Friday, 21 August 2015

First Impressions of Georgia

So we arrived in Tbilisi late in the afternoon and grabbed a taxi to our new apartment. We met our Cousins near the road our place is located and they guided us the rest of the way and helped drag our luggage up to the eighth floor. To be perfectly honest, I was a little concerned. I am used to Soviet era apartments and the general outside being not as important as the inside. However, as I said even, I was a little concerned. If you are coming from NYC, Florida, or Toronto, it will be quite a shock. But relax, have faith and things should work out for you. Fight the urge to run screaming back to the airport. There is that clear enough for you? We loaded the elevator three times as they are tiny here, and you have to pay for them. We are lucky it is a simple monthly fee in other places you have to drop a coin in a very large, compared to  space, box and this allows you to go up and down. My cousin sensing my urge to bolt opened the apartment when we arrived with the first load and went down for the rest allowing me to look at the place.

It is huge, big rooms, modern kitchen, and lovely views. We have half of the floor with balconies on both sides and big windows all around. It is very nice and not at all representative of the downstairs. Curb appeal has even less influence in Georgia! We were sent on our journey in typical Russian form and had loads of snacks, food, and things one needs for a week despite the trip only taking five hours.

Our cousins welcomed us with typical Georgian hospitality. For North Americans, this means treating you like visiting Royalty. Toasts and the food were enjoyed and then we were delivered back to our home for our first night.

            The next morning brought chores like banking, mobile phone sims, and internet connections. Inga’s cousin’s wife helped out and the whole thing was painless and smooth despite a little drama about the machine eating my card. It didn’t and despite general concerns about exchange rates it is like anyplace else in the world that allows you to take out your money from a machine in the wall. This comes with one caveat. In Tbilisi Georgia, you can withdraw Lari, the local currency, or the United States Dollars directly from the cash machine, or cash point for my European readers. My Russian sister Lianna had said you could do this and I thought something had been lost in translation. I have traveled a bunch and haven’t seen this except perhaps at specialized machines in international airports. After the chores and ensuring everything was working fine we sat down for the evening for another feast and discussion about the upcoming trip to “The Village”.

            “The Village” is the little town were Inga’s two Aunts live. It is about an hour and forty minutes by minibus from the central bus station in Tbilisi. The scenery on the trip out reminded me of the Okanagan and the surrounding area. The Village reminds me of my Uncle Jocks farm near Spy Hill by the Manitoba border in the 1960’s. Except I was never there in the sixties, but I remember him telling a story about getting a “throne” in the house after I was born.  The farmhouse has internal plumbing, and an awesome hot shower large enough to wash a horse in. But, the toilet is outside and it is the squat type that causes my calves and thighs to clench. Clenching calves and painful past ninety degree squats are not conducive to easy morning relief no matter how much coffee I drink.  I contemplated changing the design to a North American one. My hosts were very concerned about the rustic bathroom and my Canadian sensibilities. However, a little research on the internet provided me the information that we are doing it wrong. The past ninety-degree angle aligns everything perfectly and it is simply my inexperience at adopting the position that is the problem.  Russian and Georgian people take this position for resting and having a cigarette in casual situations or waiting for a bus. In exploring my bench with a toilet seat idea further, I had to admit a further flaw that even I was familiar with. The dreaded spider!

I have always hated sitting in outhouses. I mean who really likes it. Even if the outhouse is of the variety called ‘the long drop’ they always smell. Even in –20 they somehow manage to reek. But, the worst for me is the giant hairy Brown Recluse spider. Each time I am forced to use one of these I imagine this large lonely spider, brown hairs protruding from his hairy back. The violin pattern mottling from which it derives its other name a warning to other lesser spiders to stay away. He is sitting quietly getting fat off all the flies and other insects his ripe real estate affords him when his world gets plunged into darkness. A vibration more violent than an insect strike stirs his web. His multiple eyes focus on the source, a large hairy pale body descending into his domain. Forced by nature to defend his territory he raises his front feet and exposes his sharp fangs. The interloping sickly pale, loose skin intruder does not retreat. He has to attack. In a quick motion, he attacks sinking his fangs and injects venom that causes the flesh to rot. It will destroy a quarter size area of skin, more than enough for the average spider. Except this ‘spider’ is not a spider at all. The case of mistaken identity is no cause for concern to our Violin spider as he is deaf to the screams of men and is happy as the brightness returns and the flies once again fly into his banquet web. So with all this in mind I had to admit that the open pit squat was a far better design. I just have to get used to the position.

The people are great and the farmhouse itself is very cool. The family here has welcomed us with open arms and despite language issues have done everything and more to ensure the Canadian guests are happy. Uncle can speak better Russian than me and we struggle along with this common foreign tongue. But he is as easy going as me, so even sharing silence and a short walk is done happily. The children have been overdosing on English with Inga and laughing their collective asses off getting me to say words in Georgian. We had another huge feast last night and met another cousin who invited me to go hunting in the morning. We had shared a few liters of wine and I was pretty tired so I politely declined. A few toasts later and with Inga’s encouragement I agreed. I climbed into bed with the knowledge that in four short hours I would be climbing into an unknown vehicle, with unknown men to go hunting for unknown prey.

