Road to Europe: Georgia
Night – 3 o’clock. Road from the airport to the center of the city seemed to be long, although it was well light. A lot of segments of the road were digged and closed, and thus it was necessary to use the less lightened narrow streets of Tbilisi. On our way we had to drive on several cobbled streets, which strengthened impression of the old city.
I came from Moldova, another small country of young democracy, and my subconsciousness from the very first moments of the journey began making comparative analysis of two countries, without stopping this activity for a moment. All organs of sense began to actively contribute to this, registering smallest similarities and differences. Already in the first hours of the travel it became clear: Moldovans and Georgians have a lot of similarities. Both Moldova and Georgia are called “sunny” countries and such climate allowed both countries to plant vineyards for centuries and highly appreciate their own wine. Both Moldovans and Georgians like very much to communicate, and prolonged table-talks with abundant meals that are a custom for both nations offer such a possibility. Cuisines of both countries have identical dishes. Georgian “dolma” looks exactly like Moldovan “sarmale” from outside. And only by biting a piece, one can feel difference in taste. Hospitality of both nationalities became common noun and status of “guest” in these countries is higher than that of a relative. Georgians say “dear!” even to unknown people on the street.
Territorial aspects of two small countries also have some similarities, with armed conflicts on their territories, namely: Transnistria in Moldova and Abkhazia in Georgia. Georgians speak very tenderly about Abkhazia, which is no longer a part of Georgia. If previously the shape of Georgia could be compared with “Golden Fleece”, now the fleece is “decapitated” – tell Georgians.
But what is most important – both countries – Moldova and Georgia – are seriously oriented towards integration to Europe. Declaration of politicians and other high officials from the TV screens and printed pages are the best proof to it. This intention is also supported by different organizations and institutions, which hurry to change their signboards that were written in Russian for hundreds of years, with similar ones in English. National Geographic and other foreign publications are sold in Tbilisi on the streets along with local newspapers. Menu in the restaurants offers information about meals in several European languages. People speak about integration to Europe at the bus stations, canteens and art galleries.
One can find an art gallery in Tbilisi at every 100 meters (more often that street sources with pouring water), where Georgian painters, photographs and other artists display their art. And as water satisfies physical thirst during a hot day, these art galleries satisfy thirst for beauty.
But not only galleries carry out this role. Old neighborhoods and buildings that are preserved in them by miracle also bring joy to eyes of the guests of the capital. One has impression that he walks along the huge cinema studio, where a film about Georgia of the last century is filmed, and all the things around are film scenery. Before arrival of the President of the USA George Bush in May 2005, the center of Tbilisi got a “plastic surgery”: facades of the buildings were repaired, and bright make-up was applied, which allowed the central avenue of the city to have a fresh outlook, like after rain, which was not for a long time in Tbilisi. The secondary streets continued to have downcast appearance. When you see cracks in the walls of the residential buildings and churches which appeared as a result of 1991 earthquake, it becomes clear that one more earthquake will be destructive for the “houses of cards”. It will be a big tragedy to loose these wonderful “scenery”, but even a bigger tragedy might be if the natural disaster will take human lives.
Burning sun can also be considered a natural disaster. On Sunday the city remained for several hours without electrical energy, electrical wires being melted because of heat. But people in Georgia are more resistant, than metal. Even during the hottest day nobody in Tbilisi wears neither sunglasses, nor hat as a protection from sun. A foreigner can be immediately recognized by wearing this stuff. Probably, Georgians love sun so much, that they consider it equal to sin to hide from it. Georgians sing hymns of praise to the sun. The symbol of the sun is one of the symbols of Georgia and can be found on the walls of the ancient churches, on the tails of the modern airplanes, on the banknotes and other objects which are identified with Georgia. Rarely can you meet in Tbilisi elderly lady with an umbrella or a lady in her middle ages, leaning with one hand a journal to her face. If to mention men, one has the impression that they flirt with the sun by the means of the handkerchief. Georgians wear them on their necks or keep in the hands. But just follow how many operations they do with handkerchiefs: they twist them, swing, roll up, whirl, wave, fold, crumple, wet and many other operations. Georgian men also attract attention by their greeting each other: clapping each other’s back, they kiss each other. Women do not express such a vivid delight meeting each other.
Georgian children, even small ones, are very expressive. Boys make gestures similar to those of grown-ups, raising their hands in order to put accent on their words. “Children of street” are so tenacious, that can be compared only with burdock. They clutch your clothes and keep you, until a grown-up will threaten them, telling something in Georgian. Women who beg on the streets make it more diplomatically, but not with a less insistence, addressing to foreigners in different languages, and repeating “one Lari”. A girl, which we met on our way to the ruins on the top of the hill, immediately understood that my husband and I are foreigners and with a smile on her face several times greeted us with “Hello”. What a big surprise did we have, when we discovered portrait of this girl in the first issue of “Georgian Airlines” on the plane from Tbilisi, in the article about UNICEF in Georgia.
