Saturday, 16 August 2014

Only God Can Judge Me







Batumi


White, White Batumi.


You rise, shake off flint grey
Pebble sounds.
A shoreline of blue heartbeats that pause, skip,
Genuflect
to the majesty of
Your mountains,


A white spine upon which
You rest.



Do Priests bathe on their way to church?
Only God Can Judge Me’
Declares the tattoo across the
Back of the man who
Stands between two pebble shores.
Flesh sears  and the folding skin.
Signs of excess roll down
Sit,
Paunchy atop tight red shorts.
Incense burning saints command attention but flinch
As shoulder blades burn,
and crave the cool dark interior of their
Cavernous vestments.
I have only ever had negative experiences of priests in Georgia. Both directly  and indirectly. I only have to think about the 10,000  black flocked men who converged on 50 LGBT  people who were marking the International Day against Homophobia May 17 2012 to shake my head in disbelief. I was not there but some of my friends were and their personal stories are harrowing. It came down to one of two things for the women that day. If they could not escape they knew they would be either killed or raped.  The ‘sin’ of homosexuality is an entirely western concept apparently, and one that has been invented by NGO groups in order to allow them to apply for funding. A lot of people are getting rich, I have been told, on the insidious cankerous lies perpetuated by Europe. There are no homosexuals in Georgia. Just as there are no issues around domestic violence.  This is another NGO myth perpetuated by Europhiles in order to get money for nothing.
 
On a personal level my relationship with the Georgian Orthodox church  is based on hours of conversations with  so called Georgian ‘intellectuals’ with good English, or through interpreters or translators. On my most recent trip I was shown around  the Martvili Monastery by a kind hearted priest who proudly told me that ‘nothing has changed since the birth of Christ’ in his monastery or indeed in all the churches in Georgia. The ‘traditions are   kept sacred – nothing has changed’  this crinkle eyed walnut brown faced priest  reassured me.  This was only after one of the numerous women, head bowed and tutting had wrapped a blue scarf around my already trouser'd hips, presumably so as not to offend the priest with any hint or suggestion that I have a  vagina.  A kind man this priest was, and one who looked on me with  pity disguised by attempts at empathy. He was very good at that and almost had me convinced. All this happened  whilst  checking a gold rolex watch, waving at his fellow priests who were driving the latest jeep and peering into the screen on his updated mobile phone. Black garbed women   swept  floors behind him with brooms made from twigs.
 This man on the Batumi Shore line, covered in religious tattoos got me thinking about my own tattoo.
 I have one on the back of my neck. It is the ancient Sanskrit symbol for Peace. It is directly linked to the third eye which is the second chakra point between the eyes that, when opened, allows a spiritual seeing. The nerve endings between these two places are linked so by having the tattoo placed there it was always my  intention  that any Reiki that flows through me will be make me a channel of peace.  I waited until I was 40 before having it done. It is a powerful but subtle statement that is, I guess, easily hidden by my hair much like the images of the saints on the man’s shoulder blades are hidden when he is dressed.
 When I first met him, the man I continually felt was lurking in the shadows and watching me even on a hot pebble beach in Batumi, he was frightened of it, my tattoo. He was also frightened of my power as a woman, and did not know how to deal with my independence.  He quickly began to try to undermine it. He spent  hours, usually when I was completely exhausted with the day to day organisation of the tours for his choir, explaining all about  God. How the church worked, how the holy fire worked, how people are called to the cause, how they are asked to make sacrifices, how he felt his mission was to bring Georgian Folk song back to Georgian people, how he wanted his own name to be remembered for all time for bringing this folk lore back to Georgia. Hours he talked, hours and hours in surprisingly articulate English. He had a great vocabulary and  was hungry to learn more. His favourite word was ‘rubbish’ which he started to use when referring to me and everything  I did that was not directly linked to his cause.  Allegedly the great grand son of the patriarch who ruled Georgia during the time of Stalin's purges, he told me on two separate occasions that the Georgian Church  taught that there could be only one chance to move into the light of the true faith and that it was not in their habit to put pressure on anyone to convert. I remember thinking that if this was not pressure I would hate to experience it when it was.
 I resisted. I am not into controlling people and felt an uneasiness that I could not, at that time, give words to.  My interest was in Celtic paganism and  I recognised and was impressed with the ancient connections the Georgian orthodox church, their use of ritual, of crystals, of food, of chants, of songs using pre-Christian words that had been lost in time but had lost no power, had with the ancient Celtic faith.  I was interested in the power of nature and how that had been incorporated into the Christian ritual and above all I was fascinated by his powerful rhetoric. I recognised on many levels that he was obsessive, almost sociopathic in his ability to charm others, including me.
Lying on that beach, under that umbrella, I was struck by how easily things can be covered up. The man in the tight red shorts, he could disguise, could charm, could seem reasonable whilst wearing a shirt, or a suit or a cassock but there, right across his back, not where he could see it but where everyone else could, was his ego, his protection and his excuse.
 ‘Only God can Judge Me’









