A literary friend in Edinburgh says most projects, and most things in life, go through the same three stages - a beginning, a muddle and an end. Right now here in Georgia, we're in the middle of the muddle.
The weather has been cold and drizzly. Dreich. Around Thea and Irakli’s place, the streets have turned to a pale, muddy sludge. Georgians we meet shiver and huddle around heaters, saying it’s not usually this way in October. Full of the cold myself, I thought I might lose my voice. It’s holding out so far, but I am sneezing, sniffing and sorry for myself.
We ran a Therapeutic Music Day yesterday for interested people from various organisations, a rich day with lots of discussion and enthusiasm, but somewhere in the middle of it I forgot what the point was and came home confused and ratty.
Later, walking, we passed the aftermath of a car crash a few minutes from the school and now anarchic Georgian driving doesn’t seem so funny.
Today is Sunday, a day off. I put on all my jumpers and take the Metro into central Tbilisi, with some of the Guldani mud still smeared on my boots. On the way I make a rare detour into the realm of retail therapy, buying a beautiful green scarf in Akhmeteli bazaar. Now I sit in a French-style cafe near Freedom Square, where a bored-looking accordionist plays Flight of the Bumble Bee and Je Ne Regrette Rien by the big front window. Surrounded by expats with laptops, I drink coffee, eat eggs and try to write my way out of a bad mood.
A Georgian psychologist and musician who came to the event yesterday told us about a community arts project she once tried to set up in a Tbilisi orphanage. She abandoned it after a few sessions, because a lack of support from the school director meant that staff and children did not value the project. She said if she had been foreign, it would have been a different story.
I remember Georgian song workshops in Edinburgh, where the presence of a teacher from Georgia seemed to offer something authentic, new, and a little bit exotic. Otherness draws us. I am beginning to see how I idealise Georgian culture, projecting onto Georgian people I meet qualities I believe I lack. So, I can see how a Georgian orphanage might welcome a foreign project but not see the worth of a project offered locally.
I order a Bloody Mary. I don’t like the idea that our project might be going well because we are foreigners. To be wanted because of our difference feels like being misunderstood. It also feels like shaky ground, as if we could put a foot wrong and reveal ourselves flawed, and bring the whole thing crashing down.
It reminds me of this boy I knew when I was seventeen, who thought he was in love with me. I was flattered, until I had my nose pierced and he acted like I had kicked him in the shin. Then I realised it was an idea he loved, not me at all.
In the middle of last week it occurred to us to ask each other why we had decided to run this project in Georgia, and not in Pilton, or Wester Hailes. Certainly for me there is the excitement and challenge of working in an unusual context, the adventure. There is at least the possibility that we will learn something from being out of our comfort zones.
It is more than this, though. I went to sing some Georgian songs at someone’s home last night and was haunted by them all the way back on the Metro. It was the music that brought me here, and not only its otherness. There is something deeply familiar about these songs and I can’t get enough. And then there is this tradition of using music for healing, and a possible connection between it and music therapy. More than a need for an adventure, what has brought me is a sense of connection to this culture, a kinship.
Our roots are in the invisible.
On the way here I popped into the Armenian church. A singer and organist were rehearsing out of sight and I sat down to listen. People came and went, lighting candles or putting them out, greeting each other, and wandering from icon to icon. Two women came in and hung two lengths of white fabric to make an aisle. A few minutes later a bride and groom arrived, followed by a wedding party with their cameras flashing.
Out of nowhere an old woman stood in front of me, short and bent. She asked if I was married and when I said I was not, she put a hand on my head and blessed me, so that I will find the man of my life.
The need for connection is ancient and known to us all, as is the need for otherness, for another. In front of my eyes the well-worn ritual unfolded, making apparent invisible connections between us - as music also can.