June-July 2015 and June 2016
One of the points I try to restate on this website as much as possible is that traveling allows you to meet amazing people, and 99% of the time, someone isn't out to get you. I've generally felt a connection everywhere I've been (excluding Manhattan's financial district), but no place have I felt such a warm welcome as the Republic of Georgia... well, maybe Ireland.
This became apparent right away from my initial arrival at the Tbilisi airport. As I walked through customs, I was expecting to be faced with a stone-faced guard, bored with their job and sick of dealing with people. But instead, I was greeted by a smiling, pleasant middle-aged with dark hair. She took my passport and then looked up with a grin. "Welcome to Georgia!" she exclaimed, and then began to give me a series of recommendations of things to do in Tbilisi and places to go in the country.
And this welcoming was by no means a lucky fluke. The Georgians I encountered were eager to share things about their country and get to know who I was. It seemed really genuine and I felt as if I was a celebrity. Everyone I talked to wanted to show me their own personal favorite place, which even once lead me to a wild, underground karaoke dance-bar (it was both absurd and awesome). But above all, there was one interaction with an elderly woman at a fruit and vegetable stand that stood out.
As I was casually buying some apples and a container of spices from the above mentioned woman, she leaned in and pulled me closer. "Хотете чача?" (Do you want chacha) she asked. For those of you unfamiliar, chacha is an incredibly strong form of hard liquor that many people in Georgia make on their own. It's similar to moonshine, but made from grapes instead of corn. I thought for a second and asked to see it. She pulled me around the corner to show the hidden stash, which she had conveniently stored in old Pepsi bottles. I opened the bottle and smelled. Yup, no doubt about it. Liquor. Strong, hard chacha. She smiled and asked for five Lari ($2), and I happily paid.
I conclude by saying, yeah, I've met friendly people everywhere, but here I just bought bootlegged liquor from an elderly woman at a vegetable stand. And not just any liquor, but one exclusive to Georgia and Georgian culture. Maybe she was just trying to make a profit from someone who was clearly a foreigner, but nonetheless, she shared something local with me and helped enhance my time in the country as a whole