still in their eyes.


I meet Rezo, the elder of my two host brothers, a finicky 16 year old with all the goofiness and innocence of childhood, in the schoolyard at precisely 2:07 PM. “Finished?” he asks me, inquiring as to whether or not I’m going home. I assure him that indeed I am, and the two of us walk the 60 seconds to our house. We eat. Or rather, I eat, while he picks through his fried potatoes and then rushes away from the table, back to whatever was entertaining him previously. Rauli, my other host brother, arrives and he joins me at the table. I smile at how different he and his brother are, watching the way he shovels food into his mouth, barely stopping to chew. Our meal complete, the three of us look at each other, wondering what is next on our list.


Rauli grabs the volleyball and hurls it at the net-less basketball hoop that stands in the asphalt-less basketball court. “P-I-G! You’re a pig!” I scrunch my face and make the sound of a pig snorting and Rezo joins in. The three of us laugh and start snorting in unison. “It’s no problem,” Rauli says, explaining to us that he doesn’t mind losing. Dirt covers their bare feet, and my hands have turned brown from holding the volleyball that is dribbled on soil instead of the traditional white lines of paint. “Come on,” I urge them, staring at the grime, “let’s go have our English lesson.”

I am going. You are going. He/She/It is going. I was. You were. I will be. Etc. The lesson begins with a review of yesterday’s learned subject/verb agreements, and then continues on to irregular verbs, and concludes with each of them having to write 5 sentences utilizing their choice of 7 of the new verbs.

At some point during our teach/learn session, Makhvala, my host mother, joins in. “Which of them is better?” She asks me, in Georgian of course, as her English is limited to basic words such as “table,” which she likes to show off, and which I quite enjoy. Questions like this always catch me off guard, and leave me feeling as if I’m treading on thin ice. Whatever my answer, I offend one of the two boys sitting before me, looking eager. “Rezo knows more, but Rauli speaks more, and speaking is very good,” I go for, in attempt for a diplomatic answer. She nods her head happily, and then takes a seat at the table. The next 20 minutes or so are spent with me pouring over a English-Georgian dictionary, with Makhvala providing pronunciation help and the boys occasionally looking up from their homework to offer a translation. I am grateful, and enjoy this hour of the three of us together. When I learn the word for fig, leghvi, Rezo leaves the house and returns shortly afterwards bearing a long wooden pole with a canvas bag and garden hoe-like mouth. “Mikkela, what is it in English?” I laugh and respond that I have no idea. He leaves the house, unknown pole thing in hand, and Makhvala guides me to a side window. I watch as Rezo uses the device to collect figs from their tree, all the while pronouncing again and again leghvi, gargling the back of my throat at the time of the “gh” to the point of it hurting, and Makhvala smiling patiently.


The day is summed up with family dinner, in which each of us recalls our day—me less than them, the language being a major barrier. It is the only time in the day that I see my host father, Dato. Throughout dinner, we find little ways to talk and to practice our language. “The fly is on the potato,” I say in Georgian, and then turn to them and ask, “Rogor inglisurad?” and listen to them repeat the sentence, but this time in my native tongue. Afterwards, Rauli helps me clear the table and I wash the dishes, a chore I’ve taken on as my small attempt to contribute to the family. And today isn’t a gardening day, which means that I haven’t helped to work for my food at all, and know that Makhvala has been busy, and will be busy bottling her pepper/potato/onion/carrot concoction for a few hours. It is the least I can do.

Dishes complete, Rauli, Rezo, and I gather round to play my new favorite game, Jacks. I usually lose, and there’s a lot of cheating that occurs. Rezo is up 4 points on Rauli, and 5 on myself. It’s my turn, and Rauli slips me a nine so that I can snag the two and beat Rezo out of the opportunity. We giggle like children who have just done something harmlessly naughty, and Rezo gets Rauli back by flipping Rauli’s cards over while dealing them out for all of us to see. Rezo wins, like usual, and I throw my cards down in mock frustration, grinning, and call it a night.