It is always challenging to be a foreigner. But being a foreign woman in the Caucasus is even harder.
“You will see that in Georgia women are treated like queens, like princesses”. This was one of the first sentences I heard when a Georgian man picked me up atTbilisi airport in 2010. Sadly, my experience in this country never lived up to this statement.
Being a kargi gogo
To start with, a Georgian woman is expected never to live on her own, not even mentioning living with a man, get married at the age 18-25 and be a virgin on her wedding night. This is a general portrait painted by the Caucasus Barometer 2010 survey by CRRC.
Out of 2,089 respondents across the country, 56 percent said that it is not acceptable for a woman to live separately from her parents at any age; 72 percent were against a woman cohabiting with a man without marriage; 80 percent thought that women should never have sex before their wedding; and 92 percent thought that women should get married at the age 18-25.
I wouldn’t be lying if I say that a foreign woman is everything that a Georgian woman is not. And this means that I am excluded from the kargi gogo group as soon as people understand that I am a foreigner. To be fair, they are not completely wrong. I am almost thirty and not married, but I live with my partner. I haven’t been permanently living with my parents for almost a decade now. I am not afraid to be seen in a bar or a restaurant drinking beer at midnight, I am fine with walking anywhere by myself. When I was a smoker, I would not hide in a toilet or a kitchen to have my guilty pleasure. No, I would smoke on the street as men do.
But as I said, it is enough to be a foreigner in Georgia to have strangers think about you as an easy catch and a potential bed warmer. And this means that I am to endure a lot of unwanted attention in streets, bars, marshrutkas, buses, markets… Basically anywhere I go by myself.
Do you want a second husband?
One summer day, a forty-something and half-toothless Kakhetian named Giorgi gave me a ride for two kilometers outside of Sighnagi. Of course, the third question, after he got to know my name and nationality, was if I am married. I said yes, but not to a Georgian. This sentence served as a green light for him, and he openly asked me if I would like to have, hmm, a special friend, a second husband, plainly offering his potential services. My answer was a clear no, but up to this day I keep thinking, would he dare to offer something like this to a Georgian woman with a Georgian patroni? Most likely not.
And this was not the only case. So far, several taxi drivers have tried to take me to a khinkali place instead of my home, at the same time boasting about their sexual adventures with Ukrainians and Russians.
I cannot buy vegetables from street vendors without being asked for a phone number by men of any age, or without older women playing matchmakers and praising their male relatives. I cannot have a friendly chit-chat with a taxi driver without him hitting on me. I cannot pass a group of men on Rustaveli after dark without feeling their hungry gazes on my back. I cannot be at a supra without someone flirting with me, even if my boyfriend is there.
Patroni would save the day
Some men might ask – what is this woman complaining about? It must be something wrong with her if she does not enjoy the attention that she gets. Surely, she must secretly like all the compliments she gets and all the glances she attracts. There is nothing wrong with showing attention to and praising the beauty of the fairer sex, right?
Wrong. It is disturbing, uncomfortable and makes me feel like a steak at a carnivore feast. I stopped smiling to people that I share an elevator with. I stopped talking with taxi drivers. I do not answer my phone if I see an unknown number calling. I wear shades even on a foggy day, so I don’t send the wrong signals to a sweaty guy sitting across from me in the metro.
And soon I will start telling everyone that my husband is a Georgian kai bitchi and can kick anyone’s ass. Maybe when I finally declare myself the property of an aggressive man who does not like to share, will I be finally able to enjoy the said love and respect for women. And even raise a toast to all the mothers, sisters, cooks, wives, lovers, daughters and other beauties in a man’s life.Inga Popovaite is a political journalist who writes for DF Watch.