2:30 p.m. local time (10:30 a.m. GMT)
Around noon, I had to take the No. 10 shuttle bus, which runs a fixed route through Poti's central streets. I got on just outside the central market, which is one of the town's busiest bus stops. The driver was waiting for more passengers before starting his route, so the minibus stood there for quite some time. It was extremely hot, and he kept all the doors open.
The topic on many minds all day was if or when the Russians might leave
Within minutes, other drivers had approached us and a spirited debate ensued over whether or not the Russian forces were actually going to leave. Several drivers were optimistic that they would indeed leave soon. But our driver was more skeptical. "They're not going anywhere. I saw them today, and they seem very solidly based here," he said, cooling himself with a wet handkerchief spread out on his head. "They wouldn't have dug so many trenches if they were going to stay for only a week." As the debate continued, a middle-aged woman sitting in front of me with a basket of groceries on her lap, started to curse Medvedev and Putin. In the meantime, more and more passengers had boarded the minibus, so finally we drove off.
When I got off the minibus, I stopped by the newspaper stand where a longtime friend -- a middle-aged man by the name of Jemal -- works. I hadn't seen him for a while. He said that these days the only items he sells are calendars, since no newspapers have arrived in Poti for a long time.
Afterward I called a close friend, Sopo, and invited her out for a coffee. She happily accepted, saying she badly needed to be distracted from her daily worries. We went to the "Nice" cafe -- one of the most popular places in town, near the main port. I like to go there, since the smell of the sea is particularly tangy in that area. The cafe seems like it's always open, and is usually full. But today it was almost empty, with customers seated at just one table.
With the religious fast preceding St. Mary's Day over, I was looking forward to my favorite cake. But there were no cakes. The waitress apologized, saying they can't offer cakes or anything else fresh these days, since they'd just go stale in the absence of customers. Chocolate, ice cream, and coffee were the only things they were serving today. Nothing was being prepared on the premises.
"As soon as our customers come back, we'll bring back the full menu," the waitress told us. She stayed on at our table for a long time, telling us how she had foregone a planned vacation and instead come to work every day, even when Russian soldiers were roaming freely in the streets of Poti. The waitress also talked about the aerial bombings, telling us two of her classmates were lucky to have survived the night the military port was bombed.
Bombardment, war, and Russian soldiers were the last things my friend wanted to talk about. But eventually she gave in, talking about how frightened and stressed out her family members had been. It turns out that Sopo was actually taking tranquilizers during those critical days -- and her mother still can't get a good night's sleep.
Sitting in that cafe, I was watching out the window in hopes of seeing a familiar face among the passersby. I didn't recognize anyone.
As we were getting ready to leave, the cafe's owner walked in. She's Russian by descent. I can't say as I know her very well -- we generally exchanged greetings from a distance when I visited the cafe. But today, aware that I'm a journalist, she approached me directly and started talking. "I've always felt welcome here; Georgians have never made me feel like I didn't belong here," she said. "I hope the Russians leave soon."