Friday, March 4, 2011

A new friend

Today began my weekend adventures to Sighnaghi, a beautiful town in the Kakheti region of Georgia. I was planning to take the 2 o'clock bus to Tbilisi to meet James and Katherine, but the noon bus was running a little late getting on the road, so I made that one. (To get the 2 o'clock bus, I have to catch the 11:20 marshutka from Shamgona.... it usually gets to Zugdidi a little after 12, and the next marshutka run is not until 2:30.) I was anticipating having to kill over an hour before my bus, but I was lucky enough to catch the noon run on its way out of town. The driver and other men who hang out at the bus station with the driver before the run begins were the same guys that took me to Bakuriani (or Khashuri, actually) last weekend. They smiled and waved as I walked up and asked if I was going to Bakuriani again. I told them no, I was headed to Sighnaghi this weekend. They asked if I had a ticket already, and when I said no, they motioned  me onto the bus and showed me to an open seat, anyway. I stowed my backpack and made myself comfortable for the 5-1/2-or-so-hour ride to the capital.

Inga and me on the bus to Tbilisi
I had just pulled out my trusty Bradt guide to Georgia to read up on Kakheti and Sighnaghi, when a woman stepped up to me to say hello. She introduced herself to me in very good English and asked me if she might be able to practice her English with me while we rode to our destinations. I smiled and said, of course, I would be happy to speak with her. She was headed to Bakuriani to spend two weeks there with her kids, her sister, and nephew, so she was only going as far as Khashuri -- where I had gotten off the bus last weekend. She sat down beside me, and we talked the entire four hours to Khashuri.

Meeting new people is something that seems to happen to me without my trying -- people just introduce themselves to me and start talking. I must exude some kind of "come talk to me" aura. Most of the time, I am happy for the conversation, and Inga was certainly one of the more positive people I have met here in Georgia. She is a typical Megruli woman -- assertive, ambitious, positive, and friendly. After talking about our basic backgrounds -- hometown, family, job, education -- we started talking about Georgia. She is one of the new, modern women with forward-thinking ambitions and progressive ideas that I have been privileged to live around in living with Tea. She was very frank (one of the Megrelian's favorite words in English) about what she does and doesn't like about Georgian traditions and customs. As with Tea, Inga completely dislikes that girls get married so young -- it is not uncommon for Georgian girls to marry when they are only 16 or 17. Back in the days when family and house-keeping were the only things in a woman's future, that may have been fine; but times are changing. The women in Western Georgia seem to be riding the crest of that wave of change, voicing their pioneering opinions loudly for all to hear. Now higher education and careers are taking precedence over young marriage -- at least the women like this new way of living -- from what Inga and Tea have told me, the men still want to hold to the old ways. Many men are not in favor of some of the changes that are happening -- the "Westernization" of their country.

Isn't this the plot of "Fiddler on the Roof"? Or maybe a living-out of the lyrics of Bob Dylan's song...."the times, they are a'changin'..."

Change. It is something that is happening in a strangely radical way here. The present, fledgling government is spear-heading the changes in education and the economy -- they want to join the European Union -- they want to boost tourism to one of the main industries in Georgia -- they want the country to speak English (my reason for being here) -- they want to be Western in thought and action, philosophy and practice. But at the same time, they need to remain Georgian. That is going to be a delicate balance to strike -- and I think that the combination of the ambitious women's acceptance of these changes with the men's  dig-their-heels-in resistance, one of two things will happen: either the balance will be struck, or the women are going to take over and run everything leaving the men in the dust of abandoned, Soviet-era backwardness.

In my limited observations, I foresee the women taking over.
Feminism has come to Georgia.

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