Meet and Greet

Liberty squareIn Georgia old age pensions are 160 Lari per month (about 60 Euro), which is close to 28 per cent of the average Georgian income. Men receive it from the age of 65, women when they turn 60. The system was introduced in 2006.

Also in Georgia life it is difficult to live from this amount of money. On my daily way to work from Liberty Square metro station to Caucasian House I used to meet always the same elderly people begging for or selling something to gain money. Most of them are women. These are some of their stories.

 

this one

 

 

Lena, about 80 years old. Today she arrived around 20 minutes ago at the spot where we met her. She cleans the streets in the city and sells some small things such as sunflower bars and seeds to make money. 15 years ago her sons died in a car crash. When asked about the happiest moments in her life she said that there are no happy moments for her. Her sons were 35 and 37 years old when they died. Lena had a husband. 10 years ago he left home for work and never returned. She does not know where he is right now, if he is alive or dead.

 

 

 

Maja, 54 years old. Maja is from Tbilisi, was born and raised here. She is alone, does not have any family. She also could not think of a happy moment in her life. She has never worked as she got ill, now she has to beg for money in the streets (usually she sits on a small piece of cardboard on the side of the pavement). She is outside all day long. She rents a flat in the Varketili-district and lives there alone. Through her daily activities she pays for the flat. Maja was at the hospital and received some treatment for her disease. Health care for her was free in the beginning but then she had to pay for it. She receives an invalidity pension of about 100 Lari per month (around 38.50 Euro). She does not get the retirement pension as she is not 60 yet and depends on what people give her. Maja did not want to be photographed carrying out her daily work.

 

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Mara, 75 years old. She is in Tbilisi for 47 years. As Lena, she also cleans the streets and sells some small goods. She has 2 sons, one is living with her and one lives with his own family in Tbilisi. Soviet times were good to her, she had a salary and a good life. She is not satisfied with the life she lead at the moment, she liked the Soviet time. Still, Mara is optimistic about her life, she thinks that everything will be better in the future and does not blame the government for her current situation.

 

 

Badri, he says he is about 80 years old. He does not have a wife, she died a few months ago in a car crash. He has 2 children, one is living with him and one lives elsewhere. He lives in Rustavi, a town near Tbilisi. Every day he takes the bus to get from his home to Tbilisi. His children are also unemployed and sell cigarettes, sunflowers, bread and other things in the streets. He fought in WWII and went half blind. It is hard for him to see, he cannot see things that are far away. The happiest time of his life was his childhood. He used to live on a farm with his family and helped as a cowherd. Badri refused to have his picture taken as he does not want his sons to see him begging for money and as last time when he agreed to be photographed the pictures were made public close to where he is standing and people laughed at him.

 

this one 2Lili, 80 years old. She is from Kakheti, Georgia’s wine region in the east of the country and has been in Tbilisi for the last 10 years after she got ill. She started begging. She used to have a vineyard and worked there. She had a family and a husband but he died many years ago. She also has children but they live abroad and they have not been in contact for a long time. She does not know where they are. She receives a pension and rents an apartment near Liberty Square. Every day her neighbour takes her to the place where we met her and back to her home. She pays him for that. His mother takes care of her for 10 Lari per day. Her happiest times also were her childhood years. She does not receive treatment for her disease. She thanked us for talking to her.

 

Many thanks to all of them for sharing their difficult stories. Special thanks also to Ana Akopashvili for helping me to overcome the language barrier and making this little project possible!

Tbilisi, City of Light

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One evening, my friend and I took the funicular to a restaurant on top of one of the hills surrounding Tbilisi. The food is great but more importantly: the view is splendid, especially during the night.

Generally, a lot of effort is put into light installations in Tbilisi, you can find them on various buildings in various colours and forms. If you take a walk you will see what I mean.

 

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On Rustaveli Avenue some houses have blue spotlights highlighting the ornaments and structures of the building. If you go further, you pass Liberty square with its glinting Liberty Monument. After a ten-minute walk through the narrow streets of old Tbilisi you can cross the Peace Bridge. Even though my friends told me Georgians usually dislike it because of its modern design I found it quite fascinating. I felt like being inside a shiny whale skeleton lit up like the Georgian flag. By the way, the current flag is an ancient banner of the medieval Kingdom of Georgia. It was reintroduced in 2004 by then-President Mikhail Saakashvili (2004-2012).

 

 

 

IMG_2403IMG_2421Wherever you are in old and probably also new Tbilisi, if you look up, you see the ‘enlightened’ Narikala citadel ruins from the 3rd century with its still functioning church and another old beaming church on a hill far away in the background. Close to the citadel you can find the sparkling mother of Georgia. The latter is a well-formed woman holding a sword and a cup of wine. These symbolise how Georgia has always had enemies that were welcomed with the sword and friends that were offered a cup of wine.

 

Back then in the restaurant when I mentioned how unique ‘light’ is to Tbilisi my friend started laughing and said: ‘Well, we didn’t have electricity until the mid-90s. Probably that’s why we decided to become the City of Light.’

Be the 8th Comrade on our Trip to the Kazbegi Mountains

6.20   Yes, a.m., nope, you can’t snooze, we have a long way to go  to Kazbegi at 7 in our private Marshrutka

Marshrutka

9.30 First stop: Out of the lullingly warm car and out in the unexpected ‘winds of change’…of course you are wearing shorts and expected the usual 35 degrees…but the view definitely compensates for the cold you caught during the 2-minute stop.

