Amid the spectacular natural beauty of Pankisi, Tusheti, and the rest of Georgia; among all the quick smiles and sudden humor and endless generosity of spirit; in spite of the incredible bounty of the autumn harvest; nestled next to the dreams of children; lying just beneath the surface of a warm hello; carried on the winds between the notes of a haunting polyphonic melody; momentarily illuminated by a thunderstorm’s lightning flash; rarely talked about but omnipresent, lies the stark reality of relentless poverty, crushing hardship, stinging prejudice, and the yearning for a better life. It blankets two little boys, ages 7 and 9, who live in a cowshed, their father “disappeared” and their mother remarried and living in Russia, offering no comfort or warmth. It makes fighting a jihad in Syria seem attractive to more than 100 young men, four of whom died there this summer. It makes girls not question teenage marriage and motherhood, or dropping out of school. It crushes creativity and dreams of a better life by offering no means of realizing hopes for the future. It makes it difficult to see the value of education when there are no jobs. Or if you do have a job (like my host mother in Khashuri, who works every single day for at least seven hours and at the end of the month brings home the equivalent of $50.00/month, $1.75/day or $0.25/hour), it pays next to nothing. As far as I can tell there are no worker’s rights here, or such a thing as minimum wage. It fosters hopelessness, often misidentified as boredom and laziness. It breeds illness and disease that are preventable but remain untreated. It is so big. It has broken my heart, changed my perspective, and brought meaning to my life here. This is why I am here. The question that inexorably gnaws at me is – Can I make a difference?
Most of the photos by Ana Imedashvili: