What do you call it when you have an aside before you have a direction? As an “aside,” I just want to point out that as I write this I am sitting on a couch in Yevgeniy’s apartment. Marissa is passed out on the other couch next to me and Yev is taking a nap on his bed. The sounds of construction are trickling in from outside and the late-afternoon haze is tinging the windows a nice yellowish-white. I do certainly love my life!
So, the inevitable happened. Within ten days of my leaving the country, I had something bad happen to me. It was, in most ways, the first bad thing that happened to me during my entire time here!
After having spent a fruitful afternoon in Entree with Angela, I gathered up my things and we left, heading towards the metro. We were chatting and strolling past Parliament when we noticed that the buses now have some sort of electronic time-table at the stops! It’s madness! Pauli must be infuriated that they got installed literally the day after he left!
We approached the metro and made a quick pitstop for Khatchapuri and then to the touchscreen machine so Angela could add some money to her phone. We made for the escalators and I reached for my wallet to get my metrocard.
My wallet wasn’t there.
I hurried back to Entree to check with them that I hadn’t left it on the table or something. No luck. “I cleaned your table, and there was no wallet there.”
As I panickedly retraced my steps to the metro, being sure to check each trash can (You know it’s a bad day when you’re hopefully looking into public garbage cans), I grew more and more dismayed, thinking about the things in my wallet.
A word about wallets. My previous wallet was a really shitty one. It was made of plastic, nylon, and some sort of cloth material and it was falling to pieces. I’d had it for years and hated it basically the whole time. I always wanted to buy myself a “grown-up” wallet, but never remembered to. Last summer, one of my students named Elamin Elamin (true story! My friend Tian Tian would probably believe me!) made me a green and brown duct tape wallet which I carried until Turkey. There I finally bought myself a nice, new, adult wallet!
It was a lovely light brown color and had several fold-out flaps. I had room for all my credit cards, my license and student IDs, money and two night train tickets from Zugdidi to Tbilisi for Thursday, a picture of Myles, my TLG insurance card, and my Regal Crown Club Membership cards. I’m a platinum member!
These things were all in my missing wallet.
Distraught, I stopped a policeman in the metro and he took me into a back room. Another officer was there and patiently took down my information. I had to call my moms so that they could give him my address. Yeah, I still don’t know it–just how to get there.
Before long, Angela had to leave, unfortunately, and so I stuck around with the cops waiting for something to happen. I wasn’t sure what to be expecting until three detectives walked in, two plainclothes officers and a patrolman. I told them much of the same information the first guy had written down and they instructed me to come with them.
Basically all of this was done in Russian. The patrolman spoke very poor English, so we stuck with Russian and tsota kartuli. We hopped into a very nice sedan parked by Freedom Square and peeled out to go to the station. I’ve never been taken to the station before!
After being checked for car bombs, we parked in the garage and I was ushered in to the office area of the station. No harsh lights and interrogations for me! Just a nice curly-haired English-speaking lady to help me write my report.
As the cop behind us played online games, I retold my story again in English. It wasn’t going so well as she had a hard time understanding me. To write the actual report, she told me, I would need a friend who spoke English and Georgian to act as my interpreter.
“Hello, Raugli!” (Pronounced like Mowgli from the Junglebook; it’s Tatia’s nickname for me.) “I am at pilates, can I call you back?”
“Sure, Tatia, but I am at the police station and I need your help as an interpreter. My wallet was stolen!”
“Vai me! I’ll be there as fast as I can!”
After twenty minutes of giving the policewoman advice on English Language programs, Tatia arrived and began translating my story into Georgian for the report. I was told to sign it and write, “My interpreter has told me what this says and I trust her.” Tatia signed it as well and I was promised that “Your wallet will be found. Don’t worry!” I worry.
So I canceled all my cards, Marissa kindly bought new train tickets, and damage control had essentially been done. I’d only lost about five bucks–not so bad! The things that I really rue losing, though, are the picture of Myles, my Stanford ID, and my Regal Cinemas Crown Club Card. Platinum membership!!!!
The next day as I attempted to get my Liberty Bank card replaced, I found myself locked out of the apartment. Levan was at the doctor’s (Levan is Koba’s brother and he had our spare key that day), and no one knew when he would be home. So I bought a coke and settled onto a bench in the playground. It was a beautiful day for listening to podcasts in the sun!
Marissa called to tell me that she had already bought new tickets for the train (What a champ, she talked to me for a solid hour once I got home from the police station and was incredibly reassuring and comforting. I feel lucky to have her as one of my best friends!) and we chatted for a bit while she was at school. I hung up and before I could turn my iPod back on, the ancient-looking woman sitting next to me asked in Russian, “What language were you just speaking?”
“In English!” I answered.
“I don’t speak English. I speak many languages! I speak Russian, Ossetian, Georgian, Turkish, Kurdish, and I used to speak German. I know a little Armenia. Probably as much as you know Georgian.” She was quite the chatterbox!
She peppered me with the usual questions while dropping facts about herself like that she was North Ossetian and her family all lived in Vladikavkaz. When she found I’m not married she suggested finding myself a Georgian girl: “Georgians are good girls. They don’t go around,” she insisted, using the Russian verb for “walk about.” “No, girls from other countries can,” she spat contemptuously on the ground, “Go to Hell! Would you like some coffee?”