10.30 Arrival in Stepantsminda (1740m) and always great to know someone who knows the place like the back of his hand: after a short break one of our colleague’s friends and his co-worker and friend come for us to take us around on ‘their territory’

11.00 Following the bumpy let’s say road we arrive at the waterfall after an adventurous hike through the beautiful nature of Kazbegi. And I know they say don’t look back but in this case you really should!

12.15 We start climbing up the serpentine road to Gergeti Trinity Chuch, still by car which is great given the faces of people who do it by foot. Cars coming down and the road condition are small legistical obstacles but our driver manages to overcome them successfully. Probably too small on the map, but even Google maps calculates 29 minutes for 5.7 km by  car 😀

13.00 Slightly slower than half an hour our road adventure is finished and we arrive at beautiful Gergeti Trinity Church (2170m). You just want to walk in? No, no, head and legs have to be covered but don’t worry, they offer cloths and scarfs at the door.

14.30 As beautiful as it is, we are starving and start our Georgian Barbecue. 

Georgian Barbecue, what does it mean? Meat with onions, a bitter sauce made of plums, cherries or apples (for the attentive readers among you, yes I have already mentioned the sauce in my first post), bread, salad (it seems like tomato and cucumber salad is everywhere, with and without oil), different types of cheese, a Georgian lemonade with cream flavor and of course Georgian wine!

17.00 We start our last trip of the day: ca. half an hour away from Stepantsminda we enter a formerly Ossetian-inhabited territory. In the war with Georgia, Ossetians left behind their houses and farms and moved further into Ossetian territory. What is left are abandoned buildings, some are inhabited by shepherds working in the region during the warmer seasons, more holes than road and ancient forts with the typical Ossetian towers. 45 minutes away from the main road (again the side ‘roads’ are quite challenging and cause some desperation among my colleagues) we find a monastery and a convent. Out here in the nowhere the latter generates electricity from solar batteries.

In 1990, the former South Ossetian Autonomous Oblast declared its independence from Georgia. The Georgian government abolished South Ossetia’s autonomy and tried to gain back control over the region. The result was the South Ossetia War from 1991 to 1992. South Ossetia relies heavily on military, political and financial aid from Russia. Georgia’s fight against the controlling forces of South Ossetia continued in 2004 and 2008. The conflict in 2008 led to the Russian-Georgian War. Ossetian and Russian forces established full control of the South Ossetian territory.

Only very few countries, namely Russia, Nicaragua Venezuela and Nauru recognise South Ossetia’s independence. Georgia and most parts of the international community regard South Ossetia as occupied by the Russian military. As my colleagues told me, Georgia witnesses a ‘creeping occupation’. Russian forces controlling the border keep on moving border fences further into Georgian territory. In February of this year, 51km of illegally erected barbed wire fences around South Ossetia were on Georgian soil (see http://agenda.ge/news/52406/eng).

And to finish on a little jolly note: farm animals like cattle, horses, pigs, lots of sheep and chickens are running around freely on the huge territory. Contrary to what I know from Germany people have the confidence that their animals will always find their way back home.

It’s 21.00 o’clock, time for the way home


The End

“Georgia, the state in the US or the country in Europe?”

georgia_country-copyGeorgia_in_United_StatesThat was the first thing my friend asked when I broke the matter of
interning in Georgia. While I was still in Budapest my Georgian roommate used to picture Georgia as Europe’s most Eastern country (and not Asia!) and a country working on its future membership in the Union. So, my first reaction to this question: “Man, naturally mentioning Georgia and Europe in one sentence, you just made a whole nation very happy.”

 

What I knew about Georgia before my arrival:

  • khatGeorgians are very hospital
  • there are about 4 mio of them
  • they like being called Europeans
  • they eat Khachapuri and Khinkali
  • they have a language not similar to any other
  • they successfully reformed their country during the last 15 years
  • they have frozen conflicts with two regions, Ossetia and Abkhazia, who claimed independence
  • they are out of sorts with Russia after a war in 2008 and Russia’s continuing attempts to broaden its influence in the region

What I know now, exactly one week after my arrival:

  • khinkGeorgians are very hospital
  • there are about 4 mio of them
  • they are Europeans and at supermarkets etc. many of them speak English
  • they drive on the right side of the road and some cars also have the steering wheel there
  • I eat Khachapuri and Khinkali, fruits and vegetables are incredibly tasty and they are eaten in various combinations, they have a kefir-like yoghurt called Matsoni and a bitter plum-sauce that I put on everything… and luckily they love coriander. Even though everybody told and keeps on telling me that Georgia is a meat country I keep on treating myself with vegetarian delicacies
  • they have a language not similar to any other and I am still trying to figure out similarities…or sounds
  • Tbilisi has extremely friendly street dogs and cats
  • they (Georgians of course and not the street animals) successfully reformed their country during the last 15 years but still have to catch up in some spheres, e.g. LGBT rights
  • they have frozen conflicts with/in two regions, Ossetia and Abkhazia, who claimed independence and are under Russian influence
  • they are out of sorts with Russia after a war in 2008 and Russia’s continuing attempts to broaden its influence in the region