Ruslan Gujaraidze is the sole resident of Kartsofeli, a village in the Truso Valley.
This remote valley in northern Georgia is wedged between the border with Russia and the Administrative Boundary Line (ABL) with South Ossetia. Truso is at the heart of the Caucasus; here is where the Terek River rises, flowing into Chechnya and Dagestan before emptying into the Caspian Sea.
These days, the valley is mostly inhabited by wildlife, border guards, and the occasional tourist camping in the shade of Mount Kazbek. In summer, shepherds sometimes spend a few nights in these villages while their cattle graze in the valley.
But where others see ruins, Ruslan saw an opportunity.
Tamar Kvachantiradze travelled to the Truso Valley to meet Ruslan, and learn what it means to be a man living so far from friends, family, and community.
Ruslan moved to Kartsofeli approximately 12 years ago. But he didn’t choose the Truso Valley at random; he has ancestral links to this place, and is proud of them. He was determined to revive Khevi, as Georgians call this remote region, which he says is the country’s most beautiful. When nobody owns a place, says Ruslan, “the demons start possessing it.”
When he arrived in the Truso Valley, it was completely empty. But Ruslan now has a handful of neighbors; five years ago, a church with a nunnery and monastery was built a few kilometers away from his house. Four monks and three nuns now live there.
In conservative Georgia where traditional family values hold sway, many might take a dim view of a man choosing to cut himself himself off from society in this way.
Life is not easy in such a remote place. There are few amenities up in Truso; not even a village shop. As a result, Ruslan has had to become self-sufficient. That means means doing some jobs which many Georgians might consider women’s work, such as making cheese.
Ruslan keeps a few cows on his farm, and now regularly makes his own cheese and dairy products. He’s good at it, too; he has started taking his produce to a local cheese festival.
Despite his isolation, Ruslan stresses that he is a family man and puts others’ needs before himself. For example, before the collapse of the Soviet Union, he worked as a teacher in Vladikavkaz, capital of the neighboring Russian republic of North Ossetia. Moreover, he has a large extended family; his wife, daughter, son, and grandchildren all live in the Georgian capital of Tbilisi. Every summer they come up to Truso to stay with him for a couple of weeks.
But keeping touch with them has not always been easy. From late October to late May, when the only road is frequently closed due to poor weather conditions, it can be impossible to reach the Truso Valley by car.
The valley only got mobile reception as recently as September 2018. Before then, the only telephone which worked was at the border police post.
Masculinities, April/May 2019