– Hallo, Indira, how are you? I want to hear all your news.
– It’s snowing. Are you all well?
– We are doing fine! How are the kids?
– OK, so long, wrap up the call. Say hello to everyone and kiss the kids.
Evelina hung up the phone. She folded a piece of paper with the phone numbers written in a row 4 times and put it in one of the books standing on the shelf.
“I shouldn’t lose this paper. These are the numbers that I call to contact my next of kin. That’s how I could learn my siblings’ news, she told me.
Evelina Gobuzova is a tall, thin women with brown eyes and the same-color dyed hair. Her hand skin is rough from exposure to the soil. Everyday toil and grief could be seen on her face too. Despite her young age, there are lines on her forehead and wrinkles around the eyes, that give her face a sad appearance.
Evelina turned 43 a few days ago. She’s been marking her birthday away from her native village for 8 years already. She lives in Skra-based IDP settlement together with her husband and children.
“Sometimes I joke that I’ve got two families. The one that gave me life and another one that gave me strength to carry on, she said, explaining that under the first one she meant her parents and siblings, who still live in Satikhari village.
Satikhari is one of those villages that the Georgian side lost control of following the August war 2008. Together with her husband and children, Evelina left the village, where she’d lived for 35 years.
Since my husband was Georgian, we were afraid to stay in the village after the war. So, we moved here, whereas my parents and siblings stayed there. At first I thought, we were separating for a few days. Although so many years have passed, but I still can’t get used to it, I still believe this separation is temporary. Since that time my entire live has turned into longing. I am missing my next of kin, says Evelina.
Skra settlement appeared on Georgia’s map in 2009. About 200 internally displaced persons (IDPs) live here. 89 cottage houses were built here for them 8 years ago. At first, all cottage were very much alike, with milky walls and burgundy roofs. Now, some of the cottages have several additional rooms and there are garages in the yards of some of them. Some whitewashed cottages could be also seen here and there.
Evelina’s family also built an additional room, though they are still cramped in the house, where the husband and wife share three rooms with their children and grandchildren.
None of the family members are employed. In spring and autumn, they help their neighbours to cultivate land and harvest crops, for which they are remunerated. The family also gets monthly benefits for socially vulnerable families, amounting to GEL360.
There are no statistical data on the number of mixed Georgian-Ossetian families, but one can say for sure that after the centuries of peaceful coexistence, there are many such families.
“I feel pity for her. She’s always worried about her next of kin. She is checking her phone all the time to make sure that it’s not turned off and they could call her. When the phone rings, she would spring to her feet, saying ‘probably my people are calling me,’ says Jemal Okropiridze, Evelina’s husband.
Evelian has 8 siblings. Indira and Emma are those, who call her most often. As Evelina told me, they mostly speak Georgian to each other.
“One of our brothers died during the war. I was informed about it by phone. We had already moved here by that time, but how could I have stayed here. I managed to travel to the other side anyway and I mourned my poor brother. I got back with the assistance of the Red Cross organization. It was then that I saw the destroyed and burnt down houses, woeful people. Our nice village, that I left, no longer existed. I haven’t visited that place since that time. In my dreams, I often see myself standing at my house gate, talking to my mother and hugging my siblings, says Evelina, cleaning – says Evelina, wiping away the tears with the dress sleeve.
Natia, her 21-year-old daughter, gets involved in the conversation. She puts her arms around her mom, patting her hand:
“Don’t think that she has never tried to go there again after that. She crossed into that area three years ago, but she was detained. She spent two days in Tskhinvali detention facility, we were very much worried about her. She was released only after my aunts had paid the ransom. And we had been warning here against going there, she said.
Evelina smiled too. She put her head on her daughter’s shoulder and told her, she would have acted the same way if she had missed her siblings.
“I wish we had the Internet so that you could somehow relieve your longing, Natia reassured her mother. “Today, through the Internet you will even learn, what your beloved ones have been wearing this morning and what they have had for breakfast. For instance, I have a lot of Facebook friends who are your namesake. I don’t know many of them in person, but I’m well-aware of all their news.
Emma is the only sister, whom Evelina could visit once a year, in the autumn. Emma’s husband is ethnic Georgia and his family lives in Kakheti. As she told me, a visit to Kakheti is a real holiday. When they finish harvesting grapes, all the relatives usually gather at one big table.
There are always Ossetian Khabizgins (traditional potato pies) along with Georgian dishes on the table. When it comes to raising a toast to relatives, a phone call is made from Kakheti to Satikhari village.
Evelina took the cell phone and dialed Emma’s number. On hearing her sister’s voice her face started changing, her eyes were smiling. When they greeted each other, she passed the phone to me.
“I’m looking forward to Evelina’s arrival the whole year. We would sit and talk the whole night through. We would recall our childhood; the time when Georgians and Ossetians were friends; we recall our village, our parents and siblings, whom we are missing so much, Emma told me.
A gap between Georgians and Ossetians is her personal tragedy. In her words, if she could make at least one wish come true, she would have reconciled these two nations.
“I am the Ossetian, whereas my husband and children are Georgians. It’s the same with my sister. My husband and I have been living in love for years, and we’ve been together despite everything. I have good relationship with my husband’s relative, and they love me too. I’ve never felt anything bad on their part because of my Ossetian origin. My family is an example of how Georgians and Ossetians can love each other, isn’t it?! Just look around, every second family here is a mixed one and all of them still have contacts with the relatives, who stay on the other side, Emma told me at the end of the phone conversation.
Evelina hung up the phone and said:
“A phone has become the most important item for me after the displacement. The fact that you don’t miss your next of kin’s voice is already a great relief.
The phone has a special place in Evelina’s small house. It is placed on a thick-cover book, lying in one of the table corners. And every member of the family knows that it must be returned to its place after using it.
We finished our conversation. I turned off the sound recording program, installed in my phone and confirmed to my host that phone is really a necessary invention.
Evelina’s cottage was at the end of the settlement. I reached the highway on foot. There was the phone in my bag, with which I carried the voices that were telling about the relations, preserved and maintained through the phone calls.
Just a few kilometres away from me, there were barbwire that Russian military installed to demarcate the administrative border– the barbwire that couldn’t silence the voices of the divided people.