At the time I am writing this, wild animals are still on the loose in the centre of Tbilisi. It has been a day since the flash flood and yet I still struggle to come to terms with what has just occurred. Two-thirds of the Tbilisi zoo animals are dead. Dozens of people died and around twenty-five are missing. Parts of the city are destroyed. Streets are closed. Policemen are everywhere. What started as heavy rain on Saturday night turned into a massive tragedy for Georgia. On this official day of mourning, I am stuck at home, locked up in my flat for fear of stepping outside and running into a tiger or a bear. Faced with a Jumanji-like scenario, it is difficult to come to grasp with the reality of the situation. And yet, although the government has advised citizens to stay at home, the number of people volunteering in the streets and in the zoo is quite impressive. The population, heavily affected, is displaying high levels of solidarity and unity in this time of shock.
Solidarity is something that I had already often noticed in Georgia. It is very common, when taking the bus for instance, to see young individuals validating older people’s tickets after the latter have tapped the former on the shoulder and presented them with their bus cards. No word is deemed necessary; they understand each other perfectly and offer each other their assistance with simplicity and politeness. And yet, in contrast to such forms of selflessness, I have also often witnessed people pushing or stepping on each other, making me think that personal space awareness seems to clearly be lacking in Georgia. On the train to Batumi for example, I had to sit for several hours in front of a Georgian lady who did not seem to care the tiniest bit about my presence and extended her legs all the way up to my end, at times even putting her feet up on my seat. Similarly, in shops, one often has to cope with regular pushing – something that also relates to the Georgian way of queueing. Indeed, I have come to note that instead of positioning themselves in a line, one after the other, and waiting for their turn, people here tend to place themselves just about anywhere, next to or even in front of a customer that had been waiting for longer than them. And all of this without any feeling of awkwardness, as it is considered the normal way of doing.
Georgian behaviours aside, and going back to my weekend trip to Batumi mentioned above, I thought I would share some pictures of what I personally found to be a mix of Dubai (with the big modern buildings) and Los Angeles (with the very large and spacious avenues), with some European features (with the little pedestrian cobbled streets):
Batumi was definitely worth seeing, in particular for its mixture of architecture – you feel like you are in three different cities at once. When it comes to getting there however, you have to really really want it. From Tbilisi to Batumi, you can indeed either take a train or a bus – taking respectively 5 and 8 hours. Ana (my co-worker and friend who has been wonderful enough to come with me on my trip) and I chose the latter option, and yet took 8 hours to get to our destination. The train broke down three times, in the middle of the forest, without any air conditioning nor information regarding what was going on. At the third time, we decided to get out of the train and to get to the city via taxi instead. Although we struggled to arrive and then had a few additional troubles (mainly related to the hostals), all of it was definitely worth it once we got to see the beautiful beach and its surroundings. Not bad, Batumi!