Christmas comes but once a year.
That is, if your mom can be trusted! Well, I’m here to tell you that she can’t.*
See, the trick is, you have to travel to an Orthodox Christian country between December 25th and January 6th. Play your cards right, like I did, and you’ll get to celebrate Christmas twice! (And don’t get me started on my plan for January 2012: The Month of Three New Years. I’m already optioning the film rights.)
My Orthodox Christmas started a few days ago when my old host brother Luka Skyped me while I was at work. “Hello Rali!” he shouted as I rapidly turned down the volume on my work computer. “Hello Luka! How are you?”
I wished him a Happy New Year and started to ask if Santa had come yet. I stopped myself, realizing how silly that sounded in a country where Christmas had not yet happened, but to my surprise Luka informed me that Santa had, in fact, already left him a New Year’s present! He held up a single roller blade to the camera and began to brag, “Do you want to see what I did with it?” I expected him to send me a link to some video of him acting like a poser on wheels. Instead, he held up his plastered arm. (His arm was in a cast, not drunk.) Within two days of getting rollerblades as a gift Luka had broken his arm. No joke.
Manana appeared briefly on screen to say, “Helohowareyou?” and then rattled off in Georgian that she and Luka had to go buy a sling but that I should come over for Christmas dinner on Saturday. Who was I to say no?
I put on my new shoes, my new sweater, and my new scarf (Thanks mom!) and headed out Mukhianiward this evening. The metro ride was much longer than I remember, but then it has been a while since I’ve ridden all the way to the end. As I walked through “Dog Alley” behind the Wissol Station, I smiled in remembrance of the million times I’d walked the route before. Gldani twinkled darkly to my left and scorched squares of grass lined the path on my right.
When I arrived, Tina and Tata were out. Manana and Luka welcomed me readily and Luka eagerly showed off his cast and other modest holiday loot. My family still uses the WiFi router I gave them last year and little else has changed. They constantly call me Charlie by mistake, though I cannot imagine how often poor Charlie has to repeat, “Me var Charlie, ar var Raughley.” (He repeats it often enough that they can all impersonate him)
When Tina and Tata arrived, Babua and Bebia in tow, the party really began! We all played catch up and Manana and Babua teased me relentlessly about my love life. More specifically they teased me about my lack of a love life. During the suphra Tina and Babua took turns as Tamada and Babua toasted me saying, “2012 will be the year Raughley gets a Georgian wife!” He asked me, “You work at the Ministry now, you should have girls all over you! How many people you work with are women?” “All of them.” Babua burst into laughter and happily reiterated his toast, “2012 will be the year Raughley gets a wife!”
We chatted for hours, viewing pictures of the Christmas Contest wherein one lucky school in Georgia will win a SmartBoard, discussing Stalin and US history, drinking champagne, making fun of Luka (a timeless tradition), and reveling together.
As I walked back to the metro (after slowly and tastefully extricating myself from an overly-loving situation), I mused on my life last year Chez Alavidze compared to now, Chez Nuzzi-MacDougall.** I think I’ve found the perfect balance with my host family. I love them to death and I miss them terribly. But I also need to be master of my own domain. Sure, no one does my laundry for me anymore and there’s an enormous dearth of home-cooked Georgian cuisine in my diet, but having my own place is largely liberating. I can be American and as insular or gregarious as I want. I can have friends over guilt-free and play my music at night and sit around without pants all day long! (Angela, I’ll wear pants more regularly once you return, promise!)
I can visit my family once in a while and we spend an excellent time together. We don’t overdo it and the joy of seeing each other again is far greater when we haven’t seen each other for a while. Yes I miss Kitchen Lessons and goofing around with Ilia (who was sorely lacking tonight [He lives with his brother in Berlin now 😦 ]), but I like where I am in life right now.
I walked through my Mukhiani underpass, home to countless haircuts and random shopping sprees, and thought about how it compared to my new sub-Freedom Square underpass. It was brighter and better developed. It has developed considerably since I first moved to Mukhiani. All of the shops are now occupied and though the stinky puddles still arise in the same places it has changed a lot since I’ve known it.
I approached my new home 40 minutes later and passed under Freedom Square. It was so poorly lit recently and is the home to a few homeless people, but it’s making huge strides. An enormous construction project is underway and a dozen or so shops have been built, halving the width of the tunnel. The walls are repainted and plastered and though the Band that played there daily has been evicted, the tunnel is better lit and has that fresh “New Underpass” smell.
My life is in a hugely different place this year compared to last (or any other, for that matter!), but I’m largely satisfied with it.
Merry Christmas Everyone! I miss you all and treasure all the relationships that I have built and continue to build in Georgia!
*Note: I am sure your mother is a lovely woman.
**Note: Could that name sound more American?