Back to Becho

I had been casting about for another school to volunteer in as an English teacher, because suddenly the TLG contract by which I do this job requires three co-teachers, one more than Etseri offers me. The village of Pari, conveniently a half-hour walk away, failed to call back expressing interest. Becho? I also considered Ushguli, seat of the beginning of all this, even predating TLG’s existence as a program. But it’s 75 km away, and I’d have to overnight it there or more: no longer so easy for my wife otherwise alone to run house, shop and farm.

Becho, then? They do have English too, and they’re 10 km away. I could get there via Etseri’s twice-weekly minivan run to Mestia, and back the same way. A call to the school director revealed that they were keen for a visit to talk it over.

The school is only a few minutes’ walk from the Becho bus stop, and my transport gets me there in time for the second lesson each time. I take a pack lunch with me. There are actually two co-teachers there for me, as well, covering all grades, and I’m now working out a schedule to accommodate them both as much as possible. They seem grateful for the partnership.

The school, built with two floors for over 300 pupils, now has to settle for 72, a similar predicament to Etseri’s. Many rooms have murals painted onto them, and the place has a happy feel. The level of English is up and down, like our village’s, with the usual bright stars and apathetic ones contrasting. I immediately feel comfortable, having seen this situation in three other places in Svaneti now, and find myself fitting in easily with staff and children alike. I’ve done so much of the learning already, much of it is transferrable to here.

A bonus, far from the main reason why I’m there but always a plus, is the views of magnificently shy Mt. Ushba, perhaps the one thing that draws almost all foreign tourists to this village. The other teachers expressed regret that my wife and I, when house-hunting in Svaneti, hadn’t even considered Becho. The reason was simply that I had visited it once or twice by then, knew no-one there, was known by hardly anyone, and thus had few relational ties to it. Well, we’re quite settled where we are in Etseri, no changing that now, and no regrets from me either. I have, however, an hour or two to kill after every day’s lessons, before my minivan returns from Mestia; so I prowl about photographically.

But Ushba... the thing is, when it’s there, glowering at you fantastically huge from the top of the village, there’s really nothing else to notice; the mountain totally crowds out all other competition for your attention, to the point that other sights simply don’t exist. Ah, but when it’s not there... either partly or completely obscured by cloud? You might wait, hoping for a glimpse, the veil to slip to one side for a few seconds of view of anything. You might also be rewarded in this, or you might merely be frustrated. It might be days or longer before you see it.

It’s at those “Ushba-less” times that you are forced to notice other things, humbler but no less worthy of your attention. The people, for goodness’ sake! The fall colors on the trees at the moment, forests on fire with autumn! The mineral springs! The few towers... and all the details which make any village worth getting to know, whatever your particular interest might be. And you shouldn’t feel cheated, especially if you live only 10 km away and can come here often.

So... when I know I’ll get at least that short look at The Mountain, I let it dominate, and plan my after-school outing accordingly. I still have a great amount of exploring to do here off-road, with a view to seeing Ushba from here or there. When I know that there’s almost a zero chance, I ignore it (only checking it out from the corner of my eye occasionally) and concentrate on other things. Sort of like Mt. Fuji in Japan. Ushba gives one a completely different view from Becho to Latali (45 degrees of turn) to Mestia (90 degrees), and then is similar to other places from Etseri or Mulakhi or K’ala or high above Ushguli. I suppose I’m building up a whole album, a whole book, of views, seasons, lightings, moods of this creature over the years it is my privilege to see it. And I try to see it not only through the camera viewfinder, as well, but to really see it.

But as huge and powerful as Ushba is, it isn’t and shouldn’t be my only reason for coming to Becho. I’m here to teach English, after all, and the rest is cake icing. But what icing!

Tony Hanmer runs the “Svaneti Renaissance” Facebook group, now with over 1250 members, at

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

Tony Hanmer

29 October 2015 22:50