It's been cold and rainy the last 24 hours. In a house that has only a wood cook stove for heat, the kitchen is the warmest place in the house. On a day like today, that's the place to be! And there is a culture that happens in the kitchen - an attitude of duty and comfort that make it my favorite room in the house, even if it is not the most comfortable one.
This afternoon in a break from the rain (or so I thought), I put on an extra sweater and a scarf and went out for a brisk walk in the cold dampness. I made an extra cuff in the bottom of my jeans to keep them from soaking up the water on the road - fashion is nothing of importance here in the village! I got only ten minutes away from the house when the rain started to fall again - big, fat drops fell a few at a time, but I knew that they would soon multiply. I turned around and picked up my pace. As the rain fell more steadily, I pulled up my hood to keep the cold rain off my head - I still have a bit of a cold, and I don't want it to worsen. By the time I got home, my wool sweater was pretty wet, and I was getting cold. I went into the upper house to my room, grabbed my book (Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance which may just be one of my favorites), my sketch book and pen, and Georgian language workbook and went to the lower house to sit by the stove and dry out. I took off my wool sweater and scarf, hung them on the line behind the stove alongside the random socks, stockings, towels, and coats already there drying, and sat down on one of the wooden benches.
The kitchen is small, but packed with necessities. The room measures about 10 feet square and holds a wooden table with two chairs, two low, narrow benches, a row of cabinets and counter, a TV (sitting on an electric stove not in use), and the all-important cook stove. The cabinet doors are covered with a red-orange plastic veneer -- mounted against the pepto-bismol-pink cement walls, the room is certainly not devoid of color!
Despite the color scheme, I love the kitchen. There is always a fire in the stove that is fed by the wood or corn cobs piled next to the wall. Most of the time Tea has either bread or cheese in some stage of production that fills the room with a thick, homey smell. The cats join the drying shoes under the stove until their fur is blistering hot, then they make their way under the table to cool off. I love watching them stretch out to their full length under the hot cast iron, basking in the warmth of the fire blazing inches above them. The kitten is my favorite - it drapes itself across everything under the stove - wood, shoes, the other cats - and squints its little eyes in absolute contentment. That is, until "Our Grandmother" grabs the short straw broom and makes a racket trying to shoo them all out of the room. They usually dodge her swats at them and hide under the table until she isn't looking, then they slink back underneath the stove.
Sitting in the kitchen is like sitting in all the warmest memories of childhood. It is a room full of food, family, warmth, and conversation. I remember spending hours upon hours in various kitchens that I knew growing up eating, taking with family, watching food preparation, or just observing the goings-on. Sitting in Tea's kitchen reminds me of those times. Even when I don't understand what's being said, it doesn't matter. I can just read my book and hear the murmur of the words that speak to me beyond the comprehension of language - the meaning of the conversation is universal - it is "kitchen conversation." When Tea has a free moment and we are able to talk, we sit with our cups of tea or coffee and have our own "kitchen conversation" - about the things that are around us - the family, the food, what's on the TV - or about school or culture. The tone and tenor of "kitchen conversation" is as warm and pleasant as the bread baking in the stove. Relationships are built in the kitchen. Friendships are formed. And when the bread is hot out of the stove and broken apart, still steaming, to share with anyone in the room, not only is the body satisfied, but the soul is also.