A package of care

Author: Mariam Alikhanashvili Photographer: Saba Gorgodze
05.05.21
Edition: Journey of aging
Topic: Elderly Health

“Everyone forgets about old people,” notes Inga Chkheidze, the social care program manager at  Caritas, one of the two organizations in the Georgian capital Tbilisi that provide free food and support to the elderly. 

When the pandemic started last year, the elderly who depended on Caritas and Catharsis for food, entertainment and support were left without a lifeline. The two organizations immediately transformed their canteens into food delivery programs, and began by providing people with hot meals. In the autumn, when the situation in the country got worse, they started delivering dry food products.

While the food and medicine deliveries help, the scores of people who depended on Caritas and Catharsis still mourn for the other services—a safe place to meet with friends, pass the day reading or playing games, free medical checkups and other assistance. 

“They used to come to Caritas every day, some traveling very long distances. But now they hardly can get up to open the door because their health has suffered due to the lockdown,” Inga says. 

For some, like Maiso Gureshidze, 79, Catharsis was the only place where she could get a hot meal and spend time with other people her age. “If anyone has missed Catharsis or suffered by its closure, it is me. It is my home, my family. They have helped me so much,” she says. “In the year since Catharsis closed, I have aged so much.”

 

Nona Kacharava, 78, Award-winning driver, veteran

I was 19 when I learned how to drive. I used to drive a BelAZ, a 60-ton vehicle, on the Enguri Hydro Power Plant building site. My mother started to wear black, as if in mourning, when I became a driver, she stopped speaking to me. Then she saw in the newspapers that I was a good girl and we reconciled. I learned to drive better than a man. I drove a truck for 44 years, it was a good and happy time. I had good money, my salary was 1200 rubles. I would go to the airport, fly out to go shopping in the morning and be home in the evening. But now I am old and it's a different time.

I have one girl and one boy. We were a very happy family, but then we were expelled from Abkhazia. We left via Svaneti, we had to pass through a terrible road. I am a woman who has been in war, I was wounded in the leg. The doctor did not remove it. He told me that the bullet hit soft tissue and it would not cause any problems. He was right, but sometimes in the winter it bothers me. 

After the war, things were difficult. We were hungry and poor. We were told about Catharsis, which was nearby. God bless its founder and all of them who work there! I was welcomed there and since then I have been going. But unfortunately, it is closed now. You know what? I even miss the building. I used to go there every day, from the morning. We had a very good time together, held concerts and things. Even today they still take care of us and bring food to use by courier, these good people help with the distribution. 

I have a very good son-in-law and daughter-in-law. I also have a grandchild. But I could not live with them, I wanted to live quietly by myself. I escaped to my apartment and I feel fine. This house was given to me as a veteran. I have been living here for three years now. 

My pension is more or less enough, my family also helps me, Catharsis sends me food, and the Veterans Union pays attention to me. I already have a burial plot, it was given to me for free (laughs).  I also have a discount on some medications as a veteran.  Sure, it is not a lot, but I do not complain. 

My joints bother me sometimes, I limp a bit, but anyway, I'm not afraid of anything, not even the coronavirus, really, I have a strong immune system. But still, this year was really difficult for all of us.

 

Giorgi Chiteishvili, 95, Veteran

I was a schoolboy when I was conscripted into the army. I fought in Kerch, Ukraine. I was wounded in the leg. In 1947 I was sent to the commandant's office in Batumi, where I worked for a year. They offered a permanent job, but I no longer wanted to be in military service. In 1949, I entered the Pedagogical Institute, majoring in geography. Then I was appointed as a student committee and I helped the students as much as I could. I worked in Abasha as a school teacher, then as a principal.

My wife and eldest son died. My wife was 83 years old. I wish I had died instead of her. I remember her every day and miss our life together. We spent 60 sweet years together. Right now, I do not live alone. My son lives with me, he is 62. He returned to Georgia from Turkey because of Covid-19. I try not to ask strangers for help; what I have is enough for me. 

All my money goes to buying medicine. I have heart disease, I used to have a tumor. For example, I did the analysis yesterday and paid 14 GEL for it. Here are the prescribed medicines, I’ve asked for enough medicine for a week and the discounted price was 60 lari. I did not buy them, how could I? Don’t I need to eat? I need some food, I have to eat. Now I don’t have money for them, when I get my pension I will buy the medication. 

