36 stood up to applaud.
Oh Yeah… What she said.
Afterwards I was told by a Georgian journalist, who sat me down and said very firmly that,’ The whole event had been a disaster’. I disagreed. ‘As I was not Georgian I could never understand’ I was told. There was no mention of the astounding presentations by the artists, the strong voices of the other women, the incredible folk music, the clapping and cheering of the Georgian Funk presentation. No, Natia had been too aggressive, too combative, contentious, too loud, too emotional, too intrusive.
Due to catch a very early morning flight the next day, after we had cleared up, bundled everything into the back of three taxis, got back to Eliso’s apartment and crashed out, left alone with my own emotions, I struggled to settle. I did not belong here and did not understand why I cared so much about a nation of bigots, homophobes, misogynists and sycophants. My cheeks burned. Who was I to even try to create a space for voices to be free?
How do you judge if an event has been a success? The attendance figures? The feedback from people saying how much they enjoyed it? I would argue not. Indeed, if no one turns up then that’s a bit of an indicator that people aren’t interested. But people did turn up – a lot of them. Some left. That means they were engaged but either disagreed or were too scared to be seen there. (There are spies everywhere in Georgia)
The Tea Party engaged people in topics that are taboo in Georgia and they felt they had to leave. They left because they could and not because they could not, this is unlike many other events in Georgia where people have to be seen to stay for fear of reprisal. That means people thought about the content then and almost certainly thought about what they had heard afterwards. If what was said planted a seed in their minds which may grow or die, so be it. Only they can tell. At least they were exposed to an alternative view and it’s that which is important in the current Georgian society where the Orthodox Church constantly legitimises peoples prejudice and ignorance.
The fact that there were 36 people who stayed to the end out of the original 100 who had come to speak not listen, eat free cake, drink English tea out of china cups that were later stolen, showed me it was certainly not a failure.
If one person now thinks about things differently then the tea party was a success.
Through the night texts and messages started coming through. ‘Well done you– exactly right’, ‘More of it’ ‘Your bravery and vision is inspiring’, ‘Power to your elbow’.
When the alarm woke me up with a jolt just a few hours later, I could not wait to get on the plane and go home. There had been no sign of him and I was exhausted.