Marneuli is interesting because it is the capital of the Marneuli District, about an hour south of Tbilisi in the Kvemo Kartli region, and it is about 80% ethnic Azerbaijani.
Signs are alternately in Georgian, Russian and Azeri. I theorize (without evidence) that when a sign is in Georgian and Russian, it's a Georgian-owned business attempting to bride to Azeris, and when a sign is in Georgian and Azeri, it's an Azeri-owned business. There are also sometimes signs only in Azeri, so I guess those business either aren't making an effort to attract Georgian clientele, or figure that their business is obviously pharmacy/vegetable stand/flower shop and multilingual signage isn't really needed.
Azeris are generally Muslims, but on my hour and half stroll of the town center, I only saw about 10 women wearing the hijab (I actually didn't see that many women...maybe 20% of the people on the street were women). There were many older women wearing kerchiefs and sort of standard Caucasian Muslim clothing, but, interestingly, there were also a handful of younger women, maybe high school age, wearing more Arab or Turkish style Islamic clothing (basically abayas).
As I walked around, I was stared at like an alien. I haven't been solo traveling in a small town in Georgia in a long time and had forgotten the mix of apprehension, confusion, and celebrity you feel when everyone gawks at you. Even little kids somehow noticed my foreignness and leapt back when I passed them on the sidewalk, and grabbed their friends' arms and pointed, open mouthed. I have no clue what they were whispering, though, because it was in Azeri.
On the first day, I ended up with a massive headache because I forgot my contacts/glasses and because I didn't have time to grab coffee as I had planned. On the second day, I left my house an hour before I had to be at the meeting point (without traffic, it takes 8 mins by car/24 mins by bus, and there wasn't much traffic at this point) so I could stop by Dunkin Donuts to grab a latte. This plan was quite successful, but pretty much as soon as I got in the driver's fancy new Prius with a no-smoking sign, I spilled the coffee all over my seat. The thing is, no one seemed to notice...so I frantically tried to use the 2.5 tissues I had in my backpack to hide the evidence of the spill, as the scalding hot coffee seeped into the seat and into my pants...and my butt, let's be real. I had coffee everywhere. As the pain from the burning subsided, I continued to sit in a pool of hazelnut scented embarrassment. No matter how I shifted, I couldn't escape it. Thank goodness I was wearing black pants! But the seat did not escape a stain, and the whole car smelled like the coffee. I was sweating bullets throughout the hour long ride, waiting for someone to say "WOW that coffee smells SO intense! Did you spill it or something?" but no one said anything...I am terrified to get back into the car because the driver will definitely have discovered it by then. I can't decide if it would be more embarrassing for him to have cleaned it up, or not...I know this smell is going to follow me around the rest of the day. I hope people just think I'm wearing hazelnut perfume. On my butt.
Since I was in Marneuli as part of a different project that I was observing, I didn't have that much time in the town, but I did manage to take a few pictures. This is a short post - I don't have much to say yet about Marneuli, I just wanted to share these photos, Hopefully more to come from Kvemo Kartli in the near future!
|huge lemons? young grapefruit? bumpy apples?|
|Monument to Persian/Azeri poet|
|Sign in Russian|
|Typical Caucasian Muslim head covering|
|Marneuli Judo Academy|
|Signs say something like 'keep the grass green - stay off'|
|One of many shops selling elaborate party/wedding gowns|
(Azeri brides typically wear white and red)
|Kids putting up posters of the ruling party|
candidate for mayor in this months' elections
|A row of ruling party election posters torn down|
|A big poster of an opposition candidate for mayor|
(whom I met - the first Azeri woman to ever run for mayor of Marneuli!),
above rows of smaller ruling party posters
|Something in Arabic script on a residential side street|
(if anyone can translate, let me know!)
|Poster in Azeri on a lamp post. I think it said something|
about a credit bank or an agricultural collective...