It started with gamarjoba (hello). It progressed into gamarjos (cheers). Now I regularly just say Grandpa Joe's to the old men walking about the town. They are the only ones that mumble something that depicts rubbish that can be translated into my play on words.
I've also got a new habit of commenting on people's articles of clothing while walking by. "Nice hat" and "Look at dem sneakers" are two of my favs.
Last Thursday, one of my students was pants-ed in class...causing a roaring applause from the other students and even a laughing breakdown from my teacher. I was almost tempted to comment on his shoes, but I figured it might push the fun limit for a cold, dark classroom.
On that particular day, I took a hike deep into the village to try to get a few pics of the surrounding peaks. For a mere five minutes I stood on a path dividing two feet of snow and listened to nothing but sparrows, turkeys and the occasional cow moo. But then it came—as expected—like a cue from the heavens to end any sense of loneliness or mountain euphoria.
Of course I had to respond to the elder gentleman tending to the chickens in his gated yard. Of course in doing this, I would blow my cover.
Before I could explain (in my broken Georgian) that I was teaching at the school down the hill, a young man came running up to greet me. I was stuck—in Georgian Standard Time.
Besides taking me to all the best spots for views and letting me use some longer boots to tread the powder, he also wanted to eat and take shots with the grandfolks and play around with the rifle out back.
If I knew the exact words for "I'd love to get drunk and shoot all afternoon with you, man," I likely would have stayed. Instead I made the unpopular decision and proceeded out the door with a bag of vashlees (apples) and typical 10-minute coaxing of goodbyes before making the long trek down the icy terrain.
That's Georgia for ya. One of the hospitable and scenic countries in the world—that you'll never see by yourself.
My weekend was spent nestled in the ski resort mecca of Eastern Europe, Bakuriani. It's about an hours drive from Zestaponi if you were to take a straight shot by car. But in the land of marshutkas, bad roads and weather, it takes more like four.
Crystal, Brennan and me left town somewhere around 3 p.m. and were on pace to reach the top of the mountain by 6. But, like I said before, it's a different land of transportation. After reaching Bajormi (the closest real town), we faced a predicament: take a taxi for 20 lari or wait on a possible marshutka to show up, which would be cheaper.
We took the suggestion of one of the other TLG folks who had met up with us at the fork (now making the group 4) and took the safe bet—from hell.
Looking at it in hindsight, it was a lot like fjording the river on Oregon Trail and having your wagon sink to the bottom and killing everyone because you were too lazy and impatient to wait on the ferry.
About halfway up the hill, the smell of smoke began to fill the old Russian "wagon." I was beginning to ignore it in an effort to ease my anxiety until I noticed where it was coming from—the center console.
A mountain is a radiator's worst enemy. But for this Russian piece of shit, it was the grim reaper.
After a 30-minute wait in the freezing cold and snow for the vehicle to cool down, it cranked and we made it into town. Or so we thought.
The next breakdown put us in sight of civilization, but it also left us on an icy road that made it very difficult for the stopped car to gain traction.
"Modi, modi! (come here)!" the driver shouted as he opened his door, signaling Brennan and I to push from the rear.
This is where my wagon hit the bottom.
After a quick push and slip and slide session, the driver took off...speeding down the road. I stood in disbelief as I watched the brake lights fade into the night sky.
Where the hell am I? Who the hell is going to pay this guy? And more importantly, who the hell is going to get my luggage out of that paddy wagon before it bursts into flames.
The questions of reason quickly transformed into cursing murmurs beneath my breath and a fake smile to keep my good mood intact.
I was here. I had made it to the most magical place in the country in one piece. I guess I'll count my lucky oxen on that one.
Oh yea, the snowboarding and all that other jazz was good, too.