Total Pageviews

Monday, October 11, 2010

Women and Vodka

When I left off yesterday I expected a quiet, boring evening, but I was so, so wrong. It all began when I met Laura (or Tata, as she prefers) who apparently is my cousin here. I had no idea she even existed, but apparently I do have some extended family here, and I should expect to spend a fair amount of time with them. Laura is 21 and she has 2 younger sisters (19,18); also, she lives in Vira which is the “prestigious” part of town. This is all managed because her parents are both doctors (however, I think she said that her dad is both a veterinarian and a dentist- interesting eh… I bet he gets a lot of canine work.. badapa). It was definitely a humbling experience to meet her because she speaks Georgian, Russian, German and Japanese all fluently, and she is decent with English (more on German later). The girls here are very educated and intelligent because they don’t play sports or participate in nearly any extracurriculars, so it is no wonder that 80% of doctors here are females. Anyways, I digress. As nice as she was, it was still a little awkward.

She and I sat in the living room conversed for a while covering as many topics as the language barrier allowed, and we couldn’t help but have some awkward silence moments. I came to learn that a dude from Switzerland had actually stayed here once for a couple months (though I still have no idea why), and I think their positive experience with him is part of why they signed up for an American (that and the free English lessons for Levan). Apparently, this guy actually converted from Catholicism to Orthodox Christianity and married a Georgian girl while he was here, so they are expecting somewhat of a similar outcome from me. While we had been warned that this may be the case, it was really weird hearing this from the cousin (wife prospect?) I was having forced conversation with. The weirdness reached a pinnacle when my deda (mom) told us to go on a walk together (in culture training we were told to never spend one on one time with a girl unless you intend to pursue her; also we were told to never pursue a girl unless you intend on marrying her… oh geez). So, needless to say, I went on the walk.

Tata really is quite nice, and her English is definitely superior to Levan’s, and I hope that nothing awkward manifests itself in our cousin-cousin relationship. I would like to have things to do and people to travel with (she said we {she, her sisters and me} could go see some cool cities in Georgia). She seemed to understand quite clearly that I had a serious girlfriend, so it shouldn’t be too big of a problem. I really don’t mean to go on and on about this, but it was awkwardly funny, and an interesting experience for me, so I share it. The really good part of my story comes next.

After we got back from the walk, we found Levan having it out with his/our parents – talk about super awkward for a guest. I still don’t know the cause for the argument, but it put my deda in tears, and I felt super, super weird just sitting in the living room watching the fight and Tata’s attempt to console deda. I think Tata noticed my situation, so she pulled me into the kitchen, chose her words carefully and said “Steven… we must make potatoes.” I was expecting some family revelation or something, but we just needed to make food so I could eat. So, we fried up some potatoes, and ate them (I should say I ate them… you wouldn’t believe the pressure on girls to stay skinny here. Tata said she is only having 1.5 meals a day because she worries about it so much, and she is quite skinny to begin with). I had one of my liter-sized beers with my potatoes, and we spoke German over dinner- awesome right?

After dinner, she had to head back home so I decided to go start my season of Lost that I pirated. The beer here is quite strong, so I found myself a bit tired and care free as I relaxed for the evening… or so I thought. Levan barged in and said “Stevens (yes, with the ‘s’), come now.” I always listen to Levan, so I hustled to catch up with him as he was already out the door by the time I put on my shoes. We went down the street a bit and joined my first Suphra! Now for those of you who don’t know, Suphra is a feast with a purpose, and it is a very important cultural tradition. There is more food than the group could ever possibly eat, drinks abundant and music and singing for entertainment. I wish I could have taken a picture, but even if I had my camera I wouldn’t have dared because it would be awkward and simply unfit. The most important part of suphra (pronounced Soup-ra btw), however, is the toasts which are often quite long (even as long as an hour). This is all that we were told in cultural training, but I definitely didn’t understand it completely until I was part of one myself.

I was worried that the Suphra was just an excuse to get drunk (you are expected to finish your wine/vodka after every toast), and my worries were definitely not assuaged immediately. The toasting was just beginning as I got there, and the Georgians were eager to see how the American would handle the situation. Levan leaned over and told me two things: 1- “ok Stevens, you must drink whole shot after toast or you are not a man” and 2- “man who is drunk is not a man. He is child.” Great news right? Well I held true to custom as the entire table of 8 men, including myself, made their toast (remember I already had the liter of beer too). The reason there is so much food is so the guy has some way of handling the ridiculous amount of alcohol being shoved down his through by cultural convention. Thank God for mountain training.

I held up quite well, and Levan told me that all the men were very proud of me. The suphra continued, and I began to notice the toasts getting more animated, the men more teary-eyed and the music getting louder (mostly Akon and Bob Marley… haha, though the most loved song of the night was “Hit the Road Jack”). It was then that the man who’s birthday we were celebrating stood up and made a 20-minute, emotional toast that I actually understood quite well based on the words “love” and “friends” being used over and over again. After the toast, Levan leaned over to me and explained what it was that made Georgia so great: “Stevens, friends is everything. If you has no friends you has nothing. Here in Georgia, we have not money, not Mercedes, but we have everything because we have friends. If I say you my friend, I do everything for you. If I have just food for me and nothing else, I give you some of my food. In other country, friend means different. In Georgia, friend means everything good. If whole world had this thought, there would be only happy people that have everything. We want you know that you are our friend. America, Georgia friend.” Now I know that such sentiments are most strongly felt after 10 shots of vodka, but even now I am touched by his sincerity and value of friendship. Until this point, my notion of Suphra was false. It is not drunken revelry, but rather an affirmation of values which the country and its people hold so dearly. Other toasts focused on God, children and women, and I am sure that each speech was as heartfelt as the single one explained to me. Not a single man was stumbling drunk, stupidly laughing or making a fool of himself as I know would be the case with college men after such consumption. The maturity and power of Supra is amazing to behold, and it should definitely be something to add onto a bucket list.

If there was a downside to the suphra, it was that my first day of school was only hours after the event ended. I told this to Levan before hand, of course, but he said this is more important. I half-heartedly believed him then, but, as I lied down and thought about the day’s events, I knew he was right.



  1. Great read! Things have definately become more interesting. What a difference a few days can make. Your description of the suphra made it sound like that experience is critical to understanding what it means to be Georgian and that you made a step in that direction. I'm guessing that was a good thing and that there will be more suphras to come. The cultural emersion will continue as you become more active in the school and in the family. Does it feel like it's been just over a week?

  2. It feels like I have been here a long while. The weirdest thing is to observe my progress with the language. I always feel like I am awful and never getting anywhere, but, given the circumstances, I am coming along well. And suphra is awesome.