I will say right up front that I know I am not going to do this post justice and it is going to be raw and unrefined. It is 12:35 a.m., and I have just gotten home from a baptism/wedding-that-didn't-happen/suphra. I'm tired, my throat is killing me from inhaling too much second-hand smoke, my feet are tired from dancing on concrete, and my ears are ringing from the unbelievable volume of the music and mic'ed toast-giving. But what an experience!
A few days ago, my co-teacher Lika told me that her godchild would be getting baptized, and she invited me to go with her to see what the baptism was like. I love seeing new things, so, of course I agreed to go. Little did I know what I was getting myself into.
I got up a bit before 9 to get my hour-long run in, shower, have breakfast, and be ready to go by 11. My ride (one of my colleagues and her husband) showed up about 11:20, and we drove to Zugdidi to meet Lika in town. We hung around town for almost an hour and a half before going to the church. I'm not sure why we left Shamgona so early, but I didn't ask. I've learned better than to ask that question - there is never a real reason -- it just is. Lika told me that there was going to be a wedding at the church today, too. I finally figured out that she was talking about the parents of the child getting baptized - that they were getting married. She explained that they had a civil service two years ago, but had never had the religious ceremony, so they were going to have that service along with the baptism.
To make a long story short, the baptism was 45 minutes late and the wedding didn't happen -- this was right after Lika assured me that things in Georgia start on time. HA! At any rate, the baptism was a nice service. I didn't understand any of it - the minister spoke so low that I could barely hear him. There was lots of candle-lighting, anointing with oil, praying, crossing, and pouring the water over the baby's head. The Christian Orthodox must baptize more than once, because there were older people who got baptized today, too, not just infants. (I still don't know much about the Christian Orthodox faith or practices.)
We left the church around 3:30 and drove to the family's house (the ones whose child was baptized and who didn't have their wedding). We hung out for almost three hours before the suphra (in honor of the wedding that was supposed to have happened) was ready.... To entertain myself, I talked with Lika, read the book I had with me, and watched the suphra-preparation. From where I was sitting in the living room, I could see beyond the curtain hanging in the kitchen doorway that was pulled back partway. The activity in the kitchen was ceaseless. My favorite person to watch was the little old lady in a sequined sweater and long black skirt shuffling around in slippers back and forth carrying pots of steaming something or wood or utensils or bread or whatever else she needed. I really wanted to be in the kitchen helping, but I don't bother asking that anymore, either - guests don't help in Georgia.
Finally, around 6 or so, we were all ushered into the large dining hall that had been set for over 250 people. There were five rows of tables that ran the entire length of the large room with benches that were nothing more than 5-inch-wide boards covered with paper on metal stands. The tables were laden with food, drinks, plates, glasses, and silverware in typical suphra-fashion meaning that there was not an inch of table showing! The amount of food on those tables was staggering. I wondered how long it had taken to prepare all of it, and how many ladies had made it all -- there's no Costco around here to order it all from, nor are there any catering services! When I stepped into that room, I wished that I had my camera with me. You really have to see it to get the full understanding of the vast quantities of everything! We ate. And we ate. And we ate some more. Everything was delicious as always!
I was sitting with Lika and the other teachers from my school (such sweet ladies!), and we just happened to be sitting right in front of one of the large speakers that broadcast the sound from the microphones that the two singers and Tamada (the suphra-leader) had. I have written in previous blogs about how loud the Georgians are.... Well, tonight they took it to a whole new level. Even the ladies who I think are loud were cringing at the sharp sounds bellowing out of the speaker. Let's put it this way: I couldn't just hear the sound, I could feel it - not even the music - just their voices talking.... or rather, yelling into the mics. It was a true assault on the senses. There were several times that I had to close my eyes against the noise - I couldn't stand to have any sight coming in while my ears were working hard at functioning at such an intense level. I eventually resorted to pressing my finger against my ears to partially block the sound so that I could at least listen without pain!
Aside from the uncomfortable seating, the horrible loudness, and the cigarette smoke, it was a great party. The singers were really good, and a few people performed some traditional dances for everyone. After about an hour of food and song and dance, the dance floor opened up and as the night went on, more and more people got up to join in the dancing -- not just traditional dances, but all kinds of dance. At first I didn't really feel like dancing; at 8:30, I really wanted to go home, but the party was just getting started then. Finally one of the girls pulled me up to dance, and I went. That was that - I was on the dance floor for most of the rest of the night. I danced with all sorts of people to all sorts of music. I danced with the older gentleman who had helped me with my backpack and paid my fare the day I came back from my Christmas break travels. He must be about 70, and he was so sweet! I danced with some of the teenage girls. I danced with a man who was the best dancer there - he was a strong leader, so he was easy to follow and so much fun to dance with! But as the night went on, and more toasts were given, and more wine was drunk, there were a few men who became very bold and were practically fighting to dance with me. At that point, I tried my best to extricate myself from their grasps and call it quits - no small feat! It took about 5 minutes of me pulling my hand away and turning out of their arms before Lika (who doesn't dance, so she wasn't on the floor with me) came over to rescue me. One of the men, in particular, wanted me to dance with him - Lika translated for him: he wanted to know where he could meet me tomorrow and if I would go and meet his parents. HELP!!! I didn't let go of Lika's hand the rest of the time we were there. Even when we were leaving, he kept after me. Unfortunately in Georgia, "no" doesn't mean "no." Thankfully, he doesn't live in my village, so I don't think I'll run into him - actually, he probably won't remember anything about me tomorrow! I hope not, anyway.
The suphra-to-end-all-suphras..... that's what I experienced tonight. And now let's just hope I can get up when my alarm goes off in the morning. Thank God school doesn't start until 9.....