On Sunday afternoons, I know that there is one thing I am guaranteed to hear in the hostel in Tbilisi: “I don’t want to go back to my village. I want to stay here in the city. Stay here with my friends. Maybe I will wait just another hour.” I know this feeling well, I used to live in a small town too. I was glad to move into the city, where things seemed more like they did back home.
Then irony struck.
I have not left the city for ages, mostly because work does not permit it, (weekends are the busiest at hostels) and when I have left, it has been to go to other cities, or to go hiking. I have not stayed in a town or village for at least 6 months now. Over the weekend, my friends and fellow volunteers who live out in Khoni, just the other side of Kutaisi in the Imereti region, invited me out to their town for a birthday party. I thought, ooh, this will be fun, a trip to the villages. I was to stay with a friend’s host family. Another experience I have not had in at least 6 months. Host family. I imagined this would be a trip down memory lane.
It took me around 4 hours of marshrutkaring, including a brief stop on the mountain pass to allow a small human to empty his stomach to get to the town of Khoni, via Kutaisi, where I met a whole pouch of the brand newest TLgers from the last huge group in October. Was nice to hear some of their experiences and how they were doing and coping and how happy they were to be sitting in a McDonalds. Truly this was to be a trip down memory lane. I remember being in that position too, just new to the country and its different foods and different way of life and suddenly in the middle of the city: The Shining ‘M’. I could relate.
I left them, munching happily on plastic burgers and other wonderful plastic things to head out into deepest darkest Imereti. Was I surprised or what? What a GORGEOUS part of this wonderful land is Khoni! I have not been to Imereti in my almost 2 years here and I feel rather stupid for having missed it for this long. I wish someone had told me. I am telling you now: Visit Imereti, its pretty!
I jumped off the marshrutka straight into the town centre. A very neat and tidy place. I hadn’t been standing there more than 5 minutes, when a pig came running up the road. He was running up the down, clearly he had been taught the rules of the road – always walk into on-coming traffic. I hadn’t seen a pig on a tar road in ages and the grin it stuck to my face was large. I watched him disappear around the corner, his ears flopping back and forth as he made a happy grunting sound and thought; “Man, I have missed this.”
On the walk to my friend’s house, I was like a two year old who had just learnt some new words. “Pig!” and “Horsey!” and “Moo-cow!” Were just some of the more commonly heard words accompanied by pointing and sound making. Could hear the tsk-tsking in my friend’s mind as he thought “gah, city people”. I was thrilled.
We walked past many houses, all beautifully maintained with gorgeous front gardens and persimmons hanging from every front porch. Truly idyllic. I was kind of jealous they got to live in this lovely place. It still counted as a town, not a village, and it was gorgeous.
The party consisted of around 10 TLGers and miscellaneous Georgians. We ate enchiladas, pizza, khachapuri, namtskhwari and salati and were well-pleased with the mash-up of Georgian and American foods and how we were able to enjoy the best of both worlds.
We played sports, drank wine, said toasts and exhausted ourselves. Around midnight, myself and the friend whose house I would be staying at decided that it was time to head home, he lives in a village about 20 minutes walk outside of Khoni, so we said goodbye and left the last street lights behind, and then I remembered why I loved being outside in rural places. If there is a star in the sky, you can see it. We switched off our handy Nokia torches and walked in complete darkness.
The sky was alive. A million lights as far as the eye could see. I worked hard not to fall over while I walked with my nose pointed at the sky with the road less than flat underfoot. I realised that while I am in a city, there is something in side me that is like a feather caught on updrafts and downdrafts. It flits constantly, never settling. But, under these stars, on a road in the middle nowhere, feeling like the smallest soul on earth, that little feather landed on the ground and stayed there. I think it’s called peace.
I met a very excited pair of girls who were still awake after midnight playing on the computer and of course they sat me down and asked me every question they could formulate and I tried my best to answer, I had no voice you see, have been fighting the sickness for a week now, it seems to be winning.
I went to sleep in a beautiful big room, a library, between well starched sheets. I closed my eyes, smiled and when I woke up 8 hours later, I had not moved at all and all my limbs were dead. Amazing sleep. That peace. I realised then I had missed it. That small town feeling. That silence.
And then we had breakfast. I think there were 5 children, they were moving around so much and speaking so loudly that I couldn’t really count. Every word of English they knew, was carefully laid out in front of me. They were great kids and we laughed a lot. After the customary shot of tcha-tcha for good health and so much food I thought I would burst, we were on our way back to Khoni for some more sports and leftover enchilladas.
It was around 16:30 when I finally left Khoni, on my way back to Tbilisi: to the city. I didn’t say it, but I did think it: “I don’t want to go back to the city. I want to stay here, where it’s peaceful and where my friends are. Maybe I should have just waited another hour.” There’s the irony. And I genuinely felt depressed to be leaving. I stared out the window as the gloaming took hold of the sky. As everything turned to silhouette and the cows were heading home, I realised that perhaps, when I lived in a town, I took it for granted. There is so much beauty to be had in the simple things, like cows in a field, a girl sitting with her pig, eating a sandwich. It’s beautiful. But we stop seeing at some point, we walk about with our heads down, too caught up in our misery and dissatifaction to notice all the brilliance that is around us.
I am glad to be reminded of this. Glad to remember the Georgia I found myself loving, the Georgia that seemed to disappear in the blur of the city lights. Lift your head up and look around. I think you might be surprised what you can eat with your eyes.