Ani Kardava, 25, Gali

“I was very young, around sixteen months old, when we left Gali, so I don’t have clear memories of abandoning home and travelling. I do remember, however, what our life was like after we arrived in Tbilisi.

I remember standing in a long line for meagre 14 GEL allowance, I remember not having any running water and having to walk two blocks to fetch it. I remember my father leaving for Russia and my aunt leaving for Turkey to find a job. I remember my brother, who was 14 at the time, working in an exchange booth and the whole family living on his income. Later, when things got worse, my father was unable to send us remittances and the amount my aunt sent us was not enough to support my mother, my three brothers and me. So my mother, my youngest brother and I remained in Tbilisi, and my two brothers went to my aunt in Turkey to try their luck. One was 15 and the other was 17. I remember that mom cried for months after their departure. She was worried sick but gradually the things got better and she stopped worrying.

My brothers worked in the warehouse of a linen company Do Re Mi (current name – Touch). My eldest brother recalls that he longed to be one of those boys who went on evening strolls in the streets but back than he couldn’t afford it because he worked 12 hours a day.

Today, my brother is the General Manager of TAC in Moscow.
None of them had a carefree childhood; they worked all the time to support us and sent the money they earned to us. This must be the reason my eldest brother plays with the toy cars of his children. He missed the period of his life when he should have lived like a kid.

They were away for seven years and I can feel that those years have taken away a lot from our relationship. Our bond is a little broken and we are not as close as we used to be. Those seven years took away a lot, but also saved us.
There is one vivid memory I have from those dark times: We had a New Year celebration party in the kindergarten. I was supposed to be Little Red Riding Hood and the teacher strictly warned me to turn up dressed in a red dress and a red hat. We were extremely poor at the time. My brothers had just left for Turkey and we had hardly enough money to buy bread. That is why, as a child, I was anxious that I would not be dressed properly for the party like other kids. I was sitting in a kindergarten room; around me, mothers were dressing up their children, brushing their hair. I was sitting by myself and waiting for mom who had promised to find the dress and bring it. I heard parents whispering that I was a refugee and from a very deprived family. I was upset, thinking that mom could not get a dress for me, but I clearly remember the moment I saw my mom entering the room with a red dress and a hat in her hands.”