            The roosters dream woke me up. The damn bird must have been dreaming as sunrise was hours away. I am not a morning person, less so when I have only slept three hours. I tried to dress in the dark and not wake Inga, but she must have been feeling slightly guilty for talking me into this and got up to make me coffee in the strange dark kitchen. We heard the men gathered on the street as we exited the house and I tried and failed to complete my morning waking ritual. The morning was crisp, the coffee hot, and the clenching yoga position was looming. Things only loom in foreboding. The dark walk was looming, the men were waiting, and Inga was fussing. She was only concerned about my comfort and happiness and I was focused on ensuring my intestinal fortitude for the drive and avoiding having to make gesturing hand signals to communicate; “Stop before I shit myself.” While this might be a little too much information for the casual reader, I am only saying what you all know and don’t admit to anyone. Five armed and unknown men are not nearly as imposing as rumbling lower large intestine in a vehicle you don’t control and with a driver that you can’t communicate with. Coffee worked its magic and I was able to join my hunting party on time and in reasonable shape.

The vehicle was a Delica minivan and while it had some off-road attachments it didn’t look up for any serious off-road driving. This is another instance in which I shouldn’t have judged a book by its cover. This little four-wheel drive machine did things I wouldn’t have believed possible if I’d seen a video of a pro driver on a closed course. The darkness was abating as we climbed deep into the Georgian countryside. The thick bush giving way only for a mud covered track containing hills and corners with angles the threatened to flip us over. On one such hill, I was seriously wondering if it were possible to roll backward in a minivan.

We arrived at the spot. I only knew it was the spot because everyone got out and let the dogs out. I had no idea we had dogs inside the van until this point and they obviously didn’t know a Canadian was in the van as they all came over and introduced themselves in the usual dog way. I was even happier for the earlier coffee. My cousin handed me a Turkish made 12-gauge auto shotgun and five rounds. I couldn’t ask about the legality of me carrying a shotgun in Georgia so I just accepted it and loaded it. I noticed a couple of the men were watching to see if I knew my way around firearms and could safely handle it. I passed the test and with everyone relieved and the dogs pulling at leashes we set off in the dark. We walked in silence and the dogs barked ideas and options at one another. I believe they collectively decided on following the white female dog as it was easier for the night-blind humans.

However, the decision was arrived at we found ourselves in a clearing between three mountain valleys. Two men went north and left and two others went right and Inga’s cousin and I were to remain in the middle. In Africa, this would be called the flush point. I still didn’t know what our prey was. In Canada, we hunt birds and clay pigeons with shotguns and while I know the rest of the world does things, differently I was a little concerned as I saw what looked like cat and bear tracks.

The Sun came up behind our position and it was a beautiful thing to see. The mist caught in the trees before being tugged toward the clouds and I fingered my stolen toilet paper and scanned a nice relaxing location to trundle off for a more normal and relaxing Canadian style squat.

We hunted for several hours. The other men hunted with the dogs and we occasionally heard them bray from our dedicated kill zone. It was a good plan. It didn’t work and it was a very enjoyable. The men returned in slow succession in that defeated way hunters do. Happy to have the time to hunt and wishing it had been more successful. I was happy to share the time and culture of this Men Only sport here in Georgia.

            Defeated by chance we returned to the other thing hunters do the world over. We tossed plastic water bottles into the air and blasted them with shotguns. I liked this and in truth was a lot more confident blasting a water bottle than a bear! The hunt completed I was offered the front seat for the drive home and accepted this honor quickly. The drive back was even more beautiful and I shared it with men that only knew my name and family connection. We couldn’t communicate in the usual way, but there were no awkward moments. I pondered this and found it odd. We shared so little past being men and yet we all were comfortable with just that.  The “Village” life is at first glance a little simple, but it does afford people with the gift of time. As we age, we understand time is priceless. While the young people in Georgia move to the big exciting cities of Tbilisi and Batumi to escape the village; many return. Not because they fail in their goal but because they realize the simple fact that sometimes, fast progress and a frenetic life isn’t everything as imagined. Sometimes adopting other designs is just a pain in the balls!

                        In case it is illegal for a Canadian to carry a shotgun in Georgia parts of this story are fictional and only representative of what it would be like actually doing the things portrayed in this fictional account.


  1. Very interesting, as always, with great photos. And here's an easy fix for the toilet issue, as you know my history with plumbing! Buy one of those cheap, very hard plastic outdoor chairs. Cut a huge hole in the middle, so that you can sit on it, get the point. Cut the buttoms off the legs also, so that it's at the appropriate height not to miss.

  2. My Aunt lent me hers. An antique chair designed as you suggest. Her view is towards the mountains and fields so you can leave the door open and enjoy a little nature. Awesome!