By the time the train crawls into the village station, Constantine Ergemlidze is tired and sleepy - his six-hour journey is a very draining daily commute. Since the 1950s, the elektrichka - a slow train, yet an essential, cheap means of transport for people in rural areas - used to go all the way from Tbilisi to Tskhinvali. Tskhinvali is barely 3.3 kilometres away, but since the conflict in 1992, the administrative boundary line has become an insurmountable barrier. The Nikozi is the train last stop. The wagons slowly slide on the track, covering the 114 kilometres between the village and Georgia’s capital in three hours. Every day, the 67-year-old joins other farmers like him in Nikozi and travels to the capital to sell their apples - he leaves at dawn and returns well after sunset. His apples and the three-hour trip each way are his life-- while the elektrichka is his second home.
Last Stop: Nikozi
Fearing that an avalanche of mud would hit his mountain village in western Georgia, in 2008 Malkhaz Mgeladze packed up his life and relocated to the gentler hills in the eastern Kvemo Kartli region. The threat of a landslide was looming – in fact, the danger had been growing for a long time and he did not want to be caught in the village when it happened. The journey for a new home took the then-24-year-old to Trialeti, a village of roughly 500 people - a tiny melting pot of ethnicities and faiths where ethnic Georgians have long been a minority.
Trialeti - One Village, Three Faiths
Ia Dzirkvadze teaches English and Georgian in Gumbati, a village 20 kilometres from the municipality centre of Tsalka. Gumbati has been a refuge for people in need for over a century, first providing a home for Greeks immigrating from Turkey and now for eco-migrants resettling from landslide areas in Adjara. The village was originally inhabited by ethnic Georgians but it was deserted by the time Greek immigrants arrived in the 19th century. There is a legend that the name of the village, Gumbati, is actually derived from a Turkish word that means the place where the sun sets. Ethnic Greeks made it their home for over a century but during the turmoil of the 1990s, they left Georgia en masse and the village was deserted again. In 1998, however, a new population arrived to Gumbati when the Georgian government chose the village as the new home for resettled eco-migrants. Now 140 families live in the village, mostly from Georgia’s autonomous region of Adjara. But despite the resettled families, Gumbati is still small and remote, and Ia fears that if she leaves the village, no one will come to take her place.
The Girl From Sunset Village
Two Georgian orphans are using their education to help future generations of children. Fate brought Misho and Davit together as friends, and fate brought them to Bediani. When the two were children, they were both sent to a state-run orphanage in Dzegvi, a village in eastern Georgia. Then they were selected among the children who were resettled in an experimental housing program for orphans in Bediani, a village in southern Georgia. The program, named after the village, included vulnerable families and orphans. It was initiated by the Georgian Orthodox Church. Today it is funded by the church and receives some assistance from charities, like the American Friends of Georgia. The settlement was a radical change from the institutionalized system the children experienced in Dzegvi. In Bediani, children lived in houses and were encouraged to make the settlement their home. While Bediani was an improvement over the state-run orphanage, life there was still difficult. Georgia is a poor country and villages often lack basic necessities, like running water and natural gas. Homes are heated with wood and people struggle to find employment outside their small farm plots. The children who came to the village as orphans only receive state assistance until the age of 18. Once they graduate out of state care, they are largely on their own. Misha and Davit were among the lucky ones who were able to secure scholarships to study at a university in Georgia’s capital, Tbilisi. But instead of staying in the capital to pursue their careers, the two men returned to Bediani. Today, Misha and Davit are developing a center for the village youth and are teaching the children English and other skills they will need to make a life for themselves after they turn 18 and graduate out of state care.
From Orphans to Community Builders
Our main character is a 46-year-old man, who shares a long, communal room in Bediani Psychiatric Hospital with 40 other patients. In his dark room, which is permeated with the smell of tobacco, there’s a yellowish folder where he keeps poems by Chinese poet Dù Fǔ's and a few blank sheets for drawing.