Mariam Kebadze, 14, Pankisi Gorge

“I have lived in Pankisi for about 7 months. I was two and a half years old when my mother and father divorced. I used to live with my father in Kvareli. I had not seen my mother for several years, there was a rather tense relationship between my parents. My mother tried to get me back through court but in vain. Although that was rather difficult for me, I realized that I had to get used to this. My mother’s two sons died in Syria. She sent her relatives to my father and asked him once again to send me to her. I was rather sorry for my mother and decided to go to her. Initially my father did not know. Then when he learned about my decision he got nervous, but told me that I could do whatever I liked to do. Now I am with my mother and visit my father from time to time. But I was not close to my mother before, they even did not let me go to her place. Now my father also got used to that…

When I moved here first, I thought that I would find it rather difficult because children do not have freedom, they wear headscarves and I thought I would be in the minority somehow. But I have had rather good relationships with almost all the children since I met them. I do not really feel that they have a different religion, or I am different etc. The level of education is also very good at my school. They provide many training opportunities, this is a rather active gorge and I like it here.

When I moved to my mother’s place first, it was summer and I was wearing shorts. This prompted serious discussions in Wahhabis – “We do not want her to wear shorts here”. When tourists come to my mother’s house, they also say that they should not wear shorts. There should be freedom in terms of clothes. Girls of my age wear hijabs here. As far as I know they are forced by their parents to do so. Some of them are really reluctant to put them on but they cannot speak up. They make them wear headscarves and say at the same time that they do that willingly. They are brought up in such a way that they cannot oppose them. I have not felt any restrictions. Wearing shorts was the only thing. I agreed not to wear them because I thought about my mother, who could be also subjected to their negative reaction.

I would like to continue studying in Europe in the future. If I do not manage to do that, I would like to study journalism at the Agrarian University because I was there for four or five days and liked it very much. I also want to become a detective, I think I will necessarily become either a journalist or a detective.”