I get off at the old familiar stop, where the taxi numbers are spray painted on an old slab of concrete used as a bus stop shelter and the drivers dodge cows crossing the highway just after the bridge. Whenever I go to the village, everyone in the marshutka gives me an incredulous look, wondering why a foreigner would be stopping in the village of simoneti and wandering down some unknown road.
Two weeks earlier I had returned to the village where I taught several years ago with no warning, surprising my host family and finding life exactly how I had left it nearly 4 years ago. I walked into the house and found my host father, sitting in the same spot he always sat, playing dominoes with the same friends he always played dominoes with, and swearing just as much as always while slamming down dominoes to emphasize his moves. Of course, after enthusiastically saying hello, he continued playing and then waited about thirty minutes until my host mother returned to yell at her to make me some food. Sadly, some things don't change. I sat at my same spot at the table, drank the same wine, and ate the same food. My host mother’s friend showed up randomly, in the same way she randomly showed up on my first night in the village, and the next morning I helped my host father push start his car, just like I had on my first day as a teacher. When we hit the downhill and he switched off the car to save gas, I chuckled and continued to marvel at how consistent their lives were in comparison to the last three years of my life.
This time, as I made my way up the road, I was expecting a small and familiar get together with their family for easter, but as I got closer I saw several cars and a Marshutka parked inside their gate. I walked through the gate and saw people I didn’t know on the porch, and then my host father yelled my name, looking shockingly dapper in his best clothes and telling me to come in while he yelled something like “The American is here!” I walked in and was shocked to discover a huge supra of 30 or 40 people, all there to celebrate easter and the impending marriage of Tamuna and Shako.
Let me describe a supra of this size. Take all the tables from 2 houses, fill them with food so that plates are stacked on plates which are stacked on plates, have two boys continually refilling about five large pitchers of wine, a few mothers walking around telling you to “eat eat eat!!”, and a Tamada continually leading toasts to family, to love, to ancestors, to those who passed, and to nearly anything else you could possibly imagine toasting to. Add in my fiery old host father interjecting with expletive laden toasts of his own, the excitement of two families coming together for a marriage, the half liter horns that were passed around for everyone to drink, and you can imagine it is quite the feast. We eat, we drink, and we each give toast after toast; them in long winded eloquent stories, me in bumbling half sentences that I throw together with my mostly forgotten Georgian. It seems they are never without a reason to drink wine.
Later in the night, we go outside and light up some sky lanterns. This is not much like the Georgian village. Then my host nephew comes out of nowhere with a shotgun and starts shooting at the floating orbs without warning. This is much more like the Georgian village. The tamada does a toast to children and someone gives Luca, the 9 year old, a glass of wine to chug. He finishes it in one go, like a good Georgian boy, and I feel like I see the whole of Georgian history; past, present, and future, laid out right before my eyes. Someone passes out at the table, which signals it's time for the family from Tbilisi to pile into the Marshutka and head home. The rest of us continue on for a few more hours and the toasting gradually breaks down into a long series of people hugging each other and telling them how great they are before they drink more wine together. The Tamada waves me over to teach me the Georgian word for heart so he can tell me I have a good one before we link arms and drink our glasses of wine. It’s quite a way to spend an evening.
The end of the supra is a sight to behold. The table is reminiscent of a scene out of a Doctor Seuss book, with plates and platters and wine jugs stacked precariously on top of each other all over the place, playing a game of chicken with gravity it seems. We leave the cleaning for the morning and pass out in our respective rooms.
The morning finds a return to the perpetual sameness of village life. The men sit down at the table to eat leftovers. The women begin cleaning up the massive pile of dishes. I help where I can, but am usually waved off by the women as a guest. There is yelling and swearing. They all yell at each other. I don’t know what they’re yelling about, but I can’t imagine it’s really a huge deal. I guess they’re just talking, but it sounds like yelling to me.
I pack up my things and tell them I have to leave, and my host father tells me the same thing he always does when I leave. “Why are you leaving? Here we have good food, good wine, and good women! Stay here!” Maybe he’s right. But I get out to the highway and wave down the first marshutka to Tbilisi and sleep off last nights liters of wine on the three hour ride back to the city.