Lali, 46, Gali

„I know for sure that I would have a different life if I were not an internally displaced person. All the difficulties in my life are associated with this status. I used to work as a teacher in Gali. My kid was very small then, just 6 months old. I was at a teacher’s meeting when the alarm went off. It was horrible… Panic, chaos, confusion. When you feel trapped with nowhere to go. The roads were blocked by tanks. The government ignored the population. They just wanted to withdraw armed forces. The Georgian government did not care at all that there still were women, children, elderly people and men there. Today, the state officials like to speak confidently and eloquently about those days, but the real picture was different.

I was 23 years old. This was a miraculous escape for my child and me. Those people who escaped Abkhazia through Svaneti suffered far more. But for me this small fear was something incredible, my blood runs cold every time I remember it. I received a huge experience from that period. I don’t want the same to ever happen again. But if it does, I know exactly how to outsmart the state of Georgia.

We walked in the direction of the Enguri Bridge and I remember the exact moment we reached it. I heard all the time as we walked: “we should get to the bridge” “we need to pass at least half of the bridge and then nobody can touch us“. When I got to the middle of the bridge, I fell down exhausted. My kid, who was just a few months old, was crying, she was completely wet and hungry. I had the kid attached to my chest. My husband and grandmother of my child fled Gali together. We also had aunts in the family who stayed there. In two weeks – there were four siblings (brothers and sisters) – all four of them were killed. They were shot like birds. I did not realize then how hard it was to leave them there because we all were absolutely shocked. Everyone was running somewhere. Our first instinct was to get away from that place. We did not realize that we were leaving home for good and we would not have any food, drink or clothes. Everything happened so quickly that I did not manage to take anything from home. We did not have any clothes to change into. We were hungry, thirsty, without any shelter, hygiene… We were stuck at one section of the road, because it was blocked. What is more, I did not know the whereabouts of my parents.
So we left…

We went to our relatives but they refused to accept us because they were hardly in a better condition. I was angry back then but now I realize that it is difficult to shelter several people during hard times and poor living conditions. Now I can understand those families who gave us shelter but we were still dissatisfied…

We were already in Zugdidi when they got to the bridge. We heard their war cries and gunshots; voices of rejoicing and triumph reached us. We managed to cross the bridge 3-4 hours earlier. This was a miracle.

We lived at a relative’s place in Zugdidi for 1 year. It would probably take 10 years for that family to recover. It is rather difficult to have 33 people in one family. How are you supposed to feed them, bring their food or find a place for them to sleep?! 33 people – it’s a whole community! I think that it was a heroic deed of them to accept us. We would exchange gold for flour and potatoes to have something to eat… This is how we survived in this period of blockade – “the Zviad’s period”. As soon as the roads were unblocked, we headed to Tbilisi.

When we arrived in Tbilisi, first we lived in a dormitory of the Tbilisi Technical University. Then my family fell apart. Probably this also happened because of the fact that we were IDPs and we did not have any food, house and elementary conditions. This happened 5 years after we left Gali. Most men shrink from their responsibilities and forget about obligations when it is most important to be strong. It is rather easy to avoid responsibilities, give up and abandon people to their fate – something that is done by probably 70% of males. And this is exactly what my husband did.

The first two years were disastrous. We slept on the floor; we did not have any beds, blankets or pillows. One winter we were not able to go out at all because we did not have shoes. The worst thing was that other people around were in the same poor condition. Georgians can at least sympathize and support each other in hardship. But this was also impossible because we all were going through a hard time.

It was probably because of my age that I could not leave Georgia and go to another country to work. I could not imagine my life outside of Georgia. I could not imagine that there was anything beyond my country. My kid, who was only a few months old, was a problem too, because I would not be able to leave her. I think all the time that if I had gone abroad my child would have had a better life… but who knows, maybe she would not.
As soon as we got to Tbilisi, I started looking for a kiosk. The salary for working in a kiosk was 1 laris and 25 tetris. I worked in kiosk until things got a little better in the country. I had to work until 5 a.m. in the Saburtalo district. I would buy matsoni (a homemade yogurt – TN) and bread with the little money I got and take them home. My husband did not work. He also wanted to earn his own bread but there were no jobs.

Everyone had to struggle for survival. We fled the war and were not afraid of bullets but faced hunger and cold instead, which was not easy to stand either.

Even if I went to forest now I know that I would not be afraid. The wolf should be afraid of me because I have turned into a big wolf myself.
My life has turned me into it.“