Georgia on My Mind Again

It’s been a year since Russia invaded The Republic of Georgia. I’m not sure of the politics of the whole thing, but I know the Russians have been chafing at the loss of world influence since the fall of the wall. Sometimes it seems they take it out on the most weak of their former sphere of influence.

Georgia is a sad and beautiful place. It reminds me in many ways of my home state of West Virginia; always being taken advantage of, never being able to assert their proper place in the world, never able articulate their special nature and make it work to their advantage. Georgia is also buttressed by two Muslim states, and fiercely defends its Christian Orthodox traditions.

Tbilisi has some of the most beautiful architecture in the world, Georgian Architecture revered the world over for it’s unique mix of East and West. Many of Tbilisi’s buildings are now losing the battle with gravity, but the great facades of commerce, commerce and religion, still stand proud amid the struggles of the people.

The Russian era sucked the soul from Georgia, and last year’s humiliation didn’t help any.

Below is an except from our Silk Road Crossing travel narrative, as we rode our tandem bicycle across the Silk Road. Georgia was a crossroads of those intertwined trade routes:

Akhalktsikhe, Georgia: The last town before the Turkish border, and with the help of locals, amid much arguing and gesturing, we found THE hotel in town, a 20 Lari ($10) down-the-hall stinking squatty potty, no shower, cold water hotel ($2 in China). We walked around the potholed town center in a dripping rain between slate gray buildings; young men stood on crumbling sidewalks looking beaten, dangerous; vendors braved the wet selling cigarette lighters, cheap radios; anything for a few more Lari before darkness descends. We bought tomatoes and carrots for dinner, twenty five cents.

Back in our single hard bed room, I drink a cheap Georgian beer and gaze out the window at the Soviet era apartment block through the waning rain and gathering gloom. It is a tableau of a former, not yet liberated, life under Communism: clotheslines, mops, jugs of home-made wine, rust-bleeding concrete balconies; a babushka beats on something like wool, shreds it and hangs it to dry; a woman finishes hanging clothes, they sag the line in the soggy air; another babushka drinks wine and eats bread and stares into the mountains drifting with shards of stringy charcoal cloud; an old man limps the short length of his balcony repeatedly, as if exercising, indomitable spirit; three women lean out and talk, echoing between the buildings, gestures of question, of resignation; a Doberman paces and barks from a second story balcony, his babushka comes to check; she has been a victim; a tabby cat makes his rounds along lower balconies, looking for food, he later appears in our third-floor toilet; the only children to grace my tableau, two girls, play with a tattered badminton birdie, and one racket; a man joins the wine drinking woman, lights a cigarette to salute the end of rain; several people appear on balconies and talk all at once to anyone, anyone; and just as suddenly they become quiet, they wander inside leaving a lone couple eating sunflower seeds, they spit over the edge, the husks flutter into the mud.

It is how I imagine Eastern Europe shortly after the breakup, beaten, left alone in a world they know nothing about. I wonder if the older ones were good Communists, rewarded for their patriotism with an apartment to pass on to their children; there are few children or grandchildren, and no money for upkeep. Their asset slowly bleeds iron oxide and sags toward an uncertain end.

Leftovers from Soviet era.

Leftovers from Soviet era. Claire looking at Soviet housing from our hotel window.

Georgia’s future is uncertain, and depends largely on outside forces. The promise of Communism failed them and they don’t have the educational structure or the youth to find their way forward in a new, rapidly chainging world. They have resources, water, rich farmland and willing workers. Will there be room for them in the high tech world?

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