Nino Gvelesiani, 25 years old, Pisa, Italy

We don’t know exactly how we’re doing – we’re enduring… If you walk down the street, you’ll only see disinfection machines, the police and one or two people who are either going to work or to buy groceries. Sometimes I really think that I’m in a horror movie.

Pisa and Tuscany aren’t in such a dire situation as other Italian cities and regions, but we are still terrified. People also say that number of patients is, in reality, higher and the state hides real numbers. Since the quarantine was announced, we are no longer able to move even from one commune to another without a special permit. The police are constantly checking us. I’ve moved to a friend’s house for already a month now. Because of my schedule [ed. note: Nino works as a manager in one of the supermarket chains], I’m in the high-risk category and I don’t want to have daily contact with my child.

I believe, that Georgia right now is more organized than Italy. For example, when I moved here, all of us had a mild fever, some of us had coughs as well. You can’t call the ambulance directly – you have to call the police which will then transfer the call through a special line to a doctor. I had a mild fever and cough for three days. The operator prescribed antibiotics over the phone and told us that if I didn’t have breathing problems, nobody would come neither bring me to the hospital. So, we had to stay at home and take the prescribed medications. They won’t even test you unless you’re in a very serious condition so we don’t even know if we already had the virus or not. Three days ago, my friend’s husband was diagnosed with the coronavirus. He had the same symptoms as we did and doctors told them over the phone that there was an 80% chance that he had the coronavirus, albeit in mild forms. They advised him to stay home, even though they have an 8-months-old baby in the family. Nobody can go to the hospital on their own initiative; even if you do, they’ll call the police.

I’m a manager at one of the supermarket chains. I work seven hours a day, either in the first or the second half of the day and have one free day per week. Now, because of the state of emergency, we have to work under different conditions and I have to do a lot of additional work. For example, sometimes I stand with the cashier and help him operate faster so that we avoid long lines. In addition, our employer provides special disinfecting liquids, gloves and face masks.

When I work in the evening shift, I’m the one who has to close the store. Our boss picks all of us up in his car and takes us, all of the staff (4-5 people), home. Sometimes, he calls me in the morning and offers a ride to work, even though public transport is open during the day. Regarding work, all of our needs are fulfilled. Also, since I have more responsibilities as a manager and in this situation, we have twice as many orders and other tasks as well, sometimes I have to stay an hour or longer to finish my tasks. However, no one will force us or even demand from us to do that. Last month, we stayed late a few times and worked more, so they paid overtime. Employees are protected by regulations, therefore, employers cannot treat you like an animal and lock you in the market all night long. I feel assured that my rights won’t be easily violated because the law is on my side. Consequently, I also feel respect and appreciation of my hard work from my employer, which also increases my motivation.

When I hear about working conditions in Georgian supermarkets, I’m so disappointed – how can they treat their employees that way? Here, a starting salary for a regular cashier-operator is at least 850 euros and increases with experience. When they pay 300-400 GEL and make you work like a horse for the whole day and on top of that, force you to stay there for the night, how is this a humane treatment?! Why is the government not doing anything about it? Is there not a department in the country that could control all of this? How is it, that salaries are so low, but prices are higher than in Europe? When I was in Georgia this summer, I wanted to buy meat and I remembered the price from two years ago when a kilo of meat cost 12 GEL. It turned out that it has been increased to 18 GEL in 2 years. How did such an increase happen? Sometimes, I’m really surprised by how people in Georgia are even able to live.

The Government helps us in various ways. For example, the local government has already announced a decision – all employees, who worked in emergencies, will receive an additional 600 euros per month as compensation. Legal migrants will also receive unemployment benefits, they are distributing food vouchers and etc. After the 3rd of March, schools have been closed. Children are at home and since some of us have to work outside, babysitter costs will be covered by the government as well. I didn’t need to hire one because luckily my mother is here and takes care of Andria, but whoever needs it, the government helps them.
However, the Italian government can’t help illegal Georgians. Many Georgians live here illegally, who lost their jobs and stayed without any income. These people don’t even have any savings. As you know, the life of migrants is not easy – whatever they earn, they send all of it to Georgia, and here comes the time, when they need money themselves, but they can’t even buy food and have to live in very difficult conditions. Imagine 11-12 different people living together in one house. Due to this situation, many people want to return to Georgia. But when I called the embassy, they told me that there are three thousand people in the queue. Anyone who wants to leave has to wait in the line, which means waiting for an unknown period of time.

When I look and listen to the migrants here, I sometimes think to myself, I’m a ‘’princess’’ compared to them. They have so many problems in their daily lives. I probably don’t have anything to complain about and I’m lucky to have my mother here, who always stands by my side and I can leave my child with her without second thoughts. Also, luckily my workplace didn’t close and I didn’t become unemployed. At the same time, the government helps you when you have a small child and especially when being a single mother.

Work and going outside the house in this situation is for me more relief than stress. I think it would be very difficult for me to stay at home all the time. I have one day off in the week and sometimes I even work that day. I try not to panic, because I have to deal with many people and I have a high risk of contracting the virus but I try to calm myself that since I follow all the recommendations, nothing will happen to me. The hardest part, though, is that I can’t see my child every day. I don’t know how, but the kid understood this situation perfectly. I think he has already grown up and knows, that I need to work, otherwise a lot of things will be lacking.

When I call him, he asks me that if I don’t have the virus, why can’t I go home to him? Then I explain that well, I meet a lot of people and I may have the virus and not know. After the explanation, he neither argues nor cries. Probably, he feels safe and happy with my mother. I didn’t see my child for almost three weeks and I couldn’t take it anymore. The day before I took longer disinfecting procedures than usual and on Sunday I went to see him. I wore gloves and a face mask when I arrived and he did the same. Then he told me, that he’d sit farther and we could talk like that. It was very funny to have such a distant meeting.

The attitudes have changed. For example, before that, I couldn’t imagine that the locals would visit or invite each other for coffee. But in fact, they manage well. The only place for interacting with people is on the balconies. We are getting to know each other during the quarantine – two student girls above us, student boys on the side and other neighbors as well. We have different ways of communicating. Sometimes we listen to music, or we drink beer and discuss different topics. Of course, the main topic is the virus.

At first, it was really tragic for Italians to change their lifestyle, but gradually they got used to it. Now the shops have become a place for many of them to take a walk and have fun. We are observing them the whole day and we see some people come 3-4 times per day to the shop. We have to give a warning regarding that. At first, it was difficult for everyone to follow safety procedures. They couldn’t understand what was all about. But now almost everyone is taking it very seriously. I also observe the behavior of people in the shop and day by day they are more organized keeping the distance.’’

Author: Ida Bakhturidze
Photo: Nino Gvelesiani / Geda Darchia
Translation: Mariam Kajrishvili