Shalala Amirjanova, Marneuli

Shalala Amirjanova lives in Marneuli, in the so-called ‘’red zone’’. She voluntarily helps single mothers and elderly with donations, which are sent by responsible citizens to the region. ‘’Women of Georgia’’ has activated donation function on the website – It gives you the opportunity to participate in the collection of donations through PayPal. The donation will be for women, who were left without daily income due to the crisis.

,,On 23rd of March, after the government statement, the first thing I did I called all of my non-Georgian-speaking relatives and explained all details of security rules, against the Coronavirus. On the same night, I was contacted by the City Hall and until 5 AM, I was translating information about the virus for the Azerbaijan Community.

Information in our community is spreading fast. Here people think collectively and they provide information accurate and detailed, individual interpretations or disobedience are out of the question. Obviously, I wouldn’t say that before the announcement of the Prime Minister, people of Marneuli didn’t know about the existence of Coronavirus. Presumably, they would have heard about it from the Azerbaijan channels. To make it clear, they didn’t have detailed information for a better understanding of the danger to take the pandemic seriously. Often, lack of language knowledge and unavailability of information channels is a barrier for the people.

Let’s even remember the first infected patient, whom I know personally. That woman has been battling many diseases for a very long time and has so many symptoms, that she couldn’t even imagine, that she would be infected with such a virus. If she would have known recommendations about the symptoms, which are now reported on every channel in every 5 minutes, she would definitely have paid attention and notified earlier.

The next day after the quarantine was announced, everybody was in a panic: they came out and went to the street to ask each other what was happening. That’s the only place for these people to get information. Many villages in Marneuli don’t have internet or Georgian channels, as the wiring is not available in some places. Those of us who know Georgian, we are spreading information on a daily basis.

I’m one of the Azerbaijan youth who speaks Georgian fluently. In Addition, with the language barrier, there is also the trust issue in the community: People who know the Georgian language are mostly young people, which are either students or officially employed. It is often, that the older generation doesn’t trust the youth, and the information they are getting from them, needs to be verified. I must also mention, that hate towards Azerbaijan community put us into a state of constant attack and the need for self-defense. This is one of the reasons, why the spread of the information about the Coronavirus was taken more of a provocation than a real threat.

The reality we have seen from our side is that we are constantly fighting against xenophobic hatred. Are we being criticized only for not knowing the Georgian language alone?! Aggression has often lead to the fact that we get an education in Georgian and consider Georgia as our homeland. We have been living here for centuries, we are working here and we should not have to proof, that we also love Georgian culture and Georgia itself.

There have been taken serious steps in the region to learn the Georgian language. However, only the youth who have material resources have this benefit, since living and studying in Tbilisi is not easy. In recent years, more and more girls from Marneuli are going to have higher education and this is due to the improvement of informal education and awareness-raising. When young people have role models, they are more motivated to develop themselves and imitate others. But we have a difficult situation for the older generation. They didn’t have school education in Georgian and neither have access to programs, as I said, only privileged strata can get into this.

As a result of the state of emergency in Marneuli, many people were left without income. Moreover, women are in an especially difficult situation, single mothers, who were considered as self-employed. In Marneuli, the daily income of many women is directly linked to restaurants and ritual services. In addition to the daily 20 GEL receiving from cleaning and washing dishes, they also could bring leftovers home. Now women employed in this way stay at home for an uncertain period of time and have no idea how to survive.

Also, old women are in a difficult situation, who live alone and they don’t have anyone who could take care of them in these emergency conditions to help them and supply the food. They are left with the only hope of citizens: we are collecting donations and we are going to distribute them 2 weeks of food supplies to reduce their need to go outside as much as possible. For these elderly women, going to the store was the only way to socialize.

Many women in our community have lost their freedom. Do you know what I mean? The workplace was an opportunity for women to go outside. Also, even when housewives were left at home alone, without men, this period was a time for them to relax and to take care of themselves. Now women have to work hard in the family, in addition when all of the family members are at home. Imagine how long their task list is!

We do understand, that government cannot help everyone during this crisis, but I think that the minimum social assistance scheme needs to be revised.
There are also expectations, that the number of violent cases will be increased. And the worst – here people have the least trust by the police and the Public Defender. But I must also say, that there is a willingness within the community to help the state and to stay calm.’’

Author: Maiko Chitaia
Photo: Shalala Amirjanova / Geda Darchia
Translation: Mariam Kajrishvili