After having escaped the country for ten days, I found myself once again in the Tbilisi airport. It was still early evening, five o-clock or so, and I wanted to get back to Kutaisi and sleep in my own bed. I had been traveling since seven in the morning.
I got my bags and wanted to take a bus, but there was no bus to where I wanted. The bus went to a marshutka stop (station square) that was notorious for marshutkas to Kutaisi sitting around for a long, long time and I did not want to be waiting around for a long time. I hailed a cab and asked the fair to the better marshutka stop- Didube. Was a reasonably price, so I went for it.
Again, a marshutka is a van that seats 25-30 people and is the main form of inter city transportation. Most seem to have initially been used in Germany for transporting washing and such. They are most definitely second or third hand vehicles and usually have amazingly cracked windshields. I am going to be using that word a lot, so I want to make sure you understand.
Lo and behold the taxi driver wanted to check Station Square to see if there wasmarshutkato Kutaisi. There was, so he dropped me off, I was feeling generous (and did not want to argue) so I gave him to quoted fair despite not having reached my intended destination.
Upon boarding, I was greeted by a VERY drunk Georgian. He was wishing me a happy Easter, because well, April 16th (the day before) had been Georgian Orthodox Easter. I replied in kind and took a seat, preparing for the wait. And what a wait. Sat around for an hour and a half waiting for people to fill up the marshutka.
Finally, the driver gave up and we made our way to Didube (the place I had initially wanted to get a marshutka from) at around 6:30pm. There was no one there either, doubtless because one had just left. So, we left Tbilisi with 4 people including the driver.
Along the way we picked up and dropped off about 5 more people. We did gain another passenger heading all the way to Kutaisi. This fifth person is a major part of the experience.
We just passed the half way point and reach one of the usual rest stops. I just want to sit in the marshutka because it has become chilly and I was dressed for the hot Tbilisi weather. My hopes of a usual 15 minute stop were shattered when the driver popped the hood and started digging around.
Now I have had a marshutka completely break down on me before and the drive then flagged down another marshutka and herded his passengers onto that one. That had been unfortunate because you end up having to pay again. That incident was an experience in itself. I swapped three marshtukas that day.
Anyway, I expected this to be a quick fix since the driver was not hurrying to find us another mode of transportation. He started to dink around under the hood and other drivers and bystanders started to come over and offer advice or just talk at him. I eventually get a little hungry and get out to buy a snack. It was about 9pm.
The time kept passing. The driver kept getting on his cell phone for a bit and then diving back into the engine. It has been about an hour. Fewer and fewer other marshutkas were passing by. I wanted to get home, so I finally asked a group of people passing by where they were headed, found out they were headed to Kutaisi and asked the driver, whose arms were still in the engine, for my bag so I could leave. I gentleman standing and looking on puffed once on his cigaret and in English said “Wait 5 minutes. Soon.” Meanwhile, the driver was confusedly asking what was going on and why I was wanting to leave.
I have been in this country long enough to realize that “5 minutes” usually means 10-20 minutes. I was ok with that because it meant I did not have to pay any more. So I go sit inside the little rest stop restaurant.
I had been keeping an eye on The 5th Passenger, he was the only one that I had actually seen out of the three other passengers. He was my key to when we might be leaving. When at a rest stop. It is always important to keep an eye on at least one Georgian passenger. This is because while the stop tends to be 15 minutes, it could be shorter or longer with no explanation.
While sitting in the restaurant and continually craning my neck to check on the progress, The 5th Passenger ordered a khachapuri and sat down to wait. This was a bad sign. I immediately called a fellow volunteer to complain. I needed to vent at this point. After getting of the phone with them, The 5th Passenger received his phone and motioned to me to sit at his table. Vaime! I refused politely about six times while he insistently continued to ask. I gave in, I was hungry and Georgians are very nice and I hopefully it would help pass the time.
Well, it did pass the time. It passed another hour of waiting for the marshutka to be fixed. In the meantime I learned that The 5th Passenger’s name was Soso, that he had a wife and a 2 year old daughter named Anna. I also learned that he lived in Ghomi and had family in Kutaisi as well. He was also in the army. He had been deployed a few times and found it funny that Americans liked to put sweet things, like honey, on chicken. Soso also found it necessary to warn me not to talk to the other to passengers. They were bad Georgians.
From me he learned that I was a teacher in Kutaisi, that I had a “lover”, that I had been in the country since August and not wanting to explain that I was half Georgian, he learned my name was Anna (Oops!!! I have tried using “Teri” in this country, but it is MUCH to confusing for Georgians, so I went with the first thing that came to mind…the name he had said earlier). So that was interesting.
I have a bad habit of making Georgians think that I understand more than I do. If a conversation goes on for too long, I become nervous about this and want to stop talking as soon as possible, so they don’t “find me out”. I explained to Soso that I had been visiting family in Prague and had been traveling since early in the morning and was very tired. He understood and decided to see how the “repairs” were going.
Finally, good news! We were really going to be on our way in a few minutes. Soso and I got on the marshutka and settle in for the remainder of the journey. Soso wanted to continue the conversation and I wanted to stop it, so I repeated my tiredness and he, being as polite as possible, asked if I wanted to sleep. I said I did and he wished me a goodnight.
As I laid my head down to rest, I heard “Anna”. I looked up to see Soso holding out his folded sweater for me to use as a pillow. Again, he would not take a refusal. I made myself comfortable with his sweater as a pillow and I felt the marshutka start to move. Yippee!! A few minutes in, I felt something soft fall on me. Not sure what I was going to see, I only cracked my eyes open. Soso had found another shirt of his and placed it on me as a blanket.
Now, Georgians are very hospitable and kind and in general have no bad intentions, I just have a hard time completely trusting such complete generosity and friendliness. This gesture, while being very kind and fatherly, made me rather uncomfortable. I continued to relax with my eyes closed for a while longer and eventually sat up and passed him his sweater and shirt with a lot of “gmadlobt”s (thank you).
The rest of the journey sped by and without incident. I was exhausted, and exceedingly happy when we pulled into Kutaisi. We made it to the stop and as I was piling out, Soso asked if I had paid (he was going to pay for me) and offered to walk me home. I declined. He did not accept that either. So we walked. He trundled my little suitcase along, refusing to let me take it, and talked. He asked why I wore glasses. I asked how he was going to get home.
Across the street from my apartment complex I asked him for my bad and wished him a goodnight. Soso looked confused and asked if I wanted him to walk me to my door. I said no and he understood this time. He asked what floor I lived on and if there was a lift. I said there was, nipping his desire to carry my bag up eight flights of stairs.
Finally Soso acquiesced and handed me my bag. I again thanked him, I told him he was very, very kind and wished him a goodnight. He smiled, refused the thanks and walked slowly back the way we had come. I was surprised he did not ask for my number. He definitely seemed like he wanted to be friends. I would have potentially given it to him and maybe continued the friendship, but for my name blunder. And honestly, I probably would not have ever met him again, even if he had invited me. Despite that, I cannot help but thank Soso for being a very sweet man and laud his very gentlemen like actions.
I did not get into my apartment until 1am. A trip that usually takes only two and a half hours took nearly six and a half. And that my first day back in the country!