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[Voice from Tbilisi] Women of Georgia — Salome Tsopurashvili, 32

29 March 2017
Self-portrait (Salome Tsopurashvili)

Women in Georgia very often lack a voice of their own. Their opinions, feelings, dreams, aspirations, and achievements can be conveyed by others, often the men around them. The Women in Georgia project gives a voice to these women, allowing them to tell their own stories — in their own words. The project collected 150 distinct stories from women throughout the country. OC Media brings you a selection of these stories, translated into English and Russian. Below, in her own words, Salome Tsopurashvili.

‘My mother was the firstborn child in her family. They used to tell us tales about our grandparents’ love story. But when my grandmother had a girl, my grandfather didn’t speak to her for two days. My grandpa, just like all the other Georgian men, wanted to have a son as his first child. This might be why for her entire life she would always say that she was lucky in life for one thing, she wanted two girls and she had two girls. When I was born it was the happiest day of her life, because we — sisters — would have each other.’

‘Not everything went the way my mother would have liked in her life, one of the main reasons for this is that she was a woman. She always lacked a spiritual closeness with her own mother, and so she did her best to fill this emptiness for me and my sister, the emptiness she experienced for her whole life. She tried to understand our attitudes and share them: she read all the books we read; she watched the films we wanted to see with us. I remember when Pedro Almodovar’s Bad Education came out and my sister brought the DVD home. We prepared to watch the film. Mum came to sit with us saying that she was curious to see the film. When the film was over, me and Tata (my sister) sat in awkward silence. Mum was the one to break the silence and said that it was a good film. She managed what grandma failed: to become best friend to her children.’

‘There were occasions in my life when my mother understood me better than my peers. But she was constantly tormented by her conscience, and was worried that she failed to do things in a way that she would later think she should have. She always used to say that she made many mistakes while we grew up, especially in regards to my sister, who is older than me, and whose life of course came at a more stressful time than mine.’

‘My mother was an engineer, but her workplace shut down at the very beginning of 1990s, like so many other places. Since then, she completely focused on us. She used to tell us that we had to study and become independent; that we had to have enough income so that we never had to ask for money for personal things from our husbands.’

‘She did her best and denied her own desires so that our wishes and dreams could come true. Our dreams and desires for me and my sister were the same: to go abroad to study and live independently. It seemed like science fiction for us given the situation in the 1990s, when very often, the family didn’t even have food and there were not so many exchange or scholarship programmes.’

‘I can say for sure that my dreams were influenced by my sister. When I was little and cunning, I would break her stuff very often. I used to write good comments in her school diary, of course with good intentions; but sometimes I would reveal her and her friends’ secrets to our parents without realising it. I tried to have things in common with her, so when she was away, I would dig into her  books and read what she read, listen to the cassettes she listened to, and then put them back where I found them so she wouldn’t know what I had done. I tried to make sure that our interests were the same.’

‘When I was eleven, my sister recommended I read Jean Webster’s Daddy-Long-Legs, and this is when I decided to go abroad for university and to live alone among new people and in a new environment.’

‘My dream came true, and I got a scholarship to attend the Central European University in Budapest to study a Master’s programme in gender studies. Tata was doing a PhD in Germany at the time. I felt sorry that my mum would be alone, but her answer was always the same — “the main thing is that you two feel well”. This was a very stressful year. Of course I ended up where I had wanted to be for my whole life, and I met lots of people who are very dear to me, including myself, but there were some moments of crisis when I just wanted to pack up and come back, but a conversation with mother would change my mind. Also, if not for the support of my friends, at some point I wouldn’t have made it.’

‘For a year I took pictures in Budapest and wanted to capture women’s body experiences; I wanted to capture women who had to have their breasts removed. I even shared this desire with my mum. When I came back, my parents met me at the airport. My mother had a different haircut. I touched her hair and it was unnaturally rough. She told me that her hair was falling out and so she cut it and wore a wig. I thought it was strange, but I didn’t say anything. A few days later, after I learned some new details, I demanded she tell me what was happening.’

