Dyed in the Wool

I think that a lot of Georgians have a skewed opinion of a place like Canada, based on what they tell me. Many of my friends have practically begged me to smuggle them here (I’m writing from Canada now) in a spare suitcase, then let them disappear into the illegal immigrant workforce and live out their dream of getting rich quick, supporting their families back home in the process.

I have to tell them that I don’t have the power or authority to sponsor their trip here. That to work legally as an immigrant, you have to have a job lined up and agreed on before even leaving Georgia, and then you can apply for a work visa. That if I was found to be the arranger of an illegal work experience, I’d go to jail, and the worker would be deported and blacklisted.

But the dream lures them on. Many of them have friends or relatives already in Canada, as citizens or not, so clearly some of them are making this happen. Usually at huge financial cost, it seems, which they must then pay back over years before even getting back to a zero balance.

They don’t know how expensive it is to live here; how much of your income goes to taxes; how cold the place is, both in climate and in relationships (compared to the warmth of Georgians); how poor the public transport is except in the big cities, making you dependent on owning and driving a car; how law-abiding and bureaucratically abound it is, compared to the freedoms in Georgia. (Building codes? What are those?) It’s just the Land of Opportunities, period.

In a place as large as this, with a population of about 36 million, there are bound to be some people who go against the grain, though. They choose to live in the countryside, grow or raise their own food, make their own furniture, renovate their own houses (maybe even build them), not change cars and fashions yearly to keep up with the Joneses. Some of them are my friends.

This couple have seen their children grow up and leave home already. He’s a film producer and director, mostly working on documentaries. He also does most of the cooking. She grows the food and raises sheep, of which they currently have 19; chickens are next. Neither of them is a country-raised person; both come from cities, so this is all new to them. They live on the edge of a lake. She makes the furniture, too.

Not all of their food is home-grown, of course; and they’re not off the energy grid. So this is a sort of halfway point between complete reliance on modern technology and a total centuries-old lifestyle. It works for them, they’re comfortable with it, and we have plenty to talk about, coming from something similar in our life in Svaneti. We have cows and Skype!

She’s learning how to process the sheep wool at home, and will eventually be spinning it into yarn, for the handmade versions of which there is considerable demand. She may try making felt. Online groups are a great help for exchanging questions and ideas, and she finds seminars to attend on various technical aspects as well.

She showed us around while he made lunch. My wife tasted spicy nasturtium flowers and sweet Saskatoon berries off the plant for the first time, and admired the cabbages, beets, carrots, herbs, strawberries and raspberries too. The sheep are in fine form, having lots of pasture to roam in. Several are Cotswolds, huge and with thick wool, which they’ll need to have grown back by winter’s onset with its minus 40s. But that insulation, and a shed (“Too small to call a barn,” she says) is all they’ll need. They are friendly animals, and let us approach and handle them.

Art is evident everywhere in the house, from its walls of various bright colors which harmonize well to the rustic furniture and cork floors. One wall used to have very outdated 3-d velvet wallpaper, but that, under coats of purple paint, is now a subtly textured masterpiece which still doesn’t distract from pictures on it. The whole house feels like a happy place to live and be creative in, which they both are and do.

This, to me, is a better Canadian dream. Doing it your way, with hard work but not trying to stay current with everyone else’s ideas of what is successful, rich, beautiful or “flavor of the month”. Just being oneself, with enough income to live and be generous but not to draw envy.

It works for my wife and me in Svaneti, too.

Tony Hanmer runs the “Svaneti Renaissance” Facebook group, now with over 1000 members, at

www.facebook.com/groups/SvanetiRenaissance/ .

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


Tony Hanmer

30 July 2015 21:51