Mzia Sharashidze, 46 years old, Village Tsikhisperdi, Municipality of Ozurgeti

I got married when I was 15 years old – I was already with my husband on my 16th birthday. I barely knew him, had seen him only once, when he bought cigarettes in my mother’s restaurant in Bakhmaro. He was a brunette and also had that distinct tan from the Bakhmaro sun. Back then it was rare to see foreigners in our country and when he left, I asked my mother, if he was indeed Georgian, because even though he talked in Georgian, he didn’t look like one. Three days later, he kidnapped me and took me as a wife. So, I didn’t know him at all. In the past, it was a shame to come back after being captured as a bride. I stayed and became his wife. The first year was very difficult for me. It was hard to build a relationship with him. But soon we had our first child and I concentrated all my love on my child and we got used to each other. He was a caring person, he wouldn’t enter the yard gate without bringing me a present. He took care of me like I was a kid – and I really was one. That’s how we became parents of 5 children. At the age of 28, I already had five children.

I was 33 years old when my husband died. He had health problems and when we went to the doctor, it was already too late. I took him everywhere I could and with our support, he lived three additional years. His 42nd birthday was after his death. My eldest child was 16 years old. I had such a crisis, that my mother stayed with me for a year. It was very difficult for me to overcome this. I and my husband lived separately and now I was left alone with my five children. I couldn’t get used to this, but in the end, when I looked at the sad faces of my children, they were upset that they didn’t have a father anymore and their mother was in such a condition. I told to myself, Mzia, you are a strong woman! You give birth to five children, you have to take care of them and you don’t have to look at others in hope of help. I slowly got back on my feet. It was time for my children to study at a university and I was very sorry that couldn’t help – I didn’t have the strength to do it. We thought about how to find a source of income and how to feed ourselves.

I started making Churchkhelas, but I didn’t know how to prepare it. I thought I would squeeze the juice out of grapes, boil Tatara, and Felamushi and that was how you’d make a Churchkhela. But in fact, it didn’t turn out to be so easy. On the opposite, it turned out to be very difficult. It takes a certain amount of time, specific amounts in grams, etc… Once I made one, it was delicious and beautiful, but after I dried it, it would break. A whole Churchkhela sells good, but no one wants to buy a broken one and if they buy it, they want it at a low price. In a few months, I finally developed the technology and made a Churchkhela which was not going to break, nor crack or swell. It’s very difficult to convey how much I have struggled to achieve the desired result.

I started going to the Batumi Agro market. Here, there is a train stop by road, the train arrives and you can go to Batumi for 50 Tetri. I packed Churchkhelas in such a way that they were protected from damage in every possible way and put them in boxes. I would leave my eldest boy at home to look after the house and the younger one would come with me. I didn’t have a sales stand in the market, but when I arrived in the morning, I rented a table and put my boxes full of Churchkhela there. When I sold it, customers tasted it and since it was really delicious, they came back and would buy ten or twenty more pieces. There was such a queue and the people in the market became interested, saying there was a woman selling delicious Churchkhelas. There were complications with the price – they wanted it cheap, but I wanted to price it higher since I and my kids worked so hard; they were little and their hands were getting scratched with the Churchkhelas’ tips. I put my whole soul and heart to it. I introduced myself to everyone, I got customers which would sometimes even take some with them to sell in the shops. I was looking for a savior everywhere and in everything. It’s very difficult when you are a single mom for your children and you want them to have everything they want. That’s why I endured everything.

Now I have Churchkhela business, I produce and sell them myself. I take orders and that’s our income. I didn’t have the opportunity to do business outside the house, in the yard, I didn’t have the financial resources. So, we divided the land under the house and built it there. I have a well-kept and clean environment. I try my best to keep it this way so that when people come, they like what they see. Before the Coronavirus pandemic started, I was making 20,000 Churckhelas average per month and a half. I hired women to help me. What I’m doing right now is a drop in a bucket. I don’t have any equipment, we do everything by hand. I have a lot of different kinds of Churchkhela, with unique names. I make it with dried fruits, I make so-called ‘’wheels’’, classic Kakhetian Churchkhela, Churchkhelas without a thread, I also make some with pomegranate juice. I try to have a variety of choices. My churchkhela can be bought in Tbilisi, Kutaisi, and Batumi. I take part in exhibitions. Every autumn in Batumi, there’s a rural tourism festival ‘’Gandagana’’. Tourists come, people gather and I organize a tasting of my Churchkhelas. I prepare them on the spot and let the customers make it with their own hands, let them taste and sell. It all gives me great motivation.

If you are a hard worker, village life is just a great opportunity for it. We have to harvest everything we can. We have potato crops, sow seeds, nuts, and chestnuts. I make wine, I have black and red Adessa grapes, Chkhaveri. Seasonally, the boys move to Turkey to work. Because of the pandemic, I had less income, the markets were closed, and therefore I could only offer products to stores. I had less work to do and I was more involved in village affairs. I’m going to plant blueberry, raspberry, and blackberry plantations. I made gardens for cucumbers, beans, and tomatoes. We have healthy food grown at home. Now that the border with Turkey is closed and my youngest son has gone to work in Kakheti, he was picking strawberries and clearing the vineyard, now peach picking season is coming… They are helping me a lot!

I’m going to expand my business. I took courses at the Academy of Finance and I learned a lot there. Customers know my Churckhela by the name of ‘’ Mzia’s Churchkhela’’ and I want to have my product branded. There are a lot of people making Churchkhela in Georgia and I’m not afraid of competition. I always try to have new products on the market and have loyal customers.

I decided to make jams and compotes too. I’m going to produce honey and chocolate Gozinaki. And I will produce ‘’Mzia’s Gozinaki’’, as with the Churchkhela.

Everything needs a lot of money and hard work. My children and I have to deal with it. The hardest part is already in the past. Soon we’ll have our logo and a registered barcode. I have a lot of plans and I’m trying to move forward. When you see the results of your hard work, that’s the best feeling.

Author: Nino Gamisonia
Photo: Nino Baidauri
Translation: Mariam Kajrishvili