Lamara Berianidze, 62 years old, Tqibuli

I’m a mining engineer. After graduating from Polytechnic University, I was sent here to Tkibuli on assignment. I’ve been living here since.

In 1981, there was a law that as a newly graduate, you had to work for at least three years where they’d assign you to earn a diploma. Back then, Orjonikidze mine shaft was functioning in Tqibuli, now shut down. There I was assigned to mining engineering unit. It was 15 September 1981. I was going to a new place with a heavy heart: What kind of people I’d have to deal with? Having an easy and humorous nature, the thought that I might have to constrain myself worried me. But I was lucky the staff there turned out to be even more cheerful and full of life.  Then director of the mine, very good man, didn’t seem pleased about my arrival as I was a girl. He asked if I’m actually going to work. I said why not. “Do you know how stern working in the mines is?” – He said, and I returned a joke: “Mr Director, in my home village even lizards fail to walk without breaks”. That was when we first connected with him. I’ve worked in Orjonikidze mine shaft for 16 years, and I can say those were the happiest years of my life. So my mining engineer’s career started.

I have two daughters, and when someone asks me whether I would approve of them taking this job, to be honest, I wouldn’t. The job is very stern, not exactly the perfect one. Due to my nature, I dealt with it easily though. First of all, the mines are very specific. In the Soviet Union, working in mines was equal to fighting the war. They didn’t use to take mine workers in the war. The job is really tough, some tunnels are really steep. I can’t say it was hard for me, but, generally, it is hard to work in those conditions.

There was hardly any tunnel in the mines I didn’t have to go down, be it a stone or coal quarry. Can’t say that affected my health much. Coal dust is not exactly good for the health, but it’s not as damaging as stone dust. Being mining engineers, we didn’t have to go down to stone quarry tunnels that often, so we didn’t swallow much of stone dust. As they say, I’m as fit as a fiddle. Last time I saw a doctor was when my youngest daughter was born.

I first came to Tqibuli for the internship as a third-year student. It was then I met my husband. He worked as a tunneller in the mines. I happen to study in the same group as his former classmate. It was him who introduced us. After our internship had ended and we were leaving, he went to see us out and told me I’d come back to Tqibuli someday. Later, he used to come to Tbilisi. He was doing distance learning course, and we were seeing each other here.  We became head over heels in love. Waited for each other for five years. As I graduated from the university, he was sent to travel with Komsomol voucher. I waited for his return, and then we got married. His family were against our marriage. Even now I don’t have a clue why and what they had against me. After starting a family, they /government/ gave me a one-room flat where I’ve brought up my elder daughter.  You can’t quite call a family what my husband and I had back then. I used to live alone in those days; My mother-in-law was crazy about her son and couldn’t bear anyone else by his side.

My eldest daughter was ten when I first took her to a nursery.  In communist times, there was no problem with that, women had full state support, and we felt fully protected. You didn’t have to think who to leave your baby with. Problems started later when my younger daughter was in a nursery; We had to pay for food there – a ridiculous amount of 3 GEL, but we were so flat broke couldn’t afford even that.

We were going through tough times, but, luckily, a new company bought the mines and brought Tqibuli to life. The company gave education and future to a lot of young people, but there was a disappointment too.  For example, when they came to me and said they were breaking the contract because of my age, to which I responded as a bit of a joke that I would need to last out mere one or two years on this job since I had bank loans to pay. I was going to quit soon anyway.  For a woman of my age working in the mines is exhausting, even if I look healthy and fit. It was at the end of October 2016 when they started firing people. I still don’t know the reason. Considering that it’s private company, they are allowed to act as they please. But aren’t we human beings? Shouldn’t there be something protecting us? There is no law making you fire all pensioners. There was even a row between HR manager and me over that. She came to me and said my contract would end on November first, and I’d have to go home. Despite my sense of humour, I’m quite a fighter. I asked to tell what was it exactly she wanted from me: “If you’re firing me because I’m a pensioner, you’ll have to let me go, and put that reason on the papers.“ Raising her voice, she said she’d attended many training courses to know that it was an outdated approach. My child, I said, I’ve already forgotten things you’ve learned from your training courses. This caused an argument between us. I didn’t sign the agreement anyway. Later then, an executive apparently called for my boss and told him “Let her sign this agreement now and don’t spoil our campaign.  She’s going to be paid for two months in advance anyway, and after two months we’ll call her back and she can get back to work” he said. He’s never kept his promise and denies those words even now. As I’ve learned later, many miners and administrative workers were relying on me.  And I want to apologize to all of them for signing that agreement. I apologize to everybody who was relying on me, who believed I would fight rather than sign that agreement. I believed my boss, and it turned out I betrayed others.

Finally, I quit. On January 15, when the mines reopened, they hadn’t called me. I went there and they’ve told me to wait for two weeks until they’d call for me in February, but they still didn’t. When I asked to explain what was the problem, they said they’d hire me for a month. I’ve worked a year after that. Those months were more exhausting than all 34 years in the mines. At the end of every month, I should have found out whether they were going to renew my contract. At the end of the year, I went to my boss’s office, who didn’t even let me say a word interrupting that he’d promised to let me last out a year on this job. “The year is over, now you can go home,” he said. I wasn’t going to talk about my contract, but he didn’t let me speak.

Let’s say my job was tough, and you don’t want a 60-year-old woman in the mines, but it really breaks my heart when I think of some people they had fired – cleaners who are perfectly fit for their job, or a 65-year-old man, who can move mountains if you let him.

Nobody says generations mustn’t change, nobody lives forever, however, they could let go those pensioners in a decent way rather than humiliate them. That’s what makes me disappointed most. I want my company management to know that hurting people is the biggest evil, and they should treat their employees in a decent way. It is wrong to fire someone the way they did to pensioners. Called for them, humiliated, said they hadn’t liked them and let them go like that. It’s better to call these people and tell them: Guys, we appreciate what you’ve done for this company, but generations must change, and we are sorry we have to let you go”.

Author: Nino Gamisonia
Photo credit: Nino Baidauri