Monday, 11 August 2014

Cinnamon Swirl






Ancient land

Dwarfs us.

 

Low plain

Meandering sacred river,

Tributaries tighten like

Veins towards Stalin’s square.

 

Rusted

Cattle trucks

Elementally

Open to destruction empty

their ghosts and bullet hole memories on the scarred land.

 

Crescent moon cinnamon swirl all  

butter melting in my mouth.

 

 

Travelling to Batumi by train took 6 hours. Views from the window trundled past providing framed pictures of dramatic mountains topped by cloud, dry arid plains, lush fields of green and old crumbling soviet blocks with cracked windows and leaking pipe work. Disused railway lines when approaching Gori were swamped with an air of disappointment and despair. It was eerie and unsettling. I remembered the long summer days I spent in a dripping dark crumbling building in Tbilisi in 2011. It was so hot I found it hard to breathe and the only relief was a sharp cold water pipe that gushed liquid silver into an old cracked yellowing pot sink. This water, even in the darkness seemed to sparkle. Unfortunately, the stand pipe was next to the toilet so I soon perfected the art of holding my breath whilst drinking and splashing at the same time.

 

It was that hot summer that I realised that those who admired Stalin still walked the streets of Tbilisi. There was a bric-a-brac shop on the ground floor stuffed full of carpets, pots that once shone with pride, old shoes, books, and pictures of Stalin. Sitting, pride of place on the pavement in his own frame, that frame framed against a rich red and blue rug, itself hung majestically, the iconic image dominated the cross-section of the street.

 

And now on this train travelling across Georgia here, on the outskirts of Stalin’s birthplace, there were rotting hulking cattle trucks  that squatted and held painful memories in bullet holes and weed infested sidings.

 

No one else seemed to be looking out of the window. I ate home- made cinnamon swirls and peaches that dripped with sunshine as the ghosts of Stalin’s victims stared at back at me, sitting framed against the back drop of a darkening sky.





Sunday, 10 August 2014

Turbulence




Thank you for

For keeping me                company Seasoned

traveller.

 

You

Spoke of blood orange

                                Sunrises over

Machu Picchu

And

Clattering Vietnam

Bicycle spokes festooned with yellow-red-yellow ribbons

For lost                 voice

                                                                less

Children.

 

Thank you

Great Adventurer for

Your company, as my internal turbulence kept

 

My

Muttered prayers, twisting fingers and shallow breath constant, urgent.

Betrayed by fear.

‘It’s hard to stay

Grounded

when You

are

so afraid’  I said.

 

You, blue-eyed woman who plays with

Radio therapy, crinkle smooth blue-tinged skin, butterfly translucent smile and with bent bejewelled fingers

Take my hand.

 

How did I get here?

