Some of you know already that I am here to finalise my masters thesis on Capital Markets in Developing Countries. ALL of you know that combining work and pleasure is essential for me to enjoy what I do. It has been possible for me to have both during this trip. Together with my partner, Johan, I have interviewed several institutions and actors in Tbilisi, but equally important I´ve have gained a great insight in the culture, mentality and way of living in the country. As usual it is hard to describe all of the experiences and nuances with words and I find the lens of the camera doing a good job for me at times. Still there are some things that needs to be told as I remember them:
We first arrived to Tbilisi International Airport, outside capital of Georgia, 4am after a smooth (and cheap) flight with Air Baltic. My birthplace is Mashhad (Iran) which is shown in the passport. So while the suspicious passport control (of course) was checking me up, I took the chance to learn some essential Georgian phrases from the customs girls. “Hello”, “How are you?”, “Thank you”, “You are beautiful”, “Nice to meet you” … and so on just to get by the first days. Of the little information we had beforehand, the expectation was very low internal security because of the history of poverty and criminality. So I thought these phrases would be useful if some gangsters wanted to rob us. Anyway, thanks to my contacts with the Caucausus School of Business and the kind offer to send us a driver (4am!), we were spared the exhausting struggle of bargaining with corrupt airport taxi drivers (always the worst kind u meet in a country). Alexander, our sleepy driver, stepped on the gas to get us (and himself) in bed. Our hotel has given us a discounted rate of 40$/night much thanks to connections with the faculty here and it has a nice view from the balcony over some parts of the city.
After a short sleep, we were picked up by our contact Mrs. Tinatin Gugberidze. I had no idea how she looked or how old she was. My guess was that she is married and around her 40´s. I even wanted to buy her anti-wrinkle cream in the tax-free shop of Arlanda, but thank Buddha the shop assistant didn´t agree with that idea. It turned out Tinatin (aka Tiko) is 26 yrs old, unmarried and in no need of anti-wrinkle cream. Yet!. So since our arrival she has been kind enough to introduce us to people at the faculty, take us to sightseeings in and outside Tbilisi and alot of more things that pictures explain better.
So, about the culture! First of all, it is influenced alot from other cultures as Georgia has been invaded and liberalised by Russians, Ottomans, Persians (explains the passport control) and so on… It is an Ortodox Christian country, actually one of the first with roots back to third century. But forget history yand let´s look at the present state. This is a country in change and desperately trying to improve its economy. US/NATO have interests here because of the strategic position of the country. In north, Russia in case of a new cold war, to East Iran because of the stupid government and also the European dependence of energy that needs to be pipelined through Georgia. I remember as a child growing up in the upper middle-class of Iran. Our family was not rich but rich enough to have rich friends. Europe (that is France, Germany, England and Italy) is considered as a utopia in countries in the Caucausus region not only because of its rich history but also the present state of working systems and wealth. So the culture here has Europe as the primary reference group, that is they want to be identified as Europeans. It is a shame, since part of this struggle means that some Georgians´view the Georgian culture as old-fashioned and something to get away from which is partly understandble since the history of the past decades has brought nothing but conflict and poverty. On the other hand, if Georgian´s adapt a democratic, solidary and peacuful mentality by becoming “European”. WHY NOT!
When poor people leave poverty they are naturally afraid of ending up there again. Being poor is not apprehensible to most people in the west. Sometimes I hear stupid remarks like: “Oh they are so poor, but still happy!”. Well, those that are so poor that they can´t provide basic needs like food are not happy. But once such basic needs are fulfilled, true happiness is not dependent on wealth. Unfortunatly, this way of thinking and the ideal picture of life painted through commercials in media, forces people to join an express highway to materialism to feel relatively less poor. It is quite visible here as the average income of people is not high, a great gap between the rich 10 %!a(MISSING)nd the poor with no real middle-class. While beggers are common on the streets, luxury cars that cost tremendous amount of money for a Georgian is just as common. As in many countries, the amount of your wealth dictates your worth as a person. Being a city resident is of course much nicer than being a healthy, peaceful (poor) farmer in a mountain region somewhere. This problem is nothing new, just sad!
With all that said, there is a great side of Georgia that must be experienced! Food, culture, warmth and generosity takes little effort to find. That is the beauty of the country, any country really! It takes so little effort from your own person to find the good that exists in all people. So instead of getting too philosofical (probably too late) and loose half of my readers (certainly too late) let me introduce you to Georgia through my perspective and camera lens!