Teenagers, beggars and children, fluently speaking European languages, are indicative about seriousness in intentions of Georgians to establish contacts with Europe.
Multiple flags with European symbols also prove that Tbilisi is almost a European capital. European symbols can be met in the city quite often ï¿½ even on the flower bed in the center of the city, where the flag of Europe seem to be embroidered by blue and yellow flowers.
Georgians are seriously making their plans to win hearts of Europeans. In 2006 Europe will hear how Georgians sing – for the first time Georgia will participate in the Eurovision contest. Georgians already made their selection and the winners are impatient while waiting for this opportunity to present themselves and their country. It should be something really special because of the voices of Georgians – they reflect power and strength of the mountains.
One can find a lot of proofs of love of Georgian people for their new president, Mikheil Saakashvili. His portraits can be found on the walls and fences, without being destroyed by time or by a human hand. If Georgians mention their President in discussions, they tenderly call him “Mishka”. Georgians are aware of two his weaknesses, but they have indulgent attitude for them.
The Rose Revolution that took place in November 2003, placed a strong foundation for hope in the souls and minds of Georgians. They expect a lot from their new President and he tries not to disappoint them. Like Moses took out Jews from Egypt and like Joshua Navin lead Jewish nation into the promised land, Georgian President and his team carry out these two roles and pave the road for people of Georgia into Europe.
Georgia hurries to enter into Europe. This might be the reason, why Georgia began rapidly repairing its roads -ï¿½ the whole center of the city is dig and every day more and more meters of black asphalt make Georgia closer to Europe.
Fight with corruption also makes part of preparations for joining Europe and it actively takes place in Georgia. Probably police was in the very top of the corruption rating and that is why reforms were first begun in this sector. Salaries of policemen were raised, with the condition that they will not “milk” drivers. Agreement is respected and there are no policemen along the roads of Georgia, who would request supplement for their salaries from their “victims”.
But instead there are a lot cows, patrolling traffic on the roads of Georgia. They might have smelled out about free movement of goods, people and information in Europe and try to defend rights of animals for free movement in Europe.
Style of car driving on the streets of Tbilisi can be easily described, but not easily explained. One can stay for 20 minutes in front of the pedestrian crossroad waiting for a possibility to make a step – none of the cars will stop. Every time while crossing the road a pedestrian feels himself like Anna Karenina, with impression that every car rushes towards him. And if you succeeded to get to the center of the road – it’s just half of difficult task. It will not be easier to cross the second half of the road.
In Tbilisi there are a lot of small buses and a lot of bus routes. When they go one after another, you recall math’s lesson. And when you try to examine their plates, it reminds you the lesson of language. You can meet here plates with numbers like BUS, VIP, WWW, USA and many other short words and abbreviations!
Georgia has a lot of monuments – and not only architectural. Sculptures of different famous historical people, artists, and scientists are waiting in the most unexpected places and positions. But the figure of woman – Mother Georgia – keeps eye on everything what happens in the city, standing high on the hill and being on duty both during day and night. She is friendly, and threatening in the same time: she keeps cup in one hand and sword – in another.
Georgians adopted Christianity in the 4th century AD and since then they are tolerant for other religions. In Tbilisi one can find religious temples of Jews, Armenians, Catholics and Christians in the same neighborhood, at a distance of 100 meters. And what is important – they are functioning.
Representatives of the animal reign (such as cats and rats) also live in peace with each other in Georgia. Without disturbing each other, cats idly stay in the shadow, while rats, like ants, peck in the piles of waste near the building. Can it mean that the ship “Georgia” does not sink yet? (it is known that rats flee from the sinking ship). Periodically one can see used medical syringes on the streets of Tbilisi. Can it be proof of high level of medical services in Georgia which are provided outdoors?
But one can see not only piles of waste in Georgia. Georgia is a truly rich country. Its richness consists in extremely various landscapes, minerals, agricultural products and historical past. There are a lot of legends about richness of Georgia which are fed by the fact that the “Silk Road” went through Georgia. According to Greek legend, Argonauts went to Colhis (part of modern Georgia) to obtain the “The Golden Fleece”. Richness of Georgia can be seen with the armed eye – in the museums and with the naked eye – around. Antiquities are sold in Tbilisi at the open air market like fruits and vegetables. But the main treasuries of any country are people, and it does not matter if they are poor or rich – they are extremely valuable. And after getting to know Georgians better – you understand that Georgia is extremely rich country.
Old taxi, “Volga” drives us towards airport through the long city of Tbilisi, which is stretched along Kura river. Time in Georgia passed quickly. Taxi also goes quite quickly this time on the new roads, which are freshly repaired. Counter of the taxi shows kilometers and rubles, although Georgia uses for a long time its own currency – “Lari”. If Georgia will keep its orientation towards European integration, during our next visit to Georgia it will be necessary to pay taxi driver in euro.