Friday, February 29, 2008

Lasha's Birthday

Around the time Hollywood was celebrating the Oscars those of us in my village put together a little soire of our own that was a virtual who’s who in my neighborhood. Time for Lasha’s 6th birthday party. Lasha’s a neighbor kid whose family is close with my host family. Since his last birthday Lasha has grown up a lot. He doesn’t hide behind his mother’s leg when adults talk to him and it’s been months since he’s wandered into our yard wearing a one-piece girl’s bathing suit.


Lasha’s mother shares cow milking rights with my neighbor so I see her a lot. Lasha’s older sister is one of my students and we talk every day when we walk to school. “Ryan... I English you today yes?” Lasha’s father Skippy is sort of the neighborhood handyman and is a fixture at all the local supras. I often hear him late at night playing a drum and singing at various supras in the neighborhood. They’re good people and neighbors so I made my way there with my host family to celebrate with them.

My own sixth birthday was very different from Lasha’s. I got a baseball hat and a T-shirt and none of my dad’s friends drank 20 glasses of wine or toasted to me or danced on chairs. I also received a Velcro dartboard that stopped working after a few days, but my parents never locked arms and drank wine from oversized horns. I don’t know what young Lasha was expecting for his birthday, but he seemed pleased with the result—a supra.

Children’s birthday = supra. Funeral = supra. Weddings = supra. Christmas = supra. Pretty much any significant day results in a supra. So for Lasha’s birthday he got all the locals at his house, drinking wine and toasting late into the night. While for some it might have seemed like a rerun of most the other supras in the village (same people, same food, same wine, same toasts), those in attendance seemed to enjoy themselves thoroughly.

As per the local custom, wine glasses proved much to small for the significance of the occasion and they broke out the animal horns and filled them with wine so we could toast to Lasha with the necessary respect. When Lasha blew out the candles I don’t know what he wished for, but if it was to see me drink a giant horn of wine and say some kind words in his honor then his wish failed to come true. Lasha ran out of the room in the middle of my toast to play in a back room with his friend. But I made the toast anyway and drank my horn to the bottom. Then I listened to the 30 other men as they toasted to brave Lasha.

The night continued on in this fashion although I disappointed many by refusing to drink from the horn again. “Ryan, you’re not drinking enough!” Really? That’s too bad. My sincere apologies.

A common feature at supras in my village is the well-meaning neighbor who tries to make me feel included by rambling on in Russian to explain the toasts. At this one, a local man at the supra who knew 10 words of English insisted on translating for me even though I knew what was being said. His few English words proved inadequate. “Ryan! I... you... brother... (random Russian gibberish)... wine good...drink!” He repeated this in various forms for some time.

The men continued drinking and toasting for six hours. The women sat at a different table and laughed at them. The children kept tugging on my sleeve to have me take their photograph. Finally at 2am we called it a night and we all set off into the snow for the long walk home.


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