A Poet’s Lives with Lyn Coffin

Editor’s Note:  Latest update on our Poet’s Adventures in Georgia… one month in.  This update arrived with a photo which wouldn’t show… possibly of our Embassy?

Our Poet Tries to Penetrate the American Embassy

Ever since I arrived in Tbilisi, now almost four weeks ago, I have been trying to penetrate, to get inside, the American Embassy here. This edifice/social and architectural construct sits out in the boonies of Tbilisi- extraneous (unlike other embassies) to life in Tbilisi. I have no doubt the positioning is strategic. Never can tell where those terrorists are coming from.
About two weeks ago, when the beautiful invitations for my first reading at Art East Gallery in Tbilisi were printed, I decided to take one to the embassy. Invitations to various embassy personnel had already been sent out electronically and by messenger, but I’m a do it yourself kind of person. I wanted to go personally to “my” embassy, to meet up with Americans serving here, offer my services as an editor and writer, see what I could see. My view was (and is) that the American Embassy is a little piece of America in a foreign country. I am an American, I have papers, I will go and make myself known to “my fellow Americans.”
My friend “lends me” his car and driver- Nobody seemed to know how to get to the Embassy by bus, if it was even possible.           And away we drive.

Staged Using a Professional Actor: Don't Try This at Home

I identify the American Embassy at once. It is extremely big and extremely ugly and has the appearance of a medieval fortress- long thin pencil-like (“we can shoot arrows out of ’em and you won’t even see us”) windows. There is some kind of high wire fencing, and no people in the surrounding area except police.
My driver is waved into a parking lot and questioned about the visit. Before we even enter the parking lot, at least three people (Georgians) have regarded us with intense suspicion.  I am leaving the car and approaching the guard shack when I realize what this complex reminds me of- Purdy, the Washington prison for women, where I used to teach meditation. No wonder the locals call the embassy the Little Pentagon.
I try to enter the guard shack, but it is locked- There are two doors at either end of this kind of Quonset hut apparatus, and I (suspiciously) have just tried to enter by the near door- which is only for exiting. I must go in the far door, which is for entering, and which is watched by its own police woman and bank of security cameras.
I enter the room through a narrow turnstile and, surprise again, there are five people in the room, all of them Georgians. All five regard me with suspicion, which melts partly when I begin my fumbling, I’m sure horribly-sounding, attempt to communicate with them in their language. (I have been studying Georgian for all of two weeks at this point.) I say that I am a pretty well-known poet and writer living in Tbilisi until June. I am having a reading in a few nights at the Art East gallery. I have brought an invitation and a little packet of biographical information (my Wikipedia entry, for one). I would like to enter the embassy and see the Ambassador, if possible. (My dad always told me to start at the top.)
Amusement is now filtering through the levels of skepticism and suspicion. The very small room is beginning to warm with something like friendship. I am told I can leave my packet and they will refer it to the proper department which some say is Public Affairs and some say Cultural Activities. I am told that to actually enter the Embassy is an unusual event. You must know someone inside and you must apply 48 hours in advance for security clearance. Sometimes, apparently in emergencies, 24 hours is sufficient. Perhaps five or ten minutes of intense negotiation follows. I attempt to get across my idea that the American Embassy is a piece of America in Georgia, that I am an American citizen, that I have documents and wish to be admitted to my country, that I come with no ill will (not strictly true, but true enough) toward the Embassy, and have as my purpose only the wish to extend an invitation to what promises to be a fascinating cross-cultural event.
I have abandoned Georgian long before this, of course: all communication is now taking place in English and I do not know whether the nods and smiles indicate understanding or the absence of it. At any rate, I am insistent and eventually the head watchdog calls someone who calls someone and eventually I am told someone will see me. I wait for another ten or fifteen minutes and eventually a woman comes out and speaks to me and she is wonderful- she is a Georgian woman who sympathizes with my attempts to penetrate the Embassy- she says if I send her an email asking to see her at the Embassy, and submit to the security clearance, she will see to it that I get in.
After a few days of emailing, this wonderful Georgian woman comes to my reading and a few days after that we meet for coffee. We are on our way to becoming friends. She doubts, however, that I shall be able to enter The Little Pentagon after all. She has been informed by her superiors that she was incorrect in her “optimistic” assessment of the situation. She alludes vaguely to terrorists and crackpots and people who are at best a waste of the Embassy’s time.
Later that day, I lecture at Ilia University. All the students, without exception, say they want to go to America. I ask why. They tell me what is clearly, to them, the obvious: Because in America, one is free.
I think to myself- “Once upon a time….” – Lyn Coffin

Photo, taken completely out of context once again, by Carl Nelson

Advertisements

Tags: , , , , , ,

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s


%d bloggers like this: