This is where you tell yourself.. "Do we really want progress?"
I arrived in the USA in 1977. Nike was not even a name then. You didn't go to McD's, and you certainly didn't buy apples in plastic shells..
I arrived in Georgia in 2008, and rediscovered home foods, local markets, simple pleasures. Then, money started talking. The government wanted to put the country back on its feet. A good thing. But with malls and cigarettes?! The best cell phone, the most, the biggest, the ultimate...
And now, it is hitting the world. Kids want the latest, and who could tell them no? But, really, is that what we want for them? Where is the notion of restraint, or control, or just limits.. (2018)
______________________________________________________________________________August 19, 2013
Somewhere, the children have won…
In the years since 1991, the children have been waiting. Anxiously, at the apron strings of their mothers, they have waited for their turn.
Playgrounds, the laughter of children in the descending summer sun. We, as Westerners, all take that for granted. What more natural sounds than the laughter of children chasing each other around a plot of sand with a few toys?
Here in Georgia, after years of invasion by anarchists, the playgrounds have bloomed again. And they are well kept, clean and somewhat free of dangerous debris. They used to be everywhere, before the Great Revolution of 1991, for every building in the ghetto had his playground. 1991 marked the start of the children’s prison, inside this society that was more interested in keeping old Russian cars from being stolen, than to hear the laughter of their children. They tore the playgrounds down, and replaced them with awful concrete constructions, just to keep their meager possessions from being stolen. They took whatever land they thought was needed, without any regards for their children. They forced them into the same hell as the one they lived in. Nothing to eat, no job, no electricity, no running water in place of the very repressive lives they lived under the soviet rule. Back then, everyone had a job, and everyone had running water, everything was cheap and although main food items were hard to come by, no one died of starvation. Such was the price of their non-tangible freedom. With the ease in life came the impossibility of leaving it, no visa allowed out of communism..
So, when freedom was won in Georgia, anarchy came with it. Since the Russian umbilical cord was cut, no help was to be expected from the greater power. When man is on his own, he growls like a wolf, takes and does not share. Here in Georgia, they took from their neighbors, they started erecting ugliness in the image of what had been started and left by the Soviet Union. Tall apartment buildings, all concrete, never painted, apartments calculated on square meters allowed for each person, was all that was possible here during the Soviets. And no permitted contacts with the outside world, they believed it was the way it had to be. So, when they started tasting their own freedom, they took away the playgrounds from the children, replaced them with concrete garages made of recuperated steel bars and other oddities, and condemned the children to a lifetime of anguish. After all, where do you learn about society and life, if not on the playground as a child? Where do rules get established? How do classes get built? Where do you learn respect for your neighbor? The families here kept to themselves and the children in town never learned the rules, since there were none.
The concrete universe subsists until today. Vast expenses of ugly buildings, all with people living a meager life. The real Tbilisi lives here..
Today, the generation of children that lived in 1991 is lost. Without a job, mostly educated, but without aim. They have no hope, they have no future and they have no plan. One of the main sentences heard here is “I don’t know”. It is the start of every conversation..They just don’t know. They will go to their early graves brought on by years of unemployment, stress and lack of health care. They will never know, for the most part, the joy of being socially successful, or professionally successful. Because they were not told the rules of sharing on the playground, you cannot count of them, since they only fend for themselves. Since they have nothing to claim their own, they go for the essential daily search for survival...but..
.. businesses in Georgia are getting setup on a daily basis. Come to Georgia, they say, and start a business! No taxes for years! Many big Western companies have bitten the worm on the fishing line, and Zara, Steve Madden and Carrefour are running here, among others. Prices are lower than in Europe, since the employees are not paid so much, and the taxes are inexistent…The president has erected expensive, showy, beautiful buildings, in order to make them feel welcomed, but he has forgotten to hire people to clean around them. The cleaning perimeter is so narrow, you can step from beautiful to dirty and unkept in 10 meters or less..
And now comes the conundrum.. How do you reconcile the thousands living in the ghettos left by the communist powers, who have no desire to share themselves, their way of living, and their society, with the power of Western civilization at its worse? The Georgians don’t even want to taste anything other than their own food, so little interest they have in others. The law of the jungle is alive and well here. What can be available, money-worthy, and immediate? That is the plight of a desperate person. Where is the next meal coming from?
Mass consumption? These people have no money. The shaky government has recently established that each person living in one of these ghettos would pay 3 GEL per month for an unending supply of water. The Georgians think that it is expensive, but claim that now, at least, the water runs all day, and not sparingly, as it did 2 years ago. The price is, at today’s rate, $1.81, or 1.36 Euro, so let it run all day, they say. If a person cannot pay 3 laris (GEL) for water per month, will they really buy a pair of shoes at Steve Madden in the bran new Tbilisi Mall for 100 laris? What will they do so that their children can?
Sugar was 1 lari per kilo at Carrefour this week. The masses came. Many came just to buy sugar, although rice, oats and buckwheat were also available. It is peach season, and “muraba” is also in season. The world over, we make jam. Sugar is the drug of the poor. People were fighting to get to it, to shovel it into bags, since it was sold out of 100kilos bags set in a pile at the entrance of the store. They were told to not overfill their bags, but, used to having nothing, they filled them to the rim, for abundance feels good, and were then incapable of closing them to get weighed. Sugar was on the floor everywhere, and they didn’t see it. People were rushing and cutting in line trying to get their sugar weighed by a non-descript, average Georgian woman. The crowd was getting angry. They needed their drug.
That was, of course, the way for Carrefour to attract them to the place, and make them look at the rest. A population that has been used to buying local products coming fresh from local farms who cannot sell to anyone else, is suddenly confronted with the world of Nestlé, Coke, Marlboro and Sony. After all, why couldn’t they buy that for their children? They deserve it, right? So, Carrefour positioned a very slim, very scantily dressed, young and beautiful Georgian woman at the cashier's stands, and she asks all the men “Do you need cigarettes?” You see, she is the cigarette girl. Few are the pleasures of the Georgians. One of them is nicotine. The second is food. Appeal to their sexual fantasies to buy cigarettes they cannot afford by the carton..Makes sense, really..
Sugar, the great pacifier of the masses. So few people here are obese, that in public transportation on the way to Carrefour,…, a very heavy man made his way into the bus. Under American standards, he was heavy, and not obese. When he left at his stop, the men talked about him as the refuse of society..It will be interesting to see what the obesity percentages will be in 10 or 20 years in Georgia. The appeal of ready-made, and somewhat cheaper food at the one large supermarket Carrefour, will leave its mark, to be sure. Little local markets that make the foreign visitors take pictures will soon be a thing of the past. Fresh will be replaced by cellophane goods.
In the meantime, in this fine little morning, the local little lady announces in the street “bulkebi ak aris”, or “the sweet rolls are here”. She is a leftover of the soviet society. All dressed in black, and quite cute in her way, she has baked them herself in her home, and goes from building to building in this ghetto where our apartment is, just to earn a living. You see, if you worked all your life, you get no retirement here. Every person is allotted about 50$/month as a retirement. The Soviets took the work records with them. No reward for your lifetime of investment. She has to bake to live. Her husband is maybe ill, or dead, so she will do it until she dies..So people will peek out of the window, see the children play on the newly sanded playground where a covered table and benches have been added to, so that the mothers can see their children happy in the summer morning, and think “Well, she is a nice little old lady, but I can buy croissants from France cheaper at Carrefour”..
I'd rather have the bulki..
How about you?
Contact Giga on his Facebook page
for a fun travel time in Georgia.
or message us directly at: