Bags and Borders

Author: Elena Mikaberidze


“What would you take in your bag when you cross the border?” Can such a plain question cause a person to question his or her identity and the human condition?

This film features the stories of people who crossed a border once, twice or more. Some cross a border every day; some will not cross one ever again or only in their dreams. The people tell what they took or still take in their bags and why. Some items are ordinary, others look odd to a stranger’s eyes. But everything in their bags of memories touches the heart.

Borders captivate me. I have crossed many, both physical and psychological. Somehow, they have defined who I am.

I was born in Tbilisi, Georgia in 1988. My mother is Abkhaz and my father is Georgian, and in 1993, as war between the Abkhaz and Georgians was raging, a mixed family was a complex thing, so my parents decided to move to Belgium. I was five.

I lived there for 24 years. I grew up speaking Russian with my parents and French with my brother and sister. French marked the way I communicate -- I write in French, think in French and dream in French. I studied political science at university, but I soon turned to filmmaking and started exploring if and how films can be instruments of peace, if and how they can reveal that what we consider “other” is not so different from “us.”

In 2015, I decided to return and explore the physical borders of my homeland. I travelled all across Georgia, met scores of incredible people, and asked them how they live, how they relate to and interpret “the border.” I sought to develop an objective perspective as I already had a personal one.

I wanted to visit the Abkhaz part of my family, my mother’s side, who still lives in Sokhumi, but it proved to be difficult. My Georgian passport proved yet another border. I eventually managed to visit Abkhazia in the summer of 2015. It was my first time there since 1992.

When I asked people what that border  -- be it with Abkhazia or South Ossetia -- meant for them, words started flowing.  

For some, it just means war. Georgia fought two conflicts with South Ossetia; one in 1991-1992 and again in 2008. For others, it is a dream or a part of their daily life.

And when I asked about their bags, I received some practical answers.Yet this simple question dug into their memories, leading them to question themselves about what they had lost when they crossed that line.

Whether their childhood or a family member, everyone knows what they miss and remembers what they lost. Some people call themselves refugees, others Internally Displaced Persons, but it is pure semantics. Neither Abkhazia nor South Ossetia is a state recognized by most of the international community, but none of these people who fled can return to their homes.

Against all odds, their lives continue and resilience rules -- as shown when they narrate their stories with a smile.  


This material may contain terms, which are not favored by all the parties of the dispute/conflict. Terms used in the material belong to the author and not Chai Khana.