Ketevan Sujashvili, 51 years old, Kazbegi

Since the old times, traditionally, when the Mokhevian men went shepherding sheep in the mountains, the women stayed home, doing the men’s chores too along with theirs. The woman was considered the head of the family, managing the pantry and delegating work to other family members.

I was born in Kazbegi. My father had three girls and was disappointed he didn’t have a boy. We girls were doing everything not to make him feel the lack of a son and weren’t doing bad ourselves either. Nowadays, as he sometimes tells me, a son wouldn’t be as resourceful as me.
I studied at the economics faculty and then worked for a long time in the Revenue Service in Rustavi, until my husband moved to Kakheti for work and I had to leave my job to move with him. My father also partially influenced me to follow the man’s lead. I was distanced from my work while I lived there, and when I and my husband separated after living together for 12 years and I returned to Kazbegi, I found it hard to find my place and realize myself.

I was 36 years old when I was diagnosed with breast cancer. I can’t say I took it as a tragedy, but my sisters and other family members took it pretty hard. I remember, when my little sister cried before the surgery for the first time, this was a big shock for me and I realized then that life could end shortly. My mother, taking my emotions into account, wasn’t discussing it with me — I was doing the same. This disease was like a gift to me – I had to come out of my shell and go somewhere. The most interesting thing I found was the feeling of the significance of a human as if everything else loses its meaning. I become more empathetic and forgiving.

After the surgery, I had to undergo several chemotherapy treatments. I remember, when I was rejuvenating, I needed to talk to someone a lot, and my sister helped me with that. I constantly thought about the future, what I would do, how I’d get my self-confidence back and where to find my place.

Once, in summer, tourists visited me from Israel and asked, “Do you have a shower?” — they conveyed in gestures what they meant. They stayed in my home for a few days and then, they were sending more tourists the whole summer. That’s how I tried my fate in tourism 7 years ago and got successful in it too. I always tried to improve my house to make it more comfortable for my guests. It’s really interesting that in the beginning, it was hard for me to look at tourism as a business since hospitality has always been our habit and how could we take money for that?!

One more barrier was my lack of knowledge of English. I used to gesture a lot and my foreign guests and partners also helped me with that. In general, I feel very comfortable when I have business relationships with women, business done with them always gets to the end and successfully, too. We have similar experiences and better understand each other’s struggles. I remember one summer I had a lot of guests. I was working alone back then and had to do everything by myself – cleaning, cooking dinner. One evening when I went to the kitchen to wash a pile of dirty dishes, my guests, girls, told me: Ketino, you’re tired, go get some sleep. I thought I would lie down for the night and take care of the dishes the next day. In the morning, I found the whole kitchen clean as a whistle and a note with a smile that had “kiss” written on it. I realized this was the girls’ doing. I put on red lipstick, kissed the paper and put it back. We had so much fun that morning. That’s how I slowly started to learn and remember English words. Now I can talk on the phone and get the other side to understand what I’m saying, and I can understand them too.

My life’s interesting. I haven’t been to every country, but the countries are coming to me and I get to know their culture and people. A Ukrainian cook, famous in England, Olia Hercules, wrote in her famous culinary book about my Mokhevian dinner receipts and published them together with my pictures.

Tourists often ask me where our men are, because only me, my mom and my sisters are handling the business. I have my own explanation: During the Soviet Union, our men used to live like kings, easily earning money and taking care of the family, then the union dissolved, there were no jobs, and men no longer understood what to do. It was the women who took charge to save their children. If there’s any reason Georgia survived in this period of time, it’s only because of Georgian women’s persistent care for their families. The hospitality business is still led by women.

A few years ago, a local development group was created in Kazbegi, based on the experience of the EU countries, which I became an active member of. Through this group, the local community is involved in solving the village’s problems. This approach enabled locals to do a lot of things. Our experience is very useful and municipalities would be wise to bear it in mind. Since we’re surrounded by everyday life here, we can understand the village’s needs better. By my own initiative, we have solved the garbage problem in the Gergeti road turn, added garbage bunkers, numbered the streets. Now we have the initiative to make Kazbegi more attractive in winter by creating a skiing ropeway. The main challenge is to get the local government to listen and believe us.

I’m now planning to create a women’s club in Kazbegi. Women in the regions find it difficult to communicate with each other because there are fewer places for women to gather. I’d like to create a place where women can go and have a heart-to-heart conversation, sit down and talk, share ideas and teach each other stuff. When ideas are born, it’s women who make them come to life and we need a place to share them. We women work hard and need a strong foundation for improving rural life.

Also, I would like to create a rehabilitation center in Kazbegi for women with cancer. I know how difficult it will be – if you are not strong enough and have nobody at your side, it’s hard to get the hope back in your life. I want to speak to such women, provide information and be in touch with them, I want to bring them the will for life back and help them find their way, as I myself did once.”

Author: Maiko Chitaia
Photo: Nina Baidauri
Translation: Mariam Kajrishvili