images © David Greenfield 2017
Ellie’s home in Kutaisi, the former capital of Georgia
“You must come visit and see my country.”
That was Ellie Kokhreidze’s impassioned request as she prepared to leave the US and return to her home and family in the Republic of Georgia. For two years Ellie cared for my mom 24/7. She had been a supportive ‘bookend’ as the last chapter of my mom’s life came to a close. Our families became one. But in 2013 with my mom gone, and too many years of separation from her family heavy on her heart, Ellie felt the draw of returning home to Georgia too powerful to resist. My wife and I didn’t know when we would visit, but we promised we would honor Ellie’s request to come ‘see my country.’
Where exactly is the Republic of Georgia?Georgia is nestled in the Southern Caucasus of Eurasia, at the crossroads of East and West. Traveling there is hardly a user-friendly journey; flights are long and tedious, and connections are limited with long layovers. But with expert guidance and a lot of planning we made the journey, managing to traverse the country from Kakheti - the eastern wine region, to the mountains of the Kazbek in the north, to the shores of the Black Sea in the west. We returned to the US with profound appreciation for the warmth and hospitality of Georgians, passion for the wonderful food and drink, and new insights into geo-politics and personal sacrifice. Despite challenges of the travel, we wanted to go and keep our promise.
Lunch at Ellie’s
gouda cheese, tomatoes, and bread, all fresh and purchased moments before.
But why did Ellie leave the country and her family?
After collapse of the USSR in the early ‘90s, Georgia as a former republic realized independence but emerged from behind a shattered Iron Curtain devoid of any supportive Soviet infrastructure. Times were troubled, nothing worked, the Kokhreidzes lost almost everything. Although her first grandchild, a granddaughter, had just been born and her parents were aging, Ellie and her husband Johnny made a gut wrenching decision to leave and come to America to work and earn enough to rebuild. Becoming destitute was not in their playbook. Meeting Ellie’s family, spending time with them, and seeing how the Kokhreidze family’s life is back on track, was gratifying beyond measure.
Johnny’s toast to my family from his wine cellar
Crisscrossing the country, we also established a special friendship with another Georgian family - Molly, Kakha and their young inquisitive daughter Salome. Molly is an ex-pat journalist working for the BBC, Kakha is a patriotic Georgian Everyman who absolutely loves the US for having Georgia’s ‘back’ as it leans West away from Russia’s orbit. When we needed to travel from one region to another, regardless of road conditions, terrain, or weather, Kakha was at the ready to drive us. Along the way he tutored us about Georgian history, culture, food, wine, and religion while showering us with small gifts of local delicacies. When it was time to eat, he took us to out of the way roadside open air markets and bakeries, the ones only locals know about. Each stop on these roads less traveled brought us into another world. All were memorable. By the end of our adventure it was clear we were joined at the hip. For our last night in country, Kakha and Molly insisted Carol and I skip a hotel and stay over at their home and enjoy a home cooked feast and, of course, local wine. All of us, including Salome, are now also family. It’s the Georgian way.
Salome and Kakha
The full Gallery of Georgia images can be viewed here: Georgia - the Republic of
Visit my web site anytime to view Galleries, Photo-essays, read previous blog-posts, and share on social media.