"Welcome to Egypt!"
"Welcome to Cairo!"
"Welcome to Alaska!"
While in Egypt, Katherine, James, and I heard all three of these exclamations over and over again - yes, even the Alaska one. The first time we were greeted with a hearty, "Welcome to Alaska!" it was mildly funny. By the 20th time, it got old. I asked someone who said the Alaska bit why they said Alaska when we very obviously weren't in Alaska. "It's just a place," was the reply - interesting. I think those welcomes are the first English phrases Egyptians learn, because even those who couldn't speak any other English could welcome us to their country or city. But now we have said goodbye to Egypt and Turkey....
Forty hours is a long time to spend in transit. The modes of transportation that I listed yesterday (or the day before) was missing one: tram. So in the 40 hours that it took me to get back to Shamgona, I was on one overnight train, two taxis, one bus, one subway, one tram, one funicular rail, two planes, and two marshutkas. I slept in the overnight train, one of the planes, an airport, and one of the marshutkas. None of those places make for very good sleep. It is only 9 p.m., but I am ready to fall into bed now that I am finally "home."
The in-between-ness of the last two days was beginning to take its toll on me. I was on the verge of tears for most of the day today. Living in the present moment was not at all what I wanted to do, so I let myself wish I were somewhere else while listening to U2 and the Beatles on my iPhone. Bad idea. Tears were inevitable if I kept that up. Sleep was a better use of my time, but it was so constantly interrupted, the attempt was almost worthless. By the time I arrived in Zugdidi at 2:45 this afternoon, I was in such a foul mood, I'm pretty sure a little black raincloud had formed over my head and was following me to the marshutka. I didn't want to be in Georgia. I wanted to be Home. Then the first of three welcomes changed my attitude.
While walking to the marshutka that would be the last leg of my journey, I saw one of the ladies who teaches at my school headed that way, too. I stopped and waited for her to look up. When she did, I waved, and her smile instantly warmed my aching heart. She walked up to me, hugged me, kissed me on the cheek, then rubbed my cheek with a look of warmth and gratitude that was almost tangible. She was honestly glad to see me.
The second welcome came in the marshutka - once enough people had gotten off that I could finally see more than a few inches in front of me, I noticed one of the older men from Shamgona sitting in the seat across the aisle from me (whose name I always forget). He saw me at the same time and he beamed. He took my free hand in his (I was balancing two backpacks on my lap) and squeezed it in both of his, again with the warmth and affection that I so desperately need. He took my large backpack off my lap and held it for me the rest of the way to Tea's house. At my stop, he paid my fare, helped me off the minibus with my bags, and blew me a kiss goodbye.
When I walked into the house, "our grandmother" just about fell over with joy that I was home. She smiled and laughed and took me by the arm to sit me down by the fire in the kitchen, then went yelling out the back door for Tea to come and cook me some food. The whole family was so excited that I was back. They wanted to know about where I had been and what it was like, but mostly they were just glad to have me there. I could tell that Tea was glad to have me around to talk to again. Elene wanted to play games with me, and "our grandmother" went back to telling me to eat and drink.
I miss my excellent travel companions, James and Katherine. They are inventive, spontaneous, and fun, and we had some wonderful adventures the last two weeks. But I am glad to be staying in one place for awhile. Moving around gets old and tiresome. And even though the place I am is not where my heart is, there are people here who are glad to have me around. I feel genuinely welcome.