A few weeks ago my children and I were invited to stay on a remote farm in the Western countryside of the Republic of Georgia. We are moving back to the U.S. in a few weeks, and a trip outside the city sounded like a good way to escape the stress of packing, planning, organizing and saying the many goodbyes that take a toll on children and adults alike.
We set off late morning (no Georgian does anything before 10am – a strict no rush policy I have come to appreciate) and drove down the highway that eventually turned into windy mountain roads, then down along the seaside, until we reached a narrow gravel road that led to a tiny village of houses high on a hill. It was an old tea plantation during Soviet rule, with acres and acres of tea. But now just a few sprigs of tea popped up here and there pushed up against weeds and wild blackberry bushes.
A large gate opened at the end of the road, and our host immediately apologized for the state of the house, although it looked to be one of the better ones in the neighborhood. It was her parent’s house – the place where she was born and raised. They were doing a few renovations and there currently was no electricity or water. She politely showed me to the outhouse, next to the chicken coop and provided a bucket in case the children or I needed to go in the night (much too dark to try to make it to the outhouse after 9). And I was instructed on how to use the well if I needed water for tea or cooking, and proudly shown a bucket of frothy fresh milk from the cow. I nodded politely. My host spoke no English – only German and Georgian. And her parents just Georgian. And my German, while I call it conversational, is tragic at best.
After the tour I felt every bone tense. The children had run off into the woods to goodness knows where, the well was poorly covered, the milk I was being offered was straight from a cow who was still mooing for the milking to continue, and I could actually see the fleas hopping off the black, friendly dog rubbing against my right leg. The chicken pecking at my left shoe was the least of my problems.
For dinner we ate khachapuri – a traditional Georgian pastry of bread and cheese. It had a different taste – so fresh and warm and unlike what we order at the Georgian restaurants back to the capital city of Tbilisi, where we live. Wine in plastic water bottles was served and tasted better than anything I had in a bottle. With a little help from the wine, I started to relax and look around. Everything was simple, happy, and fresh.
It was 11 or 12pm, but Georgian children stay up as late as they like, and neighbors wandered in and out wearing bathrobes and slippers with babies and children to chat and drink wine or tea. In the morning the kids were fine despite a lack of sleep - energetic even – off in the woods in their pajamas collecting fruit and eggs, and helping the grandmother milk the cow.
By the second day, the children and I had mastered the outhouse and the bucket. And although hand washing wasn’t easy we managed with a bucket of well water and promptly gave up on showering altogether (we did get one shower in at a kind neighbor’s).
I even relaxed about the kittens nibbling on any leftovers in the kitchen that would inevitably be nibbled on later by children and then the kittens again and then possibly the dog or the rooster if either could manage to get in the house.
On the third day, I let go. Anyone who has been able to escape modern civilization knows this feeling. It isn’t the same feeling that you get when you go to a spa or a vacation home at the beach – places you have everything you need and the time to use it. This was about letting go of all those things you think you need.
The kids had rosy cheeks, running noses, skinned knees and their clothes were absolutely filthy. At one point I found them completely covered in mud in a pig pen playing with tiny piglets. They ran through the streets freely to neighbors houses and through fields.
The cows strolling down the streets were lazy and beautiful. If I was looking for the kids I would often find them in the old tea house where they used to dry the tea. Now it is a gathering place for children to practice the latest dance moves or chase each other with sticks. The local girls showed us Georgian dance and something that went along with a Katy Perry song.
The grandfather who spoke no English gathered fruit and vegetables and presented them to me – so proud they were his own and begging us to return to September when the rest of the fruit was ripe. We met with neighbors who had known each other for generations and each with a story more interesting than the next.
I am not saying it was an easy 4 days. I could never quite get over the fleas and the first thing I did when we returned was scrub everyone down from top to toe. But it was a form of meditation that I had not experienced since I was a child.
We’re back in Tbilisi now and packing, organizing and going to goodbye parties. We have no furniture and we can’t find anything we need when we need it; and each day seems to be met with a new sort of chaos as we move from one life to another. But our weekend away made us realize we don’t need much. The bowl I am so attached to and the set of sheets I love, or those candleholders that I chose so carefully at the bazaar – none of it really matters. And if it gets lost in the shipment or breaks, it will be fine. Frankly, a little time away makes you appreciate that all that stuff is just stuff. Although I do still find running water exciting even after a few weeks back in the city.
By Suzette McLoone Lohmeyer