year of creation
3 illustrations for my non-fiction novel about crossing Russian-Georgian border (published in the Paper Kartuli in 8th of November), 5000 RUB for each, 2022, digital, printed
My novel is attached.
Beginning my journey from grey Moscow by train to Vladikavkaz. The cat, dear to my heart, is left with my mother. Mum, my sister and my friend Olya are in the carriage with me as ushers. Olya as a present herself, but also with presents of books. I don’t take any books, so as not to make the suitcase heavier, but I am glad to cram in Olga’s Permian Komi fairy tales.
Last hugs, mother’s lamentations as a bonus. On my way.
The first thing I notice is that I now have a feeling that what is happening is unreal, that «it’s not with me».
Almost all men in the carriage. At first the fairly honest conversations begin — «Who needs this mobilization, let the officials do it themselves. My neighbour from Ossetia says with a heavy sigh that he is not a candidate himself, but he fears for his nephew. If my nephew receives a summons, he will go for him. «I’ve lived and he’s young.» I tell him that he will only be fined if he fails to come to the enlistment office, and it is better for him not to go anywhere. He’s surprised.
I miss the moment as a man with imperial aspirations takes the floor in the carriage. It begins: «deserters, ha-ha. I’m not a deserter myself, ha-ha.» And other heavy-handed nonsense about returning to greatness, which for some reason is expressed in the fact that Russia will bring the West to its knees (ha ha). From that point on all other voices in the wagon subside, no one argues with the Rashist (half Russian, half fascist). My Ossetian neighbour sadly acquiesces, I try to hide in Komi-Permiak tales. But all those fascist phrases I’ve been hearing for the last week even from the people close to me are reaching my brain: ‘yeah, but what can I do if the Tajiks are stupid?’, ‘don’t worry about her, all Armenians are cunning’, ‘oh, you’re going to Paris, but there are so many black people there’. Land of vanquished fascism.
I cooperate with fellow travellers who are going in the same direction as me. In the morning, before reaching Vladikavkaz, we got off at mournful Beslan, took a taxi for three times the price and drove to Upper Lars.
During the last two weeks this name has been learned by everyone who wanted to leave Russia and read the news. Upper Lars is the only point on the land border with Georgia. After the mobilisation was announced thousands of Russians rushed there, creating a multi-kilometre traffic jam.
A taxi driver took us to the start of the traffic jam. We had to get over the 15-kilometre-long queue to join the people on foot. Vasya and I, my travelling companion, were walking.
Vasya was pleased when he found out that I was an artist and asked « sovrisk » (contemporary art)? He worked as an IT specialist himself, but had also studied art before. Vasya turned out to be a great fellow traveller — firstly, an avid hiker, ready to cover a distance of 15 km (plus a gas-stove and sandwiches to go), and secondly, in a humane way.
The suitcase quickly began to sink into my palms, the backpack pulling towards the ground. Vasya probably helped me to roll the suitcase halfway. The steep green mountains were almost unmovable. The beauty of the scenery is in counterpoint. Vysotsky’s soundtrack about the mountains turns on in my head. «Dasha, you’ve always wanted to go camping, to test yourself.»
It turns out that I’m dressed out of place. An autumn coat under the blazing sun. Sweat drips from me like a cooler. I stow my coat in the suitcase, but my T-shirt is soaked through and the thick sweatshirt on top is also soaked through. It takes us about three hours to cover 15 kilometres and get in line on foot. My jeans, which were still tight in Moscow, are now loose. I myself felt as if I was stooped under the rucksack, while my arms were stretched up to the knee together with my jacket. I’m proud of myself, that’s how I endure the ordeal. But the thought of my privilege as a (relatively) healthy person and everyone’s fragility pierces me.
The pedestrian queue is growing fast and moving slowly. For some reason I notice the soled shoes of the person in the queue behind me. I look up at the owner of those boots, a middle-aged man from the Caucasus. I ask myself: «God, I wish they would let him out too, because I have heard that people from the Caucasus are discriminated against at the border.
The sun sets quickly in the mountains, the chill embraces me in my wet T-shirt. I am afraid to spend the night outside and agree to cross the border by bus for some 10,000 rubles. I and a bus full of men pass through the Russian border checkpoint without incident. Nobody is turned away, neither is a not very old man in old-fashioned boots. There is a sigh of relief inside.
After passing through the Russian border we find ourselves in a neutral line in a new Georgian queue. We will be stuck in this lane all night, roaming will instantly eat my internet. There will be a ruthless fan on the bus and I will inevitably catch a cold. How easy it is to turn a (relatively) healthy person into a cripple in jail, in a detention centre or in a filtration camp. We do not leave the Georgian border until noon the next day.
The last hours on the bus to Tbilisi were difficult. I had a fever, my ears were sore from the altitude and the cold, and my body was tired from crashing into a seat. A cup of tea would knock down a sore throat, but I had taken all the liquid with me for 24 hours and had no money change, so there was no way to use the toilet on the way. The only stinking one is left at the border. I just wait until the journey is over, nothing and no one can help me until then. But the bus stops. I pull myself off the seat with an effort and look around. The bus is parked outside a roadside café, and almost all of its contents have spilled out. I’d tried to be low-key and even smile the whole previous trip, but here I burst into a deafening whimper of «why are we standing again, what an endless horror». And I’m ready to slump back into the chair in a new pose. But then a middle-aged man in threadbare boots comes up and calls out to me: «Miss, you can’t do this, let’s go. He is persistent enough to make me feel more uncomfortable staying than going with him. «I know you didn’t eat anything yesterday. We all understand, stuff happens, no money.» I’m embarrassed again as I was eating sandwiches with Vasya and I’m out of money only in rubles, but have some undisbursed currency with me. The man takes me to a cafe and sits me down at a table with his friends. In front of me lay flatbread and cheese and pours me a glass of the coveted mountain-coloured green tarragon. «That’s it, you’re with us, you’re Armenian too.» At this point my eyes itch. I ask him to write me how to say thank you in Armenian. Shnorakalutyun, my travelling companion. Madloba, Sakartvelo (in original georgian, thank you Georgia). In a couple of hours my friends will meet me in Tbilisi.