Tamar Tseradze, 41 years old, Dusheti boarding house for people with disabilities
‘’I was born in Gali and I was a completely healthy child. I had polio at the age of five, probably because I wasn’t vaccinated. In the village, I didn’t get proper treatment – a large volume of fluid was incorrectly removed from the spine and something got damaged. Since then, I can no longer stand on my feet.
Because of this condition, my biological mother refused to keep me and I was adopted by someone else. Mzia Gasashvili turned out to be a real human being – she was married, but she didn’t have a child and decided to take care of me. Back then I didn’t have a wheelchair and if we had to go somewhere, my mother would carry me. Once, I remember, I was having a fever and she was taking me to the doctor in the rain and we saw a little girl on the street and my mother took her home too and today this girl is my sister – my foster mother is such an amazing person.
After my mother’s husband died, it got hard for her to take care of me. I grew up and taking me in her hands was no longer easy. I needed someone to take care of me all day. During that period, the situation in Abkhazia became tense and we had financial problems as well. My mother was forced to find a job and I was left without a caregiver. Therefore, by our joint decision, I moved to the Senaki orphanage.
There was a lot of violence and injustice in Senaki orphanage, but it didn’t affect me just because I had someone who cared about me. My mother came to see me almost every week, bringing sweets and gifts. During the holidays, she would take me to Gali. If she couldn’t come, she would have a daily phone conversation with the director, asking about me. So, they couldn’t treat me like that. They knew that if something happened, they wouldn’t be able to hide from my mother.
Contact with my mother stopped during the war in Abkhazia. I heard the news about the horror that was happening in Abkhazia, villages were being bombed. During this time telephone lines were also damaged and I didn’t know if they were alive or dead. A few months later after the fall of Sokhumi, I was called to the director’s office and given the telephone. I heard my mother’s voice – honey, I’m alive and in peace – I was born a second time. My mother moved to Tbilisi and barely survived the hard times of the 90s. So, I stayed in Senaki again and we kept remote correspondence.
I didn’t have a wheelchair until I was 15, I used to move around by crawling. One of the wheelchairs was kept by the administration in the office, when we were organizing concerts for the guests – they would take it out and show them how we used it. Back then many foreigners came to visit, but the administration tried their best no to show them me and other children with disabilities – to avoid showing them our conditions. Once, the Americans visited us and they gave me personally a red Mustang wheelchair. Once the guests left, the administrators threw me off the wheelchair and took it. They probably sold it.
I got my first wheelchair after the parliament passed the Law for ‘’Equality of Persons with Disabilities’’. It would be about 1995. I was then a teenager and being in a wheelchair felt very awkward. I thought, if I would sit in a wheelchair, my life would end. I thought the wheelchair would be a stigma that would affect my relationships. No one taught me that the wheelchair is my ability, my feet, the open door to enter many different spaces. I realized this only when I was already an adult and moved to Dusheti boarding house. Before that, I used to live in isolation.
I live in the Dusheti boarding house a much freer and independent life. If I used to go by a mechanical wheelchair before, today I have an electric wheelchair and I can go out, go to the city, to the stores for shopping. The only thing that hinders me is the environment, which is not adapted for people with disabilities: no public transport, shop, or pharmacies – nothing is adapted. Therefore, I often have to bother other people to get the items I need.
I used to go out more often before the pandemic and I have visited Tbilisi many times to see my mother and my friends. Once, I was even invited to a wedding – the boarding house gave me an adapted car, and when I entered the hall, surprised guests applauded to the fact that I had managed to be among the guests in a wheelchair. Imagine for a second how people are surprised to see a person in a wheelchair. If there was an adapted environment, they would see us more often and we would be a usual part of society.
When I’m going somewhere, I always check beforehand – is the transport, hotel or café adapted? Because I don’t want to bother other people; first, it’s not pleasant and it’s offensive, and second, my spine cannot take rough movements. Therefore, I often refuse to go out.
I have my small room in Dusheti boarding house and I live here with my little cat. In addition to the pension, which is 250 GEL, I also have a small income from my job. I’ve been thinking about returning to my mother, but given my financial situation and the services I need, I think that living in a boarding house will be much easier. Most of all I don’t want to be a burden for someone and force someone to take care of me. And as for the people who help me in the boarding house, it’s their job. So, it makes me more comfortable and less awkward when I use their services.
The only good thing and knowledge left from the Senaki shelter is knitting. I first started knitting socks and knitted some warm socks for the children there, now I can knit clothes of any complexity and even room slippers. I take orders mostly from the staff of Dusheti boarding house because not many people know me and I don’t have access to the spaces where I can sell my knitting. During the pandemic, I also had a problem buying knitting yarns, and the staff gifted me some and I knit and knit in this quarantine. The pandemic restricted my movement even more. I say all the time: when Corona is over, I’ll travel a lot and meet a lot of people.’’
Author: Maiko Chitaia
Photo: Geda Darchia
Translation: Mariam Kajrishvili
The project is implemented with the support of UN Women and with the financial support of the Joint Fund for Sustainable Development Goals, within the UN Joint Program – “Transformation of Social Security for People with Disabilities in Georgia”.
The views expressed in the publication are those of the author (s) and do not necessarily reflect the views of the United Nations Women or the Joint Foundation for Sustainable Development.