Snowbound in Georgia
Caroline Berger Regional Information and Communications Officer – Middle East, Eastern Europe and Commonwealth of Independent States
1st Jan 2013
"At night you can hear the jackals howling, and sometimes the bears attack my cattle," says 53 year old Otar as he sits smoking in his armchair.
Here in the remote mountainous region of Adjara in Western Georgia, all the villagers tell a similar story. But it's not the bears that people are afraid of here. It's the snow.
"I'm afraid of the winter," Otar says, looking up at the mountains, which shadow his house. "What if an avalanche comes? It will destroy my house."
Otar remembers the worst winter, back in 2004. "I remember we had so much snow, it was up to my chest. It destroyed all of our crops and all we had to eat was bread for three weeks."
In the neighbouring village, Sediko is busy preparing for the winter. She sits peeling cabbages, and her aged hands count out the dolma (vegetables) into storage dishes so her grandchildren have enough to eat during the cold months. Downstairs, in the wooden cellar beneath her house, rows of jars filled with freshly made chilli paste line the shelves ready to be sold in the market once the snow melts and the roads are open again.
"It's a very dangerous place. When we see an avalanche we run to our relatives for safety." Sediko pulls back her white net curtains, and looks at the imposing hills beyond.
At this time of year it's difficult to believe that the snow can cause such havoc. The trees are glowing with the golden colours of autumn, and villagers chop firewood in anticipation of the freezing period ahead. In Georgia, more than half the population depends on agriculture for their livelihood, but it's a struggle to make a living in this harsh environment.
Sediko points at the fence around her field, which was built with advice from Oxfam. "We've built special barriers to protect the field," she says. "There was a time when the melting snow spoiled our harvest."
Now Sediko is prepared and the cupboards are overflowing with fresh cabbages. But there were times when her grandchildren didn't have enough food. She remembers, "We had hard times. We couldn't even afford sugar and oil, and had to boil water, salt and wheat to make a powder to feed our grandchildren. They were very weak and thin." Now, with the help of Oxfam's project, which has given Sediko tools and training to produce her own crops, she has enough food for every winter.
Sediko flashes a toothless smile. "Now at least we're not hungry, and my son can feed his newborn baby. We can even afford symbolic foods and gifts on special occasions."
Not far from Sediko's house a recent flood has already washed the road away, and at the end of the track Jemal is tending to his beehives.
"The frost affects my bees during the winter, and they become weak," says Jemal as he lifts up the hives and a swarm of bees buzzes to the surface. He lost several beehives last winter - but now, thanks to Oxfam's support, he now has special medicines, which he uses to coat the honey frames to make the bees stronger.
Jemal spoons freshly made honey into a jar and smiles, "Before, I was only able to make 2,000 lari each year, but now I'm making 3,000 lari during the beekeeping season." With the extra income, Jemal was able to fix his windows to stop the rain and snow from flooding his house.
As night falls, the jackals begin to howl, but Sediko, Jemal and Otar are safely locked in their houses preparing for the winter.