This is about me, but it’s for you. I suppose I’m really writing this for the benefit of Neal Zupancic so he can understand me a little better. I don’t think he’s fully comprehended me yet; I seem to be coming across as a Conservative Georgian patriot who wrote these articles as a way of looking at his life, throwing a brick at it and yelling ‘That’ll teach you, you insolent bastard!’
Not quite. Lunatic though I am, I’m not so far gone as that. My viewpoints largely come from being surrounded by Georgians twenty-four-seven three-sixty-five, and I think one area where me and Neal differ (well, many areas…he’s American, I’m British, he’s a teacher, I was paid by the military, but you get the point) is the company we keep here.
Please correct me if I’m wrong here, old chap, but I’m guessing the Georgians you’re most familiar with are early 20s/late teens and of course the children you teach who are young ‘uns, and then you’ll have your fellow TLG people, as well (is that right? TLG? Or is it TGL? Good Lord, I think that’s the programme my brother was thinking of doing this summer! Small world, eh?). As for me, most of the people I know are well into their late 20s or early 30s, and others older still. Something to think about, anyway. I could be entirely wrong, of course, but nevermind. Too late now, and I can’t be bothered to change it.
As for the other bits, my ‘tug-of-war’ idea (I like that name, Neal, can I keep it?) comes from experience as having Georgian friends. D’you really think when my friends Tata and Lika had sex with men who’d promised to marry them, and subsequently left them, I said ‘Ah well, girls, nevermind. Don’t you know you’re in the best country in the world? Now pass me the khinkali, Tamar, it’s a good day to be a Georgian’.
Fuck no. I was as disgusted as I was furious, and sex education in this country is piss-poor. As for Georgia establishing international ties, you’re quite right, Georgian young people need to be more aware of the outside world (everyone always asks me what London is like. I’ve been there twice. I’ve been to New York more times than that. Need I say more?) but right now it seems the outside world is being taught as ‘America’ (the good), ‘Russia’ (the bad) and that all-inclusive thorn in America’s side known collectively as “Europe” (the ugly).
Unfortunately I think you’ve misunderstood me completely and not really taken on board what I was trying to get across. There are some things, though, I’d like to know about you. But I said this would be about me, so I’ll ask them in due course.
I first came to Georgia in December of 2007. My mother, a criminal lawyer, worked for the British government, as the head of the Public Defender Service for the entirety of our nation. One of the perks of the job was that she had to lecture in other countries and my family got to accompany her at the government’s expense (take that Blair, you bastard). Mexico, Lithuania, Colombia and…Georgia.
Before I went there I wouldn’t have been able to point it out on a map to you. I knew nothing about the place, and wasn’t overly interested. I heard ‘Eastern Europe’ thought ‘girls’ and during the nine-hour layover in Munich spent the time buying condoms and getting very drunk with my family (being British, we are alcoholics, and when you get into drinking contests with Germans you don’t want to let Old England down, especially after beating them twice in two World Wars).
I passed out as soon as I had slumped into my chair on the plane and woke up when the plane landed in Georgia. It was dark, I couldn’t see anything and I was very hungover. I barely registered anything as a minibus took the lawyers’ convention to the Courtyard Marriott on Freedom Square, and as soon as I was awake the next day, it was four in the afternoon. And I was hungry.
I went down to the restaurant with my brother, and immediately regretted not sitting at the bar. Two girls stood behind it, one with jet black hair and a cheeky grin, the other auburn red with a sly smile. And big brown eyes.
Big Brown Eyes came over to take our order, and I saw her name was Nino. It was one of those times when you know that your attraction is more than mutual, and without hesitating she invited us to the bar. Her friend, Tiko, was very flirtatious but my eyes were all for Nino, and hers for me.
They took the piss out of us when we stumbled over saying ‘Gamarjoba’ and ‘Madloba’, and we annoyed them when we spoke in British slang that nobody else (except maybe the Aussies and Kiwis) can understand. Even when I look back on it it was the most fun I’d had in a long time. 2007 had been a rough year, breaking up with a girlfriend of reasonable length after it turned out she was cheating, and a series of one-night stands and drink-fuelled mistakes. Ah, to be young again.
