A Chance Encounter

These images tell the story of the Maskalski family in a small village populated by ethnic Armenians, Russian, and Georgians, situated in the Samtskhe-Javakheti mkhare (province) in the southeast of Georgia that borders both Armenia and Turkey. It was a chance encounter that led to a friendship with this beautiful family. Sometimes we meet people and while don’t have an official way of communicating with them, we still make it work and a friendship evolves in a way that, surprisingly, stands the test of time. We don’t always know why or how we understand each other but the conversation just seems to flow without really speaking the same language. There are just some instances where connections are made on something more than the words we speak. The local economy is dominated by small-scale agriculture and the farmers are mostly engaged in cattle breeding. The climate is harsh, and a significant share of its territory is covered by high mountains. Locals say, the winter lasts more than seven months with lots of bad weather, which is why almost everyone has cattle and hay or works at the farm. In the winter months, most villages off the main road are completely isolated from the outer world. During Soviet times the collective farms (kolkhozes) in the region were renowned for their cheese, some were even exported to Moscow as “Swiss cheese”. Today, however, the large-scale manufacturing of dairy products has been disrupted, due to poor technology and problems with transportation. Most farmers produce only milk and sell it to local small-scale cheese producers. The high production and transportation costs do not make it worthwhile to produce other cash crops. Pesticides and fertilizers are almost non-existent, which makes agriculture extremely weather sensitive. Thus the land is used as pasture or for harvesting hay. There is also a lack of local factories to process agricultural products. Most small-scale farmers do not have access to modern technology and are totally dependent on renting machinery or simply on manual work.