Psych War Xmas: Svaneti


Got your attention? Good. Disclaimer: usually I disdain and refuse the use of “Xmas” instead of “Christmas”, but this time, I wanted a shorter title, is all. It is, after all, the Christ Mass, like it or not!

“A Christmas of Psychological Warfare” would be the more complete form of the title, because that’s what this season and day (Western calendar) feel like. We’ve been nearly buried under sudden deep snow: that’s what I would call it when you open the front door and have to dig down to find the top step outside! Not a first, but an early occurrence of this phenomenon. The windows on the north side of the house, which gets the least sunlight, are already half covered with the stuff coming off the roof.

In addition, the electricity has been not only going on and off with despairing frequency, but also been varying considerably in intensity. We have a group of nine guest-volunteers staying with us, from the organization Youth with a Mission, and their room heating by electricity has been a challenge, but their purpose and fulfillment of help for needy people in Etseri has far outweighed the difficulties. Power on upstairs, off downstairs, or the reverse: is this even possible? Apparently so!

Also, I was forced to resort to the petrol generator to prevent our freezers from defrosting; both, including the massive chest one, are full. Ironic when it’s winter! But vital.

I’ve stopped recording the power on/off incidents on the calendar as it’s just too depressing; six offs per day was enough, some days ago, and this has been worse. We’ve unplugged the two water heaters we were using, and downstairs heaters too, replaced by the massive Svan stove burning wood, to reserve power for the freezers. At least the weather is staying mild, hardly going below freezing, which makes a big difference.

The snow IS pretty, of course, but when you see how much of it is on the road up to the house, you think, can even the chains on my 4x4 get me anywhere? The local tractor has begun clearing it at last, so this will help. But winter driving is a whole different game, regardless. Every meter needs focus.

All the tall, straight aspens have had their topmost branches snapped off by the sudden, massive, windless snowfall, rather than being able to bounce back and release it; I saw one of these breaks happen.

Two of the guests went with me to clear snow off the roof of an invalid brother and sister, neighbors of ours. If you don’t do this, you risk the roof simply caving in. A huge blessing for me has been that the roof of our own house is of smooth, unpainted corrugated metal, to which very little snow ever sticks: every time I see someone on their roof doing the shoveling, I’m thankful for this. Around us lie the ruins of houses abandoned by their owners, for which a single winter was sufficient to destroy the roof with the relentless fall of flake by flake, until one last one was too much, the proverbial last straw.

So, in the cold, darkest, snowiest period of the year, when everything together weighs one down, we welcome the light represented by Christmas, twice: on our own and the Orthodox dates, thirteen days apart. Gloria in excelsis Deo!

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 1800 members, at

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

Tony Hanmer

27 December 2017 18:44