The River of Humanity

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Commuters cry, “Beware! Beware!
“The human mass at Station Square!
“The shuffling feet
“Where two lines meet
“And sullen souls despair!”

If you’ve spent time in Georgia’s capital city Tbilisi (formerly known as Tiflis) you’ll probably recognise the reference. Tbilisi has two metro lines that meet at Station Square station. Here at rush hour there can be a traffic jam of human flesh as streams of passengers squeeze past and through one another to change lines or escape into the open air. The photo alongside does scant justice to the crush that I was in a few days ago.

I confess to getting a kick out of commuting by metro or subway or underground. I feel part of something: The River of Humanity. A participant, not a spectator. My body is a tiny, tiny fragment, but the river is nevertheless changed by my being there.

There’s probably something Freudian about it too. One plunges into a dark hole, trusting that the millions of tons of rock and soil above one’s head will stay in place; then, in a re-enactment of nativity, one bursts forth into a sunlit world where oxygen and coffee shops abound and all is easeful.

Here in Tbilisi’s metro I am struck by the tolerance and mutual respect I feel around me. Several people (myself included) missed a train the other day by waiting for a lady to manoeuvre her pushchair into a crowded carriage. No-one pushed ahead, no-one complained.

And when another lady forced her way along the wall of a hugely crowded tunnel, against the flow, shouting what sounded like “Why! Why! Why!” people smiled good-naturedly. She had her reasons. Beggars position themselves along the same wall, obstructing the flow, and they are accepted as just a few more water molecules in the river, albeit static ones.

I’d like to say that by being part of The Human River twice a day I’m gaining a better understanding of my fellow-humans. But – and now we get to the stroppy bit – I do not understand why some people are attracted to substances and activities that they know are designed to enslave them by way of addiction. Why, why, why?!

The ads reproduced here are all from today’s online edition of the Sydney Morning Herald.

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The Pope in Georgia

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The Pope just left Georgia, where Mrs SG and I have been for the past 5 weeks. It’s a friendly, interesting place that has, after a bit of a false start, been the most successful of the former Soviet Republics in making the transition to liberal democratic capitalism. It has an Association Agreement with the EU and is very open to Western ideas, trade and investment. Corruption was almost eliminated under President Mikheil Saakashvili, but is creeping back now, we hear.

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But back to the Pope. As he does everywhere, he performed a mass at a venue that would accommodate the expected crowds – in this case a sports stadium. But only a few thousand turned up. It has been reported that the leadership of the Georgian Orthodox Church, which rejects ecumenism and has 83% of the population as followers, advised those followers not to attend.

Apparently ill-feeling engendered by the Great Schism that split Western and Eastern Christianity nearly 1,000 years ago is still strong in Georgia. The Pope was even greeted by demonstrators carrying insulting placards, written in English. According to eurasianet.org they were members of the Union of Orthodox Parents. The same source cites examples of discrimination against Roman Catholicism and other minority religions.

I feel stroppy about this because Georgia seldom gets mentioned in global news reports, and when it does it’s a pity if the news makes the country appear mean-spirited or downright stupid. I am here to tell you that a handful of religiously-inspired hate-mongers are not representative of the Georgians I have met.