Sunday, July 16, 2006

Kachapuri. The local cheese and bread staple snack. Apparently that’s all I’ve been asking for the past few days and who could blame me? Georgian food is incredibly tasty.

And the Georgians are very proud, not only of their food and wine, but mostly of having preserved their language and culture after years of occupation and Soviet rule.

We spent a day at the home of Gela Bezhuasvili (the Georgian Foreign Minister and K-School grad that we are profiling) and had the chance to talk with him, among other things, about Georgian pride. The sense of freedom and liberty, he told us, is very strong in Georgians. This is a country at a crossroads he enthusiastically said, with a very ambitious reform agenda aiming to be part of NATO and a fully integrated European state. If Gela’s overflowing energy and generosity has anything to do with it, Georgia certainly seems well-equipped to get there.

Gela and his wife Olga welcomed us in their house like old friends, spent three hours with us, and even let in another unexpected visitor: journalists from the Georgian channel “The Sun” who were doing a story on us profiling Gela. An hour into our interview we were filming them, filming us, filming Gela. Things got confusing, but it all seems to be worth it as we anxiously await our Georgian TV debut this evening.

So while we have put the Lonely Planet guide under intense scrutiny while here, we can vouch for one thing the Ozzie travel writers got right: the warmness of Georgian hospitality. Our second piece of evidence - apart from the access we have been given to Gela, his home and his meetings (including meetings with foreign officials and a press briefing about the recent terrorist attack in the Georgian region of Ossetia) - is a Georgian girl named Lika.

Lika met us as we were reaching for our translation booklet in an effort to get directions. In her perfect English – and in what seemed like the same breath - she invited us to her house for dinner. We joined forces with Marissa Bohrer, a current Kennedy School student, who is doing her internship here working on women’s health issues for a USAID-funded NGO - and the next day headed to Lika’s. Little did Scott know that very soon he would be singing along to Mariah Carey so as not to offend our host, and Steve would be force-fed the third – and most deadly – kebabi while denying any knowledge of Frank Sinatra songs. I found myself spending some time talking in Greek to Lika’s grandmother, a Greek of Pontiac descent (her roots going back to ancient times when Pontiac Greeks lived along the Black Sea and were displaced at the same time the Armenian genocide occurred in the early 20th century).

After the third slice of kachapuri at Lika’s, it was time to go. The next morning, Saturday, was the first day we had a chance to get out of the city. Armed with hours of Tblisi and Gela footage, as well as a full belly, we were ready to explore the countryside. Gia, our driver courtesy of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, drove us to the magnificent cave monasteries of David Gareji. We got some great footage on the way there; the agricultural landscape stretched as far as one could see with a multitude of shades of green, and no cars or houses to be seen for miles.

Potholes, on the other hand, were plentiful. Georgian driving defied any notion of the Italians being bad drivers. And then Marissa informed us of the existence of the mysterious Georgian snake.

In the cool cave churches, and while looking out to Armenia and Azerbaijan at the top of that green hill, I can’t say all that seemed to matter to any of us one bit.

We're off to Belgrade tomorrow.



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