Friday, November 19, 2010

An Unexpected Elopement!!

With a heavy heart I write this post. Yesterday the day began like any normal day apart from be being stuck to my bed for the first half of it, but a last it was like any other day or so I thought. There is no way I could have fathomed or predicted the events that would transpire within the course of yesterday evening and late night.

As usual my host sisters got dressed around 2:30 pm to head to their afternoon lessons. They do not attend regular school this year instead their mother who is quite invested in their education pulled them out of public school and paid for tutors in each lessons to ensure they are receiving personal attention and will pass their exams for University. My friend Claudia came over for lunch because my host mother made some good food and a cake. Lika my host sister curled her long black hair and was quite concerned about what she was wearing and kept asking us if everything looked ok. I was confused since she was only going to lessons but ignored it. We assured her everything was fine and they both left. Claudia and I watched a movie in my room and then she headed home.

When Lina (the other sister; they are twins) came into my room I assumed the other sister was home as well as they are usually everywhere together. Her and I completed an English Proficiency test to see what areas I need to focus on for our English lessons together. I told her to call Lika so we could do the test together. Her response was surprising but I wasn't worried at the moment, needless to say Lika was not at home. Deda came into the room and wasn't worried as yet either and Lina said that Lika had a test so that is why she wasn't home.

2 very long hours go by. Lika Is not at home. Deda is now worried and very angry. Lina is now sweating buckets and very nervous so I asked her again where Lika was and she said "Lika went to hang out with her boyfriend after lessons in the park but she said she would be home by 5, I am going to kill her." At this point my host mother begins calling around it isn't tense yet but I should have known it was the calm before the storm.

Next thing I know a million things are happening all at once; there is angry Georgian being shouted my host sister Lina is freaking out and calling some random young man from my cell phone, we have two phones in our house and as she is on one of them the other is ringing off the hook. My house is now a Cal l Centre, or a live telethon called "Do you know where Lika is?!"

All I hear is the crying next, and the angry shouting through the tears and Lina is freaking out and worried and telling me she thinks Lika is married. I'm in shock, wondering how on earth did this day turn into this.

I assume after caller her family in Kakheti (a vineyard village outside of Tbilisi) they have confirmation that Lika is indeed there and with the young man and his family. Deda is crying, screaming more angry Georgian about her daughter and blaming the other one for what happen. Certain events took place in the house that I just will not discuss but it left my host sister basically having an epileptic seizure in the kitchen from the sobs that raked her body. Words cannot describe the hopelessness I felt. I had no idea how to help anyone, their despair crept into me and I also began crying in my bewilderment.

Plodding down my short hallway I walked into the living room at sat next to Lina and tried to comfort her. Next thing I know there is knocking at the door, I look up and 4 policeman are walking into the house curtailed by a female detective. That was my cue to go to my room. Moments pass as I listen to the Georgian, bits in pieces I hear the officers question my host mother of my identity . Then I hear foots steps, the kind that comes from high heels approaching my door and I was thinking shit I hope the female detective doesn't want to speak to me. I was relieved to see my host aunt, who was followed by an 18 year old boy by the name of Lasha who I assumed was her son but later found out, no less after he kept coming into my room to expend his English and peer his jizzy eyes into mine, that he was indeed a nosey neighbour!

A few more hours go by as they are trying to find the exact location in Kakheti of the boy's family. Finally they do and Deda has to rush out with my 13 year old host brother Abo (he's quite the mature young man he acts 25) in tow and all the policemen. Finally I am able to sleep. I prayed for Lika to be returned home and for the nonsense to end.

7 am this morning I was awoken out of fitful slumber by the ringing of the door bell and some insistent knocking on the door. I got up to get it and halfway there my host sister is already opening the many locks. There stood deda chemi (my host mother) on the threshold with the haunted look of mourning adorning her face, and without looking at Lina says to me in Georgian, Lika will not come home and begins to cry. All I could utter was "I am so sorry" in her mother tongue. She thanked me and I went back to bed.

Somehow I found sleep again and when I was awoken it was by more crying and angry Georgian. The entire day she sat on the couch staring into nothingness and cried on and off.

No matter how much she cried, and asked why, the fact still remained that Lika her 17 year old daughter was now married and living in Kakheti as a Muslim wife to a 20 year old husband.

I left the house today and she was still in the same position. Gaping as rivers fell silently from her eyes.

These are the days of my life!

Monday, November 15, 2010

Ver Gavige!! Sexual Repression & Homophobia in Georgia!

For quite sometime I have been meaning to blog about this topic. As I stated earlier in my previous post, The Republic of Georgia is the poster child for sexual repression. I think they put Asia to shame with this one. Apparently the phrase 'people don't have sex in the Soviet Union' is far from being false and apparently since being free of Soviet ties Georgia seem to not want to catch up with the rest of the world and start having sex; apart from for the means of procreation (reproduction).

