Thursday, April 28, 2011


The collective nature of Georgian culture manifests itself in ways that feel completely foreign sometimes, and old-fashioned-American at others. Today I was a part of a typical Georgian custom that felt a bit like the old American days: visiting the ill. 

One of my colleagues, Mitusha, had heart surgery last week. I don't know exactly how old he is. When I asked Tea today, she said that she didn't know, but old. She asked someone else, and the answer was, "Old. Not less than seventy." We all went to the hospital to visit him today.

So that we would have time to get to town to visit him, our last two periods were cut short by ten minutes each. (Which I didn't know until the bell rang in the middle of my ninth graders' interview activity. Frustrating, but not uncommon.) The teachers hired out a marshutka to pick us up at school. Around 2 p.m., after our ride arrived, we all piled in and bounced our way out of the village and into town. After stopping a couple of times for various teachers to run quick errands, we pulled up to St. Luka's Zugdidi Medical Center -- a building with which I am quite familiar since my run-in with the angry dog. 

The large hospital is of typical Soviet-era construction, built with austere cinder-blocks and solemnity. It was painted a robin's-egg-blue not too long ago, judging by the generous amount of paint that is still sticking to the rough surface. 

Visitors are not allowed into the hospital, so we all gathered out in front of the building and waited in the sunshine (it was a lovely day today). We'd been standing around for about fifteen minutes, when the front doors opened and Mitusha shuffled out, accompanied by his wife. 

He looked good. Tired, but good. A few extra years were layered into his already wrinkled expression. The thin gray crown that circles the back of his head seemed a shade lighter, but the light in his eyes shone as brightly as ever. His feeble smile confirmed that he is recovering well. 

He made the rounds of the group, shaking all our hands and thanking us for coming. Some of the ladies had brought bags of fruits and vegetables which they gave to Mitusha's wife amid more thank-yous. After about ten minutes of quiet chatter and inquiries into his prognosis, we wished him a quick recovery and waved goodbye as he shuffled back inside.

Visiting those who are ill is not an abnormal practice even in our individualistic, American society. We go to see loved ones who are sick or in the hospital, as do the Georgians. But there is a difference in the way the visiting happens. My colleagues have been arguing for days about when to see Mitusha, because, according to custom, the entire group must go together. Going together as one group is a respectful practice to show the ill/recovering person that he/she is loved. So even though all the ladies have so much work to do at home when school is over, there was never a question of "if" they would go to see Mitusha, only "when." 

Such kind, caring people, the Georgians.

No comments:

Post a Comment