Mountains Go Up and Down: Etseri, Svaneti


Dear readers, who can help me escape the terrible paradox I’ve got myself into? You see, I resolved not to make any New Year’s resolutions this year…

2019 has had that kind of strange start. There was January 1, which had been preceded by Christmas, and then came Christmas again, followed by a second New Year on the 14th. My birthday (52) was the 13th, but my wife had been in Tbilisi, and when we received the news that school holidays would be extended for a week while the flu makes its rounds, I urged her to stay there in our flat to get some rest and have some needed work done on her teeth.

Guests of mine, seven young self-catering friends here to serve in the village (on which more will be written in future): should I even tell them it was my birthday, or simply let Facebook do the telling? In the end, it did, but also some neighbor girls let the cat out of the bag. Coming to the shop, they congratulated me publicly on my birthday but also invited me to their little brother’s big day, my “twin minus 47 years”! So, we did have a small celebration here, as well as me going to the 5-year-old’s one and being asked to play tamada (toastmaster) at the feast there. Fortunately, I’ve had some training in this important ritual role and was able to pull it off. Some fireworks were part of the fun, and I was able to get a few good tripod-mounted shots of these too, from the house.

The next day, the 14th, was not only Old New Year’s day but also when a dear old neighbor lady died, of a lung thrombosis, suddenly, in her late 70s. So, sorrow mixed in with the festivities; a funeral to follow on the 19th. The good part of dying here in winter is that your open coffin need not be cooled during the days of the wake. This is offset by: having to dig a grave in the frozen ground; and having to make benches, tables, a tarpaulin marquee and vast amounts of cold and hot food for an outdoor funeral feast for several hundred guests, I’ll write it again, OUTDOORS.

My meqvle (first visitor on New Year’s Day) came in the morning, with his little girl of nearly 1½ years, who is now walking and talking up quite a storm. We had a small feast together and renewed our deep friendship; he is the most devoted dad to his three children of any I’ve seen for miles around, but despairs for the world they seem to have to inherit. His life has straddled the relatively happy and prosperous years of Georgia’s communist period as well as the utter chaos and collapse of society which followed the fall of that time. He also describes the local and regional government as the most corrupt, mafia-ridden one in the whole country. Not a lot of optimism there. But at least he thinks and talks honestly, which I really do appreciate.

We are glad to see such a mild winter temperature-wise, but the snowfall is definitely working on being as full as last year’s record-breaker. At least the water pipes show no signs of freezing! I have a new way this year of keeping the water flowing, which is definitely helping. But I look forward to renovating the whole water system before next winter, with something considerably more foolproof, needing less fuss and bother to cope with the freeze. We’re trying to run a guest house here, potentially year-round, after all!

Dear readers, I wish you more ups than downs as this year starts, and all the help you need in coping with whatever life’s caprices throw at you.

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 nearly 2000 members, at

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

By Tony Hanmer

17 January 2019 18:38