Bela Maghlaperidze, New York, 34 years old
Immigrants living in the United States have a mantra: as soon as you set foot at the JFK Airport, forget your past and start a new life. I didn’t forget my past and neither my goals. The only thing I forgot when I arrived in the US were the ambitions that could only hinder me from achieving my goals.
While living in Georgia, I had a very successful career for my age. Over the years, I have worked in top positions in the financial sector. In 2019, I turned my hobby of culinary into a business. As a result of winning a grant competition, I opened a Georgian Bakery ‘’Satskhobela’’ in Natakhtari which was meant for tourists. However, like all businesses, it was very difficult for me to grow with zero profits and subsidized the bakery’s expense with my main salary.
Legislative changes in the financial sector have cost me my job, which brought me to the personal financial crisis. That was the major reason I found fresh opportunities. I was always the one who cared the most about the family. I have always had more knowledge and employment opportunities. So, I had to work out a plan to overcome the crisis. I had to be the person who had to go into labor migration to the US to save my family.
I knew from the very beginning that it wouldn’t be a short voyage. I also knew that I didn’t come here to continue my career. Even though I have never considered any job as a shame, although it’s not acceptable for many to do the work I do, I see myself in a winning position. Cleaning the house and preparing dinner, which always has been extra free labor for a woman, I get a decent salary here. The key is to look at things positively and hopefully. I found positivity in learning the value of time, both my own and someone else’s. I also understood another level of independence and responsibility ¬– if I used to make decisions collectively with my friend or family, now I have to do it alone. Whatever I do, I know it’s for my and my children’s better future. When I first came here, I worked in a bar. I told one of my American friends, that I had my restaurant in Georgia in the past and now I was working as a waitress in someone’s bar. You know what he answered me, I’m always remembering those words, when I have a hard time: If you didn’t work as a waitress in someone else’s restaurant, you could never have a successful restaurant on your own. I don’t feel ashamed but proud of the fact that I could start a new, difficult, but interesting life – at the expense of missing my family and friends and giving up social status.
COVID 19 and Georgian emigrants
It turned out that I had to stop working after the New York Lockdown. At first, I felt insecure, but soon I received checks from my employer by mail. It turned out, that even though I wasn’t working temporarily, they considered my situation and still paid my salary. I was lucky to work as a helper in the family of artists; they loved Georgian cuisine, so they declared that twice a week they’d have a day of Georgian dishes.
Georgian diaspore is distinguished by special solidarity. Many Georgians lost their jobs during the pandemic. However, those who work help those without a salary: they often find food or money in an envelope at their door, they also help each other pay the rent. We all live here collectively and help each other.
The U.S. government has fair social services. Not paying attention to legal status, anyone can receive medical care. We have medical centers in every second block and everyone has an opportunity to use them if they notice the first signs of the virus. On the 16th day after lockdown, I got a fever of 37 degrees. However, only antibiotics were prescribed, and they didn’t consider it necessary to test for the COVID virus. Now it’s very easy to do the test: when you find symptoms, you can drive to specific addresses and without getting out of the car you’ll be tested for antibodies, which is obviously not for free and costs around $200.
I’m mostly at home. I only go out to buy groceries. Being at home has awakened one of my biggest fears, not being useful to others. Imagine, living in someone else’s land, in someone else’s house, in one room, and doing nothing. I always want to feel needed. So, I started posting live on Facebook: I want to share important information with people. Last week I covered the topic of green card.
During the pandemic, the Georgian community formed solidarity groups to help each other. We have a Facebook group, ‘We in the USA’’, in which we plan to raise money and distribute facemasks, sanitizers, and vitamins (since the is no medicine) and donated to clinics with Georgian doctors and patients.
I’m constantly thinking about what I need to overcome this situation. I would love to have the chance to hug my children, but I can’t hug them, right? Now, most of all, I need to be of use to others.
Women from Georgia in American Emigration
There are a lot of immigrant women around me who have escaped the violence of their husbands and these women are different and strong people today. Some of them have such tough stories, that it’s hard to even listen to them. One woman was forced to go to emigration by her husband to support their family financially. She spent 5 years here constantly working and was sending money home. After 5 years, her mind lit up. One day, when she left the work and looked at her nails, she felt sorry for herself. She realized that life had passed, and she didn’t leave a single day for her own pleasure. By the way, this woman soon changed her job to a lower salary to have more time for herself. She got divorced from her husband online and now she says that she is doing everything for herself to compensate for the lost 5 years.
Once I was walking down the streets of New York City talking to my mother in Messenger. I went to an Armani store, liked a dress, and when I looked at the price, I left right away. At that time, my mother suddenly asked me to go back to the store, and instead of sending money to Georgia, I had to buy that dress because I deserved it. It was such a big show of support and encouragement that migrant women are missing from their families. I would like to thank my mother for always standing by my side.
Many women here work as mother-ATMs, wife-sponsors, and although many women can follow their dreams –to travel, buy beautiful dresses, go to beauty salons – they cannot give themselves permission to do it. Actually, it’s the pressure their families put on them. ‘’how can you take care of yourself, – you are there to work and you have to send money’’, this is the criticism that makes women forget about themselves and turn into robots. That’s why for such a woman’s life often flies by them, years go by and one day they discover that the best part of their lives has been spent in hard work and the pleasant memory cards are empty.
Even though motorsport is my hobby, and I have taken part in many competitions while living in Georgia, I refrain from enjoying this sport because of its high cost. However, travel is something I can’t reject. Actually, when I was planning my trip, I didn’t post it on Facebook, because of the same criticism. But I repeat that family support is of great importance to migrant women. And if you have such women around you, never spare warm words to support them.
There is a time when I have emotional days and I avoid sharing this sadness with my friends in Georgia. If I feel sad here, I don’t want to make other’s days harder. There is no time for sentiments. You fight independently, and you’re certain that it contributes to your personal growth. Here we all have our own USA, but we still have some common rules: rule #1 – Don’t think about the past. Rule #2 – look at the problem as a lesson that will strengthen you. Rule #3 – find the difference between loneliness and independence. Deal with your problem and grow together. If you need crutches now, you will be stronger tomorrow, and finally, you’ll become someone else’s guide.
Author: Maiko Chitaia
Photo: Bela Maghlaperidze / Nina Baidauri
Translation: Mariam Kajrishvili