Un-Orthodox Easter dinner

Easter dinner at a Georgian restaurant; Nana Mghebrishvili; Mari Papidze; Susanna Melo; Anderson de Jesus Lopes (dancer from Brazil), Tamuna Gabelia, and William Santos (dancer from Brazil); copyright Keith Kenney, 2012

We had a 3-language Easter dinner. Anderson spoke Portuguese but very little English or Georgian. William spoke Portuguese and a little more English. I only speak English. Mari, Nana, and Tamuna speak English and Georgian fluently, but not Portuguese. Susanna was the translator and hub of the conversation.

If Susanna and I were at home in Columbia, South Carolina, we’d probably eat ham, scalloped potatoes, peas, and bread for dinner, and we’d enjoy a glass of red wine. Tonight we had four types of pizza, mushroom dumplings, mushrooms, french fries, Cokes, and beer. Our adopted children brought boxes of chocolate. And . . . yes; it was delicious!

But best of all, Susanna and I had a really wonderful time visiting our friends. Thank you.

Dashing through the snow, in a two-oxen open sledge (to the tune of Jingle Bells)

On the road from Ipari to Adishi; copyright Keith Kenney, 2012

There is only one road into Adishi, and it is also the only road out of Adishi. That road runs through Ipari, and if there is a lot of snow, cars cannot get through. Everyone must take a sledge (cart), horse, or they must walk. If you are unfortunate enough to need emergency care while staying in Adishi during winter, you will need to travel 4-5 hours, depending upon the depth of snow.

Mari Papidze and I made a roundtrip by a combination of walking and riding a horse as a sledge carried our equipment and duffelbags. The air was still; the sky a saturated blue. The path follows a stream and other than the sounds of the stream and an occasional bird, everything was blissfully silent. It was an opportunity to remember the pleasures of wilderness. Yes, there were electric and phone poles, but for 4 hours there were no other sights or sounds of civilization.

On the way back to Ipari, we saw a dog hanging from a low tree—it had been bothering people and suffered the consequences. Earlier in the morning, I had seen a brown fox. It was hard to miss against the huge hillside of white snow undisturbed by tracks, trees, brush, buildings or anything except the fox. Vakho, who owns the horses, accompanied us with his rifle in case we saw a wolf, which we didn’t, but we saw plenty of tracks. Giorgi, a security officer from Ipari, also accompanied us, in part to prevent anyone kidnapping Mari. I felt like I was in a Western movie, sitting high in the saddle and not knowing what adventure might lie ahead.

Mari Papidze has her first horse-riding experience; copyright Keith Kenney, 2012

You can hear the most interesting (kidnapping) stories at a homestay

Janiko cooks breakfast for us at her homestay in Ipari; copyright Keith Kenney, 2012.

One of my film assistants, Mari Papidze, and I stayed in the home of Janiko, who is a relative of Giorgi, who is an acquaintance of my other film assistant, Nana Mgebrishvili. During breakfast, Mari and I talked with Janiko, who cares for her elderly, bedridden mother.

One interesting story concerns kidnapping. Janiko had two sisters who were kidnapped by Svan men. This is not the elopement-type of “kidnapping;” this is the “I’ve got you and now you’re mine” type of kidnapping. Janiko told us that if a man kidnaps a woman, her family assumes she was either raped or she had consensual sexual relations. The family feels disgraced, and the young woman may not even be invited back into the family. The family, however, is compensated. Village elders normally determine how much money should be paid to a family whose daughter was kidnapped for marriage. Kidnapping without the girl’s consent used to cost twice the rate for kidnapping a girl with her consent. Both of Janiko’s sisters remain married to their kidnappers and have families.

