It was a few days after I moved to Tbilisi before I noticed that none of the grocery stores sold fresh milk. “Of course not!” says my landlady, Tamar, appalled at my ignorance. Everybody knows that if you need milk, you ask a neighbor.
Every neighbor, after all, has a cousin or two in “the village” – as anywhere outside Tbilisi is colloquially known. Every cousin has a cow.
Though official unemployment is rife here, most Georgians participate in a kind of shadow economy. Relatives out in “the village” tend to remaining family land, ferrying the freshest produce directly to relatives in the city, and selling the rest at the city’s bazroba – or bazaars – for meager profits.
Her bus ticket is not for her
Georgia’s marshrutka – inter-city minibus – network serves as the backbone of this infrastructure. One only has to board one such bus to witness this life-line into the city. I am on the bus to the city of Akhaltsikhe when an old woman climbs on, paying the fare. But her ticket is not for her. She hauls a roughly person-sized sack of potatoes on the seat next to me, telling the driver in no uncertain terms to ensure it has safe passage all the way to Akhaltsikhe.
“You think that’s something?” says my friend, laughing. “Last time I was on here, someone brought live chickens.” Georgians might feel part of modern Europe, but some things remind you it still has one foot in the past.
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