Two brave men rescue Susanna from a fast river

Gabo Kaldani carries Levani on his back across a fast-flowing river in Adishi, while Elizabeth Kaldani prepares to help him during the final steps. A group of 9 crossed the glacier-fed river in order to picnic by a beautiful, small, green lake, but on our return, we chose a different crossing, which proved to be dangerous. Copyright Keith Kenney, 2012.


I was the first person to attempt to cross the fast-flowing river and I made it half-way to the other shore. Then I waited on a tiny rock “island” because I couldn’t find a good place to cross the remaining distance. Susanna joined me at the half-way point. I asked Susanna to hold my camera while I tried to cross, but she preferred to attempt to cross the river first. With a big walking stick to hold onto, she thought she could make it, but the current caught both her and the stick, knocking her into the freezing water. Then the current tumbled her downstream. Fortunately, Gabo Kaldani and Shota Kiparoidze ran to her aid. They seemed to fly on top of the water! Quickly they brought her to shore. Unfortunately, Susanna’s body was severely bruised, including one huge bruise on each calf. We were afraid that a blood vessel might pop and cause massive bleeding. Fortunately, we continuously poured frigid water on her bruises, which kept the swelling under control. Unfortunately, Susanna lost one sandal. Fortunately, on the way to the river, Susanna had helped clean up the environment by picking some non-biodegradeable foam. She used the foam and a plastic bag to create a shoe so she could walk the 4 kilometers home. In the photo, Susanna is drying her dress, while walking with her custom-made “sandal.” Copyright Keith Kenney, 2012.


Susanna poses with her heroes. On the left is Shota Kiparoidze, who recently married “our Georgian daughter” Nana Mghebrishvili. On her right is Gabo Kaldani and a horse he borrowed so that Susanna could ride back to Adishi. After rescuing Susanna from the river, Gabo jogged 4 kilometers, retrieved a horse from a pasture, and rode back to Susanna, who had already walked half way to Adishi. Copyright Keith Kenney, 2012






Planting potatoes in Adishi

Tsotne Kaldani helped his family by controlling the oxen and by burying the potatoes with dirt; copyright Susanna Melo, 2012.

In addition to cooking, cleaning and washing, Nino Kaldani joins the family in the fields to plant potatoes; copyright Susanna Melo.

Keith Kenney videotapes the end of the potato-planting day for the Kaldani family; copyright Susanna Melo, 2012.

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. (

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!