I have never experienced a culture so defined by its own history. All around there are little reminders of the past, whether it’s the towering, haphazardly placed, blocks of Soviet-built flats, the Russian script still found on the trains and buses, or the antiquated churches that occasionally peek through the modern architecture. Georgians are a people united by suffering.
For centuries, armies have been vying for this little piece of land that forms the gateway between the East and the West, Asia and Europe. Almost since the dawn of Christianity in the region, the people have been persecuted for their faith. But in spite of the hardship, Christianity has remained a central part of their cultural identity. And they remember. In some ways this memory of bad times, holds them together as a people and as Christians. The icons and painted portraits in the churches, along with the burning candles, were like symbols of hope, reminders of God’s faithfulness.
Georgians are among the kindest, most hospitable people I have ever met. Mary is a friend I met when she was a foreign exchange student at my high school. I stayed with her family for 2 weeks in Georgia before coming to Lithuania to study for the fall. Mary took care of me like I was her sister, guiding me across the street through the crazy Georgian traffic. Her mother, grandma and sisters treated me like a member of their own family.
When I arrived at my friend’s house in Tbilisi (teh-bee-lee-see) at 5a.m. her mother was already up waiting for us and had prepared an entire meal for me already. After some hajapuri (delicious cheese bread), meat pie, some light, yummy layered cake, and tea, I got some much needed rest. However, even sleeping was a new experience! Because of the lack of air conditioning and the warm weather, it was necessary to leave the bedroom window open. As a result, the sound of every single passing car and honking horn was carried to my ears. In the end, I got so accustomed to it that now it seems odd to sleep in silence.
Riding a car in Georgia. Hmm. Let’s just say, it’s a good thing they have horns! Just imagine every crazy, lane-weaving, horn-honking, brake-slamming driver you’ve ever met, and put them all out onto one road. Welcome to Georgia, folks. Not to fear, though! I had some wonderful, very alert Georgians taking care of me. I was actually glad to have my hand held while I crossed the street, even though it’s something I haven’t done since I was about 6 years old.
It is impossible to come to completely understand a culture in 2 weeks, to understand exactly what people are thinking and what drives them. However, I can give you some observations from my visit to Georgia. I saw a people held together by the tradition of their faith in Jesus Christ, who had been the one constant through the centuries of persecution. For Georgians, there is no separation between religion and the rest of life; their Christian faith and tradition is an identity. A joyful and celebratory attitude has supported them through the hard years, and a strong sense of family and love has kept them together and strong. I have been very blessed indeed to have even this small glimpse into the heart of the Georgian people.