A story from a Tbilisi-Batumi minibus
Photo: David Mdzinarishvili/ REUTERS
First published in 2010 in the Liberali publication
“Just one more passenger then we’ll head off immediately,” the minibus driver said repeatedly for the past half hour.
It’s seven o’clock in the morning. There are quite a few people looking to get to Batumi, but nobody wants to get into our minibus – there’s one seat left in the back with torn upholstery, an uncomfortable looking back support and its so high off the ground that most people’s feet would dangle in the air.
Nobody wants the seat. One of those responding to the driver’s call for a passenger peeks in, and gets angry: “What am I, a nig**r? This is what you offer me?”
Thirteen passengers, and we’re still waiting for one more – the last one, in order to head off. Auntie Nunu is the most excitable of the group. She’s talking about how she’s going to spend her vacation in Kobuleti, a little city not far from Batumi, in Hasan Hotel, and that her children had been begging her to go there for a while – they live in Barcelona.
Auntie Nunu is interested in the social status of all the passengers and she’s busy interviewing all her fellow travelers.
In the back row is a couple with their two-year-old child and a younger relative. They’re going to a funeral.
“My head is gonna explode!” yells the husband, clearly working off a hangover. “Your drunkard father will leave you an orphan sonny!”
He wets a handkerchief in some Likani mineral water and wipes his chest with it. His wife wipes his forehead with another handkerchief and fans him with a copy of the Tbilisi magazine.
He calms down for a bit, and then starts up again with an unexpected wave of energy and turns to his younger relative:
“Before you get married, introduce me to the guy you choose! Otherwise, some ballerina might just skip his way into our family,” he says jokingly and pours more mineral water on his head.
In the next row up, there are two female students, and they’re also going to Kobuleti. They are discussing in detail some girl named ‘Tea’, her nice figure and her boyfriend who supposedly looks like a catfish.
Next to them is a girl from Batumi whose hair has been so fixed-up and fussed over that I can’t quite tell what the point of the cut is. It must have been done in some posh Tbilisi salon.
“It’s called ‘Capital’,” the victim tells me, ironically.
A female employee of a pharmaceutical firm sits alone on a single seat. Before sitting down, she carefully wipes the entire seat, the window and the back support with a wet tissue. She even wipes down the back of the seat in front of her, which is occupied by a programmer from Batumi who was not inclined to answer Auntie Nunu’s questions.
The seats next to the driver were seized by a grandmother and her rather chubby grandson. While the passengers were busy settling in, the little boy gulped down half a chicken and khachapuri [traditional Georgian bread filled with cheese -ed]. He refused his grandmother’s offer of tomatoes and cucumbers because she had forgotten to bring salt.
Not far from the minivan are some taxis waiting. A tall and athletic fellow gets out of one. He’s wearing jeans and a white t-shirt. He has a sports bag slung lazily over his shoulder. He walks with a sprightly step over towards our minivan.
“Oh god it’s a nig**r!” one of the passengers let out.
The first to react were those sitting in the back.
“Oy, oy! He’s gonna sit next to us!” said one of the students.
The Tbilisi hairdresser victim got up from her spot and said to the pharmacist:
“Please, sit next to us! I beg you! Otherwise the nig**r will!”
The pharmacist, understandingly nods her head, but refuses.
The driver at this point had already put the bag of the dark-skinned boy in the back, and he was just about to get into the minivan.
The man still nursing his hang-over took some initiative:
“Brother, we are the only men in this bus,” he said to the programmer from Batumi. “Will we allow this black guy to sit next to the girls? I can’t sit back there, my wife is sitting here. Come on, be a man and sit back there and give up this seat for this nig**r – let him sit alone.”
The entire minivan waited for his answer with anticipation for a few seconds. Then he got up, and without saying anything sat in the back.
“Thank you, thank you,” said the girl with the messed-up hair.
So we went on our way to Kobuleti – and that’s where I got out, unfortunately without knowing what happened afterwards – the main theme of conversation was people with different coloured skin. Every passenger spoke of his or her own experiences.
“The neighbour of my godfather was an Indian. He was also very dark. When the father of my godfather passed away, he cried over him quite a bit,” said the father, still nursing his hangover.
“It would seem that they are very sentimental. Children love them a lot. That Indian would always give our child candy. My mother-in-law would get angry that I allowed him to eat those candies. I think that’s silly. You get the candy in the wrapper, don’t you?” his wife added.
A teenage girl admitted that she doesn’t like the Chinese. Her neighbour, who works in some ministry, had shared secret information with her: the Chinese are specially being sent to Georgia in order to eradicate the Georgians as a nation.
The dark-skinned boy who ended up with the best spot in the minivan listened to these conversations the entire time with an entirely indifferent look on his face. He was lucky that he didn’t understand Georgian.
On the way to Kobuleti, the driver turned off the speakers, from which Russian pop-music had been pouring out the entire time. He turned on the radio. The programme was dedicated to the development of tourism in Georgia. Some expert was saying that Batumi is becoming a real Black Sea destination, that Georgia has everything in order to welcome foreign tourists and provide them with quality entertainment and relaxation.
All the passengers agreed, unanimously, that yes, yes, Georgia is truly a haven for foreign tourists.
Author: Sofia Bukia, JAMnews editor in Tbilisi