In Tbilisi, Georgia, I frequented a neighborhood bakery where they sold a variety of cakes by the slice. One day I brought an Armenian student, Hasmik, to the bakery for a heart to heart. It was my job to make sure she was doing well personally and to encourage her however I could.
When we came into the bakery, the owner's face lit up. She spoke a bit of English and apparently had been bragging to anyone who would listen about the foreigners who had been coming to her shop.
There was a rowdy group of a dozen or so soldiers taking shots on the other side of the room. They left us alone at first, but after the owner delivered our cake, she could no longer contain herself. She announced to the soldiers that we were two of her foreign customers, that I was from America and Hasmik from Armenia. And then it started.
First they all hooted and hollered...in a friendly-ish way. Then one of them (I'll call him Dato since nearly all Georgian men are either named Dato, Gio, or Koba) stumbled toward our table, depositing two shot glasses. I tried to wave him off, but he poured some home-distilled liquor from a thermos. It was so strong my eyes burned just from sitting close to it, and he filled our shot glasses so full that a puddle formed on the table from the excess.
Hasmik and I met eyes. I was the leader, so I needed to try and get us out of it. I started to decline, but the soldier's commander (let's call him Gio, which means George. George the Georgian) stood up and raised his shot glass.
"To friendship between Georgia and America!"
Hasmik and I again met eyes. We both knew we HAD to drink, otherwise these men with guns would be seriously offended. So, I took up the shot glass, raised it half-heartedly, and took the smallest sip that could be considered acceptable. About then a fire spread down my esophogas, but whatever, it was in the name of friendship.
Dato lumbered forward to fill our glasses with the thermos. Since they were still so full he just made a bigger puddle of alcohol on the table.
Gio raised his glass again. "To friendship between Georgia and Armenia!"
This went on for a while. I started asking Gio questions to distract him from making more toasts.
I asked what branch of the army they were in, Gio answered they were the elite presidential guard. Fantastic.
Me: "So, you all just finished your shift?"
Gio (jovially): No, no! We're about to go to work! (looks at his watch) Oh, we're late!
He shouted to the men in Russian, and they collected their things to go. I tried to return the half-filled shot glasses to Dato, but he insisted we keep them and filled them again for good measure. Now the puddle spilled off the table, liquor dripping onto the ground. The soldiers left, hanging their arms over each others' necks for support and singing a joyful (and rather out-of-tune) song.
Hasmik and I finished our cake in silence, and then walked home, trying not to stumble into the road. We probably drank less than a shot, but my goodness that stuff was strong.
Five months later I was back in the US when I heard about the coup. The international media was shocked that the people managed to oust the president without any bloodshed. They called it the "Rose Revolution" because the citizens came to the president's residence with flowers, demanding his resignation. It didn't surprise me at all. I could just picture these drunken guards when the mob approached. I imagine Dato might have brought out the thermos, and Gio may have made a toast, "To the revolution!"
We are letters from Christ, written not with ink but with the Spirit of the living God, not on tablets of stone but on tablets of human hearts.