Sunday, February 27, 2011

Familiar faces

What is it about a face that helps us recognize someone we have met? There are so many faces in the world, so many people with slightly different looks, how do we distinguish one from another? Most people have the same features -- two eyes, a nose, a mouth, cheeks, forehead, chin, eyebrows -- how can one stand out over another as one that we have seen before?

Late Friday afternoon when I got off the bus in Khashuri, I wanted to grab a marshutka the rest of the way to Bakuriani. I had been told that there were plenty of them that make the 45-minute run, so I should have no problem catching one. But I didn't count on getting to Khashuri after 6 o'clock p.m. (Most marshutka-runs between towns and villages stop around 5:30.) The bus had let me off at a major intersection, and there were several taxis parked along the curb waiting for customers. They collectively asked me where I wanted to go, and I told them that I was looking for Bakuriani's marshutka. They told me that there weren't any. I wasn't sure I should believe them (but then again, this is Georgia, not Egypt....), so I walked away from the four or five drivers gathered around me and went into the little store in front of me. I asked the ladies running the store where the marshutka stand was for Bakuriani, and they pointed me in the right direction. When I stepped back out of the shop, one of the taxi drivers was waiting for me, the others had left. He reiterated that there were no more marshutka to Bakuriani today. I looked at the time on my phone, searched his face for any sign of a fib, and decided that he was probably telling the truth -- he had kind, honest eyes. So we bargained for the fare, and I got into his cab for the ride into the mountains.

Today, I left Bakuriani at noon to retrace my steps back to Shamgona. I got a marshutka headed to Tbilisi that would drop me in Khashuri where I could flag down one headed to Zugdidi. The driver dropped me at the same intersection where I had gotten off the bus two days earlier. I crossed the main road and positioned myself in a good spot on the sidewalk to be able to read the window-signs of the on-coming buses and marshutkas in time to wave to the right one. Suddenly a taxi pulled up right beside me, rolled down the passenger window, and the driver leaned toward me so I could see him -- it was the driver that had taken me to Bakuriani on Friday! He smiled and waved, asked how I was, how my time in Bakuriani was, and where I was headed. I answered all of his questions, but when I told him that I was headed for Zugdidi, he shook his head -- it's a four-hour drive. We smiled and waved goodbye to each other as he drove away.

How did he recognize me? Out of the thousands of people in that town and out of the hundreds that he comes into contact in the course of a week, how was he able to pick me out of a crowded sidewalk? How did I recognize him immediately? We had a short interaction, and really hadn't talked much during the drive into the mountains, yet we did recognize each other immediately.

There is something nice about a familiar face. A smile always comes to my face when I see someone I know. There is warmth and comfort in a familiar face. There is encouragement and camaraderie there. And when the face that appears is unexpected, the surprise is one of those pleasant ones that keeps me smiling the rest of the day.

How do I know that a face is familiar? How do I recognize someone? I don't know. But I know it's a nice thing to have happen.

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