Saturday, 31 January 2015

Telling more people about Georgia

I am immensely privileged to live in a city in Yorkshire where there is a flourishing spoken word and poetry scene. The Red Shed in Wakefield have been hosting Open Mic events during the Winter Months and I have been able to trial many of my Georgian poems  in a safe and supportive environment.


Every time I put a new piece up on here and pop it on my Facebook page, within an hour, over 100 people read it. This of course leads to others reading the other pieces and so, often, within 24 hours of each new piece going up over 500 people are reading about Georgia.


I feel incredibly humbled by this and it has given me the courage to share Georgia with a wider audience. I am now travelling to many spoken word events in Yorkshire to present my work and of course, Georgia's unique and oft time perplexing culture is rich soil in which to grow.


I wanted to put this little you-tube video here. It's a performance of the poem Erekle Street. I went on to read the short story that goes with it which is not, currently published on this blog.


Georgia has taken so much from me. But it has also given me much and for that I am grateful.


I hope you enjoy this little piece. My job now, before I return to Georgia to hear more of her stories,  try to understand further her complexities and continue to heal from the original trauma that took place within my relationship with her, is to tell more people about this maroon-grey-sunlight-black country so right now I am going to get out there and perform. I invite you to join me when you can.


https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=7IeP0CuRQMI&feature=youtu.be

Friday, 30 January 2015

Flight Home


Ah, the complete

Utter, total

Reliability of the English

Family.

The game of

Travel Scrabble.

That solid certainty

Of the measured, considered

Conversation.

 

Assailed by pain

I leant forward

Quietly asked if Mother had any

Paracetamol was

Immediately rewarded with

 

Kind eyes and an innate understanding.

She saw the trauma.

I sipped, gratefully the

Spare water donated from her bag.

 

My exhausted tears spilled onto

 Scribbled poetry.

 

Drifting in and out of their

Conversations I heard  Father say,

Whilst discussing a dilemma,

 

‘It depends on

Where your conscience lies’

Saturday, 24 January 2015

In the Departure Lounge


Waiting to board at Tbilisi airport I was struck by the irony of  signs everywhere that declared.

 

‘Tbilisi loves you’

Wednesday, 21 January 2015

What Happened Next?




37 left

36 stood up to applaud.

Oh Yeah… What she said.

 



Afterwards I was told by a Georgian journalist, who sat me down and said very firmly that,’ The whole event had been a disaster’.  I disagreed.   ‘As I was not Georgian I could never understand’ I was told. There was no mention of the astounding presentations by the artists, the strong voices of the other women, the incredible folk music, the clapping and cheering of the Georgian Funk presentation.  No, Natia had been too aggressive, too combative, contentious, too loud, too emotional, too intrusive.

 

Due to catch a very early morning flight the next day, after we had cleared up, bundled everything into the back of three taxis, got back to Eliso’s apartment and crashed out, left alone with my own emotions, I struggled to settle. I did not belong here and did not understand why I cared so much about a nation of bigots, homophobes, misogynists and sycophants. My cheeks burned. Who was I to even try to create a space for voices to be free?

 

How do you judge if an event has been a success? The attendance figures? The feedback  from people saying how much they enjoyed it? I would argue not. Indeed, if no one turns up then that’s a bit of an indicator that people aren’t interested. But people did turn up – a lot of them. Some left. That means they were engaged but either disagreed or were too scared to be seen there. (There are spies everywhere in Georgia)

 

The Tea Party engaged people in topics that are taboo in Georgia and they felt they had to leave. They left because they could and not because they could not, this is unlike many other events in Georgia where people have to be seen to stay for fear of reprisal. That means people thought about the content then and almost certainly thought about what they had heard afterwards. If what was said planted a seed in their minds which may grow or die, so be it. Only they can tell. At least they were exposed to an alternative view and it’s that which is important in the current Georgian society where the Orthodox Church constantly legitimises peoples prejudice and ignorance.

 

The fact that there were 36 people who stayed to  the end out of the original 100 who had come to speak not listen, eat free cake,  drink English tea out of china cups that were later stolen, showed me it was certainly not a failure.

 

If  one person now thinks about things differently then the tea party was a success.

 

Through the night texts and messages started coming through.  ‘Well done you– exactly right’, ‘More of it’ ‘Your bravery and vision is inspiring’, ‘Power to your elbow’.

 

When the alarm woke me up with a jolt just a few hours later, I could not wait to get on the plane and go home.  There had been no sign of him and I was exhausted.

