TBILISI, GEORGIA: Kakha, 41, is one of about 10 people selling popcorn in the center of Tbilisi. ''There is no work,'' said Kakha, who used to work in construction in Moscow. ''I need to feed my family, I need a job. I don't need democracy,'' he said, referring to the Rose Revolution that brought Saakachvili to power. He said that things got worse under Saakashvili and that it was a mistake for Georgia to get into a war with neighboring Russia. Kakha said he is happy with the new president, who has again allowed people like himself to sell goods on the streets of Tbilisi, something Kakha said was banned under Saakachvili.
TBILISI, GEORGIA: Tamta, 22, works part time as a receptionist at a boutique hotel in the center of Tbilisi while finishing her studies. She hopes to work in an international hotel after she graduates. Tamta said she spent her childhood in Moscow, where her father worked as a doctor. However, in 2006, he decided to move the family back to their homeland.
BATUMI, GEORGIA: Roco, 50, works in a small shoe repair kiosk with two other men roughly his age in the Georgian port city of Batumi. An Armenian by nationality, he was born in Batumi. Roco said his father made shoes during WWII, joining a local factory at age 14. Roco said the shoe repair business is dying. ''Young people want to play with computers, not work with their hands.'' People are buying cheaper, lower-quality shoes and the cost of repairing them is not much less than buying new ones.
BATUMI, GEORGIA: With his dreadlocks, Davit looked more like a musician or skateboarder. The 24 year-old Georgian said he was hoping to go to the US to work for a few years to gain kitchen experience. ''Then I will come back to share the experience here,'' he said. Risotto, kharcho and mtsvadi, a Georgian shisk kebab, are among his favorite dishes. Davit said that Batumi has changed a lot over the past decade. ''If you look at photos from 10 years ago, it looks like a village. So much has been built in the last few years,'' he said.
TBILISI, GEORGIA: Stas, 31, married last year, having proposed to his future wife on their 3rd day together. "I didn't doubt myself for a minute. I only regret I didn't do it on the first day." Stas, a boxer, said he is 'going crazy' as he hasn't seen his wife and her daughter in two months due to work. He explained that he left his native Kharkov, Ukraine to open another pizzeria in Tbilisi with his partner. Stas and his partner normally run pizzerias in Crimea in the summer. However, they believe business will be bad this year in Crimea and thus want to try another location.
TBILISI, GEORGIA: Mishel, a Scandinavian studies student in Tbilisi, was hanging out with friends in the center of town as the sun set. It is rare to meet someone majoring in Scandinavian culture and language, so I asked Mishel how he chose that course of study. "I love winter and peace. When I was a child, my father told me there are Scandinavian countries that have both." Mishel hopes to move there to continue his studies. In the meantime, he is writing a book about the LGBT community in Georgia based on his life and the lives of his friends. He hopes to publish the book later this year.
TBILISI, GEORGIA: These Tbilisi girls were returning from school wearing t-shirts marked with their hand prints and words like "love and peace." They explained in good English that it was 'anti-bully' day at their school and the hand is the day's symbol. Tako, 13, (2nd from right) said her school has several hundred students, but she didn't think there were any bullies there.
TBILISI, GEORGIA: Anna, 19, stuck out from the crowd with her black hat, leather jacket, ripped jeans and converse sneakers. She said she liked rock music, like the Scorpions and Pink Floyd. Anna, who is half Russian, she said she would like to become a veterinarian and attend university in Russia. She said her uncle, an architect, has worked on the Moscow metro.
TBILISI, GEORGIA: Anna, 17, was hanging out with friends when I asked for directions. As Anna led me to my destination, she said she would like to become an architect and hoped to study in Norway, where she heard the universities were better. She lives with her aunt because her father died about 10 years ago and her mom recently went to work in Turkey, due to the tough economic conditions in Georgia. Anna, who was named after her Ukrainian grandmother, smiled and laughed a lot as we walked, but she admited she sometimes feels her parents' absence. Thus, she tries to keep busy, drawing or meeting friends in her free time. She is looking forward to attending an outdoor music concert in July.
GEORGIA: He was welding metal on a boat when we began to converse. He said he recently got kicked out of Russia, where he was working in construction. He said he didn't have a visa and got into Russia via Belarus. He felt someone ratted on him. He said the incident cost him $1,000, without giving details. (While Russian fines for illegal immigrants are much lower, it is unclear if he had more fines, such as illegally crossing the border, etc.)