The social composition of Tbilisi microrayons consists mainly of low or middle income families, who were provided with housing by the state, in Communist period. There are also newcomers who have bought the apartments from the initial owners, after these had been privatized from the government by the end of the Soviet regime. Generally the newcomers belong to the similar social strata as the local inhabitants and therefore, easily integrate in the community. Most commonly the families are nuclear: parents and their children, but often two or more generations happen to live together in one apartment. Family ties are strong in this community; young people usually live with parents until they create their own families and try to start independent life. However, due to the economic scarcity married young couples often stay to live with parents. The social networks in the microrayons are strong and based on the belonging to specific apartment block or its immediate neighborhood. Beside the local networks the inhabitants are also involved in other networks not related to the living place, such as: work collectives, friends, relatives, etc. Often these networks become interconnected and create more complex forms of social exchange between different groups and localities. In this particular case of Tbilisi microrayons, the high density of social exchange is intensified on the one hand by the common needs of the low income population and on the other by the inability of state to provide the necessary services and security. As a result there emerge the parallel processes, entirely isolated from the institutional surveillance, to fill this gap and facilitate survival of the society in need.
Guide to social networks in the Soviet microrayons
In the following text several possible scenarios are developed based on the participant observation of survival strategies of the microrayon inhabitants. The form of narration is instructive in order to be easily applicable to the everyday situations.
If you need a doctor’s advice, but do not have enough money, you should know that there must be a doctor in your neighborhood, who can give you the first aid with necessary medical advice. You can visit him or her and explain that you are a neighbor and need a help. If you don’t know him/her personally and feel uncomfortable to go directly, you can also find some other neighbor who knows the doctor and can accompany you during the visit. Just to be nice, it will be good if you could bring with you some sweets or whatever you can give as a reward for assistance, but it is not obligatory.
If you have a problem with electrical installations in your apartment, there is always someone in the neighborhood who understands electricity and can help you to fix the problem. Moreover, he might have his own secret method of stopping the electricity counters or having the alternative connection to the cable television. If he trusts you, he might even help you in this way. Remember, this secret is not between you and him only. This is a secret of the neighborhood as other neighbors also have used the same technique. So, be careful because if the officials find out the trick it might become a problem for the whole neighborhood. Hence, the chance that someone will point at the inventor of the trick growths. It will be appreciated if you invite the generous electrician for a dinner or for a beer after he is finished with his work, where few of the neighbors enjoying his invention might also join.
If you are a young mother it is typical to share experience with others who are in the same situation, rather than taking advice from consultants, who are being paid by the baby food producing companies for advertising their products and are not reliable. If you don’t have such friends, neighbors or relatives, a local church can be a right place for linking up with other young mothers. A local park or a playground can also be such a meeting place. Such an encounter may be a start of a long term friendship, so don’t be too specific on the subject.
If you want to buy a necessary household, which costs much more than your monthly income, you can easily avoid bank loans which are given with the interest rate, demand formal documents and in case of inability of paying are violent in taking back the sum. You can initiate a so called “lottery” between the neighbors, where every month each member of the “game” puts certain amount of money in the “bank” and the collected sum is given to the person in need. This way each member receives the total amount of the money in the “bank” once or more times, depending on the length of the “lottery”. Such a loan does not have an interest rate added and is more flexible in terms of repayment.
If your income is unstable you can still find a way of getting food and necessary goods in your hard times. You have to negotiate with a local shop where you often make your daily shopping and if you have a confidence of the shopkeeper, you can ask for a so called “nisia” when your income suddenly drops. This means that you can continue shopping there, with the promise that you’ll pay back as soon as you have money. In this situation try to buy the same goods as in normal times, in order not to make the shopkeepers feel abused by your privilege. Try to give back money on the promised date. This will enable you to continue the good relationship with the shop.
If you are a housewife and do not often have a chance to go out for entertainment, you can distract from your daily routine by inviting your neighbor housewives for coffee. This may happen without a special occasion or surely when you bake a cake or cookies. You can also take the cake and coffee and visit your neighbor’s place; this can always be a nice surprise. If your close friend’s family lives in the next stair block, on the same floor and your apartments share the same wall, you can make a door between the apartments. This saves time in going up and down in different stair blocks every time you visit each other, especially when the elevators are rarely in order. It also saves you from passing things from balcony to balcony. Be sure you do not damage the supporting structures of the building!
It is quite expensive for the low income families to connect to the internet individually. So if you are a teenager and want to have a cheap internet, you can find other young people in your apartment block who would like to join the network. There might be also an operating one which you can connect to.
If you are an adult man you can spend your evening at the local men’s gathering place in the neighborhood. There you can chat with neighbors and play cards or domino, followed by a few drinks or even a small party. Drink responsibly, or else you will loose the respect of the neighbors!
If you an elderly person and you do not find the evening parties appealing, you can find a place where elderly people gather for playing chess and discussing problems from everyday life to the global politics. Such places are often located in more central areas such as main square of the microrayon or a main park. Walking there can be also a good exercise for you.
Cleaning Communal Space
If you live on the ground floor of an apartment block you must be annoyed by the dirt and dust coming to your front door from the street, you should not blame neighbors of abusing your foot cleaner. You better take an initiative and organize the small groups of neighbors who will clean the communal spaces every week, so that one person from each family will participate in cleaning once in two month or so. If this does not work, you can also hire a person who will clean the communal stair block every weekend. To pay the cleaner you should divide the sum and collect money from all the families of the stair block every month. It can be a good contribution to the economy of some local person who could take this duty.
When someone passes away in the neighborhood and, especially, in your apartment block, you are expected to financially help the mourning family. The sum is never fixed and your contribution may be very small, but it still counts. You do not need to give the money to the family member personally. There is always one of the neighbors who collect the money for the family. The same applies to the weddings but less important, you can give the present individually.
Refurbishment of a flat
Ask your neighbors’ advice when planning a renovation of your flat. Some of them will definitely recommend you good and cheap construction workers. Usually you should provide the workers with dinner.
You should always give back for the help other people generously offer you. This doesn’t mean inviting them for a beer or paying a dinner in the restaurant. You should be one of the rings in the complex chain of social network existing in the spaces of apartment blocks, neighborhoods, districts or the whole city. Being one of the rings means being reliable and open for any kind of relevant help you can offer to other people.
I am Levan Asabashvili. I am an architect and writer. I live in of Georgia, post USSR and I will write about the social-spatial things happening over here.