Across Continents

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Georgia on my mind

“Other arms reach out to me
Other eyes smile tenderly
Still in peaceful dreams I see
The road leads back to you
Oh Georgia”

Ray Charles

Georgia is a unique, complex country. And a rapidly developing one. Not so many years ago you needed an escort to drive from the Turkish border along the Black Sea coast. Today there’s just potholes and cattle to contend with. In Batumi I’d seen international hotels opening up, entire new water infrastructure being installed. But it’s still a relatively poor nation, a typical monthly salary perhaps just a few hundred pounds. There’s quite a bit of unemployment, and begging does occur, although its not as commonplace as in some countries I’ve passed through.

People seem pleased that state institutions like the Police, those can have real impact on daily life, are now regarded as free of corruption. Municipal elections take place shortly, with international observers present. I’ll await their verdict with interest. After all, its not just about being able to put a cross on a ballot paper, you have to believe you can place it wherever you want.

I’d noticed parallels with the Balkans. Shifting borders, difficult, sometimes antagonistic, relationships with neighbouring countries. A varied ethnic mix. Almost unfathomable to an outsider. But if the politics seems difficult to grasp, there’s Georgian economics to contend with. Incomes for most are low, almost paltry, yet expensive cars are relatively commonplace. True, in the transition from Communism, the State has given people the houses, the apartments, they occupied. For free. In Tbilisi property values have typically risen by a thousand percent in just a few years. But, for the most part, these are paper increases, unrealisable for most.

A badly distorted free market economy, or just a gigantic property bubble? Whatever the answer, the practical, if slightly bizarre, implication is that houses in some of the Capital’s most expensive districts – quite unaffordable to most Westerners – are in need of much repair or renovation, but the owners simply lack the funds.

Europe or Asia? A question that has often evoked very passionate responses, compelling arguments on both sides. The most persuasive answer reflects the uniqueness of Georgia, a nation separated from undisputed Europe to the north and the certainty of Asia to the south, by, respectively, the Greater and Lesser Caucasus Ranges. Neither quite Europe or quite Asia, perhaps best described as simply Georgian. And of the different ethnicities, broadly split between European and Asian in appearance? Being one of the most invaded nations in history probably accounts for that.

Whatever the politics, the economics of Georgia, the people are immensely warm and hospitable, their generosity humbling. And justifiably proud of their nation. I’d met someone who’d been educated in western Europe, intelligent, very articulate, and had asked if she’d like to return there? No, she said, life here could be tough, but this was her home, where she belonged. I admired her for that.

Georgia is also a very beautiful country, the truly impressive Greater and Lesser Caucasus Ranges bordering the country to the north and south, steep wooded mountainsides contrasting with wide open plains sandwiched between them. Vast tracts of unspoiled countryside.

A unique, complex country. And one I plan to return to once my venture is complete, to explore more, intrigued to see how much it has changed politically and economically. But, much as I’ve hugely enjoyed my time in Georgia, there’s no getting away from the fact that the driving here is the most appalling I’ve ever seen. Breathtakingly terrible.

[The author would like to thank the countless individuals who have made his time in the Republic of Georgia such an enjoyable, interesting and rewarding experience. Thank you]

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