But this wasn’t the only kidnapping story we heard on this trip. We met an Adishi man who kidnapped a woman from Tbilisi when she was 39 years old. We actually stayed in their home on our previous trip to Adishi. The husband would not let us interview his wife on video because he said that she doesn’t like living in Adishi in the winter, when conditions are harsh. I say “harsh” because there are no stores, no restaurants, no opportunities for entertainment other than TV, no school, no priest, no passable roads when the snow is deep, which is often, veritably no heat inside except from a wood-burning stove in the kitchen, no hot water from a tap, twice-a-day chores milking the cows, responsibility for cooking whatever is leftover from the harvest, and so on. I don’t think she likes living in Svaneti during any season, but there she was, cooking a meal for us, while we interviewed her husband a few feet away. We heard more kidnapping stories and fears, but enough for now.

Janiko also told us that her brother was killed over a woman, and she believes this tragedy led directly to her mother’s ill health. Her brother fell in love and married the woman—in the usual way. A Svan man, however, also fell in love with the same woman and began spreading terrible rumors about the newlyweds. The husband, of course, confronted the troublemaker. During the fight, the troublemaker’s father died. The troublemaker’s mother got so mad, she grabbed a hoe and repeatedly struck Janiko’s brother in his head until he also died.

Finally, I found it interesting that as far as Janiko knows, ALL of her relatives came from Svaneti. Janiko lives in Ipari, and both her grandmothers came from Adishi, the next village.

When I add all of these stories together, I get this larger narrative. Svan men prefer to marry Svan women because it takes a very, VERY tough woman to survive in this region in the harsh winters or any season. Svan men are not permitted to marry women from their own village, and the pool of available women from other villages is small. A Svan man can’t promise riches to his future wife because chances for improving his economic situation are slim. A Svan man obviously has difficulty wooing prospective brides; therefore, he resorts to kidnapping. And village elders, neighbors, and police quietly look the other way.

Our four “daughters” transform Keith into a true Svan

Tamuna, Nini, Keith, Nana, and Mari

Capturing (too much) good video

Copyright Susanna Melo, 2011

Mari Papidze viewed the six tapes from our autumn video shoot in Svaneti. In truth, Mari viewed, reviewed, re-reviewed, and re-re-viewed the tapes to ensure that we transferred the most useful parts into my computer. I was soooo pleasantly surprised to see that Mari and Nana Mghebrishvili had shot such great video. I can’t understand Georgian, but knowing the Adishi residents and looking at their interviews, I could “see” their character quite well. Because each interview was conducted in a different (and interesting) location, I also think viewers will learn something about Adishi just from seeing the backgrounds for the interviews. But we also have action—cutting hay, hauling hay, cutting wood, milking cows, making cheese, cooking dinner, and singing in polyharmony. These are the typical autumn activities in Adishi.

The visuals are good, but so are the stories spoken by Adishi residents. I’ve only received a quick, rough translation, but I know that Georgians and Americans will both be interested in our documentary film. We’ll provide subtitles in English. For the one (so far) interview in Svan, we’ll create a second version of the film—in this version, the Svan interview will have subtitles in Georgian.

We’ve begun the long process of editing!

Rest in peace, Giorgi

Copyright Susanna Melo, 2011

There was a wake for “our” Robin Hood on Thursday and Friday evenings in Giorgi Jalagania’s home. Friends came by to spend a few moments to view the casket.

On Saturday, our video team was permitted to document the burial, and, after the burial, we were included in a dinner for about 70 people.

It may seem strange that we would want to attend a burial for someone we never met, and it may seem even stranger that the family granted permission. When I took a group of USC students to Jamaica in March, we were invited to attend a wake, called a “dead yard” and the funeral services for a friend of our host. I said, “yes,” and the USC students said, “no.” For me it was very interesting and because I was with our host, Matthias Brown, I never felt uncomfortable. Similiarly, Tamaz Jalagania and his family made us feel welcome. In fact, they made us feel extremely welcome. As a “thank you,” we are going to make an album of photos, both of the day’s activities and of happier times.

Copyright Susanna Melo, 2011

Family and close friends removed Giorgi’s casket from his home and set it across two chairs in the yard, where people had a last chance to say goodbye. Then we drove behind the hearse to the cemetery, where the casket was lowered into a grave in the family plot. Family and friends shoveled dirt over the casket, laid wreaths of flowers, toasted with wine, poured some wine into the grave, and drank the rest. I was asked to make a toast. I said, sincerely, “May God bless Giorgi’s soul. Although we are not old friends–we are new friends–who have become good friends. Thank you for including us.”

