“The raw afternoon is the rawest, and the dense fog is densest, and the muddy streets are muddiest…”
–Charles Dickens, Bleak House
I write this while sitting next to the pechi, seeking warmth, for it is the only source of heat on this dreary day. Zhuzhuna–my host grandmother, with whom I maintain a love-hate relationship–sits in the armchair that Rezo so often claims as his own, clad in black. Her friend, a woman with the leathery skin of sun exposure and the wrinkled exterior of age, sits close, the scarf over her head leading me to believe that she is one of the many Muslims that live in this village. Both women are wearing heavy socks, probably layered, that leave the feet looking thick and padded; long skirts, with warm pants underneath; and black sweaters that they have each pushed up to their forearms. They are old, and the age shows in the white hair of Zhuzhuna and the weathered hands of both.
The warmth from the stove has numbed my face, and left me desiring nothing more than sleep. But, as I am soon visiting Sid, and the journey by foot is long, I am without time.
The walk will take me down the mountain and into the base of the valley where a paved road and a few shops can be found. On my way down my boots will become covered in the wet earth, and it is possible (probable) that I should slip on the loose dirt and soaked stones at least once, for my descent (and therefore my climb when I return) is steep. From the top, I will look across the canyon and see Akho, the village directly in eyesight from mine. I will pass tree after tree, some which have changed from green to a fiery orange with the coming of cold, some which persistently refuse, hanging onto the remnants of summer. I will watch the sky, inundated with rain-filled clouds, and keep my fingers crossed against them opening, yet toting my red umbrella in preparation. I will look past the mountaintops, blanketed in fog, to whatever blue lies beyond, and watch as the hawks chase each other, assured in my belief that they are playing a game of lovers’ tag.
From the center I will head east, greeting shopkeepers and the students of another school, nodding courteously at whichever drivers may pass along the way and offer me a ride, explaining to them kindly that I prefer to walk. I will cross the bridge that protects me against the angry waters of the river below, grey and brown and bubbling in its furry. I will walk still, when the road turns again to dirt, until I reach Kokotauri and I hear the “hellos!” of the children of that village call out to me. And then I will open the gate that never quite closes and make the final few steps up the hill, up the stairs, and in the door of my destination.
When I have drank my coffee, discussed my day with my hosts, practiced English with their children, and smothered the two year old, Giga, with love and affection, I will kiss the family goodbye, promise to return soon, and start my journey home.
It seems almost instantaneous that upon my departure the great billows above me burst, and the rain begins in sheets, the wind cackling at my poor timing. But here, returning to the warmth of Sid’s home is not an option, for night is coming, and brings with it the sounds of the jackals howling at the moon. To make the walk in a forest that is unaided by any light would be imprudent, and so I continue.
Once I reach the mud, I walk the 45 minutes up the mountain. I watch as the day turns to night—a beautiful sight anywhere, but even more so set up in the mountains in solitude and silence, the flood turned to drizzle. I observe with delight the moss that inhabits this woodland, a color that must have inspired Crayola in the creation of the “florescent green” crayon. I pass two men dressed in camouflage with rifles across their backs and another chopping wood despite the threatening weather. I talk briefly to someone I do not know, who asks me when I will be a guest in his home, and to another family that I do, who repeats the same offer. As I make my way up the final incline, I catch myself speaking to the group of cows that I have fallen in step with, encouraging them up the hill as much as myself.
The dark is nearly settled by the time I reach home. The boots, as predicted, are plastered in soil; my jeans spotted with storm; my hair in damp curls. I embrace the heat that encircles my frame upon entrance, smile and jump into conversation with my brothers. I rub my hands together over the fire, inquire as to whether the kettle is full of hot water, and ready myself for the rest of the night in this curious place.