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I touched down in Tbilisi.
So far the journey had been smooth.
I was a little worried as I came in about being stopped and searched as I had a load of military gear with me.
Furthermore, I was coming to Georgia – I wonder how many British Indians go there on an annual basis!
Mikheil had a friend, someone involved in politics who was picking me up. Given the small size of the population, it wasn’t unusual for you to know someone who was doing something in the government.
Mikheil’s father was a merchant and his mother worked in politics so in his case it was very normal.
It was around 8 pm when I landed and Levan came to pick me up from the airport. He already knew a fair amount about me from Mikheil’s introduction.
I wasn’t sure if I’d be meeting Davit initially at the airport.
Levan asked if I wanted dinner to which I responded yes.
I chatted animatedly with Levan in the car as we headed towards a restaurant in the city centre. Being a historian by training Levan had many questions but also many answers as to what was happening in Georgia.
He told me briefly of his own military experience having fought in the Georgian-Russian war several years ago and seeing people pass; as well as his life now as a PhD as well as some vague references to his work in politics.
I wouldn’t really find too much out about this at all – but for the most part, Levan seemed pretty open
We headed into a quiet restaurant that Levan knew of to have some dumplings.
It would be here we’d be meeting Davit.
My heart started to pound again somewhat as I was about to meet a man who was being paid to put me through hell.
A well-built man of around 6ft with a beard and balding hair was sitting at the table, quietly waiting for us with his hands crossed.
As we walked towards him I studied him. If you didn’t know him there was no way you could tell he had any military experience – and rather he looked like someone you wouldn’t want to mess with in your local pub.
But outside this aura of danger and tranquillity, he seemed like an ordinary man.
And this was probably the point of all of this – that it’d be difficult to distinguish him in a crowd. Being brown in the Western world it’d be the opposite of course.
I’d later discover during my military application that this wouldn’t necessarily be a bad thing.
We had Georgian dumplings for dinner that were filled with chicken in what turned out to be a nice restaurant. Levan, Davit and I ate and Levan shared stories of Georgian military history whilst Davit and I looked on.
Davit hardly said anything the whole evening and touched just a few pieces of Georgian bread and a few dumplings. He took the place and the conversation in – and there seemed to be discomfort about him as he sat. It was clear he wasn’t used to dining in such restaurants.
The evening continued and then drew to a close as Levan left me in the hands of Davit and headed off into the night.
The sleeping lion stalked into action as we quietly left the restaurant, headed to an enduring old Volvo and jumped into the car.
We drove away from the restaurant and headed into what looked like the tenements.
Mikheil had been somewhat involved in the organisation of the accommodation as well as some other details. As to what extent I’ll never entirely know – but the agreement had been made they wanted to make the experience as gritty for me as possible.
We pulled up to some city blocks that looked like they belonged to where I used to live with Daniela near Northolt. I was used to suspecting surroundings.
Davit had mentioned that he and we wouldn’t be dining in such restaurants during the week and as we pulled up next to some dusty old shops he let me in for a real surprise.
Tonight he’d sleep with me in the apartment and upon first light we would be waking to start our programme.
I mumbled ‘no problem!’.
The animated chatter I had adjusted to having with Levan was gone. Here was a soldier who’d served in two wars against Russia and served for several years as an SF sniper before deciding to give up military life at 28 having been involved for a decade.
The street was empty but not for the dust that seemed to follow us up into the building elevator. As we crawled into the box elevator Davit said
‘Tonight we sleep for tomorrow we train’
As we came into the apartment there were three rooms and the place was tiny. A bedroom that was also part of the living room, bathroom and kitchen. The place was tiny; there was certainly no internet and no phone that I could see and the 05th-floor building I quickly stole a look out of faced yet more apartment blocks that looked just like this one.
We were in the Georgian ghetto.
The room contained a single bed alongside a chair in the other corner of the room. I said to Davit ‘where will you sleep?’
I was scared of the answer as I certainly wasn’t comfortable with us sleeping in the same bed.
The whole situation made me pretty wary as I had no idea who this person was. His Facebook profile had revealed nothing about him and I daren’t ask anything about his personal life and now I’d be spending the night with him in this apartment block.
My sim card didn’t work out in Georgia and so for the moment barring Davit – I was alone in the world.
And as he looked at me – I had no idea what would lay in store for me as I slowly began to unpack my things.
Davit quietly dumped his bag on the floor and sat on the chair and pulled out a hat which he tipped onto his head.
The question still echoed in my head as I looked at him as he’d silently removed a couple of things from his bag and then sat down.
‘I’ll sleep on the chair’
‘Really?!’ I asked incredulously
I was a full combination of relieved, shocked, impressed and nervous.
My reptilian brain still had me on relatively high alert.
‘Yes I can sleep anywhere – so I sleep here.
Sleep now and I’ll wake you up when it’s time to start, and we begin with shopping for supplies and orientation’
Finally, I lay down as he turned out the light and I saw his outline sitting silently against the city nightlife.
It was approaching 1 am, and I was sure tired.
Having Davit sleeping in the same room as I wasn’t something I’d expected or felt particularly secure about.
I didn’t know this man, none of this was sanctioned, he’d probably killed over a dozen men being a sniper and Mikheil didn’t know much about him either. He just ‘knew someone who knew someone’
Davit was that someone and here I was about to spend the night with him.
As the lights went out and my heart pounded I tossed and turned as I tried to get some sleep.
I would watch Davit occasionally in the chair until he eventually pulled out a sleeping bag and laid down on the floor to sleep.
I felt nervous, worried and all alone in the world.
Being in the room with Davit was definitely the opposite of comfort and as I catnapped deep into the night I would clock-watch my Casio and wonder what madness would befall me at daybreak.
And slowly I drifted off into sleep