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November 21, 2002

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Within the Soviet Union which country's borders retain the worst reputation for bribery and corruption? Georgia. We crossed Georgia's border with Azerbaijan at Lagodekh, a crossing without hassles though we expected much worse. The Georgians are renowned for their hospitality; in Tbilisi we find their manner friendly in an attack dog way - aggressive, wary, and showing a lot of teeth, natural behavior during restless times: independence in 1990, three wars, and a crashed economy has challenged all Georgians to find means. We pass crowds of unemployed people demonstrating on the steps of Parliament and old beggars standing in metro underpasses, victims of a collapsed pension system. When Georgia became the first of the Soviet republics to hold multi-party elections in 1990, many believed that this new country had the best chance of short-term success because it had been economically strong during the Communist regime. Yet the country sank into anarchy after two regions, Abkhazia and South Ossetia, seceded and caused civil wars in 1992 and 1993. Mob rule became part of life for some time and the scars from these times show in the mood and mannerisms of the people. In central Tbilisi we bunk down in a refugee hotel, a building where the tenants have converted balconies into bedrooms by tacking plywood walls onto the railings.
Butchers know how to advertise and catch your attention. Hang intestines from a lamp and place a severed head on a chair.
Armenian churchgoers in Azerbaijan? Not likely, all Armenian churches have born the brunt of war between the two countries.
Last stop in Azerbaijan, we spent yesterday night in a small village called Zaqatala that had one hotel. Instead of running water this place provided a bathtub water tank. Use the red bucket to scoop water and flush the toilet.