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The bag of the silver-headed woman

The bag of the silver-headed woman

This is not a story of sadness, but rather one real story of how not to hold on to hope.

It’s morning. Somehow different from how it used to be. I get up with mixed feelings but try hard not to overthink it. I have decided. I will just do it without hesitation. Though, I will get on with the daily routines, so as to delay things a while longer. I have no idea what my grandma’s way of thinking was but she would disagree. She loved coffee so much that at 80 years old, she would listen to my school friends’ silly stories and take them seriously, just so she could sit with us, drinking her coffee. The only change over all the years was the length of her hair. She thought long hair was a symbol of courage and was proud of hers, even when time wasn’t kind to her. Her hair turned silver, wrinkles took over her radiant face, and only her smile managed to hide from time. And this smile most of the time was directed at me, at the chubby girl who loved sitting next to her and listening to the stories of her vibrant life.

My grandmother Dariko was born in 1928. The time of progress in the industries, politics, and the economy, the dawn of new inventions, but also the time when not much was happening in her birthplace, in a mountainous village of Georgia. She was the fourth child in her family, and here my memories of her stop and jump to the Second World War. Dariko remembered how she said goodbye to her father and grandfather, and never had the chance to say hello again.

I am two steps away from her room, which is half-closed. The sunlight follows me, waiting for my decision to enter or not. Anyway, light is the first to enter, warming the unslept-in bed, the old furniture, and the lonely bag put in the corner, waiting for its owner.

This is my grandma’s room, where she spent the last ten years of her life. The room could be a hotel room, where guests come and go, staying for a couple of days at a time. That was my grandma’s travel plan as well, when she crossed the so-called border of Abkhazia, the part of Georgia by Russia, just for a couple of days. She wanted to see her children and grandchildren and then return.

Dariko was the only woman in the village at the time who passed the university entrance exams and was enrolled in the Medical University located in the capital of Georgia. She planned to be a doctor, but her mother had other ideas, and in her twenties, she was forced to marry my grandfather, an officer serving in the army near the village where Dariko grew up.

Now, years later, I am standing in her room, empty but for one shabby bag, full of her worldly possessions. She never used to unpack it. Whenever she opened it to take out clothes, she would close it immediately afterward. No wasting time packing or unpacking, in case she should return to Abkhazia. This was her argument, and no one could contradict her. Along with her home, she was forced to leave her husband’s grave; he died in his early years, leaving her with five children and her memories. Over the years her belongings may have changed, but the bag and its place in the corner never did.

My family comes from Abkhazia, a region of Georgia. We each have the so-called status of an Internally Displaced Person. Yes, this is how others differentiate us from the general public, to sound politically correct. We did not intend to have this status. But there was a day when my family was thrown out, together with thousands of Georgian families evicted from their homes and put in a place where there was no hope, no light even when the sun was strong. But Dariko decided to stay rather than leave her memories behind. After 20 years of living in loneliness and fear when so-called Russian peacemaker soldiers forced her and other elderly people to work for them on nut tree farms, when she was pushed against a wall and made to “dance” under the gunshots, she crossed the border to go to another part of the country to see her family. And there she stayed because her deteriorating health did not allow her to go back.

It’s already afternoon. The sun has warmed up her room. I am ready to open the bag. When I do, a smile comes to my face. I discover her old notebook, and pieces of paper with my ugly school drawings congratulating her on her birthday.

My grandmother is just one of many, all over the world. There are thousands of memories like hers that serve to give others hope, that provide an example of not giving up. Our war was one of the most brutal conflicts during the fall of the USSR: According to Human Rights Watch, “several thousand were killed and many more wounded on both sides; hundreds of thousands were displaced from their homes.” These people can share with you the untold stories of their pasts, about how civilians were tortured, children killed, and mothers raped. But they can also tell you that people do not know what they are capable of until they are not broken.

My story is a story of hope. Dariko worked hard to survive and to get back home, like hundreds of thousands of grandmothers, mothers, daughters, and sisters, whose basic rights were not ensured at that time. They did not have the chance to speak out, did not have someone who could listen to them, take their hard times into account, analyze the present and prevent today’s brutalities from happening again and again because of the Russian invasion. A lot of those who fled from their homes, including my family, faced not only economic and social challenges, but difficulties integrating into society. Perceived as strangers, though, they never stopped looking forward to better days.

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