Everything they told us is true. Our host mothers will feed us more than we can possibly eat. They will ask us prying questions about our families and our income. They will ask us about religion. And, most importantly, they will try to marry us off.
When I arrived at my new apartment on the end of the metroline in Tbilisi, I did not know what to expect. I saw crumbling Soviet apartment buildings all around with precarious looking balconies and scary, malfunctioning elevators. Maia and Data, two administrators of TLG brought me up to my apartment and briefed my hostmoms about my role at the school and what was expected of me and of them. Then they left.
My mothers and I sat down in the kitchen smiling at each other across an awkward silence of mutual non-comprehension. Neither of them spoke English and my Georgian is not so good. I asked them earlier “Do you speak Russian” and they both nodded while Manana answered in Russian, “I hate speaking Russian.”
Finally, Manana cracked and said, “Well, since we don’t speak English and you don’t speak Georgian, I guess we will use Russian until we both learn better.” The flood of questions began with the usual “Where are you from,” “What do you do?” and very quickly turned in to “How much do they pay you?” and “What religion are you?” I was fine answering such questions and happily obliged. The more I talked the less I had to eat, you see.
Suddenly, Manana pointed out, “If you are here now, that means you are not married, right?” “That’s correct,” I answered. “Then we must find you a Georgian wife! Then you will convert to Eastern Orthodoxy and you will stay in Georgia.” I laughed it off, but they weren’t kidding.
Tina and Manana began discussing some of their friend’s children and their children’s friends as potential brides for me. Some we rejected, others got approving nods. Manana turned back to me and closed the matter, saying, “Yes, we will find you a girl.”
The next day, Tina and I walked to school. Tina is the principal at the school where I will work, Tbilisi Public School No. 175. We arrived and met some of the few teachers who were already back from summer vacation. I had the pleasure of telling my whole life story over in French to the French Teacher (having told it to Tina in Russian the night before), and then again in English when the English teacher showed up. Manana, the English Teacher (Not to be confused with Manana my 2nd host mother), asked me, “Do you like Georgia? Do you like Tbilisi?” “Yes, they are both very beautiful.” “Do you like Georgian Girls?”
Without waiting for an answer, she turned to Nana, another teacher at the school and asked her in Georgian, “Nana, how old is your daughter? 23, right?” Turning back to me, Manana said, “Nana’s daughter is your age. She is wery beautiful. Maybe, I think, you will spend lots of your free time with her, yes? She speaks English. She is wery nice. She will like you.”
Nana took out her phone and called someone. I could hear a young woman’s voice over the phone. I couldn’t make out much of the conversation, but I caught the odd word here and there, “…speaks French and Russian…very nice…a very good boy….” Manana kept shouting out “…historian!” until Nana told the person on the other end [her daughter], “he is a historian.” Nana hung up the phone and Manana concluded, “Yes, you will spend your free time together.”
That evening, Tina and Manana (host mother) and I were having [enormous] dinner again and Manana said to me, “Ilya has many nice friends. Girls. You should meet them all!” I don’t know what it is with these Mananas but they’re driving me bananas! (Forgive me, all, but would it really be a blog by Raughley without a terrible joke here and there?) I’ve already been betrothed thrice-over and it’s not been 24 hours since my arrival in Tbilisi!
I heard Manana skyping someone after dinner and as I walked to my room she said, “Raughley, come here!” I did and saw she was skyping a young woman who is apparently in Germany. “That is my niece,” she said, pointing at the stuttering image of the girl, “She is very pretty, isn’t she?” “Yes, Manana, yes she is very pretty.” “Maybe if she comes back from Germany you will meet her!” Maybe I will, but I don’t think my other four wives will be very happy about it!