In October 2021 I visited Tblisi, Georgia, as part of ASFAR’s second youth exchange since the pandemic.
After a very long year of zoom meetings, zoom fatigue, and virtual ‘hangouts,’ it was lovely to be able to meet new people, in real life again!
Because of the travel restrictions for people coming back into the UK from ‘Red List’ countries, unfortunately UK participants weren’t able to attend. Luckily for me, I’m a UK citizen, living in Istanbul, and was able to make it. It was interesting for me to able to meet other Turkish people, outside of my existing Istanbul social bubble, and to hear new perspectives and attitudes on gender-issues, from the country that is now my new home.
The theme was ‘gender equity’ and for me, it was an opportunity to be able to hear from people living in Turkey and Georgia about the issues facing women, LGBTQI and minorities in these countries. Many of the issues had parallels with the issues we see in the UK – migrant women being disproportionately at risk of gender-based and state violence, LGBTQI oppression, economic hardship for single mothers and shame/stigma attached to talking about sexual and gender-based violence.
As well as discussing gender-equity, we had opportunities to explore Tblisi, and our group took a trip to Kazbegi mountain – taking in the ‘Friendship Monument’ – built in 1983 to represent the treaty of Georgievsk between Russia and Georgia, Ananuri Fortress, and an off-road trip to Gergeti Monastery, on top of Kazbegi Mountain. We met some interesting characters on our journey, including a Georgian man who had lost his parents as a child, and had been taken in my monks at one of the monasteries in the Kazbegi mountain ranges, and had taught him English, Russian, Arabic and Farsi (I can confirm, he spoke almost fluently in all,) before returning in his 20’s to Tblisi. He now hangs out near the waffle cafe in Old Tblisi with his cigarettes and his stories.
We’ve come back with memories, white mountain honey, a couple of bottles of Georgian wine and a taste for Khinkali.