On a random night in Tbilisi, Georgia I went for a nice walk through the old town with a friend. We walked up and down the hills, all the while I wondered how the babushkas (grandmas in Russian) can handle these intense inclines. I also wondered how people can navigate these hills during the winter, and how the cars don’t lose traction and start slipping backward while trying to climb the hills.
Anyway, it doesn’t matter. What does matter is how safe Georgia is. It’s nice walking around without a passing concern for safety. It’s not the first time I’ve experienced this. Pretty much anywhere I’ve been outside cities have been safe. European cities are safe as are the cities in the Persian Gulf. Cyprus was safe as well.
We passed by churches, old homes with beautiful balconies, couples old and young going for a walk, parks, and lots of stray cats. The air was cool but not cold. It was perfect. Even the graffiti seemed perfect, with this artistic graffiti artist turning one of the Georgian letters into a heart on his/her own accord. It would normally not be connected at the bottom (I think… My Georgian alphabet skills are basically nonexistent).
As we walked around, we went into one of the many, many small stores here who all sell the same basic household items – cleaning products, beverages, fruits/vegetables sometimes, pasta, gum, cigarettes, bread, etc. My friend needed wrapping paper to wrap the gift she bought for her friend. The store we were in was the last place I would look for wrapping paper, but she was completely right. He pulled out a bunch of it and I was shocked. I was so shocked I turned around to see what else they had and found this horribly named laundry detergent. It’s Iranian and barf = snow in Farsi.
Now that we had wrapping paper, it was time to head to the first birthday celebration. It was a low-key event held at a cafe. I didn’t speak much to the birthday girl. Neither her nor her friend I met there spoke much English – or they didn’t feel comfortable using it. But my friend introduced me and the birthday girl’s friend asked if I had any Latin roots.
It turns out she is a professor of Spanish and we both lived in Madrid. I had my first conversation in Spanish since speaking in Madrid six months earlier. It was great! We only spent a little bit of time there because we needed to get to the next birthday party. We picked up another friend along the way and arrived for the second party. My friend told me I’d get to see how a young Georgian family lives.
I entered the home and the birthday girl was breastfeeding her baby. A scene like this would have made me uncomfortable in the U.S. Traveling has helped de-sexualize the breast for me and better appreciate their intended function. I feel truly shameful that women in my country still face an uphill cultural battle to use their breasts for their intended purpose in public.
That was a tangent.
After saying our hellos I entered to find a member of the party already passed out, bottle in hand. Clearly he had too much to drink before we got there.
Yes, the older son was fast asleep at 9pm. I guess he had a long day and crashed hard when the birthday cake’s sugar rush wore off.
We had some nice food and conversation. They were interested in my experiences in Asia and they were interested in my Buddhist Temple experience.
They were speaking Georgian and every once in a while I was thrown a translation bone to follow along with what was being said. All of a sudden my friend asked me if I like Georgian hymns. “Sure, why not?” I was in the company of a professionally trained singer and friends who all loved singing. Though the clip below has bad audio quality captured from my phone, I can promise you it was a genuine treat being there in person and hearing all the songs they sung.
I can neither sing nor dance. Both make me horribly uncomfortable. I can’t dance at all, and I always wonder where I should look while dancing. Too much eye contact and it’s weird. Not enough and you seem like you’re in your own world.
As I watched these Georgians singing it was very interesting. It was obvious how much they enjoyed singing and it was obvious they had no problem maintaining eye contact while singing. My armpits would have been sweaty messes if I were in their shoes. Luckily, I could just observe and appreciate the beauty I was being exposed to.
It wasn’t a very late night given the babies and all, but it was nice. I met five new people, talked in depth with the one in Spanish and less so with the rest due to real or perceived language barriers. I had amazing food. I got to witness beautiful Georgian singing and see the beautiful babies smile and laugh and then sleep like angels. I don’t normally write about these more … mundane? … moments on this trip. There are many, I sometimes wonder how intrusive it is for me to share them for the others involved, and I fear they are boring to read about. At the same time, this is traveling for me: getting inside people’s homes, sharing ideas, seeing things from new perspectives, learning so much, experiencing culture firsthand, and feeling alive.