It was our curiosity that led us to the right way to find the Hotel Metalurgi. We had spent the whole day walking around Tskaltubo experiencing its abandoned sanatoriums. Our legs were tired, but hunger to see more was strong. Finally, we spotted the facade of the hotel hiding in the dense forest and its impressive look was tempting us to go further.
Our quick visit inside was turned into several hours once we met Georgi, who after a small chat, invited us to his home to “for a coffee”. We learned that he is one of thousands of people who had to flee Abkhazia during Georgian-Abkhazian war in 1992-1993. Giorgi, as many other IDPs (Internally Displaced Persons), were given refuge in empty hotels and now after 25 years later, these makeshift apartments have become permanent homes for new generations of families.
At the first look the hotel might seem desolate – everything that can be converted to money has been ripped off. However, we had a chance to look deep inside its walls and see how hotel rooms were transformed into apartments and the whole place was full of life. Georgi told that the building itself used to be in a much better condition, but during the years thieves have done their ravages. With a sadness in his eyes, he described that the main hallway used to have a crystal chandelier hanging from the ceiling and now only its upper frame reminds of its existence.
Time passed fast when we sunk into an intensive conversation. A coffee changed to a strong (but tasty) homemade chacha and patiently Georgi and Diana answered our questions. We told them how Abhazia looks now, how some of the favorite places of Georgi (like cafe Amra) survived in somewhat abandoned state. Diana is young, born after the war and living all her life in the sanatorium. Though for her and the whole younger generation, it’s impossible to see Abkhazia, we learned that some of them still claim that they are from Sokhumi (capital city). Oftentimes, we were struck by their hospitality and happiness. They made us feel like a home from the first moment and treated us like we would be their old friends.
We were amazed how Georgi had decorated their home. All space was well used – a balcony changed as a kitchen and the home felt bigger than it was. The money that he earns as a garden worker in Tskaltubo bathhouse park is enough for a basic living, but Diana can only dream about studies at the university. It is too expensive for them to pay. Life is not easy in the hotel, but Georgi and Diana had lots of humour and positive attitude to handle it all. They might have shadows in their hearts, but the more intelligence not to let it dominate them.
When we walked away from the hotel tears appeared in our eyes. The image how Georgi touched his eye that was covered by a bandage (an eye operation) and told us that someday soon he will be blind. It wasn’t sad for him, he is happy to live knowing that his eyes were still working. We learned that it was his beautiful flowers that we saw in the hallway. A small garden that brought colours otherwise to nowadays an empty hallway.
There are not enough words to express how thankful we are to the family we’ve met. The amount of kindness we faced in a place that we would never expect to meet left us a deeper understanding of the life of IDPs in the hotel Metalurgi.