 

I guess when you start something you never know how it will end. It does, of course, always end in that it changes, or at least changes direction within the roads of your life, and if you, like me, always choose  ‘the one less travelled by, and that has made all the difference’ then you will understand that the adventure is the growing bit, and that there is never an end in sight.

 

I knew this would probably be the last time I went to Georgia. The turbulence was awful and I tried very hard not to see it as a bad sign. The first time I had gone in September 2009 had been the result of taking a less trodden path earlier in 2007 when I went to a festival where, on the programme of events was a workshop in Gregorian Chant. At least that’s what I read it as. It turned out to be Georgian singing, what ever that was. But, what ever it was, I was hooked. As a Reiki Healer I was used to experiencing the higher vibrations of meditational voice work but this was incredible, it was life affirming and uplifting in a way  I had never known before.  I sang Georgian songs all week. Even now I cannot listen to Tsinstskaro  https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Vu3boYzcBuo without being transported back to that magical summer.

 

After the festival I joined several choirs – rock, gospel, choral, but nothing, nothing spoke to me like this incredible sound. I felt like I had been shown something really special only to have it taken away from me and could not commit to any other type of singing.

 

A year and a half went by.

 

The weekend of my 40th birthday, I went to Whitby for the weekend with my son and our dog. On the way we stopped at Old Mother Shipton’s Cave where wishes for a penny thrown into the water that petrifies everything it touches were deposited with a sigh.’ Please let there be a way for me to sing Georgian music’. I wished out loud. My penny was steeped in this energy wish as I flicked it into the magical pool.

 

Amazingly, when I got back, full of salt air, ice-cream and fish and chips there was, unbelievably, an e-mail from the guy who had delivered the workshops at the festival! He was setting up a Georgian choir in Leeds, would I like to come along? You know sometimes you can literally hear a door swing open? It was like that. I felt a great rush of openness, of clarity, an excitement that just bubbled and bubbled and bubbled.

 

Of course I would go. I was teaching full time at the time so rushed from school to make it to the first rehearsal. It was amazing and as powerful as I remembered it being. If I was hooked before I had definitely been landed now. The problem was that the choir rehearsed on a weekday afternoon. I had been thinking of going part time for a while so that clinched it for me. The next day I went into school and negotiated a part time contract making sure I was free to sing Georgian song.

 

Foolish? Perhaps. Impetuous, not really. I was very unhappy at work to the point where I was starting to become ill so it seemed the best way forward.

 

As a choir we were invited to London to sing as part of the Cheveneburebi Festival that coincided with Georgian Independence Day May 26th. As part of a group of English choirs, mostly from the south who had been formed in the mid 1980s when Edisher Garakanidze first visited the UK, we were inexperienced but keen and something impressed the organisers so much  we were invited to go to Georgia to be part of the festival there in September.

 

I had seen him in London. He and his choir were impressive, young, full of energy and intensity that was both frightening and magnetic. They came to Leeds after the London concert to perform and I was drawn to him as one is drawn to look over a high cliff. It felt exactly like that, I wanted to test how close I could get to the dangerous edge trusting the earth would hold me as I crept closer and closer to the sheer drop.

 

That very first morning in Georgia, he was there. It was to be the beginning of the most turbulent journey of my life.

Friday, 8 August 2014

One Reader


He, glasses absently slipping,

Leans back to the wall.

Feet up

Blue heeled white socks crossed

In homage to the ancient art of

Reading

A

Book.

 

Inviting intimacy,

He creates an oasis in the

Café sea of sliding screens,

Of individualism and

electronic separation.


Perhaps he was reading something like this;


 Smoke swirled lazily into each corner of the third floor room. I watched the Chinese official light up again, the glow from the end of his cigarette contrasted against the blue white snow outside. Cold crept along the floor, along the desk and hunkered down among the creases of the crumpled bedding where I sat, waiting.