Monday, 12 January 2015

Yeah... What she said.




 

As soon as Natia got up to speak this is what happened.

 

People left.

In disgust,

Apparently.

 

As soon as Natia had finished speaking this is what happened.

 

There was a mass exodus.

From 73 - 36

 

37 people felt tricked,

And were revolted,

Apparently.

 

37 people felt betrayed,

And utterly hoodwinked,

Apparently.

 

Now, apparently,

(And they mean this as the highest form of insult)

I am a lesbian,

Have always been a lesbian

And the whole event was designed

 

To humiliate them.

 

 

Natia said nothing that was controversial.  I wish she had.

She said nothing that would be out of place in a Citizenship lesson in any school in the UK.

What she said was thoughtful, informative, non-aggressive and honest.

 

What she said.

 

I was there May 17th 2012

When 10,000 priests tried to kill me and 49 of my friends.

 

She said,

 

I was there May 17th 2012

When the mini-bus I was bundled into by police officers

Who  had, before this point, stood by and watched until it was clear we would be trampled underfoot,

was rocked, side to side by a priest

With broken teeth

And wild eyes who beat at the glass until it shattered

And I thought,

I am only 24 years old.

 

She said,

 

Please look at me.

Please see me as a person.

See me for me, not for my sexuality.

 

She said,

 

See, my tears are real,

Hear, my sobs they chime to the same bells

That call you to church each day.

 

Here, take my hand,

Link arms with me,

I am warm, I am real,

I am me.

 

She said,

 

My mother loves me,

My father too, my brother loves me

My sister, my sister’s children, all love me.

 

I don’t want you to love me, or even like me

I just want you to stop beating me up

Slamming me down

Killing me.

 

What have I done to you?

 

Is it my mere existence you hate so much?

 

Is it because I am a lesbian?

Is it because I am a woman?

Is it because I am not you?

 

She said,

 

I am Georgian and I am proud.

Please see me.

Please hear me.

I am a proud to be a Georgian woman

I am

Proud.

 

37 left

36 stood up to applaud.

Oh Yeah… What she said.

 

I was proud of her, and of the choir members who stayed and sang, unifying all our remaining voices together in traditional folk song. To them I will always be truly grateful.

Sunday, 21 December 2014

Let them eat cake


Eliso had been up all night making the most beautiful cakes. Moist sponge soaked in peach juice and topped with kiwi slices shaped like crescent moons filled her kitchen. Cherries suspended in jelly, whipped cream adorning heavenly chocolate-layered pieces  sat on top of refrigerators and cupboard tops and could rival any professional catering company. She had been collecting china teacups for weeks. Bric-a-brac market stalls had been raided, wedding sets donated, gifts from friends collected and family members had been scouring antique shops since I first suggested the event.  It is difficult to find English tea sets in Georgia but she had gathered, washed and stored 80 cups and saucers for the occasion.

 

I was nervous.  Not just because the Tea-Party was being covered by the Public TV station, and not because I felt he was watching me, but because the people I had invited to speak for 5 minutes over tea and cake were an eclectic mix and included some who were seen, by their own people, to be the enemy within. The idea was to mix up English and Georgian cultures and to celebrate a long and positive relationship.   The UK government had changed the visa laws earlier in the year so a five-year practice of bringing Georgian artists to the UK to share their music, food, song and crafts had come to an abrupt end. I wanted to host something in Tbilisi to acknowledge all the hard work so many people had put into the English- Georgian cultural relationship. Usually all the accolades go to business people.  I also wanted to give people an opportunity to have a voice, to be heard and to be acknowledged. By inviting Natia, a politically active and vociferous LGBT representative I was taking a real risk. I had decided to follow my conscience. How could I be selective and not invite a whole group of people so important to the positive changes Georgia was trying to make, just in case it was uncomfortable? I couldn’t.  I had to do what was right.

 

The people I invited were mostly artists, musicians, alternative types. There was  also the Archbishop of the Georgian Baptist Church, an English Georgian Baptist Bishop and several academics from the UK, all  of whom with a vested interest in encouraging Georgia to be a more open and tolerant society. There were representatives from both of the main Georgian political parties, two extremely well known traditional Georgian choirs, ex-pats, journalists, and quite possibly, a spy or two.  I had also invited a member of the Georgian Orthodox church who had declined, as had a representative from the British Embassy.

