Prayer for Georgia
A Prayer for Sakartvelo
by Roger Colombik, August 11, 08
photographs by Roger Colombik
The plane headed due north, well above the clouds, politics and the news. Smooth sailing – the lighthearted humor of the pilot diverted our attention towards volcanoes and frontiers in the languages of the Americas. There was mention of the Olympics, of world and ceremony and peace.
An absurdist dilemma of sorting through stacks of bills, memos from insurance agents (…your policy will be cancelled…) bank statements and notes from anxious students looking for work and letters of recommendation. Meanwhile, the television has inverted our world – night becomes day, day becomes night as the swimmers take their mark, the gun is fired and bodies glide to world record speeds and bodies lie scattered in Tskhinvali and Gori. The capacity to become chwen vart (we are) has once again succumbed to me var (I am).
Three days of listening to posturing, mispronunciations and political machinations.
Three days of watching news footage and home videos from Gori, scouring the images for Zura’s family, the home that the grandfather built, their quiet neighborhood nestled into the hillside, the hermit who lived nearby in a shanty, who professed to having never met an American before and surely I am a liar for Americans are suppose to be big and brave like Superman and who am I to stand before him in this deceitful posture.
Imagination runs rampant through hospital wards and makeshift morgues. In a cruel twist of fate, or of precision guidance, the Stalin Museum appears to have survived unscathed. The bear roars overhead in cross border incursions and nighttime raids. Zugdidi has been targeted. Where are the children hiding, the refugees from Abkhazia who already lost everything, living in decrepit barracks, who stood before the blackboard in therapy sessions drawing symbols of hope and reconciliation. Where are the young women who dreamed of becoming journalists, to tell the world their story, to share all of their stories. The planes are closing in on Telavi. The planes are closing in on Tbilisi. Keti, where are you? Natia, where are you? Nino, where are you? Karo, Rez, Lena. Sopo, Mari, Lana, Gura, Gia, Dato… The phone rings and rings, their voices carried across the waters only in memory.
Keti’s restrained accent fills the receiver as the government’s official broadcast echo’s through the house, momentarily drowned out by the shrill screams of a grandchild at play, as babua Devi chases little Dmitri out into the garden, as Giorgi’s new composition is deftly being practiced upon the ivory. News of David in Beijing with the Georgian delegation is discussed, his designs for the Georgian Olympic Pavilion now serving as a siren song to the world, a beautiful plea for awakening and assistance. The conversation veers from anguish to bombs to hopelessness to…Modernism. Of new insights on Kandinsky, to publications in progress, to projects and research waiting in the wings. For this is a Georgian home: children, books, music, art, dance and song. A house of culture – a country of perseverance, as families huddle together awaiting the night, as families whisper prayers, in anticipation of morning.
Oh Natia, I know that you’ll continue to dream and work towards a civil society. Oh Karo, I know that you’ll continue to brush your pain upon canvas after canvas. Oh Nino, hold that little child tight and sing her a lullaby of peace. Oh Lana, Gia, Zura, Keti, Rezo, Sopo, Lika, Mari, Lena… We wait to hear your voices, day after day.
Journal Notes: War & Humanity
Tbilisi, April 2, 2003 (revised August 12, 2008, Wimberley, TX)
by Roger Colombik
photographs by Roger Colombik
In 2003, my wife Jerolyn and I lived in Georgia on a Fulbright grant, developing a series of creative projects that explored the unique character of Georgian culture. At the time, the society was struggling through the post-Soviet hangover of an economic collapse, political malfeasance and a crumbling civil infrastructure. The residual effects of Russian influence (military and political) in the regions of Ossetia and Abkhazia continued to destabilize the country and established a nervous tension where armed conflict appeared to be capable of reigniting at any moment. (The civil wars with Ossetia and Abkhazia in the 1990’s resulted in the deaths of several thousand and the displacement of well over 250,000 people.)
With much of the country often plunged into darkness, water stoppages and gas depletions, life stayed quiet, life went on. We continued to teach and work with people who shrugged their shoulders and would light a candle. We continued to live with people who found peace in the family hearth. In the classroom, faculty and students gathered around wood-burning stoves. Outside, merchants warmed their hands over trashcan fires. As Americans, we become a focal point for political inquiries. I found myself shrugging my shoulders, always preferring to share stories that celebrated our humanity at a time when it seems to be slipping away:
Walking along Agmanashebeli street, I could hear the faint strains of a piano in a repetitive beat. The sound is hypnotic, luring me into an alley, and on towards a building where old women are huddled against the windows, vying for a glimpse through cracked and filthy glass. The beat accelerates to a thunderous march, and inside is the thunder. Little children, absorbed in the traditional dance of their ancestors create a deafening chorus on ancient floorboards. The teacher screams out the count, erti, ori, sami, otkhi, erti, ori, sami, otkhi, and the children march past. There are captive expressions of exhilaration, concentration and fear. The girls pirouette with toes not yet accustomed to the rigors of a ballerina. The boys replicate warriors with acrobatic gestures of power and grace. The room rocks with tradition and the expectant desires of earnest young kids. Outside, grandmothers continue to gossip, pointing out offspring with a self assured pride. In this troubled yet resilient society, love of tradition still holds sway. We don’t need electricity to cherish the future, only a bit of daylight to see a young child passionately learning the rhythms of ancestors. Here in Georgia, home made wines are still cherished, in toasts to the family, and those now departed, and to those in the Iraq, for whom prayers cannot reach. And the children keep dancing.
Roger Colombik is a professor of Art, a sculptor, poet, and photographer. He is working on a book of photographs and essays based on his experience in the Republic of Georgia — where the beautiful traditions of an ancient culture confront the harsh realities of the post-Soviet hangover. His online portfolio can be viewed at www.colombikart.com. His book, A Quiet Divide, was published by Plain View Press in 2006.
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