The Village Life
I met Hannah my first day in Tbilisi. The hostel I stayed at (Envoy) is popular with Peace Corps volunteers in Georgia, which is one of the reasons I picked it. I might be biased as a Returned Peace Corps Volunteer, but I think PCVs often have a unique perspective on a country, and I wanted to hear about it! When Hannah found out I had done Peace Corps in Honduras, she told me she felt a responsibility now to show me what Peace Corps is like here in Georgia - I'm part of the PC family, after all. We exchanged contact info and went our separate ways, but I didn't forget about her offer!
A month later, I find myself sitting in the kitchen of a small village near Borjomi, watching Hannah's host sister and sister-in-law make somi, fried bread filled with potatoes (or filled with a sugar-butter mixture, for a sweet take). The men of the house are all off at work in Tbilisi, so it's only women today. We eat the somi as quickly as they can fry them, taking breaks for gossip and tea and to answer questions about the differences between life in America and Georgia in a mix of English and Georgian. Although I've just met these women, I have a feeling of familiarity that I can't shake. I realize it reminds me so much of Honduras, spending time in the kitchen with Dona Zoila and Dani, and it makes me homesick for my own Peace Corps family.
While there are clearly a lot of differences between serving in Peace Corps in Georgia or Honduras or Tanzania or Mongolia, I think that ultimately there are also so many shared experiences no matter what country you're in. It's a good reminder that deep down, the world is not really that scary or unknown. Women sitting around a kitchen giggling and drinking tea and enjoying each others' company, this, I think, is nearly universal. Leonardo DiCaprio is also, apparently, universal - we all gather around the computer to watch Titanic after dinner.
We are on the edge of the mountains, and I sleep soundly in the clear, cool air, despite a mattress that bows like a hammock. I'm the first awake except for Hannah's host mom, Marina, and she invites me to sit down for tea with her in the quiet morning kitchen. She doesn't speak much English and our translator is still asleep, so we just enjoy the silence before the day begins. It is perfect.
Hannah leads me on a hike up the hill outside the village, stopping to pick blackberries at every bush along the way. We find a rock with a view and eat our picnic lunch - leftover somi, cucumbers from the garden, some peanuts and chocolate. We talk about life and Peace Corps and Georgia and everything in between, spending over an hour just enjoying the view and the company. We go back to the house and I say my goodbyes. Hannah's sister asks why I'm leaving so soon - and Hannah asks her how long of a stay would be long enough. She thinks for a minute - 2 weeks, she says. I think to myself how nice that would be.
I know that life in the village is not idyllic. It is a fish bowl where everyone knows your every move and there is not much understanding of personal space or alone time. It is poor. The water goes out for hours at a time. The house has no heating other than a wood stove, so in the winter the whole family moves into a few rooms downstairs. The garden dies and the diet becomes much more limited.
I know all of these imperfect things, I lamented all the challenges of small-town life in my own village for two years. But there's something about the human connection - the family that surrounds and loves Hannah, the neighbor women who stop by to chat, the kids that wave hello in the street. This is what I took away most from my Peace Corps experience, and I can't help but miss it as I say goodbye.
Didi madloba to Hannah for hosting me and sharing her experience, and to her family for feeding me and sharing their home. Georgian hospitality knows no bounds. I leave Georgia tomorrow after spending 6 weeks here, and this day will stand out in my memory as one of the very best.