Tuesday, August 11, 2009


This summer I have traveled to other regions of Azerbaijan and also left the country to go to Tbilisi, Georgia. The travel choices are not big here--Iran is to the south, the Caspian Sea to the east, to the west Armenia (Azerbaijan and Armenia are bitter enemies and it is not possible to travel there). To the north is Georgia and a little piece of Russia.

So 12 Peace Corps volunteers set out for Tbilisi last month. It is about an hour and a half to the border, which is in a barren-looking area. It took us a half hour to go through the Azeri and Georgian guard stations and then about an hour to get to Tbilisi.

Georgia was one of the 15 former Soviet Union countries, like Azerbaijan, but the atmosphere is different.

Some of the first things we saw were a nice cityscape--interesting, European style buildings and a lively street scene with bars, outdoor cafes, street art, fashionably dressed people and dogs with owners (as opposed to homeless dogs). People are out at night, and since the biggest export in Georgia is wine, people were drinking it.

We arranged to meet some young people who had come to our town for an exchange project and got a personal tour of the city of a period of a few days. It was great to take a real vacation. We had a great time visiting old ruins and interesting buildings, climbing to the top of the city for a great view, hanging out in the cafes and other sightseeing.

Apparently the Georgians don't like their president, blaming him for the war with the Russians last summer and they were having daily protests in the central square. Some people from the regions had been camping out in little booths, voicing their displeasure.

Like Azerbaijan, outside of the capital city, many people are very poor and unlike Azerbaijan, some go without food because it isn't as easy to grow food in Georgia as it is in Azerbaijan. Also like Azerbaijan, the older people who remember the Soviet Union days tend to look upon it as a golden period when everyone was middle class, had a job and some financial security. Now, reportedly a few people are rich and most are very poor.

Our trip to Georgia helped us learn more about Azerbaijan--we had thought that some of the traditions in Azerbaijan, such as no dating, marriages that are usually arranged by the families and limited opportunities for women were related to Muslim culture. However, Georgians are Christian and have these same traditions. Georgians seem to attend church in larger numbers, but in Azerbaijan people will say they are Muslim, but rarely go to mosque and few do the five times daily prayers or observe Ramadan.

This is only the fourth country I have visited in the world, but in my opinion, people who have been to all of the popular countries could have a good trip in Georgia. Besides the capital city, there are the Upper Caucusus (mountains) to hike, interesting and beautiful countryside villages to visit and Black Sea resorts, which are very popular in the summer. The Georgian people are very welcoming and friendly.