I was enjoying myself so much in their company I let my imagination run wild, thinking I’d finally found the thing to replace depressing British nightlife & sex culture. A self-professed history nerd, I grilled them for everything they could tell me about Georgia’s past, and I was surprised when I found it was as equally interesting as our own. They also told me about the political situation there, and how they feared an imminent Russian invasion. I promised if that happened, I’d be here (ha!). After all, I thought, this will be years in the future, I’ll probably have even left the Army when that happens (note: at this stage, I was planning to join. The horror of Basic was a little way down the line).
Several days on, I was living in wonderland. I couldn’t get enough of their company, and when Nino and her friend Teona invited us out into the city on their day off, I was thrilled.
It’s all different, now. Sameba Cathedral and the surrounding areas are no longer mud-churned tracks, and the construction work along Rustaveli is (mostly) finished. I held Nino’s hand as we walked in front of the Parliament building, thought, ‘This is as good time as any’, and tried to kiss her.
Her head movement would have impressed Floyd Mayweather. She looked up at me, embarrassed. ‘I have a boyfriend,’ she said. I was so surprised I actually laughed.
‘Good God, really?’ if she’d been an English girl we would have had sex a few days ago at the rate things had been going, but it turns out I didn’t know Georgian culture at all. Anyway, we both then started to laugh; I’m sure our situation was as ludicrous to her as it was to me (that part, I think, was true, even several years on).
Eventually, it was time to leave, and I felt depressed. Tiko and Teona gave me their email addresses, but warned me they didn’t have regular access to the Internet, and Nino didn’t have it at all. Before I left, Nino presented me with a traditional Georgian hat and a plate depicting Old Tbilisi, with some Georgian people on a raft waving.
I don’t suppose I can tell with any accuracy how I felt just then anymore; what happened a few years in the future has overshadowed it somewhat. But I was incredibly reluctant to leave, something that the rest of my family simply couldn’t understand.
The months that followed weren’t easy, either. I longed to go back to Georgia, to see them, and Tiko and Teona’s infrequent emails didn’t make me feel better, only worse, knowing they were there and I wasn’t.
Well, then Basic Training began. Three months of being kicked, screamed at, running passed the point of exhaustion, carrying on when men older, stronger and fitter around you fall to the ground and didn’t get up. Nights spent in the field, trudging around Welsh mountains, where the cold and rain come down on you in the middle of the night and you still have ten miles to march before you can rest. Your bones are frozen and your blood turns to ice, the metal of your rifle chafes your skin and if you fall to the ground, you fail, because you won’t be able to get up again. You will go home a failure. I was 16.
You find your own motivation to get through it. I was a boy, and I passed where men failed. Our company commander gave a speech, and told us we were the edge of the sword that had forged an Empire, the spearhead of the world’s most highly trained war machine.
I remember when August happened, though, years before. Some of the worst days of my life at the time, they were. All I could do was sit in my room and send frantic emails to Tiko and Teona, which got no reply, and watch the news footage of the unprepared Georgian Army being pushed back by the Russians and their mercenary lackeys.
But it didn’t last long, at least. You know the rest (or you should), how the civilised world (including Georgia’s best mate, America) blamed Georgia for the start of the conflict because it was safer than probing the facts that could upset Russia. But anyway, back to me.
I had a few emails from Tiko and Teona telling me they were okay, which was a relief, and we kept loosely in touch, but I don’t think they really believed I’d ever return to Georgia, and I still only got messages from Nino second hand. My military career trudged on, cramming school in with training to deploy to Afghanistan in the near future. The years rolled by, more failed relationships, more bullshit flings, and always the promise in the back of my mind that somehow, if only I’d been given my shot with Nino, things would have turned out different.
And then she got Facebook.
I couldn’t quite believe my eyes when I saw she had it. I added Nino in a frenzy of clicking, and we got to talking it seemed too good to be true. After three years, she felt the same way.
I suppose the fact that it was my birthday contributed to my incredulity, that it was all a blissful dream I’d be woken up from any second, and it wasn’t until my plane touched down for the second time of my life in Tbilisi and I met her in the airport that I started to believe it was real.
It was weird, seeing her again. I’d wanted it for three years and when you finally have what you’ve most desired, you aren’t really sure how to feel. At the time, I just remembered hoping against hope that nothing went wrong.
She took me to a Georgian restaurant with a big crowd of her mates, some that I’d met three years earlier and others I didn’t know at all, and it felt like I’d never been away. The Georgian music, the dancing, the smooth beer, it was everything I could have wanted. And then we went back to the hotel (this, Neal, you might find interesting).
