Jumber Was Here!
Five years ago, I met and befriended a young man from the eastern European country of Georgia. He had come to the Netherlands seeking asylum. This was because he is bisexual, which is just not accepted there and he was in fear of his life. The authorities looked at a piece of paper that says that it is safe for LGBT people in Georgia, and told him that he would be sent back. I helped him evade deportation and he tried again in another country. That, I have written about at the time. Unfortunately, they too looked at that same piece of paper and sent him back. He was deported to Georgia.
In Georgia, my friend had nothing to go back to. His family didn't accept him and, in fact, his father was one of the major reasons he had fled in the first place. His mother had tried to support him, but died shortly thereafter under suspicious circumstances. Although my friend could not say for certain, he has always suspected that his mother died at the hands of his father, just for trying to help her son. Though he had had a business before he left, that business was taken by his father. So, when he went back, he had no family, no place to live, and no income.
My friend kept in touch as best he could, sending me messages from internet cafes. This picture he sent, broke my heart. He was living on the streets of Tbilisi, with just a few pieces of cardboard and plastic to shield him from the cold. All day, he walked the streets looking for discarded bottles, which he could hand in to get the recycling deposit so that he'd have some money to buy a little food. When there weren't enough bottles, he had to resort to stealing food.
As soon as I could, I started sending him some money every month which enabled him to rent a small apartment in Tbilisi and to eat normally. Despite being depressed, he went looking for a job and took whatever work he could. The work was hard and physically exhausting and the pay was lousy. So lousy, in fact, that he remained dependent on what I sent him as it wasn't even enough to cover the rent of that small flat. But despite this, he was so glad and proud to be able to do something. And I was just as proud of him for not giving up.
It was not to last. After working this job for a few weeks, he was spotted by somebody who knew him and why he'd left Georgia in the first place. They returned with others and beat him up to within an inch of his life, damaging several internal organs. The photo above, taken in the hospital, is the last photo I have of him. To allow him to recover, I had set up a crowdfunding campaign, which took care of the medical bills for his care and hospital stay. Mentally, he didn't truly recover, and he remained afraid to ever leave home, terrified as he was of another attack. Despite this, he always looked for odd jobs to get some income and to feel useful.
We kept in touch, communicating via WhatsApp. When he attended protest marches against government corruption and the injustices in Georgian society, I was worried for his safety and he was arrested multiple times. I tried to get him to go to organisations standing up for LGBT people in Georgia, but as hate crimes were directed at such organisations and police looked the other way, he didn't dare. Especially after that attack, he never really trusted anybody other than me.
Several times a week, we talked via WhatsApp. We talked about maybe getting to meet up again some day. We talked about finding a better life outside of Georgia. And we looked back fondly at the times we'd spent together during his failed attempts for asylum in the EU. It made me smile when he told me about little things that made him happy, like when he had the opportunity to enjoy an icecream cone on a hot summer day. I remember how proud he was that he'd managed to get a proper ID card again (and he sent me a photo of it). His messages were always full of love and hope and kindness.
In July of 2022, just after I'd sent him money for that month's rent, he told me not to send anything for the following month. I asked whether he was sure about that, whether he'd be able to make rent and buy food, and he told me not to worry. At 12:43 on July 8th 2022, he messaged me "thinking about you" and when I responded, he read it and reacted with a ❤️ emoji. Just over 5 hours later, at 18:11 on that same day, I inquired about his health. That message, was not just unread, but remained undelivered in WhatsApp. For more than a year, I sent messages to him every few days, over 200 in total, but never did that single grey checkmark turn into a double, let alone blue.
Yesterday morning, a friend suggested hiring a private investigator. That thought hadn't occurred to me before, but it was sound advice, which I promptly followed. I sent the detective the information that I had (the photo of that ID card came in handy) and it took them a little over a day to report back. The devastating reply: "I'm sorry but unfortunately this person died last year". Although more details will be sent later on, I'm virtually certain that they will confirm my fears and that my friend has taken his own life. Every time I had looked back at his final communication to me, it always felt like he didn't want to burden me and was saying goodbye.
Dear Jumber Kikacheishvili, you have suffered so much in the mere 32 years of your life, yet you never let hatred enter your heart. It was too full of kindness for that. You tried so hard to find a better life, giving up everything you had, and were rebuked. Regardless of the details of how you left this life, I feel you have been murdered by the system. This cruel world is a lesser place with you no longer in it. I hope with all my heart that I was able to let you know that there was at least one person who considered you a valuable human being. Even if nobody else cared about whether you lived or died, I did. My tears for you are real. For as long as I live, you will not be forgotten. I won't permit this world to be without evidence that you were here, and I'll remember you and tell your story to whomever will listen. Jumber, may you have found the rest and peace that you could never find in life. I remember the one Georgian word you taught me: ნახვამდის.