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Sunday, December 11, 2005

Professor Drinky-drink

I recently began teaching a course at Black Sea University, a small private college (and not a university at all) located on the outskirts of Tbilisi, the capital of the Republic of Georgia.

My first day at work was a classic adventure in Georgian culture. I took a marshrutka (minibus) to get there, the best way to get around in the former Soviet Union (my trip was about 10 kilometers and cost 25 cents). Now, a marshrutka will take you in the general direction of where you want to go, but you may not be on the exact block or field or gas station--that's the price you pay for the good deal. So when the driver declared that we were as close to the university as we were going to get, I stepped out of the marshrutka and found myself next to a giant hole in the ground that just did not give me that "college nearby" feeling. The driver pointed vaguely in the direction of the pit.

As I walked around the edge of the pit (so I chose to interpret his directions), a tiny building resolved into a snack stand, curiously positioned about 50 meters from the highway where it can only serve the many drivers who want to come by and see the pit. I walked up to the low window to ask directions; there were four women of various age sitting behind the tiny window, having a blast, chatting and drinking and laughing loudly. They barely paused to give me a glance as I asked for help in broken Georgian, shrugging at the mention of "Shavis Zghwa Universiteti" and offering me a glass of water, which I politely declined. One woman suggested a long list of options, and from her companions' laughter I took them to have been lewd (and I wished I could understand them!). Finally taking pity, she came out and pointed me around and said "Marshrutka, stop, okay?" and she handed me the glass of water and made a drinking motion. Why not, I said, and drank it down, and of course it was vodka, and the women giggled hysterically.

At this point let me mention that on the phone, a dean had told me that I should come in to have a light lunch chat, to find out if I would be a good match for the university, and to discuss what subject I might like to teach. When I arrived, a bit tipsy but in the right place thanks to the help of my drunken friends, he casually mentioned that in twenty minutes I would be giving a two-hour lecture on "the American novel." Holding my hand casually over my mouth and finding excuses to turn my head away from him every time I exhaled, I told him no problem!

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