In Tbilisi there is a large monument on one of the hills overlooking the city called Kartlis Deda, or Mother of Georgia. Kartlis Deda is supposed to be the quintessential symbol of the Georgian spirit throughout history. In one of Kartlis Deda’s hands she holds a sword for those coming as enemies, and in the other a glass of wine for those coming as guests.
I grew up in Texas so I naturally take hospitality very seriously. However, I must say that Georgians take the idea of hospitality to a level that surpasses anything I have ever experienced. To Georgians, a guest is a gift from God. Making a guest feel welcome is so entrenched in Georgian national identity that it is codified into a monument that looks over the capital city.
The warmth of Georgian hospitality has colored my living experience and has helped me feel more connected with my host community. For the duration of my program, I have been living in the heart of Batumi with a Georgian host family. Officially, I have a host mom and a host grandmother. But unofficially, it feels like I have been adopted by the entire apartment building. My host mom has an eagle eye for any like or dislike when it comes to food and will talk to me about what it’s like growing up in Batumi. We’ll laugh over cultural differences and mourn the difficulties of everyday life right now. My host grandmother, on the other hand, expresses her love through yelling at me to eat more, teaching me how to eat “the Georgian way,” bringing home ingredients to make homemade khachapuri, and wordlessly snatching my pants out of my hands to sew the buttons back on. It’s loud. It’s a little confusing. But it feels so comfortable.
My host family has since extended to families that live above and below us in the building. There are two young boys that live upstairs who have introduced me to a popular video game character and stuffed toy called Khagi Wagi. In the evenings we’ll throw Khagi Wagi across the apartment and they’ll bring me homemade popcorn while I’m crying over my Russian homework. Their dad, who I have taken to calling my host uncle, will bring homemade Georgian delicacies to our apartment on Saturday mornings, show me videos of him and his friends dancing traditional Georgian dances to Gangnam Style at weddings, and talk with me about the state of the real estate market in Georgia and Turkey on the balcony until the mosquitoes make a feast of us. The girl that lives a floor down from me was my first Georgian friend and we have so much in common it almost feels like fate that we met.
The spirit of Kartlis Deda is alive every day in my new home. Despite the challenges of not being able to possibly stomach the amount of bread I am served or pronounce the proper Georgian names of the dishes, there is a warmth in the hospitality I experience every day. I am constantly thankful that I get to experience just a small sliver of being a guest in a Georgian’s home. It feels like just as much of a gift.