Today I was wandering around, reading in parks and such, when I was overcome by a great deal of hunger. Does that even make sense? Can you even quantify hunger in such a way? At any rate, I contemplated my options. I was walking around the residential neighborhoods near Marjanishvili metro. That meant I could easily hop over to McDonald’s for a bite–expensive and, let’s be honest, McDonald’s. I could swing by one of the many street-side bakeries that I’d been frequenting. I’d had khatchapuri for breakfast and wasn’t relishing the return to form. My plan became to retire to the hostel where I’ve posted up and delay my quest for food. As I approached the square, my eye was drawn to a shop window and I remembered how much I liked…
I had a delicious shawarma for lunch (sort of a Turkish wrap with chicken and sauces. So good. Okay, today’s was just alright, but still. It was nice to rediscover this excellent street-cuisine!
Now let me distract you from the title of this post (perhaps very poorly chosen) with a story from many months back.
For Joanne’s last weekend in the region, we decided to take a jaunt over to Trabzon, in Turkey. Our Turkish visas were still valid from our spring break trip and we decided to catch a bus from Batumi. I, of course, had to get an early, early morning marshrutka from Tbilisi to Batumi. This marshrutka was apparently also a paper-delivery vehicle, as we stopped in Lanshkhuti and several other small towns along the way. Little did I know at the time, but overland transportation delays were to quickly become the theme of the weekend.
At the rest stop, three or four hours in to the trip, I found myself chatting away with a very friendly Georgian from my marshrutka. This guy wore sunglasses indoors and was extremely chatty. He told me he was on his way to Turkey himself and that he hoped we would get to Batumi in time to catch his bus at four pm. Our marshrutka got underway once more and our conversation was cut short.
When I arrived in Batumi, I looked around for Marissa and Joanne. I saw their welcoming faces a few minutes later as they crossed the busy street towards me. It had been something like a week since I’d seen them. At the time, far too long. (Now, tragically, I won’t see either of them for some time, much less at the same time!)
As we got conned into a smuggling operation, another familiar face stopped me on the sidewalk. “Hey!” shouted a sunglass-wearing Georgian, “My friend!” It was my traveling companion from the marshrutka! He went into further detail telling me that he was heading for Antalya, on the Aegean coast. He was to work for the summer season as a bartender at a swanky resort there. It sounded like a pretty good gig!
His bus was leaving far later than ours, so we stuck with the one we were on. I parted ways from the Georgian in the sunglasses once more and settled in to my back-row seat on a charter bus. And then they started loading it with cigarettes.
We crossed the boarder rather uneventfully and pulled in to a rest-stop in Hopa, Turkey. We were told that we would remain there for forty-five minutes before carrying on to Trabzon. We got ripped off at a restaurant where we paid twenty dollars for rice and beans. It was awful!
But, out of nowhere, a Georgian man wearing sunglasses came up and slapped his hand down on our table, smiling. Finally I got his name, Batchi, and his phone number. He saw my two lovely companions and said, “Here is my phone number! Come to Antalya; I can get you a room for two for free for three nights!” Our imaginations ran wild.
It was not to be, however, as Joanne departed that week and Marissa and I had a precious few weekends left in Georgia, and even fewer dollars. Our bus ride to Trabzon took us an ungodly ten hours. The six beers that we bought were of no help as we had unknowingly gotten the non-alcoholic version. Terrible.
Now, I am remain in Georgia while Joanne and Marissa are out in Prague and Hong Kong–two cities that seem unfathomably far away at this penniless moment. I am still looking for apartments–a venture that has me wandering the hills and avenues of Tbilisi by day and going to sleep early at night.
One of my wanderings brought me back towards the hostile from an entirely novel direction. I stopped to buy some ice cream and continued walking in the summer sun. My thoughts were elsewhere as I listened to a new audiobook, and a man accosted me on the street. He had just come out of a store and was carrying his plastic bag in one hand while gesticulating with the other. My instincts told me to ignore him, but then I thought I heard my name. He did look familiar….
I thought it was the guy who had been helping me in my apartment hunt. They looked similar–short, gaunt, but friendly. No, something about it wasn’t right. “Khar rali, tu ara?” (You are Rali, or not?)
“Yes, I am,” I responded warily in Georgian.
“It’s me! Remember? Trabzon, Antalya, buses?” I had just run in to Batchi on a random street corner.
The amount of tiny coincidences that built up to this chance encounter boggled my mind. I had been visiting an apartment on a hill above Vagzlis Moedani (the train station) and decided to explore my way back to Marjanishvili. I stopped in to buy ice cream, taking less than a minute to decide and pay. All of this matched up with Batchi’s schedule in such a way that we met up outside a random shop. It still boggles me.
We chatted and he reassured me that I was traveling in the right direction. We shook hands and parted ways, he reaffirming his offers of hospitality (though tourist season in Antalya is over, so alas, that’s not on the table), and I politely thanking him.
And so my adventure of rediscovering continues every day. I’m reminding myself of all the things I love about Georgia and of the little inconveniences of being a stranger in a foreign land. Despite my familiarity with Tbilisi and its environs, I still don’t quite fit in. Something about wearing shorts and t-shirts gives me away. Who would’ve thought?