Ben Sweeney’s Weblog

Got a Fulbright, living in Georgia for a year.

New Apartment, Chacha, etc.

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So, I have an apartment now. It is in a nice neighbourhood near the center, near a metro stop. There is a nice common courtyard (called an ‘Italian courtyard’) and it is always filled with kids playing and laundry hanging to dry. I’m living with a British guy, and we each have nice bedrooms as well as the kitchen and a large living room. Our street is filled with people selling all kinds of things from vegetables to socks and shoes.

It is great to finally move in and be able to call a place home, but it will be nicer when I am all unpacked and have all of my stuff. Housewarming party on Saturday.

Well, since I’ve written I’ve had plenty happen. Right after last post, I went out, walked around a bit, and made plans to meet up with friends. I had some time, so I sat on a bench with my Georgian flashcards and started boning up on the alphabet. I got a few strange looks, and finally some people came up to me, and we started talking.

They invited me over to have some beers at their place, which they are hoping to turn into a bar. There was no electricity, so we had to use candles that they sell at the church, and when those ran out, we borrowed on from a neighbour. So, in this candlelit room, these guys started telling me about themselves. I really only talked to one – his Russian was poor, but the other guy didn’t know any at all. Gio, the one who spoke Russian, works in the President’s guard, but then they told me how they had just served in the conflict.

Gio pulled his shirt up and showed me where he had been shot. He had been wearing a bulletproof vest, so all he had were a series of circular bruises, but I was shocked. The other guy had no visible marks, but Gio told me about how they were running out of guns to fight the Russians (and Ossetians and Kazakhs too apparently), so he had to take a gun from a dead soldier. They had a friend who lost a leg. He was holding it, dripping in blood, not understanding what it was, and not understanding why they wouldn’t let him go back out and fight. They said they didn’t know if they had killed any soldiers themselves, but I think they were afraid that they had – they had seen plenty of deaths on both sides.

They only fought for a few days, but it was enough. Gio said that the war was stupid, that it shouldn’t have happened, but he repeated something that I’ve been hearing a lot, that the Georgians could only take provocation so much before they had to go protect the Georgians there from the Ossetians and impending Russian threat.

My friends eventually called, and we all headed over to the apartment where my Danish friends were moving into. Here, the common language was German, even among the Georgians and various Europeans. Gio spoke a little German and bonded with the foreigners almost as much as he had with me. Even before the beers, he had his arm around me, something quite common here – my friends have various theories, but I think they just like the contact.

I met some Georgian girls at the party and they promised to help me find and apartment, and that they’d call. Amazingly, the next day, they did and I went out to go check an apartment. It was quite nice (evro-remont as they say here – European refurbished), but too small for two people and too far away. So, after that we headed to one of their houses and they cooked me a meal.

The rest of the week I spent looking for apartments and brushing up on Georgian, in between lunches and coffees with expats. I met another Georgian – Levan, the son of family acquaintances, and we bonded over good music.

Friday meant another trip to the banya with expats, interesting again. We traded business cards until one guy came who just wanted to relax and forget work. After that some of us headed to Stefano’s for his housewarming. Before the banya we went to the market and picked up some of the local moonshine, called chacha. It is very strong, usually 50 or 60 percent, but quite tasty. My Georgian friends looked at my bottle, shook it, and told me that I had the baby stuff, only about 48% which is what the seller said. It was only 5 lari for a liter, a bit more that 3 bucks. It was delicious – the flavour reminded me of cachaça, the Brazilian rum which I tried earlier this year. I’ve heard all kinds of horror stories about chacha, that after 4 glasses (if you can count that high), there is a good chance you could die, but that hasn’t happened to me yet.

At the party, Levan invited me out of the city for the weekend, so the next morning, I packed my bags and we drove down south to near Armenia to his uncle’s house. We had dinner starting at 4 with more chacha and toasts and delicious Georgian food. Halfway through dinner, Vano (Levan’s uncle) got a call. A friend of his had caught a badger and had invited us over to have some of it. After dinner, Levan and I stayed up later, polishing off another bottle of chacha, which Vano had made. Actually, we had a few shots, and then while I was getting ready for bed, Levan just drank the remainder, about a third of a bottle.

The next morning we got up early, headed deeper into the country. I saw the badger, skinned hanging, and while we went to collect mushrooms, Vano and a friend prepared a feast. By 10 in the morning we were back, and the badger was roasted. We sat down with 3 bottles of vodka and homemade bread, pies, juice, mushrooms, and of course the badger. Badger fat is apparently quite healthful, especially for the lungs. The son of one of the men had TB, but then ate a badger, curing his TB much to the surprise of his doctor. The badger was delicious, and the vodka meant more toasts. By this time, I had gotten into the hang of toasting and was able to add to the toasts. I started recognizing a pattern. The first toast is normally to the host, the second was to guests, the third was for a friend at the table, or perhaps to women. The fourth toast is to those who are not with us, with people getting emotional after a few drinks. The next drink is for the young at the table, and their future, and then a drink for the middle aged and older people at the table.

We got home a few hours later, after stopping on the way to go to the bathroom, and finding and collecting loads of mushrooms. I went to take a nap, and was woken up for another feast. We had more badger and cheesy bread and lots of wine. The guy who caught the badger and bakes his own bread also has a kiln and gave me some ceramic drinking horns, so we drank out of those.

Monday morning, we got up early and headed back to Tbilisi. I went to another repeating expat event – a researcher’s lunch where I got to meet more similarly minded expats and find out about resources in the city for people like me. Then I moved into my apartment.

I met my neighbours, all sorts really, very generous. I already have jam and spicy sauce from them, and was invited to a birthday party feast in a few days. I did some laundry and cooked up some soup and potatoes (to have with the sauce), and had a great meal when my roommate came back.

I’m going to be starting my research more soon, and learning about pensioners. While at Vano’s, Levan and his cousin proposed an idea for me. Give me only 70 lari, which is the pension here, and let me live on that for a month. I decided instead that I will count how much money I spend in a month, noting how long it takes me to spend that much. I can’t imagine how they live here, but hey, that’s why I came, to figure that out.

P.S. I have added more links to the side of my blog. Of course, Sol and Matt are friends from university, their blogs are worth checking out. Ian is my new roommate, and Stefano also lives here, and they are writing about life in Georgia. The next three are people I met in St. Petersburg writing about their lives and studies there.


Written by bensweeney

October 7, 2008 at 5:44 am

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