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






Nana and Shota hosted a wedding feast, followed by dancing

Nana Mghebrishvili and Shota Kiparoidze had two special dances at their wedding reception; copyright Keith Kenney, 2012.

Nana Mghebrishvili and Shota Kiparoidze had two special dances at their wedding reception; copyright Susanna Melo, 2012.

Nana and Shota sign their wedding book

Nana Mghebrishvili and Shota Kiparoidze signed their wedding book on Queen Tamar bridge in the Botanical Garden; copyright Keith Kenney, 2012.

Nana Mghebrishvili and Shota Kiparoidze were showered with paper hearts; copyright Susanna Melo, 2012.

Nana Mghebrishvili; copyright Susanna Melo, 2012.

Nana and Shota hired a photographer whose son appeared in photos taken at the Botanical Garden; copyright Susanna Melo, 2012.

Nana and Shota marry

Nana Mghebrishvili and Shota Kiparoidze were married in St. David’s Church on Mt. Mtatsminda, near our home; copyright Keith Kenney, 2012.

Nana Mghebrishvili and Shota Kiparoidze were married in St. David’s Church; copyright Keith Kenney, 2012.

Nana Mghebrishvili and Shota Kiparoidze each kissed an icon during the ceremony; copyright Keith Kenney, 2012.

Tamaz Jalagania provided 14 swords for the wedding ceremony. The swords symbolize strength and by walking under the swords the couple will have a strong marriage. Copyright Keith Kenney, 2012.

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.

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” (

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.

Press release for Mestia’s website

Copyright Keith Kenney, 2011

Will the low volume/low-budget seasonal tourism (mostly hikers) hurt Adishi, Georgia, economically and force its residents to leave for a more prosperous lifestyle elsewhere? Or will full-scale tourism reach Adishi as it has in nearby Mestia?  If so, will the authentic experience and hospitality received by tourists today in Adishi be replaced by standard hotels/services and commercial interactions?

I hope that my documentary film will answer such questions. My name is Dr. Keith Kenney and I’m a visual communications professor at the University of South Carolina. I’m working in Tbilisi for 11 months and my job is to improve the Caucasus School of Journalism and Media Management (CSJMM). In my free time, I want to create a documentary film about Adishi.

I agree with UNESCO. The Upper Svaneti region of the Caucasus deserves to be a World Heritage site because of its exceptional mountain scenery and its medieval-type villages and tower-houses. Adishi is in a gorgeous location with some of the most hospitable people on Earth.

I believe, however, that Adishi will experience strong forces for change in the next couple of years.  Georgia’s president, Mikheil Saakashvili, has promised to develop the Svaneti region; the government has already built a good road to Mestia and the entire town of Mestia seems under construction or re-construction. This development could extend to Adishi. The government could build new roads, replace electrical poles, perhaps even re-start Adishi’s school and add a library. If a ski resort were built nearby, which is in the planning stage, entrepreneurs then could open new hotels and restaurants, maybe even a gift shop. If such development does not reach Adishi, the farming village might continue to simply provide homestay experiences to hikers for a night. But it is doubtful that maintaining the status will be possible, in part because the current tourism model may not allow Adishi residents to earn a sustainable living.

I don’t know what will happen. But when mountain or seaside people experience hardships, they tend to sell their highly desirable land for a quick profit, and then all kinds of businesses arrive to cater to wealthy vacationers. Prices rise, and the local people either end up serving tourists or moving away.

Moreover, I am concerned because many of Adishi’s buildings and defense towers have become piles of rubble.  If such deterioration continues, then Adishi’s potential to attract tourists could also deteriorate. My film will show how Adishi residents will respond to challenges they encounter as time goes by.

Two recent graduates from the master’s program in Journalism and Media Management at the CSJMM are assisting in shooting and editing the film. Nana Mghebrishvili and Mari Papidze have already shot several hours of video and they will return to Adishi with me at the end of January, in the middle of May, and at the beginning of August to tell the story. My wife, Susanna Melo, and Ramaz Gerleiani are also invaluable team members. Susanna is the film’s photographer; in addition, she suggests shooting opportunities and helps interview Adishi residents. Ramaz, our official driver, translates from Svan to Georgian.