It has been brought to my attention that I am a horrible sister. Therefore, for Mary and Mom, here you go. It just takes a while to write these up, and life has been a little crazy recently.
|At the Cathedral in Tbilisi|
The saga of my sister’s trip to Georgia begins, as all good sagas should, with a bit of a rough patch. Namely, my marshrutka (marsh from now on out, because I am too lazy to type the entire Russian word for minibus/ a special state of being) ride. If you have ever wondered what the 8th circle of hell looks like I can now tell you. It starts with waking up to 5:15am in the morning, to get picked up at 5:30. The only reasons anyone should ever be up at this time is a transcontinental flight or a potentially fatal gas leak, and you had better make darn sure it is potentially fatal. I will readily admit, I am not an early riser. The marsh was late to pick me up and we didn’t leave Mestia until 7am. The realization that I could have slept for another hour, walked to the center, and still made the bus, was to say the least, a mite dispiriting. We were completely full by the time we were 20km out of town. I was wedged in between the driver and another guy up front, which helps prevent motion sickness but also makes sleeping impossible. Bad Russian pop alternated with bad 80s love ballads, playing on loop. The whole trip. Two babies in the seat directly behind me cried and screamed at random intervals so that you could never get used enough to it for it to stop bothering you. They eventually started playing their own games on a phone, adding another special element to the noise. It was exceptionally hot, at least for me, but I keep my sleeves rolled down for as long as possible because I had a henna tattoo on my inner arm and kargi gogos definitely do NOT have tattoos. Eventually I figured, forget it, I’m about to pass out from heat stroke these guys can think whatever they like about me. I really wanted to just get off that hellish marsh, but I was also sure in the knowledge that I would just have to get on another one in order to get to Tbilisi. Our driver got pulled over by the cops and it turns out he doesn’t have a license. Whoops. He then continued driving. I finally reached the city, got swindled out of 2 lari (80 cents) by a cab driver and was too tired to argue over it and collapsed into my bed in the hostel at 5pm. The next day I got things ready for Mary’s arrival, did paperwork and ended up having to hitchhike to the airport because I couldn’t find the correct bus to take me there. After the driver found out I was a teacher in Svaneti he offered to help me with anything he could in Tbilisi. His son fences at Notre Dame, just to prove that this is a small and complicated world.
|Nini got to play dress up|
After causing a minor scene in the airport when my sister arrived and probably confusing every Georgian in the place by the fact that the twins were being reunited I brought her into Tbilisi and fed her before she collapsed in the way that is inevitable with an 8 hour time difference. We spent Monday Tuesday and Wednesday wandering around Tbilisi and enjoying the city. We discovered an inordinate number of lovely cafes and holes in the wall, eating far too much ice cream and bread products, window shopping for icons and Soviet kitsch and visiting the Georgian National Museum with one hall devoted to “The Museum of Soviet Occupation”. Actually we went to the museum two days since halfway into our first visit the electricity went out for the block and that museum is creepy as all get out in the dark. When we explained the next day why we wanted our tickets to still be valid we were waved right in, but of course, please enjoy our museum. It was so wonderful to have my sister visit for so many reasons (Reeses Peanut Butter cups anyone?). It was good to be reminded about my ‘other’ life. I sometimes forget about the life that I have in the US. As silly as it sounds, because life in Mestia is so different it’s easier to just compartmentalize and turn it into different lives, Georgia life and America life, than to try reconcile the two. It was wonderful to speak with someone who knows me as well or better than anyone on the planet. It was great to laugh and be silly and generally be a 22 year old woman with all the freedom in the world, and a bank account so she can enjoy it. It was great to show someone around what I think of as ‘my’ country (as least within my friend and family group) and to share its charms with someone I love. Living in a place like Georgia, you feel a little like you have to prove why you like it. People go to Europe because they do, but other parts of the world you have to have a reason, finding yourself or writing your novel or whatever. You can’t just like it there, something specific has to make you happy. I got to show my sister some of these things, like the incredible kindness of strangers, the food, the festivity, the scenery, the piety and history, the friends that I’ve made here. It was also good to see Georgia from a fresh perspective again. At this point much of what seemed incredible to me seems normal, so a new arrival can articulate Georgia far better than I can.
|I love how epic Ani and I look in this picture|
Mary aptly described Tbilisi as a strange mix of Central Europe and Calcutta—almost Europe but the occasional scent of exotic spices, the Persian lift of arches and the general air of “it’ll happen when it’ll happen” belies something a little further east. I also introduced her to Borjomi mineral water, and found a convert. Georgia, you’d better start imports to Baltimore. We were given lilacs one night by the lilac and cucumber vendor outside our window for being a) pretty b) female and c) Georgian speaking. They were lovely and smelled great. I took Mary inside her first mosque ever and the caretaker was super nice about it. I then proceeded to blow her mind by explaining its used by both Sunnis and Shias ever since the Shia mosque was blown up by the Bolsheviks. This is the equivalent to Catholics and Anglicans getting together in say, Northern Ireland, and worshipping in the same building. Georgia’s different like that. We also visited a synagogue and any number of beautiful churches, finishing at Sameba, the beautiful new Cathedral of the Trinity up on a hill, completed only in 1998.
|It had occasionally been noted that my sister and I share a slight resemblance|
After three days in Tbilisi we took the night train to Zugdidi and then the morning marsh to Mestia. We discovered the $11 for first class is more than worth it. I became a complete convert to Georgian Railways and I plan on taking it rather than the marsh whenever possible. I got very annoyed with the tourists on the marsh and got maybe a little too judgy, surprising even my sister with my cynicism, which takes quite a bit. One interesting and unexpected thing I have learned here in Georgia is exactly how to get my bitch on. Don’t get me wrong, the nice Midwestern girl is still there, but I’ve got a bit more edge now, and I no longer feel bad letting you know exactly what I think. I frankly get annoyed with tourists though, especially because once they start showing up, they assume that I am part of their crew. Georgians easily make the distinction though. Also, I find it funny when I speak Georgian with other locals on the marsh and the tourists then English-speaking tourists try to ask in broken Russian how to do things. Typically this ends with the driver turning to me and going “Translate please”. Once in Mestia I settled Mary in for a nap and did some work around the house. That afternoon we went to Access and she got to meet some of my students and then we went to the wedding. Poor Mary was freezing cold up here in Mestia, and I will readily admit it’s a tough transition from Tbilisi to Mestia. I had been boiling in Tbilisi so I was pretty comfortable in Mestia but I had to layer Mary up pretty well before she could go to the wedding. Everyone was very shocked to see my double at the wedding with me, but since I had told people my sister was coming they were also delighted to get to meet her. We made the rounds of the wedding tent and were personally ensconced at the bachelor table by two of my students. They are apparently going to be working more actively on finding me a husband. I got my Georgian on and urged my sister to “eat eat” and “drink drink”. The geography teacher from my school was the tamada and when I asked one of my friends at the bachelor table whether he was related to the bride or groom he replied “both”. Of course. My friend Dato gave Mary a ride home when she got tired and I went back to the wedding for a little more festivity before coming home for some well-earned rest.
|This is what the kids look like in my mind all the time|