Sprouting like Weed: Etseri, Svaneti


Having attended the first day of school in Georgia, yesterday as I write this, I now have cause to reflect.

It was the usual welcome to our 71-strong village school, with an inflow of 7 youngsters into grade 1, not a bad haul, but unusual in that this year there will be no one in grade 12; we simply don’t have anyone in that class. My wife now has a higher grade of teacher certification, having earned a hard-won 10 in her summer exam; the school director now has a doctorate, too. And everyone’s a year older, a little or a lot taller.

The night before that, my best friend in the village came over for a long-overdue chat. He’s a father of three little ones, the oldest in grade 2, and is not optimistic about recent changes in local society. “Tony, when you walk around Mestia now, a cloud of marijuana smoke is in the air,” he says. “I came down tough on one of my friends, saying that if he doesn’t quit smoking the stuff, I’ll ban my children from being anywhere near him. He took it hard, but then he did what I asked and gave up! What do I want with that kind of thing around my family? It’s being grown all over the place around us now! For nothing good!”

We talked some more about this troubling trend, agreeing that it will indeed change things for the worse if left unchecked, greed being a likely motivator. While I can understand that there may be some medical need to use marijuana or one of its derivatives for pain control, and have never suffered such a need, more than this I am led to believe is only harmful to health in the long run. We already have enough of a problem with jobless young men and drinking in the village; should we add this new thing to that list of issues too?

There are anti-smoking campaigns and anti-drug use campaigns in the school, which I think is great, but I also still see so many male school leavers getting straight into tobacco and from there into other, stronger things. As if they can afford such lifelong addictions and their overall health effects!

Not intending to sound Puritan (after all, I do make and responsibly consume my own liqueurs); just aware of the effects of overdoing certain substances on my community and particularly its young families. The drinking is bad enough, when it leads to widows and orphans, usually because of being combined with driving. What will this new tendency lead to? I hate to be the one saying “Mark my words,” followed by “I told you so…” But I, too, am pessimistic. And I’m a member of this community, not just a passer-through.

We don’t sell cigarettes or alcohol in our shop at all, partly because these “addictive” items tend to send their consumers on the prowl whenever the need for a fix joins with the end of current supplies: day or night, anytime. We were warned about this and experienced it for a while as well. And partly because I have no wish to make it easy for local people to get their hands on them and profit myself thereby. They’re not neutral things, in my eyes. I see a downward slide with the latest changes in narcotics law here, so shall I say nothing?

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 1900 members, at www.facebook.com/groups/SvanetiRenaissance/

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


By Tony Hanmer

20 September 2018 18:23