Season of our Discontent: Etseri, Svaneti


Fly back with us, from Cancun to Toronto to Istanbul to Tbilisi (wishing there were direct Tbilisi-North America flights like there are from Baku, but not through the USA, please!). Rest up there a couple of days, then make the next trek, back up to Svaneti, equivalent to yet another transatlantic flight in time if not in distance or altitude. Home sweet home.

How pleasant to return to the end of snow, all melted in the two weeks of our absence! A new season was firmly upon us, and soon even night frosts were over and the clamor for ice cream began in the shop.

But the end of winter did not signify the simultaneous end of electrical or water problems. Bigger issues loom: wind causing the former, silt or leaves the latter. Both need the attention of volunteers, although both should have people actually responsible for them, who are sometimes indeed available but not always. Did I mention that our village has been without a mayor since January? Or that our three fridge/freezers and two extra cabinet freezers will put us in dire straits if power is off longer than a day?

Yesterday, our water began to slow to a trickle, so I went outside to see how local or widespread the problem was. If it’s only my issue, I’m expected to deal with it alone, though I’m free to ask for any help I need. If it’s a hamlet-wide or bigger thing, I can volunteer to join a brigade to investigate and solve it. This one was more than just our house, though, so I asked a neighbor to inform me if a brigade would form, so I could take part (and take photos).

Our house’s water soon began to flow better, though, while elsewhere the slowdown continued. Another neighbor, who had been village mayor when we were house hunting and even showed us what we would end up buying, came around too. “Water struggle?” I asked. “Indeed,” he replied. “But who’s in charge?” Then he got all excited and said, “Tony, I want to nominate you for village mayor! You can do this! Your foreign experience, you know the local situation well, you won’t be taken in by any corruption, you can kick things into line—what do you say?” I was taken aback, but fully expected that not having Georgian citizenship would automatically rule me out. He came in and we looked for the qualifications for mayoralty in Georgia online, but drew blanks. I told him that he was welcome to have someone else suggest my name, but that I wouldn’t do it myself. He went away buzzing.

But later that evening, he phoned to say that, indeed, I couldn’t run without having the citizenship. I said, “Which of my two would you have me abandon for this: Canadian or British?” He knew a rhetorical question when he heard one, and we left it at that.

This morning… water fine (for us, at least), but no electricity! Again, I stepped out to investigate, after a few phone calls had revealed that this was for four households sharing some part of the system. One of them called our local engineer. He and several of us from the affected zone converged on the location of the problem. It seemed that two overhead cables touching when the wind blew were causing some kind of short. The engineer attached a stick with a nail in it to one of them, then wired this to another stick fixed into the ground. This would be temporary, he said, and several of us would need to band together and buy some more cable. What kind? I asked. Four strands of aluminum, insulated. Okay. A call home confirmed that we had power again and would not need to start the generator for now to save our cold and frozen produce.

But we are still without a mayor… with a new water system half installed and then forgotten, and ongoing electrical challenges to boot. Welcome to our world.

Tony Hanmer has lived in Georgia since 1999, in Svaneti since 2007, and been a weekly writer for GT since early 2011. He runs the “Svaneti Renaissance” Facebook group, now with over 1800 members, at

He and his wife also run their own guest house in Etseri:

By Tony Hanmer

10 May 2018 19:18