Flies In The Matzoni

I was walking down Tbilisi’s main drag, Rustaveli Blvd, with Andre, a young football (soccer) player from Cameroon when a man walked up to him and said in scattered English, “excuse me, but you…” He motioned as to help pick some lint from Andre’s hair, but instead started fondling his nappy head.

“Thank you,” Andre said.

It’s not easy being a black person in Georgia.

Georgia prides itself in being a tolerant and culturally diverse nation, which it is if you are a white, straight, Orthodox Christian Georgian. But because blacks are not traditional resident guests and have only recently appeared, they attract predictable rounds of Caucasian nescience. However, as annoying as it is to have fingers pointed at you and people snickering behind your back, blacks in Georgia don’t have to worry about racist maniacs jumping out of the dark with lead pipes. There are no skinheads in Georgia because Georgians are too preoccupied with their greatness to have room for the concept of white supremacy. They are above it.

“The Georgian men, they always want me to smoke and drink with them. But I don’t smoke and I don’t drink. And they still invite me. I can’t stand it,” explains a young Cameroonian named Mirako, of how Georgian aggression manifests itself in hospitality overkill.

Everybody wants their pictures taken with a black person, while sex, goes without saying. It’s like a twist on how curiosity killed the cat. What it all boils down to is that blacks are a novelty in a land inhabited by a bunch of big white kids.

My neighbor, Sylvester, is from Nigeria. I thought it would be interesting to do a profile on him to try to understand the difficulties Africans face in the land of hospitality. What I discovered is that there are perhaps hundreds of Africans that have been victimized by various scams that attract them to Georgia to bilk and then abandon them when their money runs out. Broke, unable to speak a local language in a country with an unofficial unemployment rate of 70% (official about %15), these people find themselves stuck in Georgia.

I did a story for Eurasianet about a team of Cameroonian footballers with Justyna Mielnikiewicz and a couple of stories for Deutsche Welle (1st and 2nd).


6 thoughts on “Flies In The Matzoni

  1. As a black westerner, I can somewhat relate to awkwardness in relating to some “less-sophisticated” Georgians. However, I have found that those from Tbilisi tend to be quite gracious and kind.

    It would help Africans in Georgia if they came with language and occupational skills that they could put to use. By coming to Georgia with no wealth or viable plan of action does them, nor the general perception of people of African descent, no favors.

    Hopefully African businessmen, journalists, and intellectuals can come here to help turn the tide of public perception.

  2. As Sylvester said, people need to learn more about their destinations before they depart. But the hang up is that many people from the African continent see Georgia as a stepping stone to Europe only to discover how difficult it is to leave the country once they arrive.

  3. very much liked this article, and previous ones! Just a small comment on the unemployment figure. 70% are non-employed, but that’s not a type of unemployment figure that would be used in Western countries either, since it includes pensioners, students, or stay-at-home parents. Technically, it would be more appropriate to say that about 30% consider themselves unemployed. Sorry for being nitpicky, but I think it’s important to get clarity into the discussion of unemployment.

    1. Thank you Hans,

      As I understood the CRRC survey, 70% respondents considered themselves unemployed. To me this is an unofficial estimate, but for clarity’s sake, I’ll add the official rate as well.


      1. this is particular semantic issue. 70% are not working, and this is often referred to as non-employment. In many definitions this is separated from being “unemployed”.

        The non-employed are a large group, including those that would not work if it was offered to them (your 87-year-old great-grandmother next-door). The unemployed are a subset, that would like to be active in the labor market, but aren’t.

        Even in Western countries politicians often play with these definitions in order to make the numbers look more favorable.

        And you probably didn’t want to go from discussing the unhappy fate of a migrant to a link to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, but if it helps to illuminate the issue, here goes:


  4. No country regardless of attainment and economic status will survive as an island. Citizens are free to travel for diversity of reasons except those from Cuba and North Korea. Traveling abroad carries risks and costs mostly non-monetary costs however these costs should not hinder attempts. Traveling abroad or even outside known locality deserves critical analysis, review of data/information and wider sourcing of relevant information.

    Unfortunately many trips aboard are unplanned without basic knowledge and information of destination. Many individuals in Africans perceive Europe as an unbounded space open to everyone at any point of entry. Some do not border to receive the fact that English/French language is not universal even though they may be poor at it at home. When truthful advice comes before travel they are dismissed as conspiracy to prevent individual progress/advancement. Somehow success end in wealth justifies the project. Some of the pain on the abroad are self-inflicted and preventable.

    Those abroad have two options, (a) staying based on evidence of success in a short time and (b) traveling back home where there is emotional and cultural certainty. Many individuals have died on the road abroad from inability to see a doctor, report incidents to police, culture shock including racism, disconnection from their embassies (though incompetent) and for many other reasons.

    Those who decide to stake it out must learn the local language (reading, speaking and writing), find information of stay regularization, attempt to be positively visible in the community, maintain contact with home/3rd party, marry local as time ticks and study/learn a profession to back up. This is non-trivial and tough from experience. Avoid crime or breaking the law towards unencumbered survival. Once stay is regularised one can ‘escape’ to Western Europe and or travel home.

    The young man who learnt Georgian and is preparing for PhD is on the right track. Traveling is the greatest university that awards only one degree, PhD. However one must be alive to savour it.

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