 

People arrived on time, and the men were wearing trousers. This may not seem noteworthy to anyone outside of Georgia but it was a small triumph for me. Georgians are notoriously late. For everything. In fact, in our choir, Samzeo, we joked about working to ‘Georgian time’. Musicians are often known to be cavalier with things like this but add Georgian time into the mix and you have got a whole new frustrating cultural challenge. Often, any protests about this are met with a shrug of the shoulders and a ‘What can I do?’  Georgian men also always wear jeans a lot. Anniversary? Wear jeans.  Important meal out? Wear jeans. Trip to the theatre? Wear jeans. Meet the Mayor? Wear jeans. You get the picture. The invitation had specified (both in English and Georgian) that the dress code was smart casual. NO JEANS.

 

So far so good, no one had come in jeans. As usual, the women  had made a huge effort and looked beautiful. The central table was exquisitely decorated and laden with layers of cakes and teacups, ornate and colourful teapots and soft scented flowers. It was very English.  The audience sat in a circle around the table, the speakers strategically placed within the circular space. There was no front and no back. Everything was designed to be circular, to encourage movement and to break down barriers. This may have been a mistake. The audience were looking for barriers even and they needed to feel secure in their place. That was clear. People needed to know where the ‘front’ was.  It confused them that the tea table was in the centre. Where were they to look? At the cakes?  In the end, the practicality of some presentations needing a large screen and a laptop meant that a particular ‘space’ became the’ stage.’  That stage had become the ‘front’.

 

The programme had been planned down to the minute and things were going quite well. What became quickly apparent however was that some people were leaving immediately after they had given their own presentation. The first tea break came and went with lots of mingling and chatting. It felt as though stereotypes were being broken down and I was pleased. Once people sat down again it became clear that several more people had left. Perhaps they had only just read the programme and decided to leave so that they would not have to listen to one of the most marginalised and dis-empowered sections of their own society. Women and the LGBT community.

 

The Programme for the evening was sent out to everyone who was invited and was available in both English and Georgian, 4 weeks, 3 weeks, 2 weeks and 2 days before the event.

 

Death Knell

 

About 45 minutes in, behind

The pleasant clink

Chink of porcelain

Flowers, Rhubarb  and Cream

Tea, ‘Fall in love with me’

Chocolate squares, I heard

The chime of

The death knell.

 

Tilting slightly I watched as

My marionette life

Tumbled elegantly, pivoted was

Re-defined by plotted

Scandal.

 

I watched the sky

Fall.

Wednesday, 10 December 2014

Erekle St. Tbilisi




I remember when,

Next door

Threw beautiful things into

Our garden.

 

Things like,

Golden rings inscribed with script so

Delicate that swan shaped bracelets

Bowed reverent heads and

Turtles, with outstretched limbs and emeralds for eyes

Played hide and seek amongst our rioting passion fruit vines.

 

Sometimes, when we

Played archaeologists

We unearthed golden shaped beans

Amongst the wildflowers that stomped

And tantrum’ed against the back sun-lit wall.

 

Uneven cobbled streets were our friends.

They rang out with

Childish laughter as we rolled our inside outside bicycle wheels through

Sunshine shade, through sunshine shade, towards the river

That called us to her with her song.

 

Then,

The Communists came in the discontented winter and

Took my Grandfather for being a good man.  They left

Only charred papers in a burnt out grate and

Four women whose cracked hands bled and beat

River washed wool to within an inch of its life.

 

Stones cracked, shutters rotted, balconies crumbled.

Mice made homes in window-sill holes

Where once there were silk spun drapes  but now

Wild yellow roses dwell.

 

My poor mother slaved to feed

 

Dulce et decorum est

(The old lie)

Non est Mortuus.

(He is not dead)

 

Every month she sent,

In a brown paper parcel

With ‘sorry’ written on the

Inside,

 

Bread from our oven,

Cheese from our goats,

Meat from the village,

Apples from our tree,

Socks knitted by guttering candle light,

Handkerchiefs made from curtains

To the punishing frozen North.

 

The first month

She sent,

Shoes, a book of

Poetry and

His reading glasses which, whilst cracked would

 Have to Suffice.

 

There was never any reply.

 

As I peer through the gap in the demolition boards

A rubble of childhood memories gaze back at me and

I see yellow roses wink and riot defiantly

Against the back wall in the

Lengthening shadow of a

Dying sun.


POSTSCRIPT
The family of women sent food parcels, every month, to Siberia for 4 years, encouraged by the Red Army and believed their Grandfather was alive.  In 1925 they were issued with papers that told a different story. Their Grandfather had been shot and his body buried in a mass grave the day he had been taken from the house back in 1921.