September 28th, Day 58, Tbilisi, Georgia
Today was Wednesday and we got up early to go on a walking tour of Tbilisi. The traffic in the city was a challenge when walking because pedestrians did not have the right away. The whole idea was to keep the flow of traffic moving. So pedestrians walked and let cars drive past while they crossed the street. The pedestrians had to adjust their stride to let the cars keep moving without braking! The cars did not even stop for emergency vehicles when their lights were flashing and sirens on. The emergency vehicles just drove down the center of the moving vehicles.
We walked to the historical center of Tblilsi where there was the remains of a city wall. In the 19th Century wooden houses were built on top of the stone walls surrounding the city. These houses were very interesting with large balconies across the front of them. How they have lasted for more than 200 years on top of a wall was amazing. We have too many building codes in Canada! We would never be allowed to build the railings they used for their balconies in Canada never mind building a house on top of a wall.
The style of the houses built in Tbilisi were brick and stone. But the bricks used were square and thin. Approximately, one inch thick and six by six inches square.
At one time there were 70 sulpher baths (hamans) in Tbilisi. The water in the sulpher baths was 25 to 40 degrees C. and very good for your health. In 1795 the Persian Ruler was disabled and sick, he had heard about Tbilisi’s sulfa baths. He ordered his army not to destroy the baths when they conquered the city because he wanted to try them out. After the Persians occupied Georgia he came to Tbilisi and spent a week in their baths. When they did not cure him, he was so angry, he ordered the city to be destroyed. His army destroyed most of the baths and churches in the city and only a few remain standing today.
There was a monument to the city cleaners. The cleaners were respected and well paid in Tbilisi because they helped to keep the city clean and disease free.
Armenia became Christians first, in 301 AD and Georgia became Christians in 327 AD. The first Georgian churches were basilicas which were rectangular buildings with support columns inside the church. Later they built their churches in the shape of a crucifix. We toured a basilica from the 5th Century that had been restored many times because it had been destroyed by invaders. It had frescoes inside but nothing else because everything else was stolen.
Today 70% of Georgians were Orthodox Christians but they were tolerant of all the different religions in Georgia. Russian was compulsory at school, then Georgian. English, German and French could also be taken if the student wanted to learn languages.
We walked across Peace Bridge, a pedestrian bridge constructed with steel and glass. It was ultra modern and surrounded with buildings hundreds of years old. This walking bridge went across the river and looked very beautiful but to get on the bridge we had to walk over gravel and rubble because there was so much reconstruction going on in the historical center. Apparently the government was paying for all of the reconstruction but in the future when the owners sold their buildings 40% was to be paid back to the government. That seemed very fair to me, free renovations now, pay later when you had the money.
Inga explained to us what happened to her family (and many other families) here in Georgia after the collapse of the Soviet Union.
Georgia received it’s independence in 1990/1991 and the new Georgian government replaced their Soviet Rubles with new Georgian currency “Lari”. The only problem for the population was that the new currency was not worth the same amount as their Soviet rubles. If someone had 1,000 rubles they would receive one dollar in the new currency. There was a rush to the bank, people carrying all their Soviet rubles, sometimes with bags of money, all trying to exchange it into the new currency. Inga said they only had 48 hours to convert their money and the queues at the banks went for blocks.
From 1991 until 1995 the population of Georgia had to start their lives over again. Those four years were called by the Georgians the dark years in Georgia’s history! This type of thing happened to all the Soviet countries after the collapse of Communism. Even Russia changed it’s rubles from Soviet to Russian rubles, the Soviet rubles were worthless worldwide.
Prior to 1991 all jobs in the Soviet countries were controlled by the government which collapsed. After 1991 all jobs were lost. The populations of these countries had to start again with very little or no money. The lucky people who had keys to facilities took what they wanted. Some people started up the manufacturing or farming previously controlled by the Soviets again but with much less employees. Because now they had to be efficient and profitable or they would lose everything again. Therefore, the proactive and/or connected person got ahead faster than the average person.
For Inga and her family, times were very tough! Her father was sick with cancer at the time and he needed medication everyday for his pain. Inga’s mother had to line up at the police station every morning and every night to receive his medication. Not the hospital but the police station because they controlled the medication given out. They would only give one pill at a time and she had to be approved by their doctor and she had to sign for the one pill received every time. So twice daily she had to line up at the police station. Inga’s sister had a baby and Inga with the sister had to queue up all night to receive milk for the baby in the morning.
Inga and her family sold everything of value they had over the next four years to survive. At the start of 1991 this family had 2 apartments. One for the sister and her baby, another for Inga and their parents. They sold these apartments and all lived together in one apartment. But before they sold their apartments they sold their car, chandeliers, dishes, jewelry and anything of value they owned just for food and medicine.
The apartment they all lived in was on the 8th floor and all power was off, with no heat or water! They had to walk up and down again from the 8th floor apartment as the elevator did not work. When they managed to buy meat they cooked it outside on a fire and shared what they could with the neighbors. The neighbors would do the same and it became a real community effort to stay alive and well.
Remember also that Georgia had a civil war in 1992/1993. Those that were pro socialism versus those pro democracy. Everything was destroyed during this time.
Inga was a teacher but she had to stop teaching at the school because she had no boots, warm coats or transportation to get to the school. She began tutoring children in the city of Tbilisi from her home. Sometime after 1995 she read an article about guiding and because she spoke several languages she was hired. This was the start of her independence and progress.
After her father passed away, her mother and sister moved to Moscow because her sister got employment there and their mother went with her to look after the sister’s child. Today Inga, does very well with her guiding, has her own apartment and lots of friends. But she remembers those four dark years 1991-1995, very well!
In the center of the main square in Tbilisi was a very large golden statue of St. George. I had explained earlier that Georgia was not named after this saint although they liked him. They called their country Sakartvelo, not Georgia. The English called their country Georgia!
There was a huge statue of a lady up on the hill looking down on Tbilisi. It was called “Mother Of Georgia”. In one hand she held a sword and in the other a wine goblet. Wine was for friends and the sword for enemies. But Inga, said the Georgian men inTbilisi said the wine goblet and sword meant that if you did not drink all your wine she would cut your head off!
Today one Lari was worth sixty cents. Statistically Georgia’s unemployment rate was published as 35% but Inga said realistically it was closer to 80% because many of the villages had no employment opportunities. I personally thought that 80% was too high but no one knew for sure what the actual rate was.
That night for dinner we went to a Georgian dancing and music restaurant. We had a lot of fun!