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©2019 Shawn Basey | Tbilisi | Prague | Travel blog and tips

Birjas, Spoons, and Rebellion



The reality of the situation set down upon me perhaps two days ago. The State of Emergency had yet to be declared, but the government had already been pushing the social distancing message. Shops were closing, banks were adjusting policies, the border had been closed, newcomers were subject to forced quarantines, and so on.


I had a package waiting for me at the post office. It’s not far away, just a couple of blocks, so I put on my rain jacket and scarf. Not that the scarf would really do anything, but it was a kind of psychological protection, I guess. That and it was cold.


Leaving my apartment was nothing unusual. It’s usually devoid of life: All cold concrete, a giant slab on one side and a line of cold steel garages on the other. As I wandered down some alleys to the main street, the eerie quiet gave me a vague feeling of the Resident Evil games, waiting for some sort of zombie life to emerge, but I was a bit let down when around the corner bolted a gang of laughing kids, tagging each other and playfully wrestling. A generally pleasant thing to watch on a sunny day, a bit disturbing when the city is trying to manage the spread of a highly infectious virus.



My beautiful apartment block


Then onto the main street. The only unusual thing were the empty buses passing. Otherwise there was regular traffic. Where were these people going? Most businesses had already closed their doors, bars shut down cancelling their events, restaurants converted to delivery operations. In short, there was pretty much nothing to do, unless you were visiting friends and relatives, the exact thing you shouldn’t be doing right now.


And up the main road… mass collections of guys in black clothes on the street, hanging closely together, chain smoking, sharing drinks, getting into cars together, getting out of cars together, sloppily eating street food… what is here termed “birja”, meaning a kind of social marketplace or what have you, going on with full vigor and energy. This was the population that was about to be culled, that’s for sure. Looking from their grimy, black caked hands that have never been washed to the way they sucked down those cheap cigarettes, they seemed to be prime candidates for the upcoming death row. And by the way they seemed to take life grimly serious, never smiling even when joking, it was strange that they wouldn’t take this seriously.

I passed them and continued on my way, reflecting on Georgian society. If the coronavirus hadn’t already hit, it was going to hit Georgia hard. They have a fundamentally social society, few having any clue how to be in self-isolation, and I can’t imagine the despair that would cause one of them. In the course of one day, the common Georgian has probably kissed 20 people, shook hands with 20 more, held his close friends in his arms, kissed them, shared cups, drunk at overly public water fountains, visited no less than three households, and ridden transit in aimless circles for about 50 kilometers. And that’s on a day where a Georgian would answer, “Nothing” if you asked him what he did today. Throw hanging out in a crowded church in the mix and BAM, you’ve got 100 percent of the population infected, except for that handful of weirdo expats who have never met a Georgian and only hang out at strip clubs.


Church during quarantine, pic going around FB lately, source unknown


A state of emergency has now been called, which is great, as that gives the government more power to enforce the 10-man rule. But the Church has decided to take this as an affront to its authority, and as Georgians love any reason to rebel or show off, people are flooding into churches today. Some priests are attempting to be responsible, encouraging their parishioners to maintain some social distancing (in a church without pews, this isn’t an overly difficult thing), but the numbers of parishioners have overwhelmed most of the more practical priests, and then there are the firebrands preaching on about the end of days and others going on about magic spoons, certainly not helping the situation (it’s been a somewhat amusing month on Orthodox FB boards where people have been voraciously debating the theology of magic spoons, an argument I would have thought the Moscow Patriarch Kirill had ended when he proclaimed the spoons to, in fact, not be magic – the Goergians on the other hand maintain their stance – and the more conservative Orthodox accuse the MP of caving into Western Gayropeans and CIA infiltration, and no I’m not making any of this up).


From the boards today


It is what it is. I’ll probably take an effort to not be around any of my religious friends for at least a month though. If they could only have held out until Easter… It's not the time to be heroes. It's the time we should all act if we are sick, as we very well might be, and we don't want to spread the infection to others.


#tbilisi #coronavirus