Keti Tomeishvili, 48 years old, Vani

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,,I was 29 years old when I emigrated and came back after 14 years.

My sister was very young when she had a brain aneurysm. The chance of survival was only 2% but I wanted to take our chances. I was married then, living in Tbilisi with my husband and child. I did everything I could: I got money from private creditors and after a surgery and 46 days in a coma, I saved my sister’s life. To be honest, I didn’t get any support from my husband. I couldn’t forgive him that, and I no longer live with him. 

I returned with my three-year-old child and my debt to the village, to my mother. I have suffered such poverty! When people came to visit my sister, I was looking at their hands and what they brought. When our neighbor gave us one pot of meal, first I would feed my child, then my sister and my mother. Back then kindergarten cost 5 GEL but sometimes I didn’t even have that 5 GEL so that my child would get a free meal there. I was very worried about my responsibility: when you’re taking your child with you and take on the responsibility to raise him, either you should provide more for him, or at least the same as before. I started thinking about going abroad for work, but my mother was against it, concerned about what people would say. So, I took it into consideration. Women who went abroad for work had a bad reputation in our village. But once, when I saw my child coming back from kindergarten with wet feet because his shoes were ruined, nothing could stop me. I saved 50-50 Tetris and with 6 GEL went to Batumi in hopes I could move from there to Turkey and find a job. 

It turned out like that – I worked for 3 years in a family in Bulgaria, then a year in Azerbaijan and the last 10 years in Turkey, taking care of an old man. In the beginning, I only had a one-way ticket and a sandwich and I remember I didn’t even have the money for the toilet and the driver gave me 10 liras.

I had to work in very difficult conditions. Before I learned the language, I was working on a very low salary. I was paid 400 dollars for 24 hours a day, mostly without any breaks. I was doing a very hard job: taking care of an elder, who couldn’t do anything by himself, and also, I had to do the household chores. I only had one day off per week and on that day, I was going to another job – cleaning houses so that I would earn a bigger monthly salary. Most of the women there were struggling like that. In addition to that, you couldn’t feel safe there – if you don’t have documents, you may not even get a salary. I know many cases when women got abused, but nobody cared about it. Nobody was interested in us. Many of us didn’t have health insurance either, because in that case, you have to pay taxes and get legal documents, which, of course, means you get paid less. Everybody is trying to survive. If you’re strong enough, you’ll survive and your main goal will help you through. I know a lot of women who work like that for years, sending money, but they’re not improving their living conditions. They are wasting their life dreaming. Do you know why? because the money they send is easy money for their family members and they are spending it easy too. Once I transferred 300 dollars to my family and I arrived soon for a couple of days. I found they didn’t even have anything to eat. After that, I decided that I would not send money directly, but pay the store for the month and my family would have credit in the store to buy products. I went intending to return. Indeed, I’m very sorry for women who are slaves to their family credits and can never afford to come back. 

Migrant women have to work under pressure: First of all, we are very cheap labor abroad, women support family members and for them, that money is never enough; plus, we have to live with ”what people say about us”. A couple of times, when my mother was talking to me on Skype, she went to the neighbor to convince the whole village that I was really working in a family and not doing anything ”wrong”. Now when I see a migrant woman uploading a photo on Facebook, I know she’s doing that to show people that they are taking care of their elderly, to satisfy people’s curiosity. 

When I moved to work in Turkey, I already had a salary of 1000 dollars. I could still make some savings even when I only earned 400 dollars. My first goal was to pay back the debts, I already had up to 50,000 GEL in debt with additional costs. I contacted all the private creditors and asked them to extend the payment plan. I paid all of it in 4 years. The next goal was to build a house. All of us lived in a small kitchen. I remember when I walked by some shops in Turkey and saw some kind of beautiful trousers or jackets, I calculated its price and thought about what I could do with this money for my house. So, I resisted, always. 

I spent my best years in a struggle like this. I never saw my child go to school, neither his dance performance. I watched him grow up in photos and videos. But the only thing I knew was that I had to come back. After paying back the debts and building the house, I had one more wish. I wanted to buy a car. Before I left my husband, he told me ,,he’d enjoy watching me crash and burn”. I thought to myself, the day will come when I’ll have my house, my income, I’ll raise a great child and will have a car too. When I returned to Georgia, I visited my ex-husband. When he appeared, I horned the car and blinked the lights. He was speechless. It was such a great pleasure that it was almost worth 14 years of struggle. 

I returned to Georgia in 2016. I had some savings and I started thinking of what I ought to do. Once, in winter, I saw greenhouses in Kutaisi. I thought, if a Georgian went outside in winter, there must be money in that. I got interested in greenhouses, but I didn’t want to risk without having any knowledge. I went to consulting centers and would listen to some men in the village, what they were saying about farming, I also checked prices in the market. That’s how I collected information and decided to make a greenhouse for cucumbers. The first thing I learned was that I had to install a drainage system for a successful harvest. So, one day I brought excavators, I dipped the land, put stones in the ground and build 2 greenhouses. My mother was worried about me, telling our neighbors that her daughter put her savings in the ground. Neighbors were looking at me suspiciously, everybody looked at me like I was crazy. They gave me advice, to go to Tbilisi and buy a condo there, so I could live off of rent. 

Then there was the state grant with 60% co-financing. Most of the banks refused to give me credit, but one followed up. I wrote a business plan and got financed. After a few months, I already had 5 greenhouses. After some time, I got the trust of donors and after some time, the agro-farmer association gave me 9,000 GEL for the heating of greenhouses. 

Now I have cucumber harvest all year round. I harvest 20 tons a year. In winter prices go up to 6-7 GEL and I try to have more harvest in this season. I started at 800 square meters and now it’s 2000. In addition, I built a pig farm. When I get some additional income, I always buy land around me. I built an orchard for Alucha (Caucasian fruit) and I’m waiting for the harvest the next year. There’s demand for asparagus on the market and I’m planning to cultivate it the next year. 

In the village, who thought that I was crazy before, now there’s people asking for jobs. I have several neighbors employed. I have my own management style: everyone has their part of responsibilities and nobody does the same thing, so they can’t blame each other for mistakes. I’m a strong parent but I rather prefer him to be a hard worker and I pay him for his work, so he can take care of his needs than depend on me and my income for the whole life. As you know, in Georgia, a 40-year-old man is usually still a child and needs care. 

I don’t get profits at this moment, because all of it goes to the bank loans. In 2 years, I’ll be able to pay for it completely and then I can talk more about the income. Anyway, during this job, I grow up every day and I’m getting better knowledge and a lot of experience. I will be very strong without debt. Some time ago, I saw boys were building a greenhouse in the upper side of the village. I went there and saw their work. I told them they made a mistake using thick pipes, which can’t get hot enough and the heating can’t power them. They didn’t believe me since I’m a woman and wouldn’t know a thing. They finished harvesting in February; I’m still getting the harvest.

Lately many men ask me to marry them. Where are so many divorcees and widows coming from?! I told them I have a child, a house, my own business and a car; why would I need a husband? To just take care of them and wash their socks?! Just why? No men can bring me happiness! Any one of them would start sticking their nose in everything I already do. And then they will start putting me in their frame; I’m just independent like that, I can’t live in someone else’s frame. So, I prefer to be on my own, moving slowly, but always forward.”