When I heard I’d be living in Vera I was excited. After a month living in Vera… well, let’s just say I feel differently.
I’m a big fan of walking in straight lines. A straight line is the shortest distance between two points, which means that if you walk in straight lines as much as possible you’ll get from point A to point B with maximum efficiency. In Vera, it is impossible to walk in a straight line for more than like ten feet. The streets are narrow and winding, people park their cars whereever they feel like, there are always tons of people hanging out in the streets, and basically every trip through Vera takes at least twice as long as it reasonably should. I find this irritating.
There’s a store around the corner from where I live. Once I went to buy sugar there and the shop owner didn’t have change for a five. I’ve bitched about this before and I’ll bitch about it again, but I think it’s really stupid that Georgian business owners don’t keep change on hand and expect their customers to always have exact change. I think a lot of Georgian business practices are really stupid, but then Georgians over thirty were all raised to believe that capitalism is evil and so I guess not having change in your store is like taking the moral high ground. I guess there’s some sense of resentment that people have to buy and sell things at all and so sellers make it as difficult as possible for people to buy things from them like out of spite or something. Anyway, the store around the corner from me also doesn’t carry Natakhtari sodas or Nabeghlavi or the brand of milk my girlfriend likes, so between the change thing and the selection, that particular store is essentially useless to me.
Then there’s a smaller market on the way from my home to school. This market is run by a person who I actually think might be mentally retarded or challenged or whatever PC term they’re calling that these days. Now, my Georgian is nothing to brag about (although I am finally getting lessons!) but I can generally make my intentions known without too much difficulty, especially when it comes to things that I consume regularly. One of my favorite drinks here in Georgia is Lipton Peach Iced Tea. It doesn’t hold a candle to Peach Snapple but you take what you can get when you’re out on the frontier. Now, Georgians don’t know about ice (not even kidding), but I know how to say “cold tea,” – “ცივი ჩაი” (tsivi chai) – which is what they call iced tea here (and anyway that’s more accurate because it’s not like there’s actual ice in store-bought iced tea, now is there?), and though my pronunciation may be slightly off, I usually only have to say it once or twice at the most. The Lipton bottle is in Russian and Ukrainian, so often for expediency I’ll ask for the Peach flavor in butchered Ukrainian – something like “persiky” (don’t ask me for Cyrillic characters) – but sometimes when I’m feeling adventurous I’ll go for the Georgian word for peach, which is “ატამი” (atami). In Georgian saying “ცივი” and “ატამი” correctly is somewhat difficult for me because as an Anglophone I can’t hear a distinction between the two variants of “ts” – წ and ც – or the two variants of “t” – ტ and თ – and thus I’m sure when I try to say “ცივი” I end up sounding like a complete whack-job to a Georgian person, but most Georgians know what I’m trying to say and appreciate the effort and are friendly and tolerant enough not to laugh in my face.
So anyway, there’s a small market on the way from my home to my school, and I tried to get iced tea there once, and it was like pulling teeth. I had to say “ცივი ჩია” like three times, and then “ატამი” didn’t work out, nor did “persiky,” and in the end I had to point and guesture because she kept trying to give me the lemon flavored one, which is gross. When I asked how much it was, she said something like “ლარი და ცამეთი” (lari da tsameti) – which means “one lari and thirteen tetri” – which doesn’t make any sense at all. Almost nothing in this country goes by single tetri increments and almost no one carries single tetri coins. It turned out to be one lari and seventy tetri, which is “ლარი და სამოცდაათი” (lari da samotsdaati) – so my impression is that the store owner may have shortened “samotsdaati” to “samati” – a shortening that actually makes a lot of sense, since the “otsda” doesn’t actually add much information. It’s just that I was caught off guard because I’d never heard that shortening before (and I’ve been here a year) and I’m not sure if that’s like a regional thing or just unique to that particular person.
Anyway, I left the store frustrated because my Georgian and the shopkeeper’s Georgian were so different that we had to resort to communicating by guestures at every step of the way, about something as simple as buying Iced Tea, which I do almost every damned day. Yesterday I went back to the store and stopped feeling bad about myself, though, because I learned that it was not my failure at all. I went in to see if they had Sairme, which is my girlfriend’s favorite mineral water. I asked the shopkeeper if she had Sairme, in Georgian. She looked at me as though I had started vomitting up beetles. I repeated “Sairme.” There was a man in the store who asked me if I spoke English. I replied in English, that yes, I spoke English and did the woman have any Sairme, it was a kind of mineral water. The woman started whining, at the top of her lungs, “wer gawige!!!” which means “I can’t understand” but in a strong v-less accent, over and over again. It was really like watching a fifty-something woman devolve into a five year old child throwing a tantrum. Now, I know Sairme isn’t the most popular brand of mineral water, but I’m surprised that this woman hadn’t heard of it, and I’m more surprised that she decided to let it ruin her day. I bought some Nabeghlavi instead and hit the road, feeling not frustrated this time, but confused.
I find myself missing Gldani. In Gldani there were tons of little markets and shops all around my house, and all of the store owners were like, on it. Even in my first month there, I was able to communicate with them, in Georgian, about simple things like iced tea and water and bread and how much that all cost. I could never imagine a Gldani shopkeeper giving up and whining “ver gavige” in a barely coherent drawl. For that matter, most Gldani shopkeepers seemed to have change almost all of the time.
I have neighbors who birja outside all day. They’re all in their twenties, I think. They can be heard blasting music, or yelling at each other, or breaking bottles, at essentially random times throughout the day and night. Sometimes it’s 1 am, sometimes it’s 1 pm, but every day they pick some strange hour when normal people have something better to be doing, and they get some alcohol and a boombox and some cigarettes and they really rock it out. It doesn’t really bother me – honestly it’s the least of my worries – it’s just that they’re always sort of in the way. Like, I guess in Gldani there were layabouts and loiterers, but there were places for them to go where they weren’t like, interfering in the activities of the productive members of society.
Plus in Gldani the bazaar was right there, and in Vera if you want a big shopping center you have to go farther… these are all really minor things but I just feel like my overall quality of life in Vera is lower and it grates on me in the day to day. It reminds me of living in New York.
Plus it’s now been over a month and I still have no internet.
Anyway it’s weird because I really love working in this neighborhood – being at school 51 and having Elvis and all the buses and stuff nearby, being centrally located – and yet I find living here to be pretty irritating. Maybe I’m just not a “center of town” kind of guy. Still, there is one major, major benefit that might just make it all worthwhile – that being, at least I don’t have to commute.
“ვერა ხარ” (vera khar) literally means “you cannot be” but it’s used as something you say to someone who doesn’t know how to be normal. I guess metaphorically it’s like saying “you are so strange that I doubt the possibility of your existence.” It’s one of those slang expressions that I’ve picked up from my students that invariably makes Georgians laugh when I say it. I’m thinking of writing a song about Vera and calling it “ვერა ხარ.”