When God was giving away the lands to the nations, Abkhazians didn’t come. They appeared only next day apologising and explaining they had guests. „We couldn’t have left them!” – they said. Of course all the lands were already distributed but God said: „There is one more piece of land. I wanted to keep it for myself but you can have it”. And Abkhazians settled in the most beautiful area of the world. That of course is only a legend which you can hear in many countries and the way to their own state took Abkhaznias long time and wansn’t easy. But resting in the shade of palm trees by the shore of the Black Sea we are really feeling like in paradise.
Sukhum – pride of the Soviet Union
The morning in Abkhazia welcomed us with the great heat, local subtropical climat is the reason for 30 degrees Celcius in such early hours. Instinctly we headed towards the coast, sea breeze and the shade of palm trees should give us little relief. Panoramic view of snow-capped mountain peaks has really maked us feel better. Few decades ago Sukhum was considered to be the most luxurious resort of the Soviet Union and the most beautiful riviera of the Black Sea. Today the city itself doesn’t look impressive any more. There is not too much left of the beautiful mix of orient and socialist realism. Old buildings are falling apart and the new ones are built in rather kitschy style and the one thing that stands out is the renovated waterfront. However after only a short walk we found out that it’s only few reneved buildings, couple fountains, street furniture and further there are only the ruins of the old port and pretty neat sidewalks disappear in general mess.
We are coming back to the seaside colonnade. It’s a central point of the promenade, majority of restaurants are located in this area, in the evenings it gets really crowdy. Only few steps away meets the government and really close from here there is a new building of the dramatic theater. Early in the morning only one small cafe is open. We have a little problem as we have no local currency (Russian rubels). Seeing Georgian lari the seller reacts negatively, for dollars he says he doesn’t know the exchange rate. Luckily he offers us some coffee saying that we can pay next day.
Coffee from the sand
Coffee brewing in Abkhazia is the ritual that takes place on the very hot sand. After being filled with necessary amount of coffee and sugar the container with water is put in the hot sand. Coffee is brought to boiling and when it starts rising and the thick foam on the top appears the process is being broken. To get stronger and more intense taste after making it boil they put it on the side for a while and heat again. What is the secret of brewing in the sand? This is the possibility of precise control over the process of brewing by regulating how deep in the sand the container is. And it looks intriguing. Coffee is delicious, served in little cups, black as night, thick and aromatic. To cover the bitterness of coffe they add sugar for everyone.
While enjoying a coffee we are watching the other guests of the cafe. They are all drinking coffee, smoking cigarettes but the thing that distinguishes this place from the other European cafes is domino. It dominates whole Abkhazia, everyone from kids to old men love to play it. There are some tables where they play chess but it must be the influence of the large Armenian diaspora in Sukhum. Burning sun, palm trees and dominoes makes us think about Caribbean, where the dominoes game is also very popular. Remember the term „banana republic countries” politically dependent on the Big Brother?
Because of the similar political situation in Abkhazia and banana republics and the popularity of dominoes in those countries someone once coined for them the common definition of “dominoes republics”. Abkhaz wouldn’t be happy of this term but the fact is that thanks to dominoes they tried to mark their existence on the international scene. They organized world championship in dominoes in 2011 and that were the first and so far the last international competitions in Abkhazia. It was the main event and everybody hoped that after so many world representations visiting the country they will make a next step in reaching recognition in the world scene. The chamipionships were a great success, despite Georgian protests 200 players from 25 countries including EU and USA attended. Republic of Dominicana took the first place but geopolitical situation of Abkhazia has not changed at all.
The dominoes comes from China and India. Today beside obvious Latin America countries they also play dominoes in whole Maghreb and Middle East. In Abkhazia they play it little different way, the most often for money, without that noise, shouts and emotions, in total quiet. Is it because of the respect to the game or maybe not to dusturb chess players sitting right next to? Maybe the stake is that high that the only sign of increased tension are somked one after another cigarettes? There are different ways to play dominoes. Those most popular tournament rules are not like those we remember from the kindergarden. On the web site of the international dominoes federation we read that the randomness of the game is smaller than poker and requires much bigger intelectual skills.
Dominoes is played by the younger and older but it’s gambling character is somehow hidden. There is no, well known from poker, throwing cash on the table. All the results are counted on big abacus and is settled at the end. Abacus we can still see in some stores on the east here replaces well-known to dominoes players cribbage, a board with holes, where each player has own track and marks the number of points by moving the pins.
The game was so interesting that we haven’t even noticed how much time we already spent watching the players. Because the sun was going higher and the heat was getting bigger players were slowly disappearing. They will come back to the same place in the evening. We decided to look around for a hotel. That was actually quite easy but attracted by the game we went to look for some dotted stones as a souvenir first but it wasn’t that easy. Luckiliy it went better in Poland and now we are getting to know this game from the beginning. Ola is of course our little assistant.