Cake, car horns and consonants - Project Georgia 2014, week 3

Posted in Blog on 30th September 2014

Well, as of yesterday morning I am officially one week into my time here in Georgia – and what a week it’s been! I feel like I have had a crash course in Georgian culture, attempting to ‘catch up’ with Isabel who had already been here for nine days when I arrived. Perhaps the easiest thing to adapt to has been the cuisine. Georgians seem to share my penchant for good cake and Turkish style coffee. I also seem to be becoming partial to two local specialties in particular – lobiana and churchkhela. Lobiana is baked bread with a spiced kidney bean filling, and is fast becoming our staple lunch choice from the bakers across the road from the school. Churchkhela are strings of walnuts covered in several layers of solidified grape juice – they look a bit like knobbly brown candles, but thankfully taste much better than they look. I spent my first weekend here in Tbilisi exploring the city, and visiting the market was a particular delight for the senses; abundant neatly arranged piles of tomatoes, pomegranates and peaches, surrounded by aromatic spices, fresh herbs and huge rounds of salty cheese. Not quite so pleasant an experience has been getting used to the huge volume of traffic in Tbilisi – a cacophony of car horns provides an almost constant soundtrack to the city, and crossing the road is always a nerve-wracking and time consuming affair, thanks to the somewhat wild and unpredictable nature of the driving tactics.

The biggest challenge thus far, however, has definitely been the Georgian language. The combination of a unique 33-letter alphabet, additional sounds to those utilised in the English language and a perhaps unparalleled fondness for consonants results in what is definitely the most difficult language barrier to manoeuvre that I have encountered thus far in life! Despite this, Isabel and I do seem to be managing to communicate successfully with the staff on this project. This is largely due to the help of those who are able to translate for us, and the patience of those who wait while we look up words in our Georgian-English dictionaries. We held our first staff workshop on Friday, with a translator, and the response was very positive – everyone seemed excited and keen to get stuck in and learn more, and I was impressed by the sensitivity, enthusiasm and intuitiveness of the staff group as a whole in their approach to this new style of working.

We have also now began running a number of different music as therapy groups taking place at both the day centre and at the school. These seem to all be going down well with both staff and students. Working cross-culturally as a music therapist in settings such as this brings a whole extra set of considerations to the sessions – what roles of music are recognised within our respective cultures, and how might these roles affect the work? This is a question I have been considering since before beginning the project, and one I am still learning how to answer. However, I was offered an interesting insight into the role of music in Georgian culture upon our visit this weekend to the State Museum of Georgian Folk Songs and Instruments. The guide showed me a book of Georgian folklore, in which each story features music being used to cure various anthropomorphised diseases, perhaps suggesting inherent healing qualities in this context. I will leave you with a quote from the book, whereby the Small Pox disease is banished from a village;

“In the room where Small Pox was having a rest, a young lady surrounded by small kids was singing a song. When she finished singing, she started to retell some story, and afterwards the kids resumed singing. What did they sing! Small Pox was delighted to hear a song in his honour again: “Lullaby, lullaby, Batonebi have arrived, You are welcome, batonebo, lullaby, Leave us, may your path be blessed, Leave us peacefully, lullaby.”

Small Pox had never heard children sing in his honour. He was moved to tears. “My little ones, you are so good to me, you have sung wonderfully! I don’t need anything, I’ll just take the song with me”. Small Pox kissed each child with love and gratitude and flew back to his kingdom happily.”

Until next time,

Jenny

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