Wednesday, October 31, 2007


Word of the Day: დამეხმარე (damexmare)

Definition: Help me!

Any one who has visited Tbilisi and walked down any of the popular streets or through a pedestrian underpass has certainly heard this word. It is the plea uttered by the countless beggars of Tbilisi.

The beggars can be classified into 3 categories: 1) Widows and the Disabled 2) Unemployed Georgians 3) Gypsies

The widow beggars are easily identified by their worn faces, black dress, and black headscarves. Most of the widows are too feeble to actively walk the street begging (and obviously, neither are the disabled); instead, they sit on the steps leading down to the pedestrian underpasses or on street corners. Most don't even utter a word, only holding out an outstretched hand or a container with an icon taped to it. Most of these widows either have no children to take care of them or children who are too poor themselves. A similar story goes for the disabled. Georgia does have a pension program, but it is a joke. All pensioners are guaranteed a monthly allowance of 25 laris (roughly $15), only enough to buy a loaf of bread each day. And even this petty amount is a huge increase from Shevardnadze's time only 4 years ago--it was 7 laris per month then. Of all the beggars, these widows deserve help the most.

Georgia has a high unemployment rate. Official reports put the figure at 12.6%, but most agree that it is actually higher. What is unusual about Georgia's unemployed is that just as many of them are educated as uneducated--perhaps even more with such a large demand for construction workers in the current housing boom. For an unemployed men, there seems to be several stages before they hit beggarliness. First, he tries to find construction work as a day laborer. You can tell if a man by the side of the street is day laborer if he has a drill displayed in front of him. If that doesn't work out, then he might collect glass bottles, or if he's musically inclined, play in the Metro station. If all else fails, he will beg. Most are too ashamed and hide their faces; their hands outstretched, sitting next to the widows.

Gypsies (ბოშები) is a misnomer because the Gypsies of Tbilisi are not related in any way to the Gypsies (Roma) of Europe. Like their Roma cousins, these Gypsies have their own culture and speak their own language. The Gypsies of Tbilisi thrive off of others through begging and occasionally theft. Most of the Gypsies one encounters in Tbilisi are either children or young mothers, both of whom attract a great deal of sympathy--which is exactly what the Gypsy clan wants. As desperate as these children may appear, it would be a mistake to give money to them because it is a well known fact that the money these children receives goes not to themselves, but to rich Gypsy men. For this very reason, The Cathlicos-Patriarch of Georgia, Ilia II, himself has instructed Georgians not to give money to the Gypsy children. But the Gypsies are very persistent beggars and smart beggars, and will chase people they suspect are the most sympathetic (foreigners automatically fall into this category) or annoy someone until he pays. Some of them even resort to scare tactics, such as threatening to touch someone with their spit-covered hands or to put a curse on them if they don't pay.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

All very interesting but I would like to see some proof as to the indentity of rich Gypsy men.