Trapped in Georgia - how 10 days turned into 5 months.


I know we are all sick and tired of Covid, but I thought it's still worth to put down my thoughts of those 5 months when we were unintentionally stuck in Georgia. If not anything else, then it is at least interesting for myself to read it after a year or two :D

It all started when we flew to Kutaisi at the beginning of March with the plan to stay for 10 days. During off-season, we spend the majority of the time at our home countries and take shifts to visit the plantations and coordinate winter works. This time our plan was to make a quick visit. Well, as you know, this didn’t go as planned...

Landed in Kutaisi on 10.03.2020.

When we got to Georgia, things were already getting bad all over Europe and it seemed that the country can go to a lockdown in any minute, so we decided that we are not going back to Estonia just yet. We didn’t really know what would happen and we couldn’t risk that no one would be on the fields for a few months. Mario was supposed to go to Estonia, take Hanna and Kendrick with him and return in 3 days. Well, the flight he was on, was the last flight that flew out from Georgia. So, it was just the two of us for a few weeks, maybe a month, at least that’s what we thought back then. 

Here are some snapshots of my thoughts back then:

21.03.2020

Today a state of emergency was declared in Georgia. Although it doesn’t mean a big change as the shops, restaurants, schools and all other public places were closed already at the beginning of March. A few days back they closed the airspace and also land borders. The last rescue flight to Estonia will be on the 23rd. Although the constant declarations from the embassy and media that this is the last chance to go home is making me a little anxious, then we are staying here. I know it is meant for tourists not to get stuck here, but it still gets on my nerves...

It feels a little strange that there are 47 cases in total in Georgia, but there are talks of huge preparations to acquire extra beds, more tests, ventilators etc. It makes me feel that the numbers are not real or there is something that the government is not saying or they are just overreacting. (Note: the number of cases was correct at the time, so my suspicion was not correct)

It’s been quite cold and snowy lately, I hope it gets warmer so we can go to the plantations. 

Rioni Estate in winter

01.04.2020

There are now military checkpoints on the borders of Kutaisi. Today morning, when driving to the plantation, we were greeted by 20 soldiers with machine guns. No, this is not April fools...sadly. Things have got a lot stricter here -  public transport has been halted, no more than 2 people can go out together, there can be only 3 people in the car and only the driver can sit in the front part. We also have a curfew during the night, from 21:00 until 06:00. We can still go to the plantation right now, but who knows for how long…

It has been quite ok so far as the weather has been nice and we have spent a lot of time at the plantations in the fresh air. Also, celebrated my mother’s birthday online, everybody eating cake behind screens, so that was a nice change :D 

Still, I can’t understand the restrictions really, since there have been only 2200 tests made in total here. I mean, what can you detect with 2000 tests...but oh well. There are talks in the Baltics that the state of emergency will be until the end of June. I really do not want to believe it, that would mean that it is just the two of us here until mid-summer. I don’t really know how we will handle all the works here alone. 

Renegade EstateSelf-isolation between the tea bushes. 

24.04.2020

Easter is coming - as Georgia is a very religious country, then Easter is really important here. Unfortunately, that important to some people that for attending the late night mass they are willing to spend the night at the church in order not to break the curfew rules. A mass gathering in a church during the pandemic does not seem like the best idea to me. They are saying that the virus doesn’t spread in the church or at least to those who truly believe….I respect everybody’s freedom to believe what they prefer, but really?

Now, instead of banning the mass gatherings in churches, the government’s response is a nationwide no-driving policy and locking all bigger cities, including Kutaisi, where we live. So, we have not been able to go to the plantations for 10 days now. Fortunately, the plantation workers were able to clean the fields since they are living in nearby villages.The leaves are ready to be plucked and some areas of the plantations are already overgrown, but we can’t start harvesting if we can’t get to the factory.

On the positive side, a no-car Kutaisi is pretty nice - quiet, birds are singing, the air is clear and people are walking and riding bikes. Bikes!!! I think I have seen some 10 bicycles during these 2 seasons here :D Now, there are bikers everywhere. What do you know, Georgians do know how to ride bikes :D

Kutaisi lockdownOn the busiest street of Kutaisi during no-driving policy.

