Smoke gets in your eyes
Rising early today, Lala, my hotel landlady, made me breakfast and told me to be careful for the last time before wishing me farewell. Surprisingly, my taxi driver fastened his seat belt after watching me do so. A first time for everything in Georgia. Driving through Tbilisi to the airport, a smoky morning haze from piles of burning rubbish in the streets hung thick in the air. The radio blared Georgian folk songs and the driver gave me a toothy smile as I unloaded a collection of Georgian small change into his hands for a tip.
As I type this out on the way to London I have so many different feelings about Georgia that will probably take much time to distil. I have only just scratched the surface of this incredibly complex country, but the generosity, hospitality and warm of Georgians will be something always to remember. Just a few days ago in Akhalkalaki I ate in the restaurant owned by a veteran of the civil war in the early 90's. He rolled up his sleeve to show me the symbol of St George tattooed on his left arm. A tattoo not only for pride but also for him to be identified as Georgian if he was killed in action. Over dinner we discovered that we were the same age. When he was fighting I was an undergraduate reading history. He asked me a strange question. If Australia and Georgia were ever at war, and by some quirk of fate we met in battle, would I shoot him? I said as a journalist I'd much rather avoid fighting and use a pen over a gun. But he continued to press me for an answer. In the end I said that I could not fight a people that I knew and respected. He smiled and nodded. Leaning over the table he said that out of loyalty he could not kill a man who had eaten his food, drunk his wine and been a guest in his home. The next time I am in Australia, he asked me to raise a glass of wine, and to remember that I have a brother in Georgia and a bed and a meal anytime I need.
I will do that Malhaz. Cheers!