Georgia, a world on its own

IMG_0471I am in a geopolitical seismic zone. In order to understand the Caucasus region and its people you have to look deeper into its interconnected parts and at the same time use your wide- angle lenses for giving yourself the distance needed for understanding the framework you are in.

After having been in Georgia, Armenia and Azerbaijan before, as a traveller during last summer, this time I decided to come back to Tbilisi and try out culture, people and life in different ways than before. Stepping out of my comfort zone, especially after having lived in the Euro- bubble of Brussels, being back here has been a beautiful challenge.

IMG_0056There is undeniably a cultural shock for most of the Europeans here but I would say that for a mentality to flourish and a mind to get inspired, one cannot compare or judge based on what he already knows but most probably on the basis of what he expects and desires to learn and experience. And this is the reason you have to live in such a place and try out every single aspect of it, dig inside the deepest layers of local life and natives and then draw your own conclusions. You don’t necessarily have to accept but I would say that you owe to yourself to try and understand before coming to an end which shuts down your mind and tightens the spectrum of reality around you.

IMG_0084Among the mountains, the sea and the chaotic, cosmopolitan Tbilisi with its nationalistic and soviet influences, its medieval fortresses and decayed houses in the Old Town, different aspects of national identity are emerging in everyday life and interaction. The big boulevards and neo-classic buildings in other parts of the city align Tbilisi more with Europe than Asia.

Its connection with the rest of the South Caucasus countries, provided by the similar cultural traditions and common conceptions, goes in hand with the progressive step forward to a new way of thinking. Even if mentality has been a big part of the way through, I would support that the substance of future development is the dual nature of this place.

DSC_1287A colossal landmark as well as a powerful barrier, Georgia has been reborn many times in the past . Post- conflict life of Ossetians and Abkhaz, together with the one of ethnic groups of Mingrelians and Svans, characterized by linguistic diversity have formed the self- ruled community life and at the same time collective way of being in Georgia.

I am eager to come in contact and interaction with the Internally Displaced Youth coming from Abkhazian and South Ossetian War of 2008 and share views and understanding on post- conflict way of living. They are not refugees as they did not have to leave their country and move to a new one, but they are Internally Displaced People (IDPs), people who due to the conflict had to leave specific conflict areas of their country and move to new places of the same country for a new life establishment.

DSC_1391A vibrant and diverse crossroad between Europe and Asia, where chaos meets spontaneous creativity and the past negotiates with the future for a better tomorrow, Georgia is a world on its own. Maybe I find my place in it, or I will at least try and make my mind about it during my 9-month stay here!

 

Until then i will be found in bazars around the city, hiding myself behind the dirty, muddy corners of the vegetable leftovers trying to grasp the diffusing smells of uncertainty and desire. Or maybe downtown in some western-ized bars after long supras (traditional dinners) in the  soviet- style basement restaurants. Or maybe among the mountains of the Caucasus up in the north with the fresh brewed air and the rural beauty tickling my sight. Or maybe on a marshrutka on my way to self-discovery between the crossroads of the East. Or maybe downtown somewhere between the beggars and the street sellers, listening to the deep roar of the streets as another encounter of life and adventure!

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Prologue to my EVS experience in Tbilisi; first cultural observations at the Old Hippodrome

view to Tbilisi Old Town

view to Tbilisi Old Town

This section of my blog will be dedicated to my 9-month long stay in Tbilisi, Georgia for my European Voluntary Service (EVS) at Youth Association DRONI. Tbilisi is a city of a bit more than 1,5 million inhabitants, an undoubtedly vibrant cultural crossroad between Europe and the Caucasus. During my stay here, i will be mainly working on local development projects concerning young Internally Displaced People (IDPs), principally Georgian/ South-Ossetian/Mingrelian IDPs from both South Ossetia and Abkhazia break-away territories (result of the wars of the 90s and more recently 2008) as well as Azeri and Armenian minorities living in communities around the country. In addition to this, a main focus point for me is the reclamation of urban space based on socio-cultural initiatives. The current squatting of the abandoned Old Hippodrome and its consequent transformation into Alternative Cultural Center of Tbilisi (ACCT) has already been one of my future priorities.  As it is already my fifth day in Tbilisi, below follow some of my first observations and activities around the city. Urban exploration in and around Tbilisi, alternative cultural spaces and activities as well as socio-culturally diverse minority communities will be the main focus areas of my photojournalistic work around the region.

view to the Old Hippodrome

view to the Old Hippodrome

Tchini at the Old Hippodrome

Tchini at the Old Hippodrome

Already on Saturday morning, I had a visit at the Old Hippodrome of Tbilisi, close to the Saburtalo district to explore the abandoned building complex which has been now occupied by a French nomad named Goran and his female camel Tchini. Plans of local and international activists and volunteers are to transform the Old Hippodrome into the Alternative Cultural Center of Tbilisi (ACCT) and therefore establish a new identity to the derelict complex. The place has already been a meeting point for travelers, activists and artists from Caucasus and Europe who initiate and participate in different type of workshops and cultural activities that Hippodrome hosts. A free space of cultural diversity and free expression, the Old Hippodrome is unfolding an alternative social activism.

Goran and Tchini at the Old Hippodrome

Goran and Tchini at the Old Hippodrome

Goran narrating

Goran narrating

A long discussion with the nomad Goran around the fire with the company of all his animals and especially Tchini presented a very interesting angle of the current situation at the Hippodrome. Having traveled all the way from Afghanistan to Georgia, Goran shared many traveler’s stories with a lot of philosophical reflection and ideologies around life. According to him, the squatting of the Hippodrome is a gift, benefit, solution and natural process concerning all the ones wishing to be part of the space, the vibes and the potentiality it can offer.

Monica and Guillermo, also EVS DRONI volunteers such as me, are already working on developing interesting activities and more importantly fostering an open-minded dialogue among all the squatters, visitors and interested groups. The negotiation between mindsets, ideas and cultural suggestions is yet to come! A next visit to the Hippodrome and a more active participation to the upcoming project ideas will give me a more concrete understanding of the situation and its future development which I am planning to communicate soon!

More photos from this visit can be found here.

People

skeptical figures

sceptical figures

I met people with beautiful and ugly faces,

people coming from all sorts of places

I met people with big mouths and sealed souls

And people with the talent to multiply their roles

I met people with iron fists made of childhood fears

And people panoplied with coward ears

I met people who wanted to run away

And people who searched and found their way

I met people with dreams that knocked them out

And people with lies that bailed them out

I met people drowned in their boggy land

And people lost in their paradise yard

I met people with crazy mothers alive

And people with wise fathers buried in land

I met people with naked hearts crying from cold

And people with warm eyes that remained unsold

I met people empty of desire

And people jealous of what they admire

I met people with bad lovers that failed them

And people whose selfishness trained them

I met people with guts and determination

And people whose shelter became their handicapped nation

I met people who would judge before they knew

And people who would question and go through

I met people I never understood

No matter if I did all I could

I met people I loved no matter what I said

And people I wish I would had never met