The state of emergency was prolonged until 22.05, so pretty sure that planes won’t fly before June. 

Remark:

We got a special permit on 29th of April, so we could go to work and start producing tea. Since all the plantations were overgrown, then the next 5 weeks we spent at the factory, producing as much as we could. We still had to be home for the curfew though. So, that meant that the processes had to be thought through with diligence and every step was calculated with a minute's precision. Somehow Hannes managed it very well and we were home every night at 20:55 or 20:58. Though, this prevented us from making some teas that have a longer process - Lazy Morning for example which takes ca 12 hours.

30 minutes until curfew, tea is still in the dryer...

26.06.2020

The last time I wrote something down was at the end of April. Back then we had information that our team can’t get here before June, this changed again at some point and it was promised that the borders would open in July. It felt far away and we weren’t sure how we will manage the whole chain of processes with just the two of us, but we pulled ourselves together and decided that we will make it, one way or the other. And we did make it! Even with the curfews and military checkpoints and all the restrictions, we managed to produce the same amount of tea that we produced in 2019 all together. So, although tired, our emotions were actually quite positive and we didn’t really have time to think about the longer perspective.

renegade tea factoryRecords were broken every day, so many leaves!

Today, the situation is different. The opening of borders is once again postponed… So, today has been filled with disappointment, tears and anger. I tried not to hope too much as the situation has changed so many times already, but it seems that deep inside I was still really expecting that others will get to come here soon and we get to go home to see our families…who knows when will it actually happen now.

When we got the news...

24.07.2020

The month has passed really quickly. We have spent most of our days at the factory - Hannes was producing tea, I spent basically all of my days with our dear old printer, printing stickers for the packages and coordinating the sorting and packaging processes. Unfortunately, the fact that there’s just two of us here means that we don’t really have enough time to deal with the plantations. We manage to make the absolute minimum to keep them in order, but that’s it. And that will surely leave a mark also for next year.

Although we have been working for most of the time, then we have also made quite a few road trips. These have helped us to keep our heads clear and to keep ourselves happy and motivated. We have seen some pretty amazing places :) So, that’s the good side of the pandemic! Previously, we were commuting quite a lot between Georgia and Estonia and we didn’t really have time to just wander around in the Georgian mountains. 

Georgia, countryThose views...

We are still not sure if and how we get home. At the moment we have tickets for 6th of August, others have tickets for the same week to come here, so we’ll make a switch. But airBaltic and the Georgian government haven’t still got to an agreement if it will actually happen. So, we have 2 weeks left, but nothing is certain… 

07.08.2020

We’re home! Umm, or are we just visiting our home country? It's a bit confusing where home is right now :D
Anyway, the situation still changed during those last two weeks - instead of 2 flights per week, the government allowed only 1 flight and therefore everybody’s tickets got cancelled. Somehow, we luckily had tickets for the “right” day and our flight was not cancelled. Through some miracle, we got tickets for Tomas and he came with the first flight to Georgia, so we could actually make the switch. Mario will join him in a few weeks and others probably only in September as the August flights are either full or with ridiculous prices (1000 euros one way). So, Tomas and Mario will hold up the fort now!

We will take a small break now and spend time with our families and then at the beginning of September, we’ll head back to the tea fields :)

All in all, those 5 months were quite interesting. Although, reading my own thoughts now, it seems a little depressing, then most of the days were actually great - the light and positive thoughts just didn’t make it on the paper ;) I mean, it was hard, for sure, not because of the long working days or because of living in Georgia or anything. It was difficult because we didn't have our team next to us, we were missing our family and the main thing that bothered was probably the fact that there was no certainty in anything. But once we realized that we can't do anything to change the situation ourselves and accepted it, some kind of freedom came as well. Somehow we pulled through the hardships and I think we can be quite proud that we survived and managed to make a lot of good tea! And stayed sane at the same time :D 

I am actually really happy that we finally managed to live in Georgia for a longer period, without the constant commuting. And as a result of the lockdown, we can now also read in Georgian and have widened our vocabulary quite a lot ;) 

georgian languageFirst tries to get going again with the Georgian language at the beginning of the Corona madness in March. 


Written by Kristiina