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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Heartbreaking. What kind of a monster one has to be to go and tear apart such a tiny and beautiful country.
Máté, your story is amazingly beautiful, I'd say it is subtle. It entered my memory and touched many strings, I'm probably too sensitive these days but still your writing is beautiful and you told a story that, from where I see it, needed to be told. Thank you for giving a voice to this place and let us listen to it.
Thank You Ma'te'. I am older now and experienced something similar but also very different. Returning to my home town in Wyo, after many many years and the passing of most of my family. The town is vastly different, even the horizon because of new and bigger buildings. The wild horses were gone replaced by a Walmart. Occasionally I could catch the whif of the sagebrush. Loss.
Máté, you almost made me cry. I am Ukrainian and an relate. The current war in Eastern Ukraine has no purpose except Putin ambitions, 10 000 Ukrainians died for the past 5 years of war...
What a moving write I had to look away. What a wonderful read, my friend (at least, the world of writing,, I felt you are).