The Americans are coming: Etseri, Svaneti
The day came at last. It was an event for which we had waited months, since “first contact”, wondered over, sorted out details for, answered and asked questions, and prepared for as best we could.
The Americans were coming. Now they’re here. To stay.
At the moment, they’re living in part of our eminently spacious house, a young couple with two beautiful, bubbly girls of preschool age. They had been drawn to Svaneti as a place where community development might be useful. She’s a nurse, he’s a linguist. Hearing about us, they visited and began considering actually moving up. You know, to stay. Downstairs at the moment, but eventually on the second floor, once our renovation crew return and finish that space, beginning after Easter.
We were delighted to see this process unfold and culminate as it has. As much as I love living here, and am adjusting well to it over the years, having more native English speakers to converse with on a daily basis is amazing -for me as well as for my Georgian wife, and niece. And we’re helping them adjust, looking back at our long journey so far and being available when the many inevitable questions arise.
Both professions will be useful up here. She is thinking about a clinic. Both are also interested in seeing the language and culture of the Svans flourish. (Come on, separatism paranoia people, stop looking for a conspiracy under every rock!)
They are currently, a week in, getting to know the village and its inhabitants better. And they’re open to buying either a house (in any condition from roofless/ruined to fixer-upper to finished) or some land on which to build. So the rumours and offers are flying around, as they did when my wife and I were in the same position. Time is on their side to make a careful, hopefully wise choice, with all legal points checked off and all angles discussed. Until that time (moving into their own place, not just buying it), they’re our guests.
Simply having another handyman around the house to help me with my work - sawing and splitting logs, fence renovation, the land and barn and more - is a great encouragement. Sharing some of the cooking and cleaning is also a benefit.
The Hanmers are now not as odd as they were, joined by the Thistlethwaites; no longer the only foreigners even in this one village. Which is fine. We have no need to be so conspicuous. Likely some of the local people are debating how long this will last, but the family didn’t rush into it. They took their time to think and question it through, which we hope and expect will have given them as much certainty as such a momentous decision can have.
There is a big wheel turning backwards in the cosmos over Svaneti, and it’s called Hopelessness. It has led to many an exodus, many an abandoned house, most of which fall into ruin. We are a small part of a marathon running together in exactly the opposite way, trying to see that wheel slow to a stop before it starts to spin in the right direction, that which will see it renamed Hope. So many others are doing the same thing: the infrastructure redevelopers, the handful of foreign teachers or hotel owners or business proprietors, the Svaneti fans or students or professors living elsewhere but rooting for this place with all their might.
This is not a new thing we are doing, but the re-doing of an old thing, in a place which knew relative prosperity and Tbilisi’s full support in better decades. Not development so much as redevelopment. When villages in Svaneti start to be “A Town Like Alice,” as Nevil Shute’s beloved book demonstrates, we will know that things are well under way.
Tony Hanmer runs the “Svaneti Renaissance” Facebook group, now with over 1000 members, at
He and his wife also run their own guest house in Etseri: