Roommates

It’s always interesting when you room with someone. Especially when you have no control over who you’re going to be placed with. The following is more or less my collection of notes I took over the past month living with Pakistani host brother. He’s now in Tbilisi, so I feel a bit better about posting some stories.

I tried a brief stint in the dorms at Calvin College my freshman year, but didn’t last long, and lived at home through my college years. It made more sense: home was only a few miles away, I had all of my bicycles at home, Graham and the dog were at home, the food was better, and I didn’t have to live by eating schedules or curfews. Plus, I’m not exactly a social butterfly, so I wasn’t too eager to live in the dormitory with a bunch of Calvin students.

As a result, I never really experienced what life was with roommates until I took off for Prague after graduating in 2009. In August I was put up in socialist style apartment housing on the outskirts of the city (I told one of my professors, who had lived in Prague, where I was living. His response: oh, you’re out in communist land), and had two roommates. George and Andrew. It was like our own little dysfunctional family. We quickly set up the family dynamics. They talked; I sat and stared into space. We had a delightful little trio. God, the stories from that month… I recall Andrew talked about everything under the sun. Basically a running monologue of his sensory perception. I learned to tune most of it out, and I didn’t need much input into the conversation. But one morning, as I was out the door for the metro, he called me from the kitchen: Hey, Sven, do you believe in determinism? Hold on, I said, that’s not a two minute discussion as I’m heading out the door. I had to go sit down. Oh, that was a funny month.

(Photos courtesy of George. Thank you George for unknowingly sharing them.)

After August, I had to find my own living quarters. I settled on a dirty room in a dingy apartment; I figured it was kind of like a Raskolnikov room. Maybe a Taxi Driver shack. (Oh, that room. Shudder.) There was a common kitchen and bathroom that united three seperate rooms. In one lived George the Greek, and in the other lived an unnamed, greasy Kazakh. I call him greasy because he tended to not clean up after his kitchen messes. The walls and doors would be splattered with oil, countertops were constantly under a layer of grease, and often the frying pan would have a quarter inch of grease in it.

I didn’t have roommates for a while after that, aside from living in hostels this past fall, which, I guess, is really good preparation for the worst of roommate scenarios (oh, the Istanbul snorer… wince!) I didn’t know what to expect out of living with a Georgian host family. That was the one aspect of this program that really worried me: what if my family situation is absolutely miserable? I hadn’t prepared myself for a dormitory life with a Pakistani roommate though. This has been a cultural experience all its own.

But as with my other roommate experiences, the dynamic is basically the same. I basically sit back and stare into space as the conversation and nonstop questioning swirls around me. While I don’t really participate in the conversation much, just basically give one word responses, I do make note of the conversations that are really priceless, that I have to write down immediately. Here are a few:

Regarding how conservative Georgian women are, and frustrations with more traditional gender roles: “Where are you going to go to meet girls, man?” Well, I plan on sitting in my room, reading and writing, or else wandering around the city. Maybe you need to find some way to occupy your time. But still, man, if we were in Tbilisi, at least there we could find some women, man! At least it’s not like here, man!

I don’t even know what brought this one on:
How tall is 5’2″?
What, in terms of centimeters?
No, like for a girl, man, is 5’2″ really short?
Uh… I guess 5’2″ is pretty short, why?
No, I’m just thinking, man. So what’s like a good height?
Uh, I don’t know. What do you mean?
For like girls, man, what’s a good height? What’s normal?
Uh… I don’t know. Maybe 5’5″ I guess would be pretty normal, I haven’t really thought about it.
Well sure, man, but then sometimes they wear heels right, and then they seem taller. Like, I don’t want to be with a girl who’s taller than me, but they all wear heels here and seem a lot taller than they are. It’s kind of deceiving, you know? Don’t you think?

Most of the conversations are just him asking me weird, random questions that are absurd, and I have one word responses. Hey, did you bring a laundry bag? No. So how did you get your clothes to the washer? I carried them. What, just in your arms? Yes.

Or: Why did you hang up your clothes? So that they can dry. What, do they not have a dryer here? No, of course not. Where did you think we were? What are you serious, there’s no dryer?! No. Well, I talked to the director, he said there was a drying room. Yes, that’s where I hung my clothes up to dry. But he made it seem like there was a dryer. No. We are in Georgia. Of course there is no dryer. That’s crazy, man, why don’t they have dryers? Do they not know about them?

