School at Last: Etseri, Svaneti


One would be forgiven for a certain amount of confusion regarding the re-start of the Georgian educational year. After all, there were rumors flying in various media, all contradicting one other. September 15 was to be the date for public schools outside the country’s seven largest cities. These would start on October 1, preceded by two weeks of online education, as we had all experienced from early spring until the end of the last school year. But the day arrived, and in our village of Etseri, it was business as usual.

Usual, to the extent of the ongoing renovations (which did start in mid-summer for once instead of concurrent with the school reopening!), with at least a week of dust, noise and disruption left. And also with a certain administrator’s absence, possibly a first for the opening day, but not in general. Probably new this year was a much greater sense of relief that the long vacation from school is actually over and can we get back to something approaching Normal now, please?

When I arrived at about 10:30 am, my wife was seated at a desk just inside the school’s main door. She and a colleague, standing, were both masked and face-shielded. He took the temperature of each person entering using one of those instant-result thermos-guns, and she recorded it, along with the person’s name and surname. Extra face masks were ready for any adult, though the children were not asked to wear one; disinfectant liquid was both on the desk and on the wall.

The eight grade 1 entrants were in their class, accompanied both by a few parents and their mentor-teacher, having received their new books and the customary laptop each; mostly entirely and blissfully unaware that this phase of their young lives is to continue for twice as long as the current extent of those lives. Grade 1 numbers are a good way for us to gauge the population health of the village, comparing them with previous years to get a handle on whether we are growing or shrinking. Eight is about average for us in the last few years, a sign that things are looking pretty normal.

Elsewhere, other grades were receiving their books and discovering their newly renovated or still-in-progress classrooms. The indoor bathroom complex is still being built, but assuming the water runs, it will be a first for us, infinitely better than the old pair of outhouses, which I could not bring myself to use once in the several years I co-taught English there. (Home is less than 100m away in any case.)

In our isolated conditions, it is unlikely that our school and the many like it in Georgia’s mountain villages will have to close due to being ground zero for a new Virus outbreak. In this way, we are in a far better position than schools in many other countries in the developed world, which are starting and stopping faster than a revolving door spins.

How the pupils will cope with maintaining distance from each other remains to be seen; it sounds increasingly less possible as one descends the age ladder. But this too may be less of a dangerously infectious issue than one fears, again given our relative isolation as a community.

In the coming days there are schedules to be ironed out, and things in general to put into as much order as can be done. And then the new school year will be back to whatever passes for the New Normal, a year unlike any other in the experience of all of us: students, teachers, parents and onlookers. Whether the education being received is mostly as a result of classroom time or of other factors, we hope it will be sufficient to prepare young minds and hearts for the uncertain world which awaits them sooner or later.

Tony Hanmer has lived in Georgia since 1999, in Svaneti since 2007, and been a weekly writer and photographer 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 September 2020 16:06