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We have essentially had a week of orientation, and it is coming to a close. Later today we take the next big step as trainees when we head to Gori and meet our first host family. Up to now we have been living together in a single compound, but now we will be separated into smaller groups called clusters. Where those in the same cluster will be near each other, we'll be living with separate families for the next eleven weeks. Assuming all goes well, we will then transition to our permanent sites and host families.
Most of us are ready for it. The sense of cabin fever is fairly strong. Two nights ago we were offered the opportunity to walk 4.4 km to the local store and close to half of us went, even if we didn't need to buy anything. The store could fit maybe five customers at a time. So I'll leave you to imagine the 20+ of us standing out in the rain waiting for a chance to go inside or just to walk back (P.S. only the guy from Seattle brought an umbrella and stayed dry).
Each of us has dealt with our situation differently. Many have embraced their new family, their fellow G15s (that's what my PC group is called). Some have formed smaller social circles, which is to be expected given there are 58 of us. Some seem to keep to themselves. Many work to keep in touch with home via telephone or Skype (usually Skype), which is understandable. I'm pretty sure I've seen everyone smile at least once, which is good... even if Georgians don't smile as much. They are more reserved that way.
Now when Americans think of host families, they may think of a couple with some kids hosting an exchange student. That's not quite the case here in Georgia. Where things are changing a bit in the capital, in more provincial or rural areas (where the Peace Corps usually goes), all members of a family usually live together. You can easily find 5-12 people living in the same house, including grand parents and great grand parents. That may seem a bit awkward for those back home where we tend to move out as soon as possible. Here's some more quick points about Georgian families. Again, these can vary.
- When a couple get's married, the wife goes to live with the husband's family.
- When a son is born, it is a big event since it means the family will continue.
- Relatives and neighbors can visit daily and without notice.
- Word of mouth / rumors / gossip spreads faster than the speed of sound (or light, according to Tengo).
- Men don't usually help with household chores.
- Parents make decisions for the kids, such as what school they go to, what clothes they wear, etc.
- Long beards are worn only by priests and by men who have suffered a death in the family (you don't shave for 40 days).
- When you enter a house for the first time, you step with the right foot and speak a saying that translates roughly as "may my/our feet bring you luck". This ties in with the saying and belief that guests were sent by God. As you might guess, hospitality towards guests is a big thing.
- On the subject of feet, no feet on the table, good to take your shoes off inside, and do not wear your shoes in bed.
- Events in the family or community can be celebrated with a supra. Its hard to do these events justice in short form, but here goes. Women handle the food and don't drink. Men handle the wine and do drink. A toast master (თამადა) leads the toasts. As each toast ends the men drain their glass completely. I should note that wine here is typically stronger than back home. There's a lot more nuances to the supras, and I encourage you to look up the term if you are interested in more information.
I'll admit to still being a bit nervous about meeting my first host family. After all, saying I only speak a little Georgian is charitable at best. I did bring them a picture book of Washington state though; so, I can at least point at pictures.
Before I close out, here's some other quick cultural tid bits.
- Don't whistle . Whistling brings poverty.
- Cover your mouth when you yawn.
- Don't burp.
- Don't expect a daily shower.
- A skirt that cuts off just above the knees is looked upon like a mini skirt here.
- Cover tattoos and piercings.
To close out, the weather cleared up some yesterday. You can find some pictures of the immediate environs around the orientation center over on G+. They give a quick sense of what the Georgian country side looks like.
Also, don't forget to like the Peace Corps Georgia Facebook page!
Addendum: I should mention, there's a good chance I won't have internet in the immediate future. So if I go silent, don't worry!