I went to Catharsis every day. There are very good people. The people who come to Catharsis are professors, academics, doctors, veterans and many others who are struggling. We had very good conditions there. But now it is closed. From the day it closed, they started delivering prepared food to our homes. And when the situation in the country worsened and the number of infected people increased to the thousands, they brought dry products once a month. 

It wasn’t difficult for me to go to Catharsis, I went by bus every day. We used to walk together to the Marjanishvili metro station on the back road, walking is good for one’s health. Now, we only communicate by phone, calling each other, asking after each other.

 

Manana Zazikashvili, 83, Poet, academic

On March 1, I turned 83. I am from Khashuri, my childhood was also difficult. When I didn’t have enough to eat, my belly used to swell. It happens to me now sometimes, too. My husband was not a good man, I gave him 70 rubles and told him to leave. I raised two children alone, a boy and a girl.

Now I have only this small place, and there are too many of us. Six of us are registered here: me, my daughter, her three daughters and grandson. Not everyone can fit in here, that's why they rented a room nearby. I had a house on Vorontsov street. But my daughter's family needed money so they asked me to sell my house. I bought this room and moved here. My daughter’s husband was sick, he had cancer. For his treatment they also sold their three-room apartment and were left homeless. He died not long after the treatment. Then they all moved here with me. I have asked everyone, even the mayor, to give me at least one room, but so far in vain. 

Recently, I felt bad, like I couldn’t breath. I sat up all night. I could not take it anymore and we called an ambulance and they took me to the hospital. After five days, I felt better and they sent me home. I came back in the same conditions, still many people, not enough air, so much anxiety... You can't imagine how difficult it is, especially for a writer, to live in in this way. No chairs, no table, there is no place, what seemed to be useless they threw it away. Here when I was alone I could barely walk and now so many people. I find it very difficult, I swear. 

Сatharsis sent prepared food with the help of Glovo, now they bring dry products once a week. Catharsis has been a huge help, and not only financially. I used to go there regularly.

My poems have been published in Atinati, in newspapers, including the Catharsis newspaper Aisidan Daisamde. My poems and two stories are taught in schools, in the first and second grades classes. One of my poems was published by Sulakauri Publishing House and I was paid 50 GEL, it was transferred to my bank account. Then social services told me that since I received this compensation, I was only eligible for 30 lari of social assistance instead of 60. 

My grandson is six, I wrote a poem for him, it was printed for 70 GEL. The  illustrations there are all my drawings. I used my pension to pay to publish all my books. My daughter often tells me that I am wasting money.

 

 

Dianoz Gobejishvili, 90, and Svetlana Teimurazova, 74

 

I was the manager of an atelier for 60 years. 

Now I depend on my pension. My daughters help me a bit and, of course, there is Caritas. This is how we live. 

My son died when he was 50. He was a military man, a colonel. He left a wife and son. My grandson is already 30, he is a successful and smart boy. One of my daughters lives in Belgium, together with my granddaughter. I miss them very much. 

My second daughter lives here in Georgia. Now they have a hard time too and I don’t want to bother them. They always ask me to tell them what I need, how much I need, but I always try not to ask for anything, what I have is enough for us to live. We manage somehow with my pension, my wife’s pension and support from Caritas. It is very difficult to buy the medicine we need. This year the government paid for the utilities for three months. Once the government assistance ends in the spring, it will be difficult.

Before the pandemic we used to go to Caritas, but now they send supplies to us twice a month. We could not survive without their help. They always want to help, they also financed our medicines. Caritas found us, they contacted us and offered help. I was very surprised by that. They have been helping and supporting us for the last three years.

The pandemic made life very difficult this year. Our grandchildren, nephews can’t come, we can’t go anywhere. We know it is dangerous, especially for the elderly. 

I had a very good wife, she died of a stroke at the age of 67. I did not ever think of marrying again. Then I met Svetlana in Catharsis. Before Caritas we used to go there. I am very lucky, she is a good woman.

For a year, she refused my marriage proposals. Then, I invited her to come over to help me prepare for the New Year holiday. She came and, once she realized I was not a bad man, she admitted that she liked me, too.  We have been together for four years.

