Georgia is nothing if not a strange pastiche of eras. The modern overlays the ancient. Remnants of the USSR fade slowly into a backdrop of pre- and early-Christian structures. Stepping onto the Metro is a journey back into the 1960s. Walking across the Metekhi Bridge transports you to the 5th Century. And a trip to the wild mountains of Racha is part journey-to-the-18th-Century and part trip to the beginning of the world. (Oh, I know, I’m waxing a bit here. Humor me.)
After the supra, I was the first person up the next morning…by hours. While the Kazakhs and Georgians snored, I used the time like any good American would: I found a way to make coffee and I cleaned up most of the trash strewn about the yard from the night before. I cringed slightly at the memory of being offered a special Kazakh treat: horsemeat sausage. I grew up with horses, so they’re not what I’d consider a delicacy. “Friends, not food!” my subconscious had railed. I had taken a bite. It was chewy, dense, and…horsey. I couldn’t eat it. I tried the “spit discreetly in the napkin” trick, but I was probably not subtle enough. The local dogs had raided after we’d gone to bed and the garbage was emptied–one of them likely got a taste of the horsemeat. I still felt a little queasy, but carried on with the cleanup, feeling slightly annoyed at myself for fulfilling the Georgians’ stereotype of dutiful little American.
It was Sunday, and a special holy festival for the town. The church bells were ringing, and eventually we headed over (and by “over”–I mean we climbed over an odd staircase at the back of the property and hiked up a dirt road to the church, which was about a block away).
I was getting used to the requirements that women must wear skirts and cover their heads in Georgian churches. If nothing else, I appreciate the history and devotion behind the Georgian brand of Christianity. At the church, the priest was singing the mass. Although I couldn’t understand a word, it was beautiful. The church was packed, standing room only, with people. The air was thick with sweat and exhalation. I only lasted a few minutes, then had to get outside for some fresh air.
A man was leading a sheep in circles around the outside of the church; apparently it would be sacrificed later. I cringed a bit and felt bad for the thing every time it bleated sadly; it seemed to know its fate. I spent the afternoon people watching, trying to imagine how the village had changed over the centuries and marveling at the rituals, including the rather primitive ones, that had survived. If I squinted my eyes just right, I could convince myself I was back in the Middle Ages. (The squinting helped blur the overhead powerlines from my vision.)
Although it was an experience I am glad I didn’t miss, the trip to Racha had its consequences, too. A dozen or so people staying in a dacha with an outhouse and no running water, despite best intentions, led to a fairly serious case of amoebic something or other for me. Exhibit One…our sanitation system: