24 hours ago Tbilisi was a complete mystery to me. And it still is, but now we’ve finally met. I’ve been taking a blind date approach to coming here. I did no research on the country outside of what the weather would be like so I would know what to pack. Now the date is here and to continue with the analogy, upon “meeting Georgia” I did not want to run for the door. Georgians seem to be incredibly friendly. One person that I met yesterday described Georgians as “aggressively hospitable.” She described Georgia’s location of being surrounded by fairly hostile regions historically and that the way they survived was by being incredibly friendly and hospitable. So far, I can see that being true.
Anecdotes, you ask? I had a handful of examples within the first couple hours of landing. In fact, I experienced my first dose of aggressive hospitality in relation to landing in Georgia. Or a failed landing that is.
I’ve been doing my best to try and document as much of my experience as I can in order to give an in depth portrayal of my experience here. So, I decided to take a time-lapse video of the plane landing in Tbilisi. I’m a fairly inept photographer, so I was pretty satisfied with the video of our landing that I was capturing. You could see the shadow of our plane slowly growing against the backdrop as we descended, growing ever bigger as we came closer and closer to touching down. Upon landing almost everyone on the plane began to clap, as is custom in some countries to celebrate a successful landing. Only problem? The celebration was premature. Just as soon as we had touched down on ground the plane began to ascend back into the sky. Part of me was excited to be capturing this surreal imagery with my time lapse, until I began to wonder why this was happening at all. A couple of minutes into our ascent the captain came on and frantically mumbled something in Ukrainian. It didn’t sound reassuring. So, I asked the man next to me what the captain had said. He gave a nervous chuckle and said “I couldn’t quite make it out, but it sounded a bit like a farewell message.” Being a fairly anxious person with a fear of flying, this comment did little to assuage the growing sense that something wasn’t quite right. I began to wonder what could possibly have gone wrong with the landing. The flight had been delayed due to technical issues. Was it possible that they had thought they had solved them only to find out upon landing that they hadn’t quite done so? Maybe the brakes were shot and they couldn’t slow down so they had to just go right back up? So many questions swirled around in my mind. The flight crew didn’t say anything so I didn’t know anything and that made it all the worse.
I began to panic. Silently, but panic nonetheless. It felt like that scene from Toy Story 3 where Buzz and company are slowly heading towards the incinerator. Sensing that the end is near and helplessly feeling as though there was nothing they could do to stop it, they locked arms and faced their mortality. It truly is a paralyzing feeling. I’ve read that the reason people have a fear of flying is that if something were to happen it wouldn’t be immediate, they would have time to face their mortality. In this case, it was also strange because there was no explanation from the crew so everyone was left to their own devices to decide whether there was a serious problem or not. The tension was palpable. As I looked around the plane, you could sense a growing anxiety, many welling up with tears and some even visibly crying. This obviously amped up my mind’s ability to believe that there was a very real problem. I began to pray and reflect. I know that this has the potential to sound melodramatic, but it’s a surreal situation because you want to remain calm and believe that everything will be ok, but you would also like to reflect on your life if it indeed is ending. Weird. Very weird.
What does this all have to do with Georgian hospitality?
Well, the Georgian man sitting next to me could sense that I was feeling anxious. What did he do? He began to ask me questions about “30 Days with Dave” and what I planned to do and see in Georgia. Essentially, he did his best to distract my dreadful daydreaming about our possible descent towards death. He asked questions and offered suggestions. He had a certainty about him that made me feel like everything was going to be ok. He said that we were circling around to give it another go. As we descended, the collective anxiety ascended until we touched ground and the brakes began to slow the plane down. This time the celebration felt like much more than customary clapping. It was real exuberance. We dodge death’s door another day.
As we departed the plane this Georgian man continued giving me advice about Georgia. We parted ways and I immediately regretted not asking for his information because I felt like he would be a good resource to have in this country where I know no one. Besides, I would have loved to at least buy him a beer in exchange for the comfort he provided me. As I moved towards customs the man appeared and said that I should take down his number in case I needed anything during my stay in Georgia. I gladly took it down and immediately felt as though my time in Georgia was going to be an experience abounding with hospitality.
It didn’t end there. I bought a SIM card for my phone and got on the bus that my new Georgian friend said would take me to the city center. As I sat on the bus, I got a call from a Georgian number. “Hello?” I said. “Dave! You left your passport with me!” Said the girl who sold me my SIM card. I jumped off the bus, ran back into the airport and gave her a big hug. She said, “Welcome to Georgia, have a great stay in our country.” I then got onto the bus again and the woman asked me for the fare. I only had the big bills that the ATM gave me and she shook her head and said “no no”, implying that she didn’t have change for such big bills. I waited and presumed that once more passengers came on she would have sufficient change. When I got to my stop I tried to pay and she smiled, shook her head, grabbed my hand and said something in Georgian. I’m not sure what she said, but I’m going to go with the same refrain “Welcome to Georgia, have a great stay in our country.”
And the hospitality just keeps coming. Today at lunch the waitress could tell I was confused as to how to eat the meal that I had ordered. She just laughed, grabbed my utensils and began to prepare my meal for me at the table. It was akin to a mother cutting her child’s food. I could not feel more welcome here.
I have a lot of first impressions that I will detail in the days to come as I continue to digest everything. But, I have full confidence that the first impression of how friendly these people are will be a lasting one. Georgians truly are aggressively hospitable.