|Everie and His Mother|
TBILISI, GEORGIA I started the day thinking I would catch a taxi to Tbilisi — some 400 kilometers away, instead I ended up in the Caucasus Mountains, with a new friend, Everie, Georgia’s eight hundred meter champion in 2000. “I speak little English. I drive you to Tbilisi. 200 lari ($125).” That’s how we met after I had talked to a number of drivers each quoting higher prices with far less English. “We visit my village on the way. It’s only three kilometers off road.” I thought, “weird,” but okay. Turns out the road was better likened to an enlarged cow path — lots of bumps and mud holes with cows, pigs, and geese competing for the right-of-way. On a couple of occasions, I had to get out to open and close rusty gates. When we reached his home, his mother was fetching water from the family well. His wife with their four-month old daughter rushed out to greet us. Everie proudly showed me his cow and pig, the rabbits that they would slaughter for food, the chickens and ducks, and his father’s prized rusted out tractor. Then it was time to eat. His mother and wife had prepared a meal from their home produced ingredients: cheese, fresh fruit and vegetables, home-made bread, fish from the Black Sea, apple sauce, and a delicious home brewed white wine. It was a banquet and the morning had just begun.
|On the Way|
Turns out, this was but the first of three stops that Everie talked me into making, all relatives whom he insisted we visit, and who, in turn, served up traditional Georgian meals under extremely sparse circumstances. As we left the second place, Everie suggested, “You want to see Mountains — take photos. We take another route to Tbilisi. Find hotel and go to Tbilisi tomorrow.” My trust in Everie had grown, so I agreed. As we drove, he told me: “I was in the Georgian army for eight years and fought in the 2008 war against the Russians. I lost three of my friends to Russian sniper fire. Russian people okay, but we don’t like Putin. The Russians don’t even like Putin. Ossetia belongs to Georgia. We have a good president who wants to get Ossetia back. For me it’s been difficult to make a living in Georgia. I would like to find a job. I studied economics, but can’t find any work. Now I work two months out of the year as a taxi driver. That’s all that I can find. I tried working in Turkey, ironing trousers, but they don’t pay anything and they work you to death. The Turks are very bad bosses.
When Everie wasn’t playing chicken with on-coming vehicles, he was dodging obstacles: huge boulders appearing out of nowhere, construction debris with no warning signs, bottomless potholes, and farm animals of every stripe. Cows in particular seemed to be everywhere. “Who pays if you hit one of these cows?” I asked. “My friend, one month ago, ran into a cow. The lady who owned cow told my friend to pay 1,000 lari. My friend said no, your cow shouldn’t be on the highway. The lady insisted and so my friend called the police. The police told the lady that her cow shouldn’t be on the highway and that she must pay for the damages to his car. The police officer’s logic was reassuring, although it left me still wondering why there were so many cows on the road.
|Everie and Home Owner|
As evening approached and the area became more inhospitable, we started looking for a hotel, but I hadn’t seen one since we began up the Mountains. “No hotel, not a problem. We stay in someone’s home. I ask at this fruit stand.” Two ladies directed Everie to check with the restaurant ahead, where we found a lady who told him she would rent us a room for 60 lari [$37.50]. The room had no bathroom, power outlet, or air conditioning, and breakfast was not included, but we were out of options. Everie told the lady that we were going to Tbilisi, which resulted in a discussion with a lot of arm waving. “We can’t get through with this car,” Everie reported back to me. “We need jeep to make it through. We stay here tonight and go back tomorrow.” The word soon got out that an American was here and neighbors started gathering, probably out of curiosity. One was an English teacher at the local high school. “I love San Francisco. It’s my dream place to live. We are a small country. America doesn’t care about us.” While I stayed up and talked to the neighbors through the English teacher, Everie went to bed.
The next morning, we returned down the mountain and on our way to Tbilisi stopped in Gori, Stalin’s birthplace. Everie didn’t want to have anything to do with Stalin. “He’s done. No more. Don’t even want to talk about him.” But Gori was also where the Russians had inflicted serious damage during the 2008 war, so we stopped by one of the resettlement areas where the EU had built a hundred or so homes for families displaced by the war. Surprisingly, Everie was not shy about talking to the people. A man with a small daughter conveyed to him the grim details of what had happened. A woman invited us into her house to show us how small it was. Outside another home, women took turns thrashing bean stocks. One of the women told Everie: “I lost everything. I lost my husband. The Russians killed him. We lived in a big house. We now have only this 200 square meter lot and this cramped two-bedroom cottage. Like our neighbors, we use every inch of the yard to plant our gardens. We have to. Nobody can find work. Yet we have to pay for the utilities here.