Thursday, April 8, 2010

Georgia and Azerbaijan - Concluding Thoughts

Map Photo by lyndonK2's photostream
Flickr Creative Commons

It's Thursday, 8 April, and I spent part of this morning reading a New York Times article titled, "An Insurgency Evolves in the Caucasus Region as Wounds Fester," which describes the resurgence of violence in Chechnya, Dagestan, and Ingushetia, all resistant Russian states just over the Caucasus mountains from Georgia and Azerbaijan.  While tracking down the link to that article, I found another NYTimes article about the unrest in Kyrgyzstan, a Central Asian country just across the Caspian Sea from Azerbaijan.  Almost daily since I returned to the US a week ago, I have been reminded of how tenuous normalcy and daily routine can be for the people of the Caucasus region, and I think about the people that I met and the lives that they lead, and I hope nothing but the best for all of them.

This will be my last posting devoted primarily to Georgia and Azerbaijan.  I have written about Public Achievement and Theatre of the Oppressed.  I have written about my eye-opening trip to Ganja and Mingachevir, Azerbaijan, as well as Public Achievement site visits to Mtshketa, Gori, and Borjumi in Georgia.  I also wrote about passport and visa anxiety, as well as my jet-lagged staggers around Tblisi the first couple of days, entries that don't really warrant back-links:)

I want to devote today's posting to some of the incidental encounters that have stayed with me.

A day trip to Mingachevir from Ganja in fog so thick I could not see more than a 100 meters - the clouds lifting in Mingachevir - driving to the reservoir, the sun warming our backs, our faces - Lale and Gulshen running here and there with the wonder and enthusiasm of children - looking over the water to the mountains and thinking it looked not unlike water and mountains I'd seen elsewhere (the Ozarks, fall 2009; the Black Hills of South Dakota; mountain lakes in Colorado).

Visiting Vali Huseynov's classroom in Ganja - participating in an English conversation class with Azir, Rabim, Zaaur, and Aynur with a map of the Midwest spread on a table, me ranting about Lake Superior, the farm land where I was born, the Twin Cities and the Mississippi River - Vali's generosity, hospitality, and protective spirit, him asking if I wanted to see "both sides" of Ganja, and me eagerly acquiescing - discussing his Fulbright college plans for the US, knowing that Boston University was his first choice but selfishly hoping he'd select the University of Iowa:)

Look as Esmira's smile.  Look at Edgar's smile.

Me, a bit anxious about crossing the border from Azerbaijan into Georgia with the none-too-friendly Azeri border guards - a middle-aged woman with a nasty cough and a long pea green overcoat uses sign language to say, "Follow me.  I'll stay with you" - she waits with me while the border guards laugh at my passport photo, while an Azeri border guard in broken English tells me that he trained in Texas; she walks with me the one kilometer dirt-and-occasional pavement path to the Georgian checkpoints.  I smile and wish that I had taken the bloody time to learn how to say "Thank you - thank you so very much!" in Azeri.

Charles Merrill, the son of the man who created Merrill-Lynch, good and dear friend to Julie Boudreaux of MTO (the group that sponsored my trip), sitting on a wall in Borjumi with Kurban Said's Ali and Nino in his hand - Charles, who started progressive schools in Boston and St. Louis, author of numerous books, now an abstract watercolorist (there's a framed painting that survived the checked baggage flights home that's waiting to be hung somewhere in my living room) - Charles, who at 89 years of age is still fascinated by the world around him, and me hoping I can be that curious and open when I am his age, inshallah; Charles, whose self-deprecating sense of humor can light up a room.  Charles and Julie walking arm-in-arm in Gori, all of us a bit thunderstruck by the hometown monuments to the Man of Steel, Josef Stalin.

Rodami Tsomaia, translator of the mono-language trainer, me.  She, fluent in Georgian, Russian, English, and who knows what else.  Me, smiling the first time she completes a thought of mine without me saying anything.  Me, speaking with someone after a workshop session and waiting for Rodami to translate, even though she was nowhere to be seen and I was speaking to a fellow English speaker.  Wondering if she would like to study in the USA, knowing that she could,  and the responsibility that comes with that.

Salty soup broth (just the way I like it), meat filled dumplings, garlic oil, and chives.  Large steamed noodle dumplings filled with salty broth (just the way I like it) and ground meat, eaten best with a loud slurping noise.  Khatchapuri (cheese pie) and kata (flat bread stuffed with spinach), sour yoghurt drink to wash it down.  Eating while walking the Tblisi streets.  Raw bacon served at breakfast, and Ala telling me that "you don't know what's good!"  Bread baked in outdoor, round, concrete ovens, eaten hot and fresh, like school children on an outing.

Sitting on Main Street in Ganja, and feeling two strong feelings: one that I stand out like a tree in the prairie, that it couldn't be much more obvious if I were wearing the redwhiteblue USA flag around my shoulders AND two that the small town streets looked like the small town streets back home: could be Alexandria, or Sauk Centre, or Mora, or Duluth, or just about anywhere.

Sitting in an airport and wondering how the Twins finished the spring exhibition baseball season and thumbing my wallet schedule.
Looking at photographs of my family when I felt just a little bit alone.

Wondering when I can return.

1 comment:

  1. I liked this post of yours very much, especially the end :) Vali