Kaitlyn Johnson (MSFS'20) was a student in the Master of Science in Foreign Service program at Georgetown University. Kaitlyn was the 2019 Berkley Center-Pulitzer Center international reporting fellow and spent summer 2019 reporting in the Republic of Georgia on the role of religion in communities of people displaced from conflicts in Abkhazia and South Ossetia.
A day in Guria means a day full of Georgian tradition. I spent sixteen hours in the region’s villages one day, conducting seven interviews with locals who had moved to Guria from the neighboring region Adjara. One of the traditions in the former Soviet Union, especially strong in Georgia, is the tradition of “going guesting,” which is essentially visiting friends and being received with hospitality that would put the American South to shame. In Tbilisi, I mostly met with interviewees in cafes, restaurants, bars, and parks. However, in rural Guria, I conducted all seven interviews at the locals’ homes. Most had never had a foreigner in their home. Most had never been interviewed for any purpose. Therefore, my seven interviews in Guria meant eight coffees and seven meals. I was prepared for the interviews. I was not prepared for the food.
I arrived early and met Ana (my Georgian-language translator, local coordinator, and companion) at the train station. Before the first interview, we went to her house. She offered me fresh coffee, cookies, and a homemade cake from the day before. I drank the coffee and ate one piece of cake. She packed up the rest, insisting I take it with me, and we headed out for the first interview.
The first visit went smoothly. The interviewee’s grandchildren watched eagerly as we chatted about her transition to life in Guria, one of her grandsons taping part of the interview on his tablet. I drank the cup of coffee she graciously offered. As the interview drew to a close, her daughter stacked the table high with bananas, grapes, apples, pears, candies, cookies, hazelnuts, cantaloupe, and Fanta. Still full from the cake that morning, I nibbled politely. As Ana and I stood to take our leave, she insisted on sending some more food with us, packing up all the remaining hazelnuts (never mind that I had no nutcracker, necessary for eating them), five apples, and three pears. When she realized the grocery bag was not strong enough to hold the food she offered, instead of lightening the load, she found a stronger bag.
At the second home, we were served apples, candy, cookies, and another cup of coffee. I drank the coffee. He sent the candy with us. The third home offered an array of baked goods, fruit, candy, and more coffee. Again, I drank the coffee and left with more fruit. By the fourth house, my arms were getting tired from the weight of the vittles and my heart was getting jumpy from all the coffee. By the end of the seventh interview, I had a grocery bag full of pastries, another brimming with fruit, two grocery bags full of grapes (one of green grapes, one of purple), and candy stuffed into my pockets and spare crannies of my backpack. Ana helped me onto a bus back to Tbilisi and I settled into the six-hour bus ride, arriving home at three in the morning.
Guria is a beautiful, mountainous region full of traditional Georgian villages and hospitable Georgian people. However, visitors should be warned: if you are going guesting, arrive with an empty stomach.
Editor's Note: This article was written as part of the Pulitzer Center International Reporting Fellowship, a partnership between Georgetown University’s Berkley Center for Religion, Peace, and World Affairs and the Pulitzer Center on Crisis Reporting. It was originally published on the Pulitzer Center's website.