Long time ago, in 2013, in the town of Gal/i, situated in the eastern part of Abkhazia, my sister and I happened to enjoy the company of our beloved neighbor who had just returned from his Europe trip. He was the kind of guy who could tell you about his adventures somewhere there, in Europe or in Asia, which back then seemed so far to me. I would close my eyes, imagine, and wait for the day when I would also travel.

“How do you girls have fun in your free time? Where do you meet with others to exchange ideas and thoughts?” Giga asked us that day.

It took us quite a while to think. We answered that we go for walks with our friends on the outskirts of the town, read, watch films, and invite our friends to entertain each other by singing, dancing, and playing games. I told him I watched films, concerts, and everything on the internet when my neighbor had access to it because, at home, we did not have a computer or internet. Other than that, piano classes with the fantastic teacher Jenett were a blessing. These were not just piano classes but also stories of her life, art, and love. She managed to take us to a piano concert in Sukhum/i twice.

At the age of 16 and 17, my sister and I had never been to a cinema, a theatre, a library, a museum, or any entertainment center. And Giga’s reaction to that made me think about it more.

Ten years have passed since then. Some things have changed in Gal/i, but some remain the same: no cinema, theatre, libraries, or new places.

Tiniko, 9th-grade student in the school in Gal/i says concerts are held almost every month, by the culture administration of the town. Local singers and dancers are performing. And even though nearly every show is the same, she still enjoys attending those events.

“I would like us to have a town ballet school here, a museum, and an outdoor cinema in the park to watch films in the late evenings. My friends and I would enjoy watching Miyazaki’s films outdoors so much. It would make our lives less monotonous. We dream of this kind of place. Also, I want a language school where I can learn Korean” – she says.

Tiniko says she doesn’t enjoy school much, as the subjects she is interested in like visual arts and music are vaguely taught. “I think boredom can bring you to something new as it happened to me last year when I discovered that I like calligraphic improvisation. I found a page of Georgian calligraphers on TikTok and since then, bored or not, most of the time I’m occupied by writing, and it brings me joy. I share my work with my friends and teachers.

In a place like Gal/i, where people are deprived of the luxury of having cinema and theatre, the internet is the primary form of entertainment.

Nana, 26, lived in Tbilisi for ten years, and after, due to some circumstances, had to move to Gal/i. It took her years to get used to where she is now: she had to switch the hobbies she used to practice in Tbilisi with something else. Eventually, it appeared to be gardening. It is already the fifth summer Nana enjoys fresh vegetables and fruits from her own garden. “Winters became a time for daydreaming and imagination. Besides, I started learning introductory psychology on the internet. The internet is the only tool that helps me be aware of what is happening outside Gal/i”, she says.

Ecologist by profession Nana followed her passion and used to work as a film director and producer in Tbilisi. After moving to Gal/i, thanks to her passion, she established an open cinema club in the cultural hall building of the town, for school children and anyone interested in watching films. Initially, the idea was accepted but soon rejected.

“The first film we screened was “Space Odyssey 2001”. According to the person, who declared the opinion of the authorities, “the film is arrogant and worthless”.

Now, Nana organizes film nights only at home, where her friends and neighbors join her.

“Though I tried to stay hopeful and positive about the present and the future, apparently Gal/i’s current and overall situation stole my dreams. I forget how to dream and pursue it when I’m here. I became absorbed by the environment, which is deadly for the dreamers”

George, 32, works as a car diagnostician in Gal/i, and sometimes in Sukhum/i too. The consequences of the war had never left his life. His house is next to the burnt building of the old tea factory and behind the Russian military base in Gal/i. He says that if it were worth it, he would revitalize the whole country, but for now, even a place to grab a beer with friends, talk, and have exciting nights out of the house would be nice.

“I like the night sky. Sometimes I do yoga in my room because my neighbors find it ridiculous to see someone doing “funny” poses in the garden. Then a big question arises in my mind: what to do in such a conservative neighborhood, and town, where men drink or do drugs because of boredom, unemployment, and lack of opportunities? If one doesn’t have a chance to leave the place and stays in Gal/i, this place just affects the future perception and life”, he says.

“I often spend my spare time in my bedroom listening to music, smoking a joint, and trying to relax. Music is what I call a safe space for me. I love jazz and bossa nova. Perhaps that is why I don’t have many friends [smiles]. Music eases my living here. I dream of living where concerts happen monthly, even weekly.”

George and Nana have residence permits in Abkhazia, so they can go to Zugdidi or Tbilisi if needed.

“I go to Tbilisi once every three months or half a year. I meet friends, shop, buy new books, and see new things. I do many things (smiles). But most importantly, I go to the cinema and theatre. How sweet it is to be there after so much time. It’s like a homecoming. Then I come back to Gal/i, fulfilled and refreshed.” – says Nana.

As for me, since moving from Gal/i, I have spent months traveling, wandering, and opening up new tiny or big worlds for several years. Every first concert, film in a cinema, play at the theatre or newly discovered place reminded me of thousands of other people, who are deprived of these opportunities. I wish it won’t remain a luxury to watch Miyazaki’s films in the late summer evening in the park

All names of respondents have been changed for security reasons