Mediko Machalikashvili, 46 years old, Duisi – Pankisi Gorge
The unachieved dream of being a student
“I was never lucky enough to be a student… My grandmother was forced into marriage when she was 15, at 18 she was already widowed, left to raise two children alone. She devoted her life to her children, so they could never go against her will. Her word was the law. Grandma was adamantly against education. She was afraid that education would set one free in a bad way. Therefore, her daughters did not receive education either. Both of her girls were forced to marry at a young age, in families on nearby streets, to keep them close to her.
I was five when grandma was left alone and moved me to live with her and raise me. When I finished school, they didn’t let me get the higher education. I was still in school when they forced me to engage. Both sides agreed and I married at 17. I didn’t know the guy at all. At the time, arranged marriage was the norm and we couldn’t even imagine going against the elders’ wishes. Nowadays young people are more courageous and open-minded, able to resist influence and manage to live by their principles. If I was anything like them in my youth, perhaps I too would go a completely different way. I could’ve achieved something and gotten a better life. I think education is necessary to live with dignity and live by your principles. I wanted to become a pharmacist, but I wasn’t able to enroll. My daughter was, so perhaps, in a way, my dreams became true for her. She was not interested in it, but she did that for me.
I have never had a delightful life. Imagine, I got married and everything went upside down right away. I already had the first child in 1991 when we moved to Grozny. Everything was getting better, we had our second child, and we even planned to buy a house there, when suddenly the war started. How can I forget to spend 10 days in the bunker with a newborn baby and a 2-year-old child? I remember the bombs falling from the sky like raindrops. My husband stayed there and I had to leave Grozny alone with two little children. We spent a whole week on bypass roads, carrying a wounded with us, our bus breaking down from time to time. It was such a terrible time, I never want to remember, but I can’t forget it. We left everything that what we had there and we only had our clothes on our backs. The situation in Georgia was worse than how we left it. I remember we didn’t have flour, so we cooked Mchadi (Georgian cornbread) all the time and I hated the very smell of it. I lost all hopes and dreams at that moment.
The widow’s burden
I went through such a difficult life that I already feel old. I lost my husband in 2004. I don’t even want to remember that, but he was slain in one of the special ops. I was 31 and alone with three young children at my hands. Life is tough for a young widow. I always felt people staring at me differently and it constantly made me tense, making sure nobody looked at or talked to me. When I went outside, I was always looking down, not going to any kind of parties or having fun. Being invisible become a part of me and stayed with me. Therefore, I always prefer being in the dark to speaking publicly.
I was leading a private life… I wasn’t working nor had an income, I was only getting a widow’s pension of 14 or 15 GEL. Therefore, in addition to taking care of my children, I also had to raise vegetables and take care of poultry and cattle. We had to watch the pennies to make ends meet. One day a friend of our family told me about a vacancy in her workplace, suggesting I get out of the house and socialize. It was an NGO named “Regional Development Fund of Kakheti”. They needed a cafe waitress. I agreed, but I had never worked before and I was nervous like a student, worrying she’ll fail the exam. I’ll never forget my first day at work. I’m very grateful to all the employees. The director of the organization, Iza Bekauri told me they were a family and asked me if I wanted to become a part of that family. And here I am, part of it for nine or ten years now.
Life before and after experiencing work is as different as night and day. I’d compare the night to a person who’s sacrificing her life for her family. Of course, you should do everything for your children, but without losing your own life. For the first time when I went out, I thought I couldn’t manage work and domestic chores at the same time. It turned out that I was perfectly able to do both and I was happier than before. My life had changed, I got a lot of friends and I realized that my life could be better. I swear, when I was spending all my time home, I never felt I was alive. I was home all day working like a mule. Evenings, contemplating what I had done for the day, it felt the same every day. Then, when I was mostly outside, I felt more cheerful and paid more attention to my children.
The victory of life
Once I received a call from Iza (Bekauri) – Mediko, there’s a project beginning to air on Rustavi 2 named “My kitchen rules” and maybe you should taking part. I did not understand what she was telling me, she was laughing, I started to laugh as well and I told her – yes, I will. I hadn’t seen the program before and she asked me to watch the first season online. When I saw it, I was shocked, imagining what I had to do. I called Iza and said, how can I do this, there is no chance I can go. After that, she changed her tone to one of a request and told me, I know you’ll manage, you have to go. She told me that one of my colleagues Nato would come with me as well and for sure we would do it perfectly. Don’t you want to introduce our traditional dishes? Isa played a critical role and if not for her, I would never dare to take this step. I will never forget that day; I was so nervous that I couldn’t get any sleep the night before. I watched the previous seasons and thought I’d become a laughing stock. I was afraid to appear in public. I am still not used to it, I have stage fright and when I have to be interviewed, I always forget what to say. Therefore, Nato was more talkative. First thing I did, I told my children about the project. They were very surprised, but they told me they’d help and stand by me if only I could find courage in myself to take that step. Their support was very important to me. Then I was thinking what other people would say if a widow like me would take that step? I was worried about the relatives and the neighbors. I was surprised that everybody was happy about my decision, I couldn’t even believe it. They were very happy with our participation and even more for our victory. Our journey was long and successful. I can’t forget it for my whole life, that will be the greatest story of my life. I was always restrained and I always wanted to achieve some kind of success. When my days were dark, this project lighted it up. In addition, I met some unique people – employees of Rustavi 2, their camera crew, the jury, and other participants. I have seen how television works from the inside and how to interact with the audience. Moreover, we’ve traveled the whole country. Oh, this is really incredible and unforgettable for me!
Everybody is happy because our traditional dishes have been met with the highest acclaim. My mother told me she was happy to see me succeed in life. My children are very happy too. What’s next? I am going to open my own café with the money I won, with an interesting environment and full of traditional dishes from my native Vainakhi.
I came to the conclusion that there really is nothing impossible.”
Author: Ida Bakhturidze
Photographer: Sophie Aptsiauri
Translation: Mariam Kajrishvili