A steady stream of Chinese and Georgian language interwove ice-cold breath and as I watched the interpreter, a chunky young woman layered in woollen jumpers, jacket and scarf switch languages effortlessly, I felt the atmosphere thicken as final details of the tour to were thrashed out.

Watching them move and weave through the complex negotiations, I noticed how  he sat, this man of mine, lent forward, nervously twirled his mobile and constantly checked his watch. It made me uneasy. I recognised the signs and knew he was moving up a gear. I wanted to remain anonymous. Steam from our clothes rose and joined the condensation on the window. It was dangerous.

The drive to the isolated Railroad Company high above Tbilisi had also been full of unspoken tension and danger and then, as now, I felt side lined, hurried, manipulated and suspended in a void of half-truths and shadowy half-finished conversations. During that drive his façade had begun to slip.  The dark smudges under his eyes framed a ruthless determination within him that I had only glimpsed briefly before now and as the spiteful criticisms thundered at me I gave up trying to reason with him. When I said anything he did not want to hear he deliberately drove recklessly so as to frighten me. It worked. My throat was paper dry and it took every ounce of strength to contain a rising sense of panic.

 

This new game, the one being played out in this freezing cold, smoke filled seedy bedroom made me feel sick. The snarling smiles sent my way by this little Chinese man and the smirks from him as well as the side ways glances of the interpreter soon made it clear that business was not all they were talking about. I felt cold and humiliated. I didn’t know the real reason why we were here, why I was here, other than I was in Georgia to be with him and being with him meant doing what ever he wanted to do

He looked nervous. I sensed things were not going well. He made to stand up and suddenly there was a flurry of activity. The Chinese official waved him back down furiously and picked the phone up on the desk opposite the bed. Urgent scribbling on paper already filled with doodles soon filled up with numbers. My lover shook his head each time and the official spoke quicker and quicker to the anonymous voice at the other end of the line. Finally, there was a glance, just one, at me, then past me, and then a half smile. The game was on.

We left. Confused I waited for the right moment before I asked him what had happened. Smiling through a tight lips, he said that tomorrow they would return and sign an agreement that he would be paid $7000 for  his choir  to go on an all expenses trip to China where they would perform only two 15 minute concerts. ‘That’s great,’ I said, ‘more money for our apartment in Tbilisi.’ He had bought an apartment in a new high rise at the bottom of the plateau area of the city some years and had proudly showed to me 2 years before.  It was to be our marital home. The apartment was unfinished and as far as I could tell no new work had been done on it in those 2 years despite him saying it would be ready in plenty of time. ‘It’s the corruption’ he had said.

His hollow laughter filled the car. ‘Noooo,’ he sneered, ‘I will have $7000 from this deal and I will use it for another project.’ Uneasily I looked at his profile; he had turned the traditional folk music up and was conducting with his right hand. ‘How?’ I asked. ‘I am keeping all this money.’ I sat still and silent. I did not want to question him any more. The bleak white landscape stared back at me and all I could think about was getting home before he realised I was beginning to hate him. I needed to fall in, to pretend, to mirror his false smiles and to do what he said.

We spent the rest of the afternoon driving around Tbilisi, he on his phone and meeting various people who handed over their passports. The sky was brooding and threatening more snow and icy fingers of cold scratched their way into the car. I sat, miserable, neglected and waiting whilst he did his deals. One foot was always on the kerb, his shoulders were always hunched forward and his were hands always thrust deep into his pockets. Each time he looked at me I smiled, nodded encouragement and died a little more inside.

The next day we went back to the smoke filled room where the stocky interpreter and the small Chinese man were waiting. This time the bed was made but there were empty coffee cups on the windowsill that sat, like trapped cats, under the dripping glass. Used tissues lay scattered on the floor.

They both  signed some official documents. We all shook hands and with sly smiles and dead eyes, the deal was sealed. The choir were due to leave the following Friday so visas needed to be applied for, and quickly.

