Last night my family hosted a supra for St. Barbara's Day, also called Barbaroba, who is the patron saint of children. My grandmother spent all day cooking a variety of dishes, while I helped set the table for 12 guests. Around 6:30 p.m., everyone started arriving. The first thing I noticed that seemed a little off was that nobody wished each other a happy St. Barbara's Day. The second thing I noticed was that there were no women; it was all men. Umm, this is weird considering most of them are married – but okay, maybe there's something I don't know about this holiday.
We all sat down to eat and the wine started flowing. The tamada (toastmaster) started with the typical toasts… a toast to God, to our mothers, to children, to the Virgin Mary, to nature, to our siblings… but nothing for St. Barbara. Later on in the evening, there was a toast for friendship, but it wasn't given by the tamada. My host grandmother's son, Vano, gave it. While he was talking, I looked around the table and noticed all of the men had gotten very quiet and reflective (this was a bit odd since there's usually 5 or 6 people talking over each other during supras). That's when I learned that our supra had nothing to do with this holiday whatsoever.
About a year ago, my host grandmother's husband of 45 years passed away rather quickly and unexpectedly. From the stories I've heard, he was a brilliant man who worked hard and loved his family dearly. And he was so handsome too! I know he is greatly missed by the entire community.
In Georgia, loved ones are honored one month after their passing, and one year after. December 29 will be the one-year anniversary of his passing, so everyone is now planning for this day. My grandmother has already started making the food, and her son has been coming into town every weekend to prepare the gravesite. This particular weekend, they were building an iron fence around his grave.
Vano explained to me that all of these men had come together to help built the fence. They had given him strict orders not to buy anything; everyone would contribute something, whether it was cement, tools or the iron itself. He even tried to rent a blowtorch to solder the iron together, and was told by the shop owner, "No, I won't rent this to you! Do you know how long I knew your father? Take it and use it as long as you need."
So that's why everyone was together tonight, sitting around my dining room table… to honor a man they all loved and to celebrate their friendship.
Georgians may not have the luxuries we have in the States. Their clothes have holes, their houses are in need of repair, they lose power every day, a lot of them don't own cars and they basically live month-to-month. But what they do have are their relationships – both with family and with friends – and that means more to them than anything they can buy in a store. They are such beautiful people who, despite all of the extreme hardships they have faced in their lifetime, truly love and care about those around them.
It was a moment I can't really explain, but I can tell you I had tears in my eyes. I was so moved by this obvious respect and love they all felt towards one another, and felt grateful to have been a part of it. When I leave Georgia in 18 months, I will most certainly leave a part of my heart here.