Thursday, June 14, 2007

The Longest Day

I've only been in Tbilisi for18 hours, yet I've already seen and done so many things.

I arrived in Tbilisi at 4:30 am (for some reason, virtually all flights arrive in the wee hours), breezed through customs, and proceeded to baggage claim. As you may recall from my previous post, I wasn't sure if my bag had made it with me. Not so surprisingly, my bag had not made it to Tbilisi. Luckily, my bag had only clothes. Before filing a report with the lost baggage officials, I notified Fr. Theodore of both my presence and situation. He sent me back to Lost Baggage with his Georgian friend, Giorgi, who quickly took charge of the situation.

By the time I left the airport at 5:30 am, the sun had already begun to rise. Luckily, the apartment at which Derek and I were to be staying for the next few nights was only a 5 minute drive away. Fr. Theodore's Toyota Land Cruiser was our means of transportation. Now, this isn't any luxury SUV--this is the real deal. It weighs 9000 lbs., can hold 180 liters of fuel, has a kangaroo bar (it originally came from Australia where it's necessary to protect yourself and car from kangaroos that jump in your way), has a 4.7 liter diesel engine, can drive without a hitch through 3 ft. water, and is protected by a ballistics blanket that guarantees that if a mine were to explode beneath the vehicle, no one would be hurt. Now why would a priest need something like this? Because his diocese is out in the steppes where there are no roads to speak of and the terrain is brutal.

Despite the fact that I had been traveling for 30 hours with little sleep, I was surprisingly alert when we arrived at the apartment. As soon as I had put down my bags, Giorgi and Fr. Theodore prepared a quick dinner/breakfast with wine (of course). The food was delicious and it was all within the fast. There was fresh bread, rice-stuffed cabbage, pureed beets and spinach, an eggplant dish, fresh herbs that were eaten alone, a bean dish, and two kinds of chutney. The food was served cold and apparently, this is typical. We only drank the dry red wine after a toast, and Giorgi was the toastmaster, or tamada. The first toast was to God and the last to the Theotokos. By the time I had stuffed myself, it was bright outside and Giorgi and Fr. Theodore left so that we could catch a few hours sleep before we had to be up again at 11:00 am.

The remainder of the day was spent in Downtown Tbilisi where we had a brief tour of Tbilisi State University. I also bought a few items of clothing to last me while my bag is accounted for. We had a delicious dinner at Giorgi's house (where his mother and sisters live--he's 25) that was attended by a few of Fr. Theodore and Giorgi's close friends. Three of them happened to be Americans that had been doing graduate work or simply been in Georgia for few years. John and Lauren both study Georgian Chant and they treated us by performing along with Dato, a Georgian chanter.

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