Then we drove to a banquet hall for a delicious Georgian meal. Tamaz’s son, Vladimir Jalagania, was the tamada (toast master). He made many eloquent, elaborate toasts to our ancestors as well as future generations. For each toast, all of the men stood and drank wine, while the women remained seated. After toasting the Americans, Vladimir asked me to say a few words, which is really an opportunity to return the toast. I again asked God to bless Giorgi’s soul. Then I continued and asked God to bless all of the people present, as well as their ancestors, children, and grandchildren, according to Georgian tradition.

I’m grateful to Tamaz, Nana, Vladimir, and their guests for including us. I’m grateful to Nana Mghebrishvili and Mari Papidze for filming the occasion. And I’m grateful to Susanna Melo for photographing throughout the day. My role evolved into supporting the video team, supporting Tamaz’s family, and participating in the toasts.

Copyright Susanna Melo, 2011

We start our second film

Our Svaneti film team has reassembled to make a documentary film in Tbilisi.

I’m sooooooo grateful to Svaneti and Tbilisi team members Nana Mghebrishvili and Mari Papidze for their scouting efforts. Back in May, while I was still working at USC, I had asked these two strangers to find a particular type of person who was going through a particular type of life change. Part of me knew that it was an unreasonable request, especially since I told them that I would not pay them—at least no cash payments. Moreover, my assignment was a difficult one. I wanted “a family that used to enjoy living in a traditional home in an Old Tbilisi neighborhood, but now the family is considering a move to a modern apartment.”

Copyright Keith Kenney, 2011

I also had these requests:

• At least one person in the family should be a great storyteller—interesting, animated, articulate.

• The family should interact with its neighbors in the “spirit of old Tbilisi.”

• The family should maintain traditional Tbilisi/Georgian culture—singing, playing Nardi, using the public baths, attending Georgian Orthodox church, and so on.

• The audience should have empathy for the family.

• The family must be open and honest. It must be able to continue to act naturally even though a camera is recording their actions.

Nana and Mari found Tamaz Jalagania and his wife Nana Imnadze, who exceeded my expectations. First, Tamaz is a chokhosani, or a person who wears the chokha. Chokha is part of the traditional male dress of the Caucasus people. It has been in wide use among Georgians from the 9th century until the 1920s. Second, Tamaz is

Copyright Keith Kenney, 2011

an opera singer who will sing in a beautiful voice without any prompting. Third, he is a master craftsman, who makes museum-quality reproductions of Georgian swords and guns. In fact he would have been the last master craftsman of this art except that he has trained 15 apprentices over the years. He uses gold, silver, ivory, and bone for elaborate inlaid decorations. President Saakashvili just selected one gun as a gift for Senator McCain (lucky guy!). See the video: “Caucasian craftsmanship keeps traditions alive” (http://rt.com/news/prime-time/caucasian-craftsmanship-keeps-traditions-alive/)

Fourth, Tamaz is an extremely animated storyteller; he recently turned 72 and he seems to remember everything that has happened in his lifetime as well as all of the history of Georgia. In addition, Tamaz is a poet, painter, and collector of antique saddles and samovars. Before the collapse of the Soviet Union he was an engineer.

Last night was supposed to be simply, ” Hello, my name is” type of meeting. Instead, we stayed four hours, ate a delicious meal, received a tour of his museum-like home, and became instant friends. I don’t say “museum-like” casually; President Saakashvili is building a museum next to Tamaz’s current home and workshop; many of items in his home will fill this new museum.

I also thank Susanna Melo, another video team member, for her excellent questions and filming suggestions.

Tamaz and Nana’s home will be demolished soon, and the government is constructing a new home for the couple.

Copyright Keith Kenney, 2011

I’m sure you can now understand why I’m soooooooo grateful to Nana Mgebrishvili and Mari Papidze and why I believe the story of Tamaz and Nana will delight the film’s audience.