He doesn’t really know how to order food in restaurants, and his grasp of the language is significantly behind mine, and I know about five words. In restaurants, I can order kebabs, Khinkhali (meat dumplings), or Lobiani (some bean dish), along with Ludi (beer.) So if I’m not eating in the cafeteria, that’s what I eat. But Pakistani host brother can’t order in restaurants. He’ll sit down and say so what do you think I should order, man? I don’t know, what do you want? Well, what are you getting? I’m getting Khinkhali. Yeah, but I can’t eat that, it has pork in it. Well, maybe you should order something else. Do you know how to say chicken? No. Oh. Well I wonder if they have chicken here. I don’t know, I can’t read the menu.

One day he discovered that there are Khinkhali without pork in them, that you can order all beef ones. I was skeptical, in the cafe, as I said we wanted Khinkhali. It’s going to have pork in it. No man, I don’t want it if it has pork in it, just order the beef ones. I don’t know how to order those. You don’t? I was counting on you man, what are we going to do? Well, look up beef in your little dictionary. (we got it settled. Server asks: Ramdeni? – how many?) How many do you want? (I get no answer.) Uh… khuti. Ara, ara, ati (I tried to order 5, but scrapped it and just ordered 10, a number that I know) So how many did you get, man? I got us 10. 10? That’s a lot, man, I don’t want that many, I’m not even that hungry, I hope you’re eating a lot of them.

It’s kind of funny, when we go out with other people, I really don’t speak much. I’m generally a quiet person anyway, and don’t say a whole lot, but with Pakistani host brother around, I really shut up. He’s got a running monologue about his observations of things here, how he doesn’t like them, how he wishes things were different, or is asking me questions that really don’t need answers. Or, one day, we met some Germans. What else to talk about, other than an old friend of his who is really, really German. Oh yeah, how so? Well, he’s really into the Wehrmacht and he’s a neo-Nazi. He’s really into Germany. So I stay quiet, partly because I’m so astounded at the words coming out of his mouth that I can’t even begin to think of anything to say, and partly cursing my luck that I’ve found myself in this situation.

For the Georgians we’re with, though, this is strange. The one is always talking, and the other never talks, walks behind everyone else, and just frowns all the time. The other day one person said – Sven, why do you always look like you’re not having a good time?! You always stand there with your arms crossed, looking like you are upset, never talking to anyone. Well, I don’t know, it’s just how I am I guess! I wanted to say that, were I in a different environment, other conversation partners, perhaps, my mind could run on a different level and I could think of things to say. But of course I can’t go into any of this, mutter a few things, try to convince everyone that I’m having a ball, and do my best to crack a smile.

Oh, but thankfully he is gone. Which is why I’m posting this now, as I’ve collected these notes over the past month. But the stories continue! He’s in Tbilisi now, and I got some stories from the dorm director. He doesn’t have any plug adapters, because for the last month he was just using mine. I figured he would just conveniently forget to give it back to me, but surprisingly, he gave it back to me before leaving. The dorm director was in Tbilisi over the weekend visiting his family. And Pakistani host brother called him up to help him out with some things.

They went to a market to get a plug adapter. But PHB said it wasn’t the right kind of adapter for his laptop. Wrong kind of plug, I guess. I don’t know how it was for the wrong plug, as they are normally universal, but apparently this one was for the wrong plug. So the dorm director, asked PHB to show him what kind of plug he needed it for. Well, his laptop was at home. So they didn’t get the plug adapter.

Next up – USB cable for his Blackberry, again because he didn’t bring it with him. Same thing – this is the wrong adapter for my Blackberry. Well, PHB, show the man in the shop your Blackberry. Well, it’s back at home – again didn’t have it with him.

So director spent his afternoon trying to help PHB run errands. But everything he needed, he couldn’t show people in the shop because he left his things at his new flat. So director put PHB on the marshrutka and told him to get off at the last stop, which was right across the street from his new flat. So PHB called director an hour later, lost. Where are you? Apparently he walked around a kilometer away from the marshrutka stop. Why did you walk there? Well, he didn’t know.

But in a wonderful twist of fate, his replacement is a delightful British chap (bloke, fellow, mate), and he and I get along rather well together. The stories probably won’t be as entertaining, but I think I can live with that.

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