We were sitting huddled around the fire in the kitchen.
Every few minutes one of us would kneel down before it to fan the flames, to increase the heat in the frigid room. It was the only source of heat and light at night.
All winter we lived our evenings around that fire. Sometimes we played the panduri, a Georgian national string instrument, and sang. Sometimes we tried to hit each other with the panduri. Most nights we did both. But always, always, as close to the fire as possible.
At first, it was…novel. An adventure. Exploration of a world beyond my previous experience. But after 3 months without water, electricity, gas and regular heat, it became…life. Not easy, no. But–life.
Raising my hand to turn on and off light switches ceased to be automatic. There was never a reason. Not washing, that was the hardest. Or maybe it was the cold nights, when water bottles froze solid next to my bed and I climbed in fully dressed. Then there was the lack of light in my room, which had a blanket hammered into the wall to block the hole in the window.
It was life. And really, not that uncommon for many people around the world. A great Peace Corps lesson.
One night, my adorable host mom turned to me, suddenly curious.
“Ruth,” she asked, “in America, what do you do when you don’t have electricity, gas and water?”
I paused. What would we do, if ever such a thing happened? We’d be in dire straights. We don’t know how to cope, for the most part, pushed up hard against the elements.
“I don’t know,” I answered slowly. “It never happens.”
She looked into the darkness, pondering my answer. Then she shot me a mischievous grin.
“That’s what’s great about Georgia,” she announced. “Everything can happen here.”
Bless her soul. 🙂