We’d talked pretty freely about sex online before I arrived back in Georgia, and judging from her pictures, she didn’t seem to be a stranger to the Noble Art. But I was just entering into the Great Georgian Contradiction, that has Georgians fretting and foreigners barking at each other over the Internet.
‘I can’t sleep with you,’ she told me. ‘It is Georgian mentality.’ And d’ye know what, reader? I didn’t even mind.
You see, I’d come so far and waited for so long to find a real relationship, the possibility of a bit of celibacy didn’t bother me a jot. Getting laid in England is as easy as getting dressed (or undressed, as the circumstances dictate) and I’d rather had enough of it. Tragically, Nino didn’t believe me.
She still had to work for the rest of the time I was there, and I gravitated towards the company of some United States Marines who were in town, and we became fast friends. Nino would go out to dinner with me, and then go home, and leave me to do whatever on my own.
I learned much later she thought I was devastated at not being able to shag her and wasn’t interested anymore, but it was just another instance of failing to communicate. Only one more instance stands out in that time, and it was when I was just casually strolling around Tbilisi and looked through the window of a hotel restaurant and saw a girl.
She was stunning, and I felt no shame in staring at her since my time with Nino was becoming so damned rotten. She caught my eye, smiled, and went about her work. Feeling rather embarrassed, I walked quickly on, and lamented my non-single status.
And so my time in Georgia came to an end, and Teona made it pretty clear that Nino didn’t think it was a good idea for us to stay together after I left. It didn’t come as shock when Nino said as much to me when I was back in the UK, though it didn’t dull the aching pain in my belly. So that was that, back to the Army, and stand by for Afghanistan. We are dropping into Hell, troopers. Time to grow a pair.
I don’t know about you, but I’m a gambler. Even when things are going against me I usually roll the dice one more time. It’ll be the ruin of me eventually, probably, but so far so good, as they say.
I started furiously added anyone with mutual friends and a Georgian last name on Facebook. Some I’d met, some I hadn’t, anything to keep the connection with the country alive. One of them, a girl called Natia, wrote me a message, and we got into a lengthy conversation that lasted two days. We got on far better than I had with anyone else from that country, who were all Nino’s mates, and I wish I’d actually met her. When I looked at her pictures I saw that I had. The girl from the hotel restaurant.
I’ve told that to some people and they’ve not believed me. I’ve told it to others (Georgians, mostly) who believe it was fate, and others who call it sheer dumb luck. Well, I’ll leave that to you. It happened, and here we are.
I left the Army. I wasn’t a big believer in the war in Afghanistan to begin with (I don’t really have an opinion on it one way or another. It’s a war we’re involved in, I was fully aware of it when I enlisted, and that was that) and the fact of the matter is, they sent a replacement for my slot in the platoon anyway. Me and Natia had been talking solidly and thought we’d make a go of being in a relationship together. The fact that my last Georgian adventure had turned out to be a disaster didn’t deter me in the slightest (I’m sure my lack of caution will eventually contribute to my sudden violent death one day, but hey ho, that’s tomorrow).
We hadn’t planned for her to live with me, but she stayed the first night and the night and every night afterwards, and with her family’s blessing. Very religious, as most of them are, but also very liberal, and her brother welcomed me into the family as opposed to wanting to (or wanting to try to) attack me. A blissful year later we were married.
That, reader, is it all in a nutshell; I don’t have the time or stamina to type out the entirety of my life here in Georgia since that fateful week five years ago, but I hope that will serve for now, even though it misses out the many escapades that have filled these last two years. I suppose I’m rather defensive about Georgian culture because of what I have now and what led me here. After 2007 I had thought my dream life was with a Georgian woman and to live in Georgia. Nino proved me wrong, but something made me try again and I got my dream life in full, and have been living it to this day. That’s the magic of this country, I think (I don’t know why I used those words. They sound a bit daft, when I read them again. But ah well, my mother is an alcoholic, I’m not sure what percentage of my blood isn’t in fact brandy).
So now you know why I sometimes feel the need to launch an all-out attack on viewpoints which I think are misinformed or have got completely the wrong end of the stick. Or you might not. That’s why there’s a comments box below here so you can ask me. I’m really enjoying this website so far, too. Bye bye.