Refugee Women of Tserovani

Copyright Susanna Melo, 2011

Susanna Melo wrote the story and took the photos 

The 2008 South Ossetia conflict with Georgia spilled thousands of internally displaced people (IDPs) into Tserovani, a quickly constructed town west of Tbilisi. Today nearly 7,000 displaced people live in approximately 2,000 pink, cookie-cut homes built along criss-crossing streets, some paved, others not. I accompanied two female journalism students from a CSJMM conflict reporting class who were interested in documenting stories voiced by the women of this community. They had heard that the men surviving the conflict had resigned to their misfortunes, whereas the women acted to keep their families together and bring some stability caused by the chaos.

Looking for women who were willing to talk to us was our first job.  Fortunately, when we reached the main street of Tserovani, which housed a modern school, a bank, a drugstore and a few other stores, we saw a group of individuals swarming around a minivan: men on the left, women on the right. At a closer look, these individuals were standing in line to receive a monthly stipend delivered by the mobile bank.

Copyright Susanna Melo, 2011

The first interviewee, an elderly woman without teeth and with no gloves to warm her bare hands, folded carefully the sheet of paper she had received through the small window of the van. We accompanied her to her home, shared by a daughter and grandchild. This was the first of many homes we entered, and to be honest, I was pleasantly surprised with the accommodations, albeit we did go into a house or two that were unlike the others.

The homes were all built the same: you entered into a living/dining area with two rooms to the left, a bathroom and kitchen to the back.  Inside, each décor was different, but all were clean and organized; the majority had nice furniture, a TV, computer, and kitchen appliances including a washing machine.  Some families had a car. Some “owners” had taken the initiative to build basements to store homemade food, wine, or vodka; others had added on a room or a carport to the existing basic structure. The small plot of land around the houses was also developed differently by each owner: some created chicken coops, others grew vegetable gardens, while a few planted bright yellow and purple clumps of flowers that broke the monotony of the sameness of structures, even the drabness of the cold, winter day.

Copyright Susanna Melo, 2011

We spent about 6 hours interviewing women, but soon after we had begun, the two future journalists realized that in order to be fair and diverse reporters, they also needed to interview some men to find out how they felt about these action-oriented women! They were surprised that the men they interviewed, despite not necessarily “liking it,” were more accepting of the new roles these women were carving out for themselves. Many working women are doing such things as waiting on tables, which for the male ego, would bare too much shame.

I was told by one of the students, that the individuals interviewed all believed that their lives were far better before the conflict. I would imagine so! One family lost 3 properties and a few businesses. Maybe a few ended up better off in terms of their living conditions, but worse off in terms of their overall well being; displacement is so traumatic! The head of “For The Better Future” organization still has dreams of returning to her place of birth, but she knows her life will never be the same.  I guess that any of us who leave our homeland, whether by choice or not, will always have to take the best of each place and try to make the fusion of experiences and cultures a means to make this world a peaceful place to live.

Copyright Susanna Melo, 2011

Copyright Susanna Melo, 2011


About keithrkenney
Keith Kenney is a professor of visual communication at the University of South Carolina. He is living in Tbilisi, Georgia, for a year. This blog is about several topics. "CSJMM-Journalism" is about the students, faculty and staff members of the Caucasus School of Journalism and Media Management in Tbilisi, Georgia. "USC-Journalism" is about the students, faculty and staff members of the School of Journalism and Mass Communications (SJMC) at the University of South Carolina in Columbia, SC. CSJMM and SJMC are recipients of a "Journalism School Partnership" program grant from the US Department of State. The purpose of this $750,000 grant is to improve CSJMM and ensure its sustainability. "Tbilisi, Georgia" is about Susanna Melo and my experiences in Tbilisi. "Columbia, SC" will be about our experiences in our home town--Columbia--when we return home. "Georgia" is about Susanna and my experiences when we travel in Georgia outside of Tbilisi. "United States" is about our experiences traveling in the US. "Films and Photography" is about two documentary films I'm working on in Georgia. One story follows how Adishi handles the rapid tourism that is being developed in Svaneti. The other story follows Tamaz Jalagania, who is a craftsman of swords and guns, an opera singer, and an extraordinary storyteller. "Scholarship" is about my current books, articles, reviews, and grants.

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