Nadia Achishvili, 70, Jokolo (the Pankisi Gorge)

“Where would I get education…? We lived at the foot of the mountain and when I got married, I moved here. We went to school from that far… We made until the 8th grade with difficulty. My father did not want us to go to school. Women are supposed to only be able to read and write, he said, the rest is not a woman’s business. A woman must hoe, plough, work in the vegetable garden and look after her family. I wanted to study, but as my father was against it, the parents did not approve, and the school was far away, I completed eight years and then dropped out of school.

Back then girls married young. When I finished 8 years of school, people came to ask for my hand. The matchmakers brought many different suitors… I had no idea what it meant to get married, I did not know what love was. So once we had another group of visitors in a bus, which was a rare sight in my village… We did not even have electricity and got by the lamplight. Well, my father refused them, saying I was young and it was too early to marry me. I was going on sixteen. His relatives did not give up, promising to pamper me like a princess… I was about to believe them, but I could not oppose to my father’s decision. No matter what others told me, I believed him. Another suitor was so respectable and outstanding that my father announced “he would let me marry him even if he was going to kill me”. The social norm was that they had to come to me and talk to me first. My father asked me in secret to refuse them and save him from the awkwardness of refusal, to save face. He promised to take care of the rest, that is, let them go in peace. In short, they were a persistent bunch. I could not say anything at all, so my father had to give consent to marriage. They said if my young age was the problem, they could leave me with parents for a while on the condition that I would be promised to them. My father was so mad at them and at me for not saying “no” that said “get her out of my sight or I’ll kill her”.

When I stepped into my new home, it was obvious that the promised conditions were false. I was going to live in hardship… We lived in Birkiani then. I had five children, plus my mother-in-law, father-in-law, a large family, the land parcel to look after. I toiled all day. I did not have a minute to take a break. My hair was long and thick. After marriage I was so exhausted I did not have the nerve to take care of my hair. It was always loose and messy.

Then we moved here, to Jokolo and with a lot of effort and hard work, built a house and raised five children. My two boys lost their lives in the war in Abkhazia. I have three daughters left, one of them lives in Estonia, one moved from Grozny to Germany with children (her husband died in the Chechnya war and was left with three kids). And one daughter lives with us, she too lost her two sons in Syria.

I had my former classmates living in the neighborhood. When our husbands left, they would come and we would play, have fun, spend a great time together. As soon as the husbands were back, we would shut up and I would sit down with a serious face.

In my eighth year at school, I could not make an eye contact with a man. If a boy or a man was talking to me, I could not look into his eyes. It seemed if I did, my reputation would be tarnished. Young people nowadays are communicating freely, it has changed and it is very good. I would not wish my grandchild to live the life I’ve led. I think there is also a law forbidding marrying girls until 18, and if she’s taken as bride, there’s a jail for it. Before, girls would be married at 13, 14 or 15, but not anymore. Young people are more focused on education rather than marriage. I’m glad things have changed.”