Kindness startles us in Georgia and Azerbaijan. Every time we stop, our wheels or our legs, ordinary people wrap us up in extra-ordinary kindness!
Why! We can’t figure it out.
The Black and Caspian Seas wedge these two tiny countries together. Three great world powers; Russian, Turkey and Iran crush them from the north and the south. Occasionally they manage to pop out and go it alone. Then autocrats, and their cronies, press down from above and make national wealth disappear behind thin strips of glitz. Peace is fragile, prosperity is skewed, systems are rigid and democracy struggles.
Yes, ordinary Georgian and Azeri people are squeezed like hell. Yet, all that squirts out is an Extra-Ordinary Kindness!
It really is extra-ordinary. Harry & I often don’t know how to deal with it.
Here are just a few examples …
- We arrive at an old city hotel in the Georgian capital, Tbilisi. A lady, living nearby, welcomes us and insists we call on her if we need anything at all. A little later she rushes back with chunky slices of bread and cheese!
- We consult our city map at a street corner in Ganca, Azerbaijan. Old men and young boys swarm us. Soon whispers of ‘english’, ‘english’, ‘english’ rise and an English speaker appears. He draws a map on a napkin amidst loud advice from the crowd. A driver turns up to guide us and they cheer us on our way. And we aren’t even lost!
- We are lost looking for a hostel in the Azeri capital of Baku. We ask policemen for directions. They gather, discuss, cell phone here, cell phone there and then escort us, with lights flashing, all the way to the front door!
- We want to replace our back motorbike tyres. We are a little too lazy to do it ourselves and scout around for tyre repair shops. There are not many motorbikes in Baku and car tyre-repair shops are reluctant to work on bikes. We drop in for a coffee at a café and ask the youngster behind the counter for advice. He calls his mate who rocks up on a small delivery bike and escorts us to a motorbikes-only workshop!
- We are sucked into that motorbike workshop. It is a single garage in a ‘ghetto’ part of town. The owner hasn’t thrown away a single motorbike part in 20 years. There are 5 guys there, all unemployed and dreaming of bikes. They jump in to help Harry. We spend 3 hours there. After the noisy exchange of our tyres, we drink endless chai from grubby tea-cups. They refuse to take any money from us. We hide money on the table under that teapot!
- We start to chat to a young student, Rovshan on a sidewalk. He insists we come to his home to meet his mother and sister and nephews. It’s a small, bright apartment on the second floor, off a small courtyard. Chai comes in pots and sweets come in heaps. When we run out of words we resort to hugs and kisses. We leave with a water blessing and a jar of cherry jam!
- Harry is rushed at by an old-ish man with a serious speech impediment. He asks, by gesture, if our bikes truly only have a single cylinder. Harry nods a ‘yes’ and he clutches his head and raises his arms in disbelief. When he realises we have ridden from Africa he is gesture-less and hugs Harry with tears.
A difference we note between Georgia and Azerbaijan is that wine flows in the former and oil flows in the latter.