I am an Egyptian magnate. Or possibly it is the other way around? Either way, the country and its people are rooted in my soul and have been since I visited there the first time in 1999.
Kristin and I easily found the Tbilisi Catholic Church (ha! after asking at least five people "sad aris catolicki inglesia?"). Oddly enough it was right where we expected to find the puppet theatre last week and, not finding it, had to scramble for a taxi to get to the REAL theatre location on tine). Tbilisi is not THAT large of a town and, in these 10 days, I've gotten around it a bit!
We found the church packed with Egyptians. Kristin went right in while I chatted out front with some women and their children. I learned a lot from them including from which area of Egypt most of the immigrants are coming (Southern Egypt where the Muslim Brotherhood have a strong hold and are making life very difficult for Christians) and what they think about life in Georgia (it is enjoyable--but the rent is too high). These conversations were extremely fulfilling and I hope to report more on them here when I have some more time. Two things to note: 1) While I stood on the steps talking to these ladies one of the men I interviewed two days ago passed by and called out to me ("Jamila!"); 2) I love the singing and incense from the Coptic service. So reminiscent of my time in Egypt as well as the old city of Jerusalem. I took an audio clip that I can hopefully post here some how, some day.
Our first lecture of the day was on social media. While enjoyable I will not write about it here. The information was fairly straightforward and intuitive.
Our second lecture was at government office where the Deputy Minister of Integration spoke to us. I will have to save the background on the Abkhazians and Ossetians for a night when I am writing before midnight but for me the most enlightening aspect was finally understanding just why the conflict exists. It is not an ethnic conflict, although the Abkhazians and Ossetians do have a different language and culture (historically) from the Georgians. It appears that the conflict truly was generated by (definitely) Russian leaders and (likely) Georgian leaders. Russian wants to drive a wedge between these two autonomous regions and Georgia in order to gain influence and power over Georgia. Georgia wants to assert its national identity and sovereignty vis-a-vis Russia. The conflict seems to have little or nothing to do with actual differences in ethnicity or identity.
Kristin and I had plenty of opportunity to reflect and discus this topic this evening with our host, Thea, and her (our!) friends Georgi and Nino. Georgi invited us to his country home (a "dacha" in Russian) and treated us to a fabulous time. We picked apricots, toured his beautiful home, ate a delicious meal, and enjoyed great conversation over dessert in front of a fire. What could be better? Please look at my photo of Georgi's home on Facebook. You will notice the fabulous outdoor staircase. Most Georgian homes (not apartments but single family homes) have their staircase connecting the floors OUTSIDE. Georgi's water (from a well) and toilet (squatter!) are also outside.
Wonderful day!! Wonderful wonderful day.