Tuesday, 25 August 2015

Village life and tragedy experienced.

So we have been living the village life for a few days and it has been a great deal of fun and a learning experience. I want to be as honest as possible and at the same time be sensitive to cultural differences. Now I understand Russian culture but I do not understand Georgian culture yet. They are very proud and respect weighs heavy on decisions, as does obligation. Past those things, I am a babe in the woods. I know they are concerned I find the place a little rural and that roaming chickens, cows, and donkeys might upset my Canadian expectations. To be very honest, I have never been a country, boy. At no time in my life have I ever wanted to be a farmer. But I respect the level of work these people do every moment to ensure an abundant bounty is on the table. Everything we have been eating has been grown, milked, or collected right here. This is amazing and I have tried to explain that this organic lifestyle is a great luxury in Canada. I know I couldn’t afford to shop in natural stores at home on my salary. Here it is a given that the food you eat is organic. While I write, it is a given it is never taken for granted

This morning I was awoken by a donkey, braying his heart out. This was a first and one not accompanied by my usual thoughts when my sleep is interrupted by farm animals. Usually when the rooster wakes me up at my father in laws farm, I think of all the Kentucky Fried Chicken I have eaten. I haven’t eaten a donkey. Donkeys are loud, very loud and it is a funny saying that they tell time. I have tested this theory in a less than scientific manner and have to admit it seems feasible. The next-door donkey appears to be set at half-hour intervals beginning at half past the hour. I will steal a funny Georgian story, as I don’t know who to attribute the folk tale to.

A man from London was walking a village road when he came upon a Georgian farmer watching his cattle and lying on a hill. Beside him was a gray donkey. The London man asked the farmer if he knew the time. The Georgian man turned his head ever so slightly toward the donkey reached over and lifted up the donkey balls. He called out noon to the London visitor and went back to his sleepy tending of his herd. The London visitor was amazed and carried on his journey. Later he retold the story to an American in a wine bar a little ways down the road. The American came upon the same farmer as he continued his trip to town. He checked his watch. It was ten after five. He called out to the Georgian farmer asking for the time. The Georgian farmer did the exact same thing that the man from London had told him and replied, ten after five. The American was amazed and so he asked how the man could tell the time by lifting the donkey’s balls. The Georgian man replied. “How else am I supposed to see the clock tower in town?”

In this funny little story, we can see how folklore starts. In a country like Georgia rich in tradition and culture, it is a humorous tale that serves to explain some of the quaint beliefs. Some serve to protect us and others serve to entertain. Similar stories have been told to me about the issues sleeping under palm trees heavy with coconuts.

            Today was Vaxo’s, my cousin, daughter’s birthday. A cake was made and preparations in full swing for the ten or so children that would soon be here. Inga informed me that the men would be going to get some meat for the celebration and I was going with them. It was said with much fanfare, more drama than a butcher shop run should ever hold.

First the Soviet era 4x4 had to be gassed up for the journey. This entailed putting four liters of gas, they call it benzene, into a plastic four liter Mobile One oil container that was tied inside the engine compartment. This completed we started it up and let it run for a while as it hadn’t been started in a long time. Kaxa, Vaxo’s friend, joined us as we listened to the old truck run. I was introduced to Kaxa and he reminded me of a friend of mine, P, in Canada. Not that he looked similar but had been built similarly. I called P, Nexus Six after the special combat human
  replicants in the movie Blade Runner. Kaxa was built like a Nexus Nine. Larger and faster this was not a gym built swollen muscle, guy. This was a purpose built guy and I didn’t need to be told he was Special Forces. Quick to smile and share a laugh he jumped in the drivers seat and I again was given the honor of the front seat as Vaxo jumped in the back.

We set off into the countryside bouncing and picking our way to what I was starting to understand was not a mere Butcher shop. We did some serious offroad driving for about twenty minutes and then on a steep incline the truck quit. The load and terrain had combined to overheat the little beast. Kaxa quickly grabbed some water and after a few minutes we were back on the road.

The road ended at a farmhouse deep in the forest between some incredible mountain ranges. Several dogs announced our arrival and in formation circled us. Kaxa jumped out and greeted the dogs and I followed. In the Georgian fashion, he shouted at the farmhouse and soon a few men arrived. Greetings were made all around and we made our way to the goat herd. Negotiations took place and Kaxa identified a black goat that was just right. Separating it from the spooked herd he chased it into the barn and emerged seconds later carrying the displeased animal in front of him holding it by its hooves. I couldn’t help but be reminded of an old saying. “If you don’t want to get eaten by wolves, stay out of the forest.”

The goat was brought over to the trees in front of the farmhouse and killed by a quick, humane, and practiced blade thrust. Three men from the farm went to work skinning the goat and the dogs gathered for treats. The process was equally practiced and swift and when complete we were invited into the farmhouse by an older gentleman. It was obviously his operation and farm. He carried himself in a quiet and dignified manner and commanded respect. We were asked to join him for lunch and as we all washed up a table was pulled out onto the veranda and set up. Toasts were kept simple so I could understand them and the older man started by toasting my country and his. We enjoyed a meal and I tried as best as I could to get the gist of what was being said. I attempted to follow the toasting rules and think I did ok. The rules are different than the ones in Russia. One of the workers presented me with a folding knife that he had on the table. I looked at Vaxo in an attempt to make sure the worker actually meant the Russian word he was using, “Gift.” This was an incredible act of generosity and I was uncomfortable accepting it as I had nothing in return to give him. But it speaks to the countries acceptance of visitors and general respect and kindness they show guests to their country.

We loaded the goat into the back of the truck and made the bumpy and incredible return voyage down to the village. I really was overwhelmed by the experience, and by the beautiful countryside. We made it back without overheating again and joined the party already in full swing. Vaxo and Kaxa starting making shashlik, skewers of goat, using only the best cuts from the fresh animal while Uncle went and got a fire going inside the small barn. The first set of skewers were delivered to the children and women gathered in the large family room and together Vaxo and I prepared the rest for us.

During this time, Kaxa left suddenly and it took me a bit to find out why. His ten-year-old nephew had been hurt by a falling rock. The grandfather and grandmother had taken the boy out to a well-used swimming area for some relief from the hot weather and a BBQ. On the trip home a large boulder fell from the cliffs near the road and struck the car. The boy had been transported to a local hospital. Vaxo continued taking care of his guests despite the fact he would have rather been with his friend during this horrible time. Later while we were eating the goat and drinking some wine Vaxo’s wife received the news that the boy had died from his injuries.

The community as a whole gathered on the street by Kaxa’s home waiting for the news. I went out and attempted to show my respect to the kind man I had only met that day. That he is loved and respected by the community was evident. They shared his pain as a community of peers and equals. I found myself moved by the Georgian sense of community and love in this small village of amazing people.

    For Vaniko, your young life was cut short far too early. Rest In Peace.


  1. Great story as always Scott. Very sad ending. RIP Vaniko.

  2. I really like reading your blog. I would like to repeat again, your notes are wonderful, intelligent, honest and kind. Please accept the best wishes from most all of our family and the great success of your new book.

    1. Thank you! I try to be truthful and positive in both life and what I write about. The newest MSS is going through the edit process as I write this.Thanks again for reading and support!

  3. This is a huge tragedy of the family, loss of a child. RIP Vaniko. Compassion for parents and relatives to go through such sorrow.

    1. To all that have written publicly and privately. I have passed on your condolences to the family. Thank You for your empathy and love.