Julieta Jinali, 67, Ochamchire

We left Abkhazia on September 29, 1993, and went to our cousin in Zugdidi. We were destitute, without any means to provide for ourselves, so we decided to head for Tbilisi. I was a teacher, so we were offered to live into a dorm. They put seven of us in one room. My family, plus my parents-in-law and my sister-in-law. We didn’t have electricity or running water. We had to endure extreme hardship but we didn’t have much choice. We would make fire outside. One neighbor gave us a small cooking pot, the other – empty tin cans to drink hot water that we boiled on the log fire. This is how we survived until the end of January. After a while, we started to receive allowance of eight Georgian laris. This amount was ridiculously small, but we somehow scraped by. Once we were given disgusting food as part of humanitarian aid – beans that never boiled. My children refused to eat it. They were accustomed to healthy, natural food products. We had been well off, and suddenly this happened. I swear I don’t know what we ate… we drank hot water… and stood in the long lines to buy bread. We went one by one: first, my husband would go at 4 o’clock, then I would replace him at 6, and Mzia, my sister-in-law, would come at 8 to take over her shift. We took turns standing in the line for bread. When we brought newly baked bread home, the children were exultant. Our ration consisted of only bread and hot water. We did not have tea, sugar, or anything else. This new life had taken us by surprise but, you know, perseverance can make miracles happen. We tried not to despair. I am extremely thankful to my husband and my sister-in-law for being there for me during the times of awful pain and stress, especially when I was operated on to have my breast removed. I never let myself lose hope – what would happen if my children saw me desperate?! I am happy that I retained the spirit and the heart I had back there, in Abkhazia. Despite so much hardship, life has not embittered me. Once my child to me: “Mom, I don’t want tea, just let me have hot water” – these words alone were worth fighting for and surviving.

We did survive. We have come a long way, but we are facing one huge problem – we have been living in unbearable conditions for the last 23 years, in a dorm where the bathroom and the toilet is shared. We have only one room that serves as our bedroom, kitchen, sitting room and dining room. All I want is to have my own place to live in, my own kitchen and bathroom… if anybody took care of us and helped us, so that I can live my remaining life, at least one day under human conditions, to know that I am under my own roof…
Time truly flies – 23 years have passed but it feels we arrived just yesterday. Every single day we hoped to go back. I could go to Abkhazia right now, but I don’t need Abkhazia where I’m visiting as a guest. I want to be the host. I cannot be a guest where I have spent all my youth.