Friday, August 26, 2011

Me Ver Gavige -- I Don't Understand

I know how to say "I don't understand" in Georgian: Me ver gavige. I say it often.

My hostess speaks hardly any English; I speak hardly any Georgian. (The burden is on me to learn Georgian, so I ain't complainin', I'm just sayin.') 

Sometimes my hostess, "Nino," goes into a long, animated soliloquy in Georgian, telling me, probably in very basic Georgian, something that would be of great interest to me. Or not. The profound and the banal are equally unintelligible.

Externally, I make direct eye contact with Nino as she speaks, nod my head in empathy, and occasionally emit noncomittal noises, such as "uh huh," "hmmm," or "huh," to indicate interest. 

Internally, here is what I'm likely thinking:

"I have no idea what you're saying. I hope it stops soon so I can drop this farce of understanding, and I can sink back into the blissful oblivion accorded a piece of furniture, from which no understanding is required."

"Please don't ask me if I understand, please don't ask me if I understand, please don't ask me if I understand."

The most minute issues sometimes require the most excruciatingly painful, lengthy (and sometimes a phone call to someone with even the slightest bilingual ability, which generally offers nothing to the situation) linguistic efforts, with pathetic returns on the herculean investments of time and brain energy of at least two people. These do not bring out my noble side. No, they tend to bring out my inner, cranky toddler.

For example, I am thinking of the possibility of renting my own flat in Rustavi. I asked Nino's dear friend, "Mariami," what rent goes for in her building. Twenty minutes later, after much frustration on everyone's part - "everyone" by then including Nino, Mariami, Mariami's three children, an in-law, and me - we had made no progress except for my petulant thought, "Holy shit, how hard can this question be?!" (And it was clear from the expressions of the others that they were thinking, "Holy shit, how dense can this American be?!") I mean, really, it made no sense that someone pays rent to the flat owner at the beginning of a two- or three-year period and that at the end of that time, the renter gets all of her money back from the owner! What the hell?! Why can't I get a simple answer to a simple question?

After leaving Mariami's flat, we went to the flat belonging to a relative of Nino's. The woman here actually lives in the U.S. now, and was visiting Rustavi for a vacation. Her English is impeccable. Nino explained our language impasse to the relative, who then explained it all to me: Yes, it sometimes happens in Georgia that, in exchange for a large lump-sum payment, a property owner will let the "renter" live in the property for an agreed-upon amount of time, and at the end of that time, the property owner either repays the "renter" the lump-sum payment or the "renter" gets to keep the property. It is a risky form of borrowing/lending, but it is attractive to the desperate. Well, damn.

So here's a language lesson: Sometimes what you think you understand is correct, even if it doesn't make sense to you.

Here's another example: I was taking my customary bucket bath this morning, enjoying the pleasure of hot water. I turned on the water, wetted my washcloth, turned off the tap, did my thing, then turned on the tap to soap up the cloth, turned off the tap ... etc. Presently Nino starts talking to me outside the bathroom. It was kind of early in the morning, which meant my brain wasn't completely engaged anyway. Nino seemed to require some sort of response from me. I said, "Me ver gavige. (I don't understand)" More talk. I said, "Budishi (I'm sorry), me ver gavige." Nino said more, adding a sound that was similar to a hoarse dog barking. And I'm thinking, "I don't understand what you're saying or what you want. And I'm naked here, OK? Why are you making me talk to you while I'm standing naked in a wash basin with three inches of water in it? What do you want me to do in this moment?" But I say, "Budishi, me ver gavige. I don't understand." Eventually, my brain plucks out the word "gasi" from Nino's statements, which it puts together with the hoarse-dog-barking sound effect, and I realize Nino is talking about the gas water heater, which evidently she wants me to stop engaging when I use the hot water for my bath. So I switch to cold water only, feeling very grumpy indeed.

Once I'm out of the bathroom and getting dressed, we revisit this issue, and I come to understand that Nino didn't want me to turn the water on/off, as it kicked on the gas pilot each time, which might wake up Giorgi. Instead, I can just leave the water run. OK, now I've got it.

Language lesson learned: Sometimes a hoarse-dog-barking sound means gas, and sometimes, as it did a week or so ago, it means the sound of a hoarse dog barking, which kept Nino awake one night. It's all in the context.  

Thank God Nino doesn't seem to hold a grudge.


Anonymous said...

Hilarious! Thank you!

Tako_1205 said...

haha..Im from there and am so excited to see people visiting and exploring this country. I miss being there so much.