I was quite taken aback by her vehemence and did in fact want a coffee. I said yes and we hobbled together to her building. As it turns out she lives in the adjacent building to mine! We rode up the elevator and she apologized/warned/complained that her tiny, tiny flat needed repairs but that she couldn’t afford it. We entered her cozy, clean apartment and she directed me to sit by the window.
“Look how I live!” she motioned towards the paint-peeling ceiling, “Look how we live!” she waved her arm at the Soviet-era apartment building across the street. “I have a bad leg and no bottom teeth. Life used to be good but now it’s crap! This Saakashvili ruined everything!” she screwed up her face in another look of disgust.
As she set the coffeepot on the stove she reached in to the fridge and grabbed out two chocolate snacks and opened them onto a plate for me. They were quite tasty, but I didn’t want more than the one. “Eat! There’s still one more cookie here!” I politely declined and she got a look of horror on her face, “Pleeease eat it! They’re tasty! I won’t eat it, you must!” I thought she might cry if I didn’t eat it, so I obliged.
She grinned, showing off her freshly-installed dentures and seeming to say, “Look at me now! I’ve got my teeth in!” Conversation moved to her sons as she poured my large Turkish coffee.
Kakha lives in Tbilisi. He, “regrettably,” is a Georgian man, she noted. Her husband had been Georgian but she was a proud Ossetian. Ruslan, her other son lived in Vladikavkaz near her siblings and other family. He was a true Ossetian! Tragically she hasn’t seen him in three years because the “way is closed thanks to Saakashvili!”
Kakha is a police captain and is due for a promotion and a raise soon! She beamed a toothy smile and beckoned for me to follow her into the sitting room. I saw a photograph of a dashing young man in uniform–Kakha, no doubt. Beside his photograph rested several others–an old photograph of a Mustachioed man and his young bride (My host and her late husband), a portrait of the old lady from her youthful Soviet days, and a large photograph of Stalin lovingly placed in the center.
“Oh, ty moi zolotoi malchik!” I was told (Oh, you are my golden boy!) after I finished all my coffee. She meticulously wiped down the table and related to me another fun little anecdote. “Even though my apartment is terrible, I keep it spotless! I always clean everything. Whoever you find for your wife must be clean!” she insisted. “Why, one day I visited my neighbor downstairs and she went to pour me some coffee but I noticed the cup was dirty. ‘I’m not thirsty after all,’ I told her. But she could tell the real reason I didn’t want any. Eh, oh well. She smelled really bad, anyway.” Dusya, as my host’s name turned out to be, was not one to mince words!
We headed back down to the yard, with Dusya giving me her number and imploring me to call her from America. Her friends were waiting for her on a bench. I think it was time for babushka chats in the yard. I introduced myself–or rather Dusya introduced me as her “golden boy” to her aged friends–and then excused myself to head upstairs. Levan was still not home. I sat on the steps outside my apartment for another three hours waiting and listening to podcasts. I couldn’t go back outside. Babushka chats take a long time to finish.
I’ll leave you with one more story today. Yesterday I took a marshrutka out to Zugdidi for the last time (so freaking weird!). I put on an audiobook and settled in for a long, peaceful drive. I was crammed in the back seat with a pious woman and her daughter and one other woman. The one open window blew the body odor of the thirty-something man back to me, which was an unwelcome surprise.
Sometime around Gori that man turned around and asked me, “Where are you from?” Again I was pelted with the usual questions. Things once more got interesting once marriage came up.
The three women sharing my back seat were laughing along with us as the man and I talked in mildly-good Georgian. When I told him I am not married, he asked, “What do you think of Georgian girls?” By now everyone in the marshrutka was turned around looking at me as I underwent this familiar interrogation.
“Georgian girls are beautiful!” I cried to the smiles and laughter of all aboard. I wasn’t prepared for the follow-up question.
“Who is more beautiful, this girl or this girl?” He pointed at the two girls close to my age who were sitting looking at me. One blushed and turned away. I’m sure I was blushing too. I told him I didn’t know (Which was mostly true as they both had big sunglasses covering half their face and the second girl was now facing away from me)*. After the laughter died down he pointed to the turned-away girl and said, “You know what? You’re sitting next to her mom!”
I looked to my right and the woman nodded, smiling at me. She admonished the man in Georgian and he responded, “What, you don’t want an American son-in-law?” More laughter ensued.
When we finally arrived at the rest stop, the man’s father shook me awake. “Bitcho, modi, satchmeli ar ginda?” (Boy, come, don’t you want food?) I followed him in, not particularly hungry and he motioned me to join him and his son to a plate of kebabi and khatchapuri. No matter what you say about Georgians, you have to admit, they are the kindest, most hospitable and generous people around. As I ate, some of the women beckoned a small child to join them. He was about 8 or 9 years-old and traveling alone. They fed him and took care of him during the break. It was really sweet!
When the boy got dropped off at his house somewhere outside of Zugdidi, his family was overjoyed to see him. He jumped into his mother’s embrace but then turned around, smiling, and waved at the women who had watched over him during our long journey. Watching his gap-toothed smile, I took in the moment and realized that I am really and terribly going to miss this place.
*Note: The first one was prettier!