Georgian hospitality

After three days in transit, I finally arrived in Tbilisi. I was too exhausted to bat an eye at the cabbie’s high speed aggressive driving. The blurred buildings remind me a bit of Italy in the nice parts of town and Egypt in the poorer regions; the city is an odd mix of eastern and western cultures. The city is bustling with people, who boldly step into traffic to cross the street, marching to the cadence of honking horns. The cab deposits me in old town. My google maps printout doesn’t prove to be very helpful, but I follow the spray painted house numbers. At building 34, I am at a loss at which door is my apartment. A woman is rocking a baby in a stroller and smiles at me as I look strain my eyes for any sort of sign. I must look helpless because the woman beckons me over. She looks at my confirmation paper and goes to call my future landlord. As she leaves, an old woman resting on a balcony exchanges a few questions in Georgian with the mother. They talk a moment, and the woman motions me upstairs. The older woman doesn’t speak any English, but she offers me tea and food. Her son, a musician, stops in shortly thereafter and talks with me awhile. We listen to Georgian jazz music until my landlord shows up. The landlord apologizes profusely for being late; she explains that in Georgia it is common for people to be a little less punctual. She is surprised to find me on the balcony, and smiles when I explain how my new neighbors have been entertaining me. Georgian hospitality, something had I read about online, welcomes me with open arms to a country unlike any other. The days since my arrival have proven that the web doesn’t due Georgia justice. My awkward American tongue is welcomed with smiles, if not always English, everywhere I go. I’ve already learned to cross the street like a native and eaten traditional Georgian dumplings (with my hands of course, to avoid losing the juices with every bite). The staff of the East-West Management Institute have welcomed me open arms by taking me along on a trip to Gori, Stalin’s hometown. In the warmth of the Georgian culture, conflict seems impossibly far away; however, as we pull off the main highway to turn left to Gori, my coworker jokes if we turned right in twenty kilometers we’d be in a separatist region and I’d likely be picked and interrogated up by Russian FSB agents. Along the roadway internally displaced persons, who fled the 2008 conflict with Russia, live in government funded cinderblock homes. When we arrive in Gori, the bustling square at the heart of the city doesn’t show any signs of the stray artillery shelling of years past. The consistent hospitality of the Georgian people to foreigners is all the more humbling in the light of a long history of conflict that leaves so many Georgians homeless to this day.