This story was a winning entry in the 2018 World Nomads Travel Writing Scholarship.
My entry permit was ready and it was time to visit the home of the woman I loved. Her descriptions of her city were so detailed that I was confident in finding her house without the help of Google Maps. On a cold, wet winter's day, crossing the Enguri Bridge, I made my way across the border, with the blessing of the Russian military.
There was just one problem: I was alone. My girlfriend wasn't waiting for me and neither was her family. No one had been home for 25 years.
I arrived in Sukhum, the capital of a partially recognized republic, still haunted by a war that resulted in the ethnic cleansing of 250,000 Georgians. Normally, on a trip like this, I’d be running on an adrenaline high; here I was overcome with melancholy. In my girlfriend’s homeland without her, I had entered Abkhazia on her father’s birthday, and she had asked me not to send her any photos. A Russian sniper had taken his life, and with it the life she might have had; raised on stories and thoughts about what could have been, her identity had come to be defined by a forbidden home.
When I eventually did send her photos, her response was heartbreaking. Despite being too young to even remember the days of yesteryear, she responded with a single word: home. I’d never associated with the traditional concept of home; for me, it has always been wherever I happen to be living, not somewhere I long to return to. Yet, I was broken by my inability to bring her home and perhaps offer her some kind of closure. As a traveler, you rely on locals to guide you through foreign lands; she had to settle for a vicarious experience of her homeland through me, a foreigner who, until recently, couldn’t find it on a map.
Crossing back into Georgia-proper, I felt the anguish and longing of an entire nation was on my shoulders. I never did find her house, even Google Maps unable to help me navigate the remains of a place whose entire soul had been destroyed. I had just entered a land wet with the blood of genocide, free to return as many times as I liked, thanks to my EU passport. Meanwhile, the woman I loved, and a million others, remain unable to cross that bridge, left with dreams of what might have been, memories of their homeland slowly succumbing to time, chasing a past that year by year recedes before them.
Hear more from the author, plus learn about Georgia's polyphonic singing tradition, ancient wineries, and epic scenery.
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