The Week in Short: Etseri, Svaneti

It’s been that kind of a period (about the last ten days) in the village, so much has happened, so much change. Not one big thing, but many things which add up to what feels like a lifetime of experiences.

There was a wedding, a funeral, and an 80th birthday, for example; and tomorrow, as I write this, either a 99th or a 100th birthday is happening: she says the latter, her documents say the former. It’s risky to wait until a year from now for her full interview and portrait, though, so I might do those soon, in case... well, you know.

The wedding: we were assured that the bride and groom would appear at the untraditionally early hour of about six p.m., so we trudged up the road to where the splendid big marquee was decorated, tables and benches for about 150 guests already groaning with food and anticipation of those to be seated. We were given a morsel to eat in a small off-room, where there was a stove burning, to keep warm in the still-cool Svan spring evening, and chatted with a few other early arrivers while we all waited.

At about nine p.m., though, we gave up and returned home; and they showed up about an hour later (still quite early for a wedding by Svan standards). I’ve experienced midnight starts to these things, and on a school night to boot, which is just not on. I’m not a night-owl anyway. At least the funerals start and finish while it’s still not yet nighttime!

Speaking of which, she was 82 years old and had already lost a husband and two sons, the last son less than a year ago, and now was giving up. After a stroke and a slip into coma-like conditions, she lingered for some weeks with no food, a few days unable to take teaspoons of water, and then was gone, after a full but not un-traumatic life. The day offered rain on and off, making the procession with her open coffin to the grave rather a muddy affair, but for the feast afterwards there was again a tent, so we kept dry thus. The weather report was quite accurate, so they had taken no chances. A wet, or snowed-on, outdoor feast is no laughing matter; I have experienced the latter in a February, and the only good thing about it is that it’s made mercifully short. The feast, being in the Lenten period, was a “fasting” one, so, no milk products or meat dishes. Still all delicious, though.

The days of funeral preparations made me wish for the village to make an investment towards its own well-being. The men, as usual here, made all the table and bench legs from scratch, from newly cut small trees and logs. If only we had a set, even of rebar, of folding legs attached to their planks! To spend the money and time to do this once, and then not lend it out (apparently one such set already disappeared gradually into the surrounding villages). They do have the necessary amounts of crockery and cutlery for these occasions, in boxes, so why not these additions too? It just takes someone to do it, to decide.

I didn’t bother going to a recent village meeting about how to spend a large amount of money (for us) in local infrastructure projects. I went to one last year, and it was a circus of old recriminations dragged up and paraded, no one prepared to listen to others, aside from airing these grievances, at louder and louder volumes, to the benefit of none. Svans, you seem to be each other’s own worst enemies, sorry to say.

The 80th birthday belonged to one of my colleagues at school; and he’s not even the oldest teacher among us, that honor going to a lady of about 83. He invited all of us to his home for the feast, and a good one it was. He’s still going strong, and we all wish him many healthy, happy years.

To top it all off, a crew of three from Rustavi 2 TV channel came to film me and some of those around me, today at home, tomorrow at Becho school. So, yes, it’s been full and busy. Feels like spring, really.

Tony Hanmer runs the “Svaneti Renaissance” Facebook group, now with over 1300 members, at

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


Tony Hanmer

14 April 2016 20:04