Follow Up (by Chris)
Within minutes of filming the video diary, puddles were forming inside our tent. The rain was coming down hard, and we found ourselves forced to make the decision. Stay in the tent, or go?
Morgan took the position that we accept the Georgian’s offer, and move into their place for the night. For my part, I was stubborn. I didn’t feel like leaving all of our stuff outside in the tent — where it could get stolen during the night –or packing up our gear in the rain and getting soaked. We might well manage to stay drier inside the tent, I thought, and all I really wanted to do was curl up in my sleeping bag and pass out. It’s a fortunate thing I didn’t win the argument.
Staying with the “Commander” and his wife, a Georgian couple in their late 70’s, was one of the most special experiences we’ve had in a while.
We knocked on the door of the woman who had originally invited us in, a friend of the old couples. We were a little hesitant, because when we first arrived at the field, she’d berated us for sleeping on her neighbor’s land. She came out and chuckled, in an “I told you so” kind of way, then motioned for us to bring our bikes out in front of her garden door. Morgan and I were bummed. Did she just want us to move our tent? We were about to abandon the project and move back to our tent when she motioned for us to follow her, and took us to the Commander’s house. We had no idea where we were going, and weren’t entirely sure she was taking us to a place with a roof. I was worried for a moment she was going to flag down a car.
When Morgan and I showed up on the couple’s doorstep, a huge sense of relief came over us. We were going to be dry! But we weren’t done yet. They insisted that we bring everything into their yard- we’d only brought our critical items and electronics with us, leaving everything else in the tent—even our bikes were still in the fields. Our three kind hosts walked back out with us in the rain for 10 minutes as we packed everything up, unlocked our bikes, and walked them back to the house. I grumbled- who was going to steal our stuff in a field in the middle of an electric storm?
When the work was done, and our gear was safely on their porch, we were rewarded. They quickly ushered inside – into an ancient, wooden farmhouse with no electricity and only a single candle casting dim light from a lace-linened dining room table. The matriarch of the household – Sofia – gave us this big welcoming smile, and I knew we were going to be taken care of.
I glanced around the front room — wall paper was peeling in dog-eared fashion from years of seeping moisture, and a cabinet in the corner contained washed-out photographs that could have been from the 1950’s. Sofia patted me on the shoulder and motioned me to sit at the head of the room’s table. That table was soon laden with serving plates piled with bread, polenta, white cheese, and tomatoes – even though it was 11pm, well past dinner time.
“Vino VINO!” the Commander ordered. His wife scurried away and returned with the rose-colored liquid. It was served out of a plastic oil pan. After she poured it into three glasses, the “commander” (whom we had difficultly discerning if he had been an actual military commander, or if that was just his nickname) raised his glass in salute. We followed his lead, and watched aghast as he chugged the entire glass of wine in a two gulps through his missing two front teeth. Oh, so that’s how they do it I
thought. Then it was our turn. When the Commander looked at us expectedly, we chugged our glasses in imitation. It was terrible. I think the grapes hadn’t fermented yet, because it tasted like unripe tomatoes, and there didn’t seem to be any alcohol. We both forcibly suppressed gags in front of our hosts’ watchful eyes, and managed to smile back in gratitude. We knew how the important the gesture was to them, as a measure of their hospitality.
Over the rest of that night and the next morning, we caught a glimpse into the couple’s lifestyle – the humorous way they shouted at each other constantly from other sides of the house, the ancient radio that played Eastern European techno music, and the pride the Commander took in every fruit and vegetable his garden had to offer. I felt like an alien observer in a different world, with my shiny touring bike and laptop set in front of their modest home. But still — as I have experienced on numerous occasions along this journey — I found myself completely humbled by the way we were brought into their care.
“Nahvamdis, madloba” I said earnestly to the Commander on our way out the front gate – meaning “goodbye” and “thank you” in Georgian.
He grasped my face in his hands, eyes welled up to match his broad, toothless smile, and kissed me on both cheeks.
What had we done to deserve this? I remember thinking. I felt guilty that we left them nothing in return for their hospitality. I can’t believe I had wanted to stay in the tent.