Creating a new home in a new land

Author: Darina Kamadadze

Illustrations by Mananiko Kobakhidze 

When Teona Kasareli, 47, left Georgia 13 years ago, she had a single goal: earn money. 

She did not plan on making Italy her home and she certainly did not plan on her children integrating into Italian culture.

Teona, like many women in Georgia, left her family and sought work in Europe. It was supposed to be a temporary solution, one more effort by her and her husband to create a better life.

"We had financial problems. I tried many things. Coming here was not a planned decision: My friend said 'Try this,too'. I tried just this option and it worked," she says.
Teona is part of a growing group of Georgians, particularly women, who head to Europe for work. In Italy alone, there are an estimated 10,000 Georgian migrants, mostly economic migrants and mainly women. For the most part, they work in the service sector, assisting private families as a babysitter and/or a caregiver for the elderly.
Italy became a popular choice for Georgian women seeking work abroad about 12 years ago, according to Marc Hulst, the coordinator of the International Organization for Migration in Georgia.

“There is an active migration in Italy due to the demand. Mostly they need women who will take care of the elderly, that’s why we have more immigrant women than men," he says, noting women started traveling to Italy after the financial crisis hit Greece.

Sociologist Katie Sartania has studied the migration from Georgia and has found Italy is particularly popular due to the strong network of Georgians living there.
"Those who went long ago help other women go to Italy. Facebook has also contributed to the dissemination of information – they have groups where they write about situations and employment possibilities," she notes.

But the women face myriad difficulties once they are there, from legal obstacles to emotional stress.

"In some cases they have been away from their families for a long time and the only thing that connects them is the money they send home.  This alienation is particularly noticeable in the case of wife and husband or mother and children, when they lose a common language. The more time passes, it’s more difficult to perceive them as a single family," she says.

Teona still remembers the pain of leaving her children the first time she left for Italy.

"I remember feeling like I was attending my own burial when the kids got out of the car and I had to go on without them, I had to leave them behind."

Teona ended up in Bari, Italy, a city of roughly 300,000 people on the Adriatic coast.

She lived alone, separated from her family, for two years.

"I was not happy, I was not hungry, nothing could get me excited, I was not afraid of starting a job, I was not afraid of future difficulties—there was nothing more difficult than leaving my children," she says. Teona felt so dead to everything around her she says she had been away for three months before she realized there was a beautiful yard in front of the house where she lived.  

After a trip home, Teona realized that she could not afford to stay in Georgia, and her family could not afford to have her stay away.

"When I realized that two years wasn’t enough to solve problems, I couldn’t go back and nothing in the country was changing for the better, there was only one solution left— I took my kids and husband with me. I still don’t know if it was the right decision or not," she says, noting that once they arrived, she realised "the cost of spending those years without them.”

Her son, Shako, was 10 and her daughter, Lizi, was six when they left Georgia. Today Teona says she and her husband are trying to let their children integrate. She notes it to bring them to Europe and not give them the chance to live in Europe "means you are not allowing them to develop.”

Initially, the move was hard for Shako. He remembers being happy for the adventure, before realizing that he had to give up all his friends and everything he knew.

"I didn’t know the language. Imagine suddenly you are dumb…Going to school was hardest. There was one classmate who said 'Your language sounds like a barking dog.'

I didn’t know how to behave and I beat him. No one could understand what his words did to me. Compared to them, I behaved different, I had different reactions, but I was a good student. After a year, it was like I entered a new world," Shako recalls.  

But he says even today he can feel the difference between Italy and Georgia, especially in cultural differences like friendship.   

"They call everyone a friend but they do almost nothing for friends. If Georgians calls to someone a friend, it means he’ll do everything for friends," he notes.

For Lizi, things were different. She learned to read and write in Italian before Georgian and ended up teaching herself her native language. She says she is even shy to speak Georgian sometimes, worrying she will make a mistake.

Katie, the sociologist, notes that economic migrants, even after their financial goals are met, can struggle to find peace after years spent abroad.

"So many years have passed…their perspective on life has changed so much that while [Italy] is not their home, neither is their native land. A new identity is created…they miss what they remember. They might call it their native country, maybe their family or whatever, but when they come back, that’s not the same as they remember."

Teona is certain she will eventually return to Georgia, but she is not sure when. And her children are even less sure of how Georgia figures into their futures.

"For me home is Georgia. I know exactly nothing in Georgia awaits me, but everything calls me," she says. Since her family moved to join her, Teona has worked hard to integrate into the local community. She continued her education and started a career in social services. She also works as a mediator with Georgian migrants. 

Shako, now 20, has also made Italy his home. He is less certain if he will return to Georgia in the future. "Probably I am both, Georgian and Italian, but I have more of a connection with Georgia," he says, adding, however, his immediate plans focus on finishing his studies in Italy and moving to America.  

"I think I am mostly European. I am not chained to one place.”

For Lizi, her identity is more than where she lives.

"I was six when I arrived here and I don’t remember anything about Georgia, only the mountains. I don’t know what it is like now, I don’t know how people are living there. I have parents, friends, school here, now my home is Italy. But I don’t think that I’m Italian or I’m Georgian, I’m Lizi."




Chai-khana Survay