Sunday, February 20, 2011

One crazy, crazy night

What do you get when you combine 300 guests, loads of food on long, skinny tables set up inside a massive tent, singing DJs, gallons of home-brewed wine drunk out of horns (real and crystal), and a bride and groom? -- a Georgian-village wedding.

Last night was my first Georgian wedding experience, and what an experience it was. Fun, crazy, bizarre -- an adventure not to be forgotten.

At five o'clock I was ready to leave the house. Tea, Koba, Koba's brother-in-law Valeri, Tea's sister Teona, and I piled into a car and drove to the bride's parents' house (Koba's aunt and uncle, which makes the bride his cousin). Some other relatives were there waiting to leave for the "qampania" -- wedding party. Although most of the family was milling around outside, coats on, we were ushered into the dining room to sit down and eat. I was a bit baffled -- Koba led me into the room saying, "Sit, sit down, Stepani. Eat, eat!" When he saw the look on my face (it was frozen, mouth agape in complete incredulity), he threw his back and laughed. Tea followed me in, and we all sat down. I finally found some words through the veils of confusion blocking my ability to verbalize anything, and stammered, "Aren't we going to a huge party right now? Why are we eating?" Koba said (through Tea's translation) that it would be three or four hours yet before we would eat, so I should eat a little something. So I ate a little something. Knowing how much food would be at the party and knowing that Georgians want a guest to be eating all the time, I ate a very little. About ten minutes later, someone whirled into the room to announce that it was time to go. We abandoned our plates and the table full of food, piled into three different cars, and jostled our way out of the village.

The bride, Lika with one of Koba's cousins, Giorgi and me
(and, no, Georgians don't usually smile in pictures)
The wedding party was for Lika -- a girl I have written about a few times in previous posts. She is the university student who married her boyfriend without telling her parents. (I wrote a bit about Tea's disapproval of her getting married so young...and while still in school -- it's one of those "traditions" that Tea wants to see change.) Anyway, the party was to be at her husband's family's house in another village on the other side of Zugdidi. Our three-car caravan drove to the other side of town and parked on the side of the road in front of some houses. I asked Tea if we were there -- I didn't think we were because there weren't very many cars around -- we weren't. Tea said that we had to wait for some others to arrive. So we waited...... and waited...... and waited....... and waited. I don't know exactly how long we waited, but we left Shamgona in broad-daylight, and it was dark for awhile while we waited some more -- it was at least two hours. The men had gotten out of the cars and stood in their normal cigarette-smoking circles, leaving Tea, Teona, and I in the car. We passed the time talking and laughing. I completely cracked Tea up a few times -- I love it when she laughs so hard! She claps her hands together once, doubles over, and laughs away.

Tea and me (Tea does smile in pictures!)
(A long story short: one of the things we laughed about so hard had to do with a former student who is related to Koba whose family came to the wedding -- This student's mother pulled her 11th-grade daughter out of our school because Tea and three other teachers didn't curve her grades up, but gave her the grades she earned. The mother was furious and put her daughter in another school. Tea said that she didn't want to have any confrontation at the wedding. I put my fists up and told Tea that I had her back. She howled away at that one -- then I added that Teona could take off her boots and use the stiletto-heels to defend her -- and I thought Tea would fall out of the car, she was laughing so hard!)

It was well after 8 o'clock when the men piled back into the cars and we drove the rest of the way to the wedding party. The party took place inside a large tent erected in the front yard of the groom's house. When we arrived, all the guests from the bride's side were standing around outside the front gate waiting for the bride and groom to arrive -- the bride's guests do not enter the party before she does. (Tea and I sat in the car to wait.... again.) About 15 minutes later, they drove up, horn blaring. They went into the house, and everyone followed, forming a receiving line to congratulate the couple. Once the receiving line was finished, we went into the tent to start the party.

About 1/100th of the food on the tables
The tent was filled with long, narrow tables that ran the length of the space. Narrow benches lined either side of the tables. The normal spread of suphra-fare was piled high on the tables -- it was an unbelievable amount of food, as usual. There was a small table set up on a dais at the front of the tent for the wedding party. To one side, the DJs were already hard at working blaring traditional tunes. In the space between the head table and the lines of tables for the guests, a thick layer of sawdust had been spread on top of the soggy ground for the dance floor. When all the guests were seated in the tent, the bride and groom made their entrance accompanied by traditional dancers. They took a couple of laps around the tent before settling into their seats while the dancers performed a few dances. In one of the dances, a glass of wine was set on the ground and one of the men picked it up with his mouth, stood up without spilling it, tipped it up, and drank it -- all without touching it with his hands. After the bride and groom had their dance, the floor was open to everyone.

Koba's brother-in-law, Valeri and me
Neither Tea nor Koba dance, but several of Koba's cousins and brothers-in-law do; so they kept me up on the floor for just about every song. Valeri is a good dancer, so I danced with him as often as I could. Interspersed with songs sung by the DJs (who were not very good), they played all kinds of music, traditional and contemporary, slow and fast. One that everyone here loves is Shakira's "Time for Africa" -- at every party I've been to, everyone cheers anytime that song starts. The dance floor was full all night long with people of every age. Once I almost tripped over a little tyke who was weaving through everyone's legs while trying to do one of the traditional steps. During a couple of songs, Valeri, Koba's cousins, the bride's grandfather, and I formed a circle holding hands raised into the air and danced in a circle while we each took turns dancing in the middle. Valeri did some crazy Russian-kicking dance. The grandfather grooved away with his feet planted firmly on the ground. Needless to say, it was a good time.

There were some really bizarre things that took place, but I told the terribly drunk fundamentalist Christian American teacher (who swore that he wasn't drunk after who-knows-how-many glasses of wine) when he was seated next to me since we are both American, that I wouldn't write about his ridiculous behavior and un-invited advances in my blog. Let's just say that I much preferred the company of the Georgian men to his immature, insecure, can't-hold-his-liquor, ramblings.

At 2 a.m., Tea pulled me off the dance floor to go home. (I was glad, because some of the young men were starting to fight over who was going to dance with me. The wine was starting to take over....) One of Koba's cousins had gotten into a fight with some of the other young men, and Koba wanted to remove him from the situation. When everyone was finally loaded into the cars, we drove back to Shamgona. The cousin who was in our car had drunk quite a lot, and all the way back to the house, he rambled about sports, music, and politics in a cyclical fashion. First he named basketball players and their teams for awhile, then he moved on to singers and song titles, then countries and leaders.....then back to the basketball players. Tea and I were entertained -- we said that it was like switching between radio stations.... but the DJs were all a bit tipsy.

I was so glad to crawl into my warm bed at 2:45. I decided to wait until morning to clean all the sawdust off my boots!

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