Early mornings, as I get ready for the upcoming school day, the smell of faint embers is crisp in the air these days. It’s spring already, and wet rainy musky odours mix with that of burning cornstalks in the fields behind the house as the farmers prepare their fields for the upcoming season of planting. The lone road leading out towards town is trafficked by cow, horse, pig, duck, the occasional diesel-powered vehicle, and of course, farmer. But this is no ordinary man, for he’s a farmer of many hands, faces, duties and tans; equally knowledgeable of the ways of the ferocious valley winds, bolts and electrical wires, the chopping of firewood, as well as proud bearers of a handy MacGuyver-like ingenuity when it comes to mechanical and metal work.
Once school’s done in the afternoons, I sometimes take off on the rickety minibus [marshutka] that rides through the village, headed for the local town about ten kilometres away. If it’s been a particularly wet couple of days, you see toads hop across fields and front porches and roadsides in a mad sprint for safety. You might also see cows perched right in the centre of the narrow road (the only road, I might add once again), taking up more than half of the allotted space, defying cars to just turn around and head back for home, defeated by bovine whimsy. (Newcomer though I am, even I know that getting caught in the crossfire gaze of a herd of cows can reduce IQ points by the minute in the unfortunate bystander. Laugh now, but you have been warned.)
A rumble of thunder in the distance reminds me that springtime in Georgia is unpredictable and capricious at best. I’m not a fan of the biting cold rain and the sometimes relentless chill wind of March, having experienced three of them in a row now. They howl through the low-lying region of Abasha, hemmed in by the mountains on all sides of us, battering up against the farm house walls and sending any stray animals that may be around fleeing for their lives. As soon as winds arrive, the entire village power supply cuts out completely, without fail. These blackouts easily last for three or four days at a time.
And it is at those times, perhaps by the time the fourth evening rolls around, when we at the house are huddled around a couple of candles and sit close to the fireplace chatting and laughing late into the evening, that we might be forgiven for half believing that electricity itself was simply a figment of somebody else’s imagination, rather like some quirky half-truth about far away lands that Marco Polo might once upon a time have brought back from the Mongol Khanate to regale medieval Venetians with. (Marco Polo might feasibly have passed through Georgia in his travels, and I wonder if he might have drunk from the same wine horns, while listening to magical poylphonic singing and answering the ubiquitous questions about whether he had any brothers and sisters back home.)