Chores and Cheeseburgers

During training the TLG staff warned us that while we might be treated like celebrities for a good long while, the honeymoon period would end and our host families would grow weary of us free-loading.  I think I’ve reached that point, but rest assured, that’s a good thing!

Recently, I have become a veritable part of the family!  The two most visible ways that this change manifests itself are in my ability to do (some) chores around the house and in Tata’s increased criticism/joshing of me.  I’ll start with that last and work my way backwards.

Tata teases everybody.  She’s my mom/principal’s sister and lives with us full time.  She works in the President’s palace and spends her free time scolding Luka and making fun of the neighbors.  To be fair, the neighbors have been friends of the family since time immemorial.  Koba (more on him later!) was best friends with Giorgi (Tina’s eldest son who lives in Berlin) when the two were children and he once told me how he and Giorgi would be playing in the yard and Tata would shriek from the balcony, “Gio, Koba!  Come in for supper!”

In turn, Tata mercilessly makes fun of Koba and his younger brother Levan.  Take last night for example.  Levan came down and everybody was speaking Georgian in the kitchen.  I tried to follow the conversation and caught words here and there.  Someone dropped the word “katsi” which means “man.”  Tata turned to me and asked in Georgian “Raughley, do you know what ‘katsi’ means?”

“Yes, of course!” I replied, pointing at Levan.  Everyone burst out laughing when Tata said, “That is not a man.  That is a boy, a child!”  This is a typical Tata response and characteristic of her relationships with the other people in our family.  She’s always yelling at Luka to do his homework or at Levan for being young.  Finally, she has started yelling at me, too, and I’m glad!

When she tells me, “What kind of teacher are you if Luka doesn’t do his homework and you don’t notice?”  I know it’s because she’s comfortable enough with me to start treating me like a family member or friend and not a guest.  When she tells me, “Psh, you say you know Russian but look at how many mistakes you are making!” I smile and say, “Yes, Tata, thank you for teaching me Georgian and Russian!”  I really like getting yelled at in this context, it makes me happy.

That was certainly a lot to swallow.  If you’ve never met any of my Georgian family it was certainly a tangled web of names and relationships.  I’ll move on to my newly found ability to do some chores around the house.  Now of course, I certainly cannot do the dishes yet, and heaven forbid that I sweep a floor!  But some concessions have indeed been made!

On Monday, Manana was leaving for work and saw me nearly ready to go to school.  In a hurry, she said to me, “Raughley, if you want coffee you can go make yourself some, the water should still be hot.”  I was shocked!  This was a big step up for me!  Maybe I wouldn’t be allowed to heat any water myself, but the fact that I could spoon my own instant coffee and sugar into a mug (that I had gotten myself from the cupboard!!) and then pour the hot water into it was enough of a joy to me.  I made myself a cup of coffee.  It was not delicious, but it was something I did myself!  The next morning Manana brought me some coffee.  It wasn’t a lasting change, yet, but baby steps, baby steps.

Yesterday I got home from school pretty early in the day.  I knew what I wanted to do.  I wanted to wash and hang my own laundry.  You may recall that long ago Manana had prevented me from hanging my laundry, saying, “Raughley!  You cannot hang your laundry in broad daylight!  What will the neighbors think?”  I’ve found a workaround.  If my mom’s aren’t home, who’s going to stop me?

Some of you who know me well know that I hate doing laundry.  I would prefer to clean ten bathrooms before doing a load of laundry.  Nonetheless, the time had come to wash my own clothes.  I got home and pulled my chiamaia hamper out of the corner.  The ladybug’s face bulged with dirty clothes (bet you’ve never read that sentence before!).  I brought her over to the washing machine and began loading it with clothes.

My host mothers had showed me how to make the display read 35 and then press start, but no matter what combination of buttons I pushed, 35 never showed up.  I called Ilya over and he tried to help.  We were pathetic.  Also, there was only a pinch of laundry powder left, so we made a concoction with liquid detergent as well.  It was off to a great start!

Defeated by the machine, we called Tina, then Tata to get assistance.  Of course, Tata will probably make fun of us for needing help, but I like that.  We got the machine going and sat down to watch the end of The Matrix: II.  (What’s the subtitle on that one?  I wracked my brain for like ten seconds before giving up.)

