“We all need help sometimes...”
The above words became my main point in a short speech I made to three teenage orphan siblings in Akhalsopeli, Kakheti this weekend. My wife and I had hosted the girl, 14 years old, this weekend in Tbilisi, along with her best friend, our niece. We returned her home, along with a new washing machine the purchase of which sales from my ongoing photographic exhibition, “A Taste of Svaneti”, had allowed. As I had decided, all such funds would go to the support of this girl and her two 17 year old brothers, who lost their mother several years ago and their father in mid-May this year.
We didn’t spend long at their house. Their aunt and uncle are with them at the moment, and this was just an introduction. I hope to be of more help to the family in the future, because a single visit and a single gift don’t go far, when there are needs like several years of school to finish and considerations of what to do to put bread on the table in those years and beyond. I said my piece, hoping it would blunt the effect of having total strangers visit and bring “charity”. Who doesn’t need help from others, ever?
From there we visited relatives of my wife, and waited for the lady of the house to come back from a long day’s work in the vineyards. She does this work daily at the moment, rising at 5:30 in the morning, going out with other ladies to this or that farm as temporary labour. They are home at about 6 pm so, with walking or being driven to the job and an hour’s break during which they eat whatever lunch they have brought, it’s quite a long day... for 15 lari. Her husband has spent spells in Turkey on similar work, and it seems that they are just getting by, with two teenage children in school. Typical of many people in this country.
I am always struck by the beauty of Georgia, and its sheer fecundity, especially in the growing season. As I have been told, this country was per capita the richest republic in the Soviet Union. The favourite tourist destination. Then came the breakup of that Union, Georgia’s own civil wars, and general infrastructure breakdown, resulting in what I would describe as a generally traumatized country. Kakheti, the main agricultural area of Georgia, was not exempt.
Although my heart may be firmly planted in the high mountains and towers of far-off Svaneti, my marriage to a Kakheti-replanted Racha girl means that the east of the country will also be one of the poles around which my Georgian life revolves, as we visit her family here. And it’s good to be reminded that there are other places, than Svaneti, although of course I am generally aware of this.
It’s one thing for me to live on Georgia, to travel up and down, knowing more or less that I’m not stuck for my next meal or item of clothing or even the luxuries of ice cream or whatever. Poking my nose, and my pen and camera, into odd corners, intruding even with the best of intentions. I long to see this country get onto its feet, materially and spiritually, for the traumas physical and emotional of the past many decades to be healed; even while knowing that prosperity brings its own set of problems, not least of which may be the jealousy of far richer, more powerful outside forces - of which there are more than one in the neighbourhood. Thus Georgia’s long, bloody history of invasion from all sides.
These were some of my thoughts even as I noticed, and photographed, and wrote notes about, what I was seeing, the magnificent health of Kakheti’s farms. Now that I know firsthand how much long-term coddling a cucumber patch needs, I find myself getting angry that the things are so cheap at the market. Heartbreakingly cheap for the farmer! Most fruits and vegetables I see around seem to have the same fate: back-breaking labour for miserly returns. Must it be so?
The photographic exhibition and sale “A Taste of Svaneti” is at Focus Cafe/Restaurant, at 29 Abashidze St., Vake, Tbilisi. Open 12 midday to 12 midnight daily, until June 18. All sales from the exhibition go towards the support of the above mentioned orphans. Please contact Tony at email@example.com with any questions.
Tony Hanmer’s blogs are www.geosynchronicity.blogspot.com and www.geosynchronici-2.blogspot.com
He also runs the “Svaneti Renaissance” group at http://www.facebook.com/groups/116859958383396/
By Tony Hanmer