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Normal Life, On The Surface

7 p.m. local time (3 p.m. GMT)

At first glance, it seems that life is returning to normal in Poti. Public transportation is functioning as usual, actors are arriving at the local theater for rehearsals, and street vendors are doing business near the port. But it doesn't take long to realize that few aspects of life are operating normally. The bus drivers say they have no passengers in the evening, and therefore stop driving their routes when doing so would be unprofitable. At the municipal theater, the posters advertise performances at 6 p.m., but no date is written. A guard told me that there will be no performance tonight, just as there have been no performances for weeks; but for some reason the actors persist in showing up.

At the port, security measures -- already strict -- seem to have been tightened further. The piles of cargo containers there have clearly grown, apparently because ships continue to make deliveries that don't get distributed.

Nearby, a bar is open, but few customers have stopped in for a drink. Business is better at the newspaper stands, where the vendors say sales are brisk. Nino Gvelesiani, who sells nuts, seeds, and cigarettes, also had no complaints about business, but she expressed dismay that her 45th birthday is tomorrow and neither she nor her family is in any mood to celebrate.

By a cluster of apartment blocks, a group of neighbors has gathered to discuss the situation. They had hoped that the Russian troops would leave today, but there are still no signs of a withdrawal. The neighbors are worried about what comes next. If the Russians are planning to go, what's stopping them? If they're planning to stay, what are they going to do? And what right do they have to be here? One person says that if Russia plans to break its promise to withdraw, it better provide sufficient justification.

At the checkpoints, the only obvious change was that the helicopter that had arrived today has now left. But not even the local authorities could explain what its purpose was: delivery of supplies, troop replacements, or something else. I sometimes get the impression that the local authorities get their information from us journalists, not the other way around.