Dianoz: Do you remember what I told you the first time we met?

Svetlana: Yes, I do. You said “Your eyes shine like a ray of sunshine.” (laughing)

 

At the age of 70 I fell in love for the first time.

He is my first and last man. I call him my boy, he is part of me. I had no idea I would ever get married. I was thinking that I should be free my whole life. My sister was married, she had two sons. I raised them as my own. That was enough for me. But everything happens for a reason. 

What is a human’s life when they are alone? Alone a person is always unhappy. Sometimes in the middle of the night, Dianoz wakes up and asks me if I am awake, we talk for a bit and then fall asleep together. We are happy to have each other.

 

Tatiana Sosanashvili, 71, music teacher

I am a music teacher, I graduated from a music school. I started to study at the conservatory but then I got married. I had my first child, then another and I could not finish my studies. Also, my husband was a very jealous man. He was 15 years older than me, I was 18, a nice looking girl. After a while we got divorced.

For many years I taught at the Republican Music Boarding School until it closed. I also used to give private lessons at home but after a while I had to stop. 

I have daughters, God bless my children and grandchildren. But we are estranged.  One daughter went to Russia, she never contacts me, not by phone or the internet. The second daughter is upset with me because I didn’t not accept her personal life choice. I was raised differently. Her husband is much younger, she brought him here, next door. We live next to each other but do not speak.

I love communicating with young people. I love when I feel someone needs me, it makes me happy. I am happy to do everything I can to help others. Many people have hurt me but I have learned to not pay attention.  

When I couldn’t work anymore, my good friend took me to Caritas. They heard my story, accepted me even though I do not have a socially vulnerable status. I am very grateful. During the pandemic they brought food, supplies, personal hygiene items, and also helped me with medicines. Caritas is a great help for me. 

It is hard for me to be stuck at home. Before I used to go to the Caritas dining room every day, it was good motivation, I met people, we sat together in the yard and talked, passed the time. For some period I also went to the day center, we played the piano and had fun. At Caritas, it is really a great place for the elderly, and the people are very nice.

I had coronavirus. There was a small job with the election commission during the election. Even with all the regulations, I caught it. It started with joint pain, I lost the senses of taste and smell and I had a high temperature. I took the test and it was positive. I was at home alone, a little bit scared. I heard about so many deaths around me but I said that if I was going to die, I preferred to die at home. Several months have passed but I am not fully recovered and still feel weak.

 

Maiso Gureshidze, 79, teacher, methodologist

My husband passed away three years ago, he was bedridden for a year. I was evicted from my own house. We had an apartment next door and two rooms downstairs but we lost everything. Part of it was taken away by a con artist. I put our house up as collateral for the bank. I needed money to get my niece out of jail.

This room used to be our common, three-family kitchen. I live here thanks to my neighbors. But in reality I am not registered anywhere, I do not exist. 

I got married late. I was always focused on studies, I graduated with three majors, then postgraduate studies. I no longer thought about getting married. I was 40 when I met my husband, we were both on vacation in Kobuleti. 

He only knew my name and that I was working as a Georgian language teacher at school in the village Anaga, Kakheti. I am originally from there. One day he appeared in my school, I was surprised. He was a real Georgian, an elegant and very educated 45-year-old man.  We got married and lived together for 40 years. He never blamed me for losing his apartment.

I used to read and write but now I can’t see. When I was left with just my pension, I started going to this place of miracles. If anyone has missed Catharsis or suffered by its closure, it is me. It is my home, my family. They have helped me so much. Even now, they provide dry food supplies but I do not have a stove to prepare food. I used to spend all day there, from morning until evening. We had fun together. I was a member of the theater, took part in the performance. In the year since Catharsis closed, I have aged so much. I no longer want to look in the mirror. 

I haven't received a full pension since 2005, I have to pay back a loan until 2023. Who knows if I will live that long. I already owe my country that I could not have a child and I do not want to leave this debt, too.


This story was prepared with support from the Friedrich-Ebert-Stiftung (FES) South Caucasus Regional Office. All opinions expressed are the author’s alone, and do not necessarily reflect the views of FES. 

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