In 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.
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.
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.
Lili, 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!