I find it very odd that in this society of repressed desires and homophobia that Georgian men exhibit so much affection for each other in public. This was something I could not fathom from the beginning and I am still trying to wrap my mind around it every time I see it. In Georgia it is fairly customary to see men walking down the streets with their arms around each other, or holding hands, when they greet they kiss on the cheek sometimes almost in the mouth and on the subway they are all over each other. Magram (but) they are apparently the most homophobic men in the history of the fear itself. Confused yet? Well good luck sorting it out because I still don't understand hence 'ver gavige' (I don't understand).

I consider myself to be an open-minded individual and therefore I have no problems with homosexuality, but seeing such public displays of affection is so odd to me, because where I come from 'straight'men would never be caught dead engaging in such physical closeness with their male friends due to the stigma of being called gay. I've discussed this phenomenon with many other volunteers and most of us think it is a product of sexual repression and pseudo homo-eroticism. It is quite uncanny that all the men here like to rub on each other and when they are drunk it is taken to another level.

The irony of this situation is astounding. Men are all over each other because their customs/culture denotes that they cannot be all over the woman and yet they are homophobic. This is one of the things that makes Georgia so special, and a place that I can never begin to understand.

Tuesday, November 9, 2010

Seqsi Gindaa? Ar minda!!! When men stop being polite in Georgia and start being Jizzy!

Disclaimer: This post is not a classification of all Georgian men but an account of some of the experiences I have had with them while living in this country. If you are Georgian I am sorry if you are offended but I can only draw from my experiences!

Seqsi Gindaa? I am sure my English readers are quite confused but this question simply translates as 'Would you like sex or do you want sex?" Ar minda means "I don't want." During training week we underwent a series of classes called Intercultural Class where we had a Georgian teacher teach us the cultural differences that we maybe faced with while living in Georgia. My cultural instructor in fact was a Georgian man and did not fail to warn us of the troubles we may face as foreign women in this country. However he failed to tell us how audacious and overt they would be in their endeavours to 'bed' a foreign woman. In any even rarer case by Georgian standards a black woman.

A few weeks ago during my first weekend after I was moved to Tbilisi, my friends and I ventured out to Shardeni Street in old Tbilisi for a night of dancing and fun. Of course as usual we were met with some rather overly excited Georgian men, which has come to be accepted as the norm for us. While standing conversing with Claudia a very young Georgian man (he was about 20 but looked 30) was trying to impress us with his rudimentary knowledge of English; and of course we decided to play along with the little role-play besides we are here to improve English. Well as the conversation began to veer upon the ridiculous, Claudia and I decided to walk away, then in some sort of desperate bout or perhaps it was a touch of tourette's syndrome he blurted out "Do you want sex." Now I am a modern western woman yes and of course I am no Mary, however, a gentleman would never dare be so crass in front of a lady in public, nor would a woman who deems herself a lady allow such nonsense to continue. I was utterly floored at the moment or perhaps it was the vodka, but in any event after staring at him like he suddenly turned into a giant spider slipping on the roller blades attached to his eight legs, Claudia and I just walked off and ignored his calling out to us.

That was the first time it happened. I'm not sure why things like sexual harassment by Georgian men shock me anymore but I suppose it is because they lack finesse. I am not saying that in my country or any other country in the world these sort of things don't happen, but usually men in the west try to be more subtle. Not the taxi driver two weekends ago. After a night out on the town with my friends, another teacher and a (a male) shared a cab home to Gldani. His stop was before mine so he got out and the driver and I continued on alone. As soon as he was out of the cab it began. This entire conversation I am about to recount took place in Georgian (yes I am getting better at speaking and understanding) here is what happened:

Georgian Cab Driver: Come to the front seat. (proceeds to continually tap the seat to make his point clear.)

Me: No, thank you I am fine here.

Georgian Cab Driver: Is he your lover?

Me: No, he is my friend.

Georgian Cab Driver: Do you want a lover?

Me: No I do not. Keep going straight please.

Georgian Cab Driver: Where are you from?

Me: The Bahamas

Georgian Cab Driver: What is your name?

Me: Nicole

Georgian Cab Driver: I am _________ (Didn't care to listen but I am sure it was Zhura , Giorgi or some other recycled name)

Me: Nice to meet you. (Trying to stay calm as possible so this man doesn't drive off past Gldani)

Georgian Cab Driver: Nicole, seqsi gindaa? (Do you want sex)

Me: No!!! I do not want sex!!!! (I repeatedly said in a stern bitchy voice ar minda!!!)

Georgian Cab Driver: Why????????

Me: No!!!!!!!!!! I do not want!!!!!!!!! Please turn right at this corner.

Georgian Cab Driver: Nicole, why, seqsi gindaa? (Do you want sex? Now he pleaded somewhat)

Me: AR MINDA! Here 10 lari ( I give him the money even though we decided on 7 I just wanted out of the car.)

