Easter with the Kaldanis

Elizabeth (left) and Eka Kaldani attempt to crack each other's egg; copyright Susanna Melo, 2012.

The Holy Fire travels from Heaven, to Jerusalem, to Georgia, to this man's home; copyright Susanna Melo, 2012.

Story and photos by Susanna Melo

I first came across Elizabeth Kaldani’s name on the Internet last September when I was trying to learn something about Adishi, a small village in Svaneti, where Keith was going to work on his documentary film. Someone had posted a message: “ask for Elizabeth Kaldani; everyone knows her, and she speaks English.” When we met her in Adishi, we immediately became friends. I gave my email address and Keith’s cell phone number to her, but we never heard back until recently. So when Elizabeth Kaldani insisted on our visiting her in Jandara on Easter Sunday, I could not refuse the invitation! (Keith was in Shukhuti documenting the game of Lelo only played on Easter Sunday).

While hopping on the metro to get to Station Square, my eyes immediately converged upon a middle-aged man tending very carefully to a burning candle he held in a transparent plastic cup. Orthodox Christians believe that the “Holy Fire,” which symbolizes the resurrection of Jesus, is sent miraculously from heaven to Jerusalem, from where people carry it to other Orthodox churches throughout the world for Easter Sunday. This miracle has been occurring every year since the 4th century. The Georgian man I encountered on the metro must have spent the night at church in prayer and was taking the “Holy Fire” to bless his home. (http://www.holyfire.org)

After traveling two hours on two marshurtkas, I was dropped on the side of the dusty highway. I then walked by an abandoned cemetery until I saw two women who knew Elizabeth and pointed in the direction of her house.

Abandoned cemetery in Jandara; copyright Susanna Melo, 2012.

I was greeted cheerfully by Elizabeth, her sister Eka and brother Lukhumi. The three siblings live in Jandara throughout the academic year tending to their family property and livestock while their parents and older brother tend to their home and animals in Adishi. During the summers, the family reunites in Adishi, where they also run a guesthouse for hikers. The Kaldanis, along with other Adishi residents, were resettled by the government in Jandara after huge avalanches killed 70, mostly school children, in 1987.

Shortly after a tour of their home, Elizabeth and her sister put out a spread of home-cooked food. On the table were the traditional red-dyed Easter eggs by a plate of wheat grass. Before eating the eggs, the siblings tried to see if they could crack the other’s egg, but keep theirs intact. A fun Easter tradition!

Family visits grave site; copyright Susanna Melo, 2012.

Jandara cemetery; copyright Susanna Melo, 2012.

In the afternoon, we walked up a rocky hill to a small, lone church surrounded by gravesites. Families assembled around permanent metal tables beside their gravesite to share food and drink. The green wheat grass, red-dyed eggs, wine and other foods were gifts left for the deceased. On the way home to the Kaldanis, we stopped by the only high school in the village. An impressive Russian-style sculpture of Shota Rustaveli, the great Georgian poet of the 12th century, stands before the school and clashes with the dry, rural surroundings.

Giorgi and Lukhumi Kaldani at Shota Rustaveli High School; copyright Susanna Melo, 2012.

Another delight of visiting Elizabeth was getting to know some of her kind neighbors. Giorgi, a young, attractive university student in Tbilisi whose family lives in Jandara, joined us for the afternoon walk through the village. To my surprise, he and Elizabeth waited nearly an hour along the dusty road for a marshurtka to take me back to Gardabani. Being a holiday, the schedule had changed and there were no marshurtkas in sight. Luckily, Giorgi was able to flag down an empty taxi and as I settled in with other Jandara residents, I saw him slip a lari to the driver to pay for my way. Elizabeth also managed to surprise me with a bag with a huge wheel of cheese that her family produced.

Georgians are well known for their hospitality. Once again, we have been the recipients of this tradition. Thank you, Kaldanis!


About keithrkenney
Keith Kenney is a professor of visual communication at the University of South Carolina. He is living in Tbilisi, Georgia, for a year. This blog is about several topics. "CSJMM-Journalism" is about the students, faculty and staff members of the Caucasus School of Journalism and Media Management in Tbilisi, Georgia. "USC-Journalism" is about the students, faculty and staff members of the School of Journalism and Mass Communications (SJMC) at the University of South Carolina in Columbia, SC. CSJMM and SJMC are recipients of a "Journalism School Partnership" program grant from the US Department of State. The purpose of this $750,000 grant is to improve CSJMM and ensure its sustainability. "Tbilisi, Georgia" is about Susanna Melo and my experiences in Tbilisi. "Columbia, SC" will be about our experiences in our home town--Columbia--when we return home. "Georgia" is about Susanna and my experiences when we travel in Georgia outside of Tbilisi. "United States" is about our experiences traveling in the US. "Films and Photography" is about two documentary films I'm working on in Georgia. One story follows how Adishi handles the rapid tourism that is being developed in Svaneti. The other story follows Tamaz Jalagania, who is a craftsman of swords and guns, an opera singer, and an extraordinary storyteller. "Scholarship" is about my current books, articles, reviews, and grants.

4 Responses to Easter with the Kaldanis

  1. sherry says:

    Susanna, what a lovely day. Thanks for sharing it.

    • keithrkenney says:


      Thanks soooooooooooo much for noticing, for commenting, and for supporting our efforts. Take a look again in a few minutes since we’re trying to add a couple of photos.

  2. Anonymous says:

    I enjoy keeping up with you. Look forward to Susanna’s and your images upon your return.

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