Begin Fasting Today, and Feast in Georgia as Soon as Possible “I Love You From Batumi to Sighnaghi and Back”
05 December, 2015
Begin Fasting Today, and Feast in Georgia as Soon as Possible “I Love You From Batumi to Sighnaghi and Back”
I came to Georgia for the first time in late January 2014. Glad to escape the -20°C and four hours of light per day in St. Petersburg, where I had studied the previous six months, I was eager to start my internship at the South Caucasus Office of the Heinrich Böll Foundation in Tbilisi.
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Sonja Schiffers

Having worked on the topic of the EU response to the Rose Revolution previously and following Georgia’s transformation from afar, I already had some expectations regarding the so-called “Pearl of the Caucasus.” And while I somehow felt the urge to disprove the cliché that all foreigners fall in love with Georgia, I simply couldn’t help it. Not knowing that I would return soon, I travelled as much as I could, often solo, which was a wonderful experience. In just under three months I went to Gudauri, Kazbegi, Gori, Vardzia, Akhaltsikhe, Bakuriani, Borjomi, Kakheti, David Gareji, Kutaissi, Batumi, and even to Baku and northern Armenia, taking countless photographs of beautiful landscapes, ancient cultural heritage sites, traditional wooden architecture, and Soviet relicts. Of course I also photographed Georgian food, which I particularly fell in love with.
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Gudauri
The comparably unpleasant notion of having to complete my studies made me leave Tbilisi, only to come back in the summer of 2015 and experience those famous goose bumps for the first time when seeing the sparkling Tbilisi TV broadcast tower upon returning to the city. I came for a research project on the topic of international humanitarian and development assistance in Abkhazia, where I stayed for two weeks. I could not confirm the concerns of some of my Georgian friends, who had told me that the Abkhaz might not be as hospitable as the Georgians. I failed to find any differences between mamaliga and corn ghomi, or Georgian adjika and Abkhaz adjika. Also, I finally managed to visit Svaneti, which I found mind-blowing – especially horseback riding in the mountains, enjoying the incredible views of the Svanetian towers, and gazing at the golden treasures of the Svaneti Museum of History and Ethnography.
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Only one month later I would again return to Georgia, this time for (only) private reasons, and enjoy a week of true Georgian hospitality in Tbilisi, including, obviously, feasting on good food and wine. That food probably saved me when we went to Tusheti, a remote
mountain region, in late August, naively without warm clothing – it was still summer, wasn’t it? The road to Tusheti is considered to be one of the most dangerous in the world, and it only reopened on the day we went there. It had been closed due to heavy rain and landslides. In contrast to Svaneti, Tusheti has very limited tourism infrastructure, so I gladly relied on the skills of my Georgian companion, who fixed the details of our trip in only 43 phone calls (amongst others to his cousin, the cousin of his cousin, and the cousin of the cousin of his cousin).
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Tbilisi

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Sokhumi
Almost completely bereft of electricity and cell phone reception, we spent three wonderful days in the mountains. After three days I was almost able to distinguish between the chickens of the family that ran our guesthouse, which were constantly mingling around us. Luckily for us, the host family had to organize a supra – that is, a huge Georgian dining event with masses of food – for the whole village on the occasion of Mariamoba (one of the most important religious holidays). We kept our bodies warm with homemade chacha, wine, khinkali and other delicacies, and our hearts with the wonderful melodies of a girl who sang and played traditional songs on the Panduri.
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Having dealt with Georgian politics and society academically for a few years now, I know about the many rocks in the road to democratic transformation as well as the numerous everyday difficulties that the majority of the population faces. I sincerely hope improvement will come soon. And to my fellow non-Georgians, I recommend you start fasting today, and come feast in Georgia as soon as possible. I’ll close it with the words of a true master, the great John Steinbeck, who visited and admired this then-Soviet republic back in the 1950s:

“It is a magical place, Georgia, and it becomes dream-like the moment you have left it. And the people are magic people. It is true that they have one of the richest and most beautiful countries in the world, and they live up to it. And we understood thoroughly now why Russians had always said to us, ‘Until you have seen Georgia, you have seen nothing.’”

November 26, 2015

Author: Sonja Schiffers

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