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and we danced

28 Aug

“What did she say?”

“She said we should turn off all the lights and dance.”

“Oh.”

Up until that point I had been sitting quietly on the couch with my friend Rachel from Texas and her non-English-speaking Georgian roommate, listening to the sounds of Georgian and trying to figure out which adjectives I would use to describe the language (still can’t peg it). When I finally decided to join the conversation, my point of entry was apparently the topic of an impromptu dance party. Before I knew it, the furniture was pushed aside, the lights were off, the stereo was blaring American pop music from a playlist on my iPod, and the three of us were dancing there in the darkness in a tiny living room in Tbilisi.

After a few English songs, Rachel plugged in her laptop and the music suddenly changed from Michael Jackson to Georgian folk music. Not being particularly well-trained in Georgian folk dance, I decided to sit out for a little while and watch Rachel’s roommate, who had all of a sudden turned into a professional ballerina, tiptoeing gracefully around the room waving a scarf she had produced from her room. The next genre on our musical world tour was Indian music. As our dance troupe of two Americans and one Georgian showed off our best Bollywood moves in that tiny, darkened living room, I couldn’t help but smile. Moments like this are my favorite, when the world feels very small and nationality means nothing.

Two thirds of the dance crew (Rachel and me), a few days after the dance party. Our very stylish skirts were required for the church we had just visited.

Two thirds of the dance crew (Rachel and me), a day or two after the dance party. Our very stylish skirts were required for the church we had just visited.

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georgia on my mind

1 Nov

Last week was Bayram, a Muslim religious holiday, during which school was cancelled and all the students went home to be with their families (much like Thanksgiving). Since I was obviously unable to go all the way to Louisiana for my five-day weekend, I took my friend Rachel up on an offer to come visit her in Tbilisi, Georgia, where she is teaching English with an NGO. I knew little to nothing about the country of Georgia– not even how to pronounce the name of Tbilisi, its capital city. Nevertheless, I booked my plane ticket and left Istanbul on a cold and rainy Wednesday night to catch the 1 AM flight to Tbilisi. When my plane landed and I went through customs, it was 4 AM, meaning I had three hours to sit in the airport and wait for the buses to start running, when I would go meet Rachel.

During those three hours in the airport, one of the highlights of my weekend occurred. While I sat in Burger King, drinking my coffee, a Georgian guy sat down at the table next to me. He looked like he spoke English so I asked him where I could find the buses. He then became my best friend for the next few hours, as he sat with me and gave me a basic itinerary of things to do in Tbilisi, as well as Batumi (his hometown, which is six hours away). He also told me what foods to eat (even giving me the prices of these foods) and made me a little Georgian-English dictionary, which came in handy over the next few days. When 7 o’clock came, he brought me out to my bus and paid for my ticket. I will probably never see him again, but I am so grateful to that stranger (whose name was the Georgian translation of ‘Hercules’) because he gave me a wonderful first impression of Georgia and of the hospitality of the people there.

Over the next few days, I experienced Georgian culture as I explored the city and met Georgian people. One of the most striking differences I encountered is that Georgia has its own alphabet for its language. Although the alphabet is very cool looking, it was very difficult for me to function, as I couldn’t read anything. Thankfully, many signs also had an English translation but much of the time I felt powerless not to be able to read any of the words around me. In the Georgian alphabet, there are 35 letters, and each makes the same sound, with no variations in pronunciation– it makes a lot of sense, in some ways I think it’s better than the Roman alphabet, in which the letter “C” can make a variety of different sounds. However, the Georgian language isn’t necessarily better or easier. They enjoy putting many consonants together and creating impossible words. For example, one day I visited the old capital of Georgia, a city called “Mtskheta.” Words like this are very common in Georgian. I was linguistically fascinated with the language the whole time I was there, especially since I’m taking a phonology class this semester which opened my eyes to the impossibilities of the language. For example, the word “Tbilisi” has two oral plosives side-by-side in word-initial position… What’s up with that?

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Georgian movie theater. That alphabet…

Some of the other highlights from my trip were visiting multiple castles and churches (Georgia is a primarily Orthodox country, as opposed to Turkey which is mostly Muslim) built many centuries ago, taking a road trip through the Caucasus Mountains to visit Vardzia, an ancient cave city, trying several different Georgian foods, visiting the main tourist attractions in Tbilisi and Mtskheta, and completing the entire Lord of the Rings trilogy (the extended versions). By the time I left to come back to Turkey, I had seen a good deal of the city and countryside, both of which have many uncanny similarities to Middle Earth.

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From a ferris wheel on a mountain overlooking Tbilisi

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Vardzia, the ancient cave city

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A fortress with a church inside on a hill right behind Old Town in Tbilisi

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Georgian food. This particular one is Adjaruli Khachapuri, which consists of bread, cheese, butter, and raw eggs. A little too much for me.

My trip to Georgia was an eye-opening experience in the sense that it made me realize that there are so many places in the world that I have never heard of in my life, and languages I will never learn, and amazing things, both natural and manmade, that I may never see. The Georgians I met were so proud and knowledgeable about their country and its history, of which I knew literally nothing about. I hope that in my life I will be able to have many more experiences like the one I had in Tbilisi, which surprised me and allowed me to learn as much about a totally foreign language, culture, and country as was possible in five days. I’m really thankful to my friend Rachel for inviting me over and showing me such a wonderful time, because if it weren’t for her, I doubt I ever would have visited Georgia. However, now that I’ve spent a few days in this fascinating country, I know that I will definitely be making a return trip someday.

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From a castle somewhere in the Caucasus Mountains. Georgia is BEAUTIFUL.