The ride into the capital in the company BMW cream leathered interior imbued with cigarette smoke was unpleasant. I sat in the back feeling sick with hunger and realisation. He played with the sound system. Uninvited he assumed possession of the CD player and changed tracks frequently, much to the irritation of the driver. The Chinese embassy were expecting us and we all three by-passed the security checks and sat at a wooden table in a front room to fill in forms.

He forged a signature for each document.

It was clear this was normal for him and as I sat in silent anger I felt enormous outrage build up inside me. I thought of the hours and hours I had spent getting his choir legitimate visas to the UK. Clearly he was motivated by lies and greed and I was merely a stepping stone to his success. His name was the most important thing to him, he always said he wanted people to know him as someone who had bought Georgian Folk Music back to the Georgian people. His name stuck in my throat and I wanted no part of it.

Once the forms were filled in, the photocopies taken and the official stamps given the Chinese man drove us, he victorious, me angry and resentful, to a bank in the city. Parking outside the low squat building he told me to stay in the car as he went inside. $7000 went into his personal account.

Time without his oppressive controlling presence allowed the layers of deception to unravel themselves.  The Chinese thought they were getting the choir. They were not. They were getting five dancers and him. They were getting backing tracks, falsehoods, deceptions and shadowy smiles. Illusion, collusion and manipulation hovered around me and mingled with my own fear. As I breathed them in I felt my eyes prick with tears.

I stayed silent for a long time. When we were alone together driving around Tbilisi, and he finally noticed me, there was a row. I was making him tired, he said. I did not understand how these things worked, he claimed.  He had done all the work, he had negotiated the deal, he shouted. Who would know if these dancers were part of his choir or not? The Chinese were pigs anyway. This was Georgia and he could do what he liked. The bitterness in his voice and waves of anger pinned me to my seat. I was terrified as I watched the final layer of deceit fall from his face. Ugly and brutal his features twisted and his knuckles whitened as his hands gripped the wheel of the car.

Who was this man?

Where was the noble, passionate man of integrity I thought I knew who believed in doing what was right? Where was the man I loved?

Glancing sideways what I saw froze my heart. His profile was like stone, cold, closed and emotionless.

I was an awful long way from home.

Tuesday, 5 August 2014

Gatwick Express




Death delayed me.

 
Splattered Matter-of-Fact

Frazzled flesh

Diverted my travel thoughts

 

From,

Cool lakes, hot white

Pavements and deep

Red Wine to

Your

Final moments.

 

Flash of White

Before a Lightning Death

 

 
I was nervous about returning to Georgia. The last time I had been there I had spent a week looking in a bathroom mirror, crying and trying to deny the undeniable truth.  I had been lied to. I had lied to myself.  I needed to get home quietly, without drawing attention to myself or arousing suspicion. And I needed to put some distance between myself and him, both geographically and emotionally. I also needed to cancel the tour. It was 2012 so the cuts to arts funding were starting to really hit and sponsorship from private companies with a reason to promote Georgia had dried up as they either went bust or were taken over by bigger companies who realised backing Georgia was not a great business choice.   It was easy to do in the end. I just wrote e-mail s explaining the financial situation. I think I managed to hide, or at least disguise the real reason, for a time any way.

 

Saakashvili was on his way out and the effects surrounding the intentions of the agent provocateur  Ivanishvilli could be heard in heated discussions all over Tbilisi. The February of 2012 saw temperatures of -18 C during the day and when visiting friends in other post-soviet apartment blocks I had to step over great  fallen columns of ice cut from  water pipes that ran down the outside of grey crumbling  tower blocks. It did not feel safe.  I did not feel safe. It was not safe. The streets reeked of poverty and decay. Weekly food banks had appeared under stern white canvas tents in certain parts of town and  rumour had it that  food was being made available for a pittance by the Russian Oligarch, soon to be Prime Minister, to compensate for the  lack of money in the economy. This money, now no longer available had been money he himself had been donating to various cultural, political and social institutions, had now stopped,  in a series of tit for tat moves between the UNM and the emerging Georgian Dream. Like in a chess game, the weaker pieces fell, or were culled, the elderly, the poor, the dispossessed, froze to death, or starved. There was little outward acrimony towards homosexuals or Muslims then, people were preoccupied with surviving.