Georgian Cab Driver: Nicole, seqsi?? (looking out of the window as I begin to walk into my building)

Me: ARA!!! (NO!! Without another word a bolted up the stairs into my building pulled out by 5 tetri and got in the elevator)

That experienced left me jolted. As soon as I got upstairs I sent a text to George the very friend I had just parted with. I knew if it came down to it I would be able to fight my way out of it, but I would have also been stranded in the middle of nowhere in the outskirts of Tbilisi. I thought after this experience nothing else would surprise me but I was wrong.

A week later the same thing happened when I walked home from Neil Zupancic's apartment. We live 5 minutes away and since our friend Camille had just moved to Gldani he walked her home and I decided to just walk alone. Another cab driver pulled up and asked me to get in the car. I refused and told him it was too expensive and I would take a marshutka. He said and again this entire conversation is in Georgian, I don't want your money. So I was pissed at this point because of what had happened the previous week, I shouted at him again in georgian "what do you want?" Home boy rubbed his fingers together sideways, I about almost lost it. Cursing them out in English never works because I have had to do before while protecting my friend Danielle from a drunk Georgian man. So I shouted at him that I didn't want it and told him to go away. He drove off and circled back around and continued to try to coerce me into his car. Finally the marshutka came and he drove off.

Now at this point my ego is insulted. Why on God's green earth do these men expect me or any other self-respecting foreign woman to drop their clothes and just automatically have sex with them? My friend Claudia has had men blatantly ask her how much it would cost or just straight up offer her money for sex. Once while Neil walked us home a guy followed us and he had to shield us from him. Another incident during Tbilisoba, our friend Raughley basically translated from Russian that 3 men were interested in Claudia, Danielle and I and after telling them repeatedly we did not have cell phones so they couldn't get our numbers (a lie of course) they offered to buy us cell phones.

In this apparent sexually repressed society it seems that the presence of so many foreign woman have made Georgian men particularly crazy, audacious, molesty (new version of molestation), and straight up delusional! The aggressive nature of the men I have encountered so far freaks me out because I know sooner or later I am going to stop being polite and start busting some ass!

These are the days of my life!

Thursday, November 4, 2010

Religious Practices by my Host Family...Surprise we are not Orthodox!

Indeed it has been awhile since my last blog post. This is now going to change since I have internet at home and I don't have to wonder when I will be connected to the web again to make a post. Needless to say I have a few backed up stories to blog about but I will begin first with the touchy subject of Religion.

The Republic of Georgia is comprised of mostly Orthodox Christians and boast about being one of the first countries in Christendom back in like a million years ago. So imagine my astonishment when my host cousin comes to visit and informs me that my family is indeed Islamic. This revelation hit me really hard, and even though I have come to realize that in Georgia nothing should be taken at face value, or just because you heard it was the 'norm' does not mean that it is everywhere in this Country! I should definitely remember this after meeting two...count them two half black Georgians who only look full black but that is another story.

My host cousin and my host sisters inform me that yes they are all Muslim, but my host father who currently lives and works in Russia is an Orthodox Christian. My confusion drives deeper. I know or I should say that from my experiences I have known that Christians and Muslims do now mix usually because of that unevenly yoked situation, but in this case I suppose love prevailed or maybe it was because back in the Soviet days Religion may have not count for much, perhaps, but this is only speculation on my part. When my host mother arrived the entire evening I was looking for an opening to broach the subject with her. I am not Georgian so I do not feel the urge to ask intrusive questions to people. As she was flipping through my Georgian phrase book coincidentally she came to the page that translated various Denominations of Christianity and other Religions. She began reading them so I asked her "you are Muslim, yes?"(must use simple English) and she said no. Again the confusion came, she then told me in Georgian that she is not, but her mother, father, sister, brother and her children are Muslim, but her husband and her other sister are Christians. I asked her if she was a Christian then and she also said no. At this point my head is about to hurt because I am not understanding how this Georgian woman can be so different from what I have been told about Georgians. Her response was that she has not decided on which religion to follow and she really does not see the point. I was like!

I asked my sisters why they did not wear their heads covered as all Muslim girls would after the age of 12 I think it is, and she said because her mother doesn't like it so they do not, but when they get married they will wear it. I was then informed that there are Mosque in their village of Kakheti (spelling).

Another surprise in terms of Religion happened yesterday I met 2 American Mormon Missionaries while in the mall in Gldani. They informed my friends and I that there is indeed 2 Churches of Latter Day Saints. Naturally we made plans to go bowling with them!

One of the lessons I think I am to learn while living here is tolerance. Perhaps a few years ago my self righteous Christian attitude would have had me freaked out to live with Muslims, but the revelation of my family's religion did not shake me in the way it would have about 8 years ago. When my host grandmother or cousin pulled out their prayer rug to pray I looked on in admiration. Their faith is inspiring, and I think if a Muslim can strengthen my own faith in my own beliefs then I am on my way to realizing that in every aspect of life their is room to learn, and therefore grow.