One of the things I find most exciting about being in Georgia is seeing so many farm animals given their independence and freedom. It’s impossible to drive any distance in the country (i.e. most of Georgia) without encountering small groups of cows grazing on the verges or sleeping on the white lines in the roads in summer (apparently there are less bothersome bugs there). Usually they’re unaccompanied, trusted to wander where they like during the day but to return to the safety of the barn or paddock at night. Indeed, around 6pm you see them slowly turn towards home, moving with steady determination along the roads. Sometimes they need human prompting but often they just know when it’s time, and make their own way back.
In rural western Georgia, in the regions of Guria, Samegrelo and Adjara, the pigs are out there too, free to roam during the day, wallowing in mud ditches and finding their food where they want.
The drivers are well accustomed to this. I noticed that one of my drivers never put his foot anywhere near the brakes if he came upon a few cows in the road, he merely swerved the car to avoid hitting them. It was a different story if a piglet suddenly crossed the road in front of us. Immediately he and any other drivers would screech to a halt.
“There’s never just one piglet,” he said, “and if they all come across at once it’s a disaster!”
At the end of one of my month-long excursions through Georgia while I was researching the book, I asked my driver whether he would be in favour of our system of imprisoning pigs and other animals in cages and sheds, or whether he preferred them loose on the roads. He didn’t hesitate.
“Of course animals in Georgia must remain free,” he said with emotion. “They are a symbol of our people’s independence!”