Elene Ganaia, 29 years old, Mestia

‘’I was born and raised in Tbilisi. I was the only child in my family and my parents struggled to raise me. We recently paid back all of our bank obligations and private loans, which we had to take to ensure I had access to quality education. I was transferred to an American school in my last school years and I was the only one at my school who didn’t have a personal driver. During my junior year at the university, my mother gave me 2 GEL for the transportation; I realized, that I needed my own income, I had to fight for my own good and I developed a ruthless character in myself. I remember how much I struggled to find a job. I was standing in lines in City Hall, I sent out my resume everywhere I could. Finally, I got a job as a sales agent in one of the banks and continued studying at the same time.

I met Giorgi in Tbilisi, at a party. He was born and raised in Svaneti, he was a successful athlete and a champion multiple times. I was 19 years old when we got married. I had only seen the Svan tower in the Ethnographic Museum before. I didn’t know where I was going but the truth is I didn’t care. We had a great relationship based on love and mutual respect. So, I was ready to move anywhere with him. However, In the first months, we lived in Tbilisi in a rented flat, so that I could cook after my studies and work.

When I was pregnant on my first child, we went to Mestia for vacation. I had to take a leave in the university due to pregnancy and I also took maternity leave from work. I found out, there was a reorganization in the bank in Mestia and I decided that I had to try my luck – a completely insane idea. In fact, on day one my life was completely changed. On the same day as the interview, I was invited to a two-week internship, I also passed training in Tbilisi and was leading the cashier’s office of one of the bank branches in Mestia. Giorgi helped me a lot and he was proud of me that I worked and studied at the same time. I was a very sociable and fun person. Adhering to the entire dress code and etiquette, I addressed clients with ‘’Mrs. And Mr.’’ I was told once, that nobody addressed them like that before. There were long lines and they wanted to get the service from me. Therefore, my attitude played a huge role and everybody loved me there. Everyone here knew and loved Giorgi, moreover, he was very handsome and people couldn’t imagine who could be with him. I remember even telling him, that soon he would be presented as Elene’s husband. Once, he was in one village and they introduced him exactly like that – you’re the husband of our Eleniko.

This is how I and Svaneti started to get closer.

After Mariam’s birth, I returned to Tbilisi to continue my studies. I also worked in night shifts. At this time, I found out that I was pregnant with my second child. It was very difficult for me, but Giorgi encouraged me a lot and stood by my side. Giorgi shattered stereotypical notions about Svanian men, he was very supportive and told me I could give up everything if I felt I was tired.
When Taso was born, we wanted to baptize her in Svaneti. It was June 24th, we flew from Tbilisi, this was my first flight. I thought I was the happiest person – I overcame the health problems caused by complicated childbirth and now my whole family would be together, resting in Svaneti. I was so calm and felt so good that day, I didn’t even think anything could disturb this feeling of happiness. In the evening, Giorgi went to see his friends. Despite the car crash not being that serious, out of 6 passengers, only Giorgi died. He was 24 years old.

I died with him and then I raised up again. In the beginning, there were months, where I didn’t sleep at all. I had so many emotions, that I felt incredible loneliness and emptiness. I felt his death too and I woke up as another person. A person is always alone with her feelings. Sometimes you can’t express in words, nor does talking with other people help, when literally your soul hurts. I overcame this. On the 24th of June, 8 years have passed and I didn’t live a single day without Giorgi. I still feel like he is with me. This feeling left me in Svaneti.

For my studies, I returned to Tbilisi for 2 years. I left my kids with Giorgi’s parents and came to see them once every month. I put the whole of my energy and pain in my studies and work and it helped me a lot to go through it.
In 2014, after finishing my master’s degree, I returned to Svaneti and I’ve been here since then. Shortly, after my return, I was taken to the Mestia Municipality as the mayor’s assistant. I was very active in youth affairs, which turned out well. Suddenly, I was promoted as Head of Sports and Youth Affairs department. After Giorgi was gone, I lost all my energy and joy and was brought back with the help of my children and the youth of Svaneti.

Nowadays, I’m in almost every project that is being implemented in Svaneti. I’m the coordinator of the local action group in the EU program. Also, with the support of the US Embassy, I’ve been teaching English to socially vulnerable young people and students of Vocational college for 4 years now. At the same time, I’m working on my doctoral thesis – the concept of development of mountainous regions based on the example of Upper Svaneti.

I’m a very active citizen and most importantly – I’m deeply in love with Svaneti.‘’

Author: Maiko Chitaia
Photo: Geda Darchia
Translation: Mariam Kajrishvili