The last contact I had had with him had been when he had told me he could hire assassins in London to kill me if I did not shut up. He wanted me to stop all my involvement in Georgia, he wanted me to stop singing, to stop talking, he did not want me to expose his criminal activities, his lies, his corruptions and he wanted me to believe that I was the one with the problem.  It was the death threats that made me contact the police. Yes, I was very nervous about returning to Georgia, very nervous indeed.

Friday, 1 August 2014

Ancient Rituals of Georgian Women









Wise Women

 

Oh Lazarus,
Oh Elijah

 Bring with you
Water for our drought.

 See our feet, how dirty they are
how they tread the fertile land that groans.
See how grain splits and pushes.

Bless our dolls, our Gonja.
We made them for you from;

Cotton from your fields,
Sticks from your trees,
Beads and Cowrie from your mountains that
Once hung from Nana’s hearth.

See, we will return them to your rivers
We will stand and sing to you, we will sing your songs to the water.

We will sing and
Your grace

Will turn famine to feast and fill our bellies.

Water Goddess
Hear our song.
Let it float, fuse

Your rushing torrents, let powerful eddies
Dance to our song, to our dream, to our
Wisdom

To you.


It was the evening before I travelled to Georgia. Hot and humid, the underground was unbearable so I was glad to walk to Russell Square along tree-lined avenues. Other Georgiophiles soon arrived at the Embassy. We were all women apart from one man, who apologised for his interest. I was surprised. After all, the kinds of rituals we were exploring were ancient and albeit within the domain of women historically, the fascination for such natural magic did not preclude any gender bias. This workshop was all about how Georgian women in the past influenced the weather.

 

I felt in safe hands. There were some titans at the event. Women of academic note and with a longstanding interest and involvement in Georgia. This event however, was the first of its kind. Usually people come to workshops that are all about Georgian wine and food or song and dance but these never really scratch the surface of what the current Georgian psyche is built on. There is a growing interest too, in the previously denied voice  of women and their ancient natural magic. Normally, guide books  never get beyond Tamar – the Queen of Georgia from 1184 – 1213 who was so successful she is referred to as’ King’ Tamar, or ‘King’ Rusudan, the daughter of Tamar.  Travel writing also usually exhorts the nobility of the male voice choir and the very male tradition of the supra which continues to dominate interest in Georgian Culture both here and in the Republic. In my opinion, this is because Georgian society in itself is essentially geared  up to support the patriarchal elite and we, of course are led by the opinions of popularist writers.

 

The rituals we did to change the weather were fascinating. What was really interesting was the making of the Gonja doll. Going home on the tube afterwards, a fellow traveller asked if it was a voodoo doll! Mind you, this was after he also gave a dismissive wave of his hand to my Georgian female companions who protested loudly and vociferously   when he said that Georgia was actually part of Russia and had no identity of its own.  If there is one sure fire way to insult a Georgian – that would be the way to do it.

 

As we were making the doll it got hotter and hotter. The windows were wide open but still there was no air and the deep red wine we were drinking did little to satisfy my thirst.

 
So, what is a Gonja doll? It is a  a special doll made specifically for a particular ritual and is made out
of things easily found either in the natural world or in the home.

 
Keti showed us two sticks she had cut from one of her rose bushes. One short, one long.  She
had already cut a notch into the wood so that they  joined together easily. She then tied them
together to make the shape of a cross. With slightly dropping ‘arms’ the ‘cross’ reminded me of the
‘drooping crosses’ I often see in Georgia and which are associated with St. Nino.