‘It turned out that while my sister and I were away, she had been diagnosed with breast cancer. She had surgery, she went through chemotherapy, and we didn’t know a thing; and every evening when we called, we used to complain about a million stupid things to her. This was a terrible feeling of shame, that we weren’t there for her when she needed us the most. I had no idea that she was fighting cancer, and I only cared how I would manage to write essays and my thesis. I thought it was selfish that she didn’t tell me about it and didn’t give me the chance to make a choice. But I also realised how much effort she had to make not to let me and my sister choose, and I understood that I would have done the same in her place, but from my point of view — the point of view of a daughter — I couldn’t agree with this decision.’

‘Then I decided that I would never try to go anywhere, and that I would be here with her forever. Mother never let me know how traumatised she was after the surgery, how hard it was for her to accept her transformed body. She once told me that she made the appointment for her breast removal surgery without thinking, because she knew that she had to be healthy and alive, as her children needed her. If she thought about it more, she didn’t how if she would have agreed to the surgery. She believed that she had to keep her pain to herself, and not to disturb people close to her with it.’

‘Both of us sisters have this character. I am the weepiest of the three of us. I remember just one occasion, when she had the final transfusion and she was with another patient, she told her that it was very difficult to see her own body every morning and evening. She said that for others who had their wombs removed, the surgery didn’t reminded them everyday that their body wasn’t the body of a woman anymore.’

‘I was not in the room, but I overheard what she said through the open door. This was the only time she complained about it that I’ve heard. If I was in the room, she probably wouldn’t have said it.’

‘Once, mother was watching a film in which a woman had breast cancer. I was in my room. When I went to her I saw that she was crying. I rushed into the kitchen and made some noise with dishes. I tried to hide my feelings and give her time to wipe her tears away before I would sit with her.’

In our home we, the women, do not like it when we see each other crying. If we notice that one of us is holding back tears, we try not to let them think that we noticed, and even if we feel that we were noticed and they ignored it, we feel thankful to each-other for ignoring our tears.

‘A year after her surgery, the Tskheli Shokoladi (Hot Chocolate) magazine had a photo-competition on the theme, ‘my mother.’ I sent several pictures of her. It was the first time I dared to ask to take her pictures naked. She agreed without complaints. Her portrait won third place, but not the naked one. Last year, I took this photo to an exhibition, Kaleidoscope, co-organised with my friend; I am sure she wouldn’t be against it.’

‘I was always attached to my mum. The year spent without mother during my studies and those events brought me closer to her. I tried to spend more quality time with her, but it was not always what I felt like doing, and I regret that now, the same way mother felt about us growing up.’

‘Once she told me that in her opinion, she was the best person to be by my side. I was really surprised to hear that from her and I was happy, because I always claimed that she was the best mother. Sometimes, she used to tell me what I should do if she died. I kept telling her that she didn’t have this right, and she had to live for as long as I was alive.’

‘In the end, my mum got into an accident; I survived, mother died. Surviving was horribly traumatic. For a long time I could not get rid of the feeling of shame that I didn’t die with her. I felt really guilty towards my sister and my father — that if not for my desire to go to the sea, we would have avoided this accident, and that they had lost mother because of me. I felt guilt towards them and all my friends, relatives, and strangers, who cared about her. I was ashamed because they did their best to save me, and moved the entire world to collect money for my treatment. I was ashamed of surviving. I thought that the worst thing apart from the accident was that I had survived; that I was alive. I also felt guilty for all the friends, acquaintances, or strangers who didn’t survive in the same situation, or survived at first and then died; and I had only two scratches on my face in the end.’

‘This is to the credit of the doctors in Kutaisi Hospital, and surgeon Tariel Natsvaladze, who quickly performed surgery on my skull without even knowing my name or surname. When they brought me to the hospital it was impossible to identify me.’

‘I know that it might be hard for many people to understand this feeling of shame, but first and foremost I feel guilty towards my family. I lived with this shame for several years, and to be honest, it was not long ago that I freed myself of it. Overcoming my shame required many self-destructive actions and very unpleasant experiences.’

‘It’s been seven years without mother. It’s still hard to say when I miss her more, when I feel bad and need to hear her kind words, or when something nice happens and I am happy and want to share it with her. I am very lucky that mother was lucky, and now we sisters have each other.’

‘A large part of me died with the death of my mother, both for me and my sister. At the same time, no matter how silly this may sound, part of mother lives with us: as time passes we become more like her — facial expressions, gestures and sometimes, when I catch those moments in my sister, I think that we are together, all three of us.’

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