Sitting on the couch with my host brother is also another sign of my assimilation into the family.  Usually I don’t watch TV with them–either I’m not invited or it’s some Spanish show dubbed into Georgian or the news, which is unfathomable to me.  Today, The Matrix in Russian was pretty darned doable.  We chatted, and waited for the machine to finish.

When it did, Ilya sat and looked at my photos of Svaneti while I did the single most horrible thing I can do with laundry.

I hung my own broad daylight!

Then later, and get this, I took it off the line and put it away by myself.  I know, it’s a crazy world I’m living in, here in Tbilisi.  But being able to do such things is a surprising joy after being catered on for the past seven weeks.

The kitchen is still mostly off limits, however.  Granted, I made myself some coffee the other day and I am encouraged to raid the fridge (but without permission to use the stove what can I really do with a frozen fish?).  Last weekend, though, things changed.

My dear friends Marissa and Cristen came to town and stayed with us.  On Friday night we decided that we wanted to cook for my family and we wanted to cook something American, something tasty, something Cheeseburgers.

First order of business, buying the ingredients.  We went to a shop near the metro to scope out their meat section.  We were hoping for some ground beef, but we’d be satisfied if we could have some beef ground for us at the shop.  Marissa’s mom has her own meat grinder, so that could be a possibility as well.  We looked at our options,

We'll take two brains, please!

and decided to choose a kilogram of ground beef that was sitting just off to the side.  It’s not pictured because, really, what’s interesting about ground beef?

We also bought some ketchups (spicy and tomato-y) and some veggies to make it a meal.  We got home and started preparing right away.

When Manana got home her first reaction was, “What are you doing??”  “We’re cooking cheeseburgers, Manana!  Do you want one?”  “Yes, okay.” and Manana left us to our cooking.  Now I should probably mention that we had some nice mixed drinks to go along with our cooking adventure and that none of us had ever cooked burgers on a stove before.  The first batch was a miserable failure.

Smile awkwardly if you don't know what you're doing!

We had decided not to egg our meat because we figured you only needed to worry about it staying together if it was on a grill.  Did you know that’s not true?

Smile nicely if you know what you're doing!

The fried potatoes, however, turned out very well.  Here’s a good comparison shot of the burgers and the potatoes, before Manana intervened:

Left: Cristen cooking well Right: Raughley cooking poorly.

Please note that in the above photo the patties are clearly falling apart, due to lack of egg in their construction.  Who would’ve thought that balls of meat and onions would fall apart when prodded.  Also a problem: we were cooking them on a rather high heat because we were hungry.  Rather than cooking faster they predictably burned on the outside and stayed raw in the middle.  As Ilya might say, “Tqven ar khart geniusebi.”

Clearly we were not strong enough to cook cheeseburgers on our own.

Even the combined powers of Cristen "The Hulk" Bauer and "Dandy" Luka Nioradze could not create edible cheeseburgers.

No we needed something more.  We needed Manana.

Shit just got real!

Manana intervened to save our cheeseburgers and everyone’s dinner.  And it was a good thing, too!  Though we had independently decided to go buy some eggs to mix with the meat, she told us that flour helps as well.  With her guidance/her doing everything we found a bigger pan, greased it, and made perfect burgers.

Now that's what Aaaaaaaaahmmmm talkin' about!

Manana’s intervention, I feel, perfectly describes my role in my new family.  I am allowed off the leash, but if I start getting in to trouble my moms will swoop in to save me.  Clearly making burgers was a bit beyond me, and so, I was relegated to a task more suited to my culinary skill level.

Putting me in my place resulted in good burgers and pretty-well sliced tomatoes!

Thanks to Manana, our task in the kitchen had been vastly simplified.

This is how we like to cook--sitting around drinking.

Finally, the burgers finished and we slapped some ketchup and tomato slices on them.  Babua wanted one, Luka, Manana, and Tata wanted one, Cristen wanted one, Marissa and I wanted one and a half.  That’s right–we’re beastly.

Just look at those five beauties! Four beautiful cheeseburgers and Marissa, wakka wakka!

Everyone enjoyed their burgers immensely.  The fries were damn good, as well.  Our first foray into the kitchen (with hopefully more to come someday in the future) was a resounding success!  Satiated and delighted, we continued to drink, laugh, and eat into the wee hours of the night.  It was the beginning of a fantastic weekend.  Maybe the most fantastic of all weekends.

The first encounter with a drakoni.

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