 
Georgian songs often interweave the sentiment of  the pre-Christian Nana, a Mesopotamian Moon
God of wisdom and motherhood with the Christian St. Nino, who was instrumental in converting the
pagan Queen and King of Georgia to Christianity in the 3rd Century.

 

Echoes of Nana’s spirit can still be heard in songs and language and in the ritual and symbolism of many cultures even today so strong was the cult and its influence.

 
There was lively discussion about which pre-Christian gods and goddesses were at the root of the
ritual and given that there were several  experts with PhD’s who specialised in ancient and pre
biblical history there, I was not surprised to learn that the Lazare song we were going to learn and
sing together later on, could have  been sung to the black sea Goddess Zaghush (sea) Nana. Dr. Nino
Kalandanze gave us all the back ground to the history of the Gonja  but still there was  hot debate
regarding the roots of the pagan deities. A lot of the academic discussion was lost on me because I
was too busy remembering  the stories from the epic voyage of Jason and the Argonauts and filling
in the dry bones with songs to Nana.

 
The doll came to life under Keti’s hands. She fastened, first by impaling, then by tying with string,  a
head that had been made from a cleaning cloth onto the top of the wooden cross.

 
Then came the layers of material. These had swags and  lace and jaunty undulations and the doll
soon took on the appearance of a plump, well dressed lady. The doll did not have to be a woman but for the purposes of this ritual, it was.



 
The layers were pinched in at the middle to create the illusion of a waist and then a white lace
headscarf was added. With much looping a turban-like hat was made that had copious  layers of
frothy veil hanging down the back and over the shoulders. Finally a wooden beaded necklace was
added and a face was drawn on – in this case just two crosses for the eyes and nose with a straight
stern line for the mouth.

 
We learnt the song, ‘Lazare’ which is from Kartli, a central-eastern region of Georgia which
incorporates the capital of Tbilisi. Taught by the talented and dedicated Nana  Mzhavanadze, a
visiting ethnomusicologist (her voice already tired from weeks of giving  more traditional workshops
but enlivened by the enthusiasm of the group) the three parts soon blended to create the most
exquisite sound as the different threads of our  voices came together.

 
Nana taught us the dance that went with the song too, and it was at this point, everything seemed
to start bubbling and moving, cooking and shifting.

 
Our single man, fascinated and deeply respectful of what was going on, offered to stand outside of
the circle and not take part in the ritual procession but continue to sing bass. He was met with polite
protests but, as  he said, he felt  the flow of the women’s connection ought not to be broken and
him separating himself from the group was, retrospectively, the right decision.

 
We processed, as the ritual commanded, in bare feet, around the space, singing the first part of
‘Lazare’. The heat and humidity was oppressive, but as we moved, carrying the Gonja, there was a
rumble of thunder from outside and a cool, cool breeze fanned us and the air shifted as our voices
took on a natural powerful sound that wove through the air pockets that eddied and scurried
between us.  Finishing our procession, and in my mind, having passed through the village
collecting gifts to add to the ritual, we headed  towards the river. Once there, we put the Gonja in
the middle of our newly formed circle and danced in homage to the goddesses of the past. Spirits of
the ancient world seemed to join us and the rain began to fall and patter against the hot, steaming
pavement outside.

 
I could see us all transcending time,  travelling through the village, placing the doll in the water along
with our wishes and dreams, our heart beats and our song.  The ancient timeless rhythms
connected us to the earth. Lazare and Elijah watched over us, each waiting for their cue to bring
lightening, rain, thunder and smiling, forgave our folly and beliefs in the old ways, indulged us,
blessed us.

 

We finished as the hot rain soothed the pathways and streets  and everything eventually cooled down. Was it a coincidence?

 

To celebrate our success we shared  the traditional dish of Khachapuri – a simple
flour and cheese bread made from the ingredients that would have been collected as the women
passed through the village.

 
I drank again a glass of deep red wine that now nourished and quenched my thirst where it had
not managed to before, and it felt strangely satisfying.

 
Sarah Cobham
July 18th 2014