Hello, Zemo Alvani!

Returning to Georgia from American was a bit messy with a series of long layovers, (briefly) lost luggage, a terrifying hostel, and the most serious jet lag I’ve yet experienced. But all this became insignificant once I realized how happy I was to be back. Something about the disorder of the city, the patchwork of cultures and languages that comprise the everyday, the intense beauty in every landscape, and the radical divergence from anything familiar keeps my attention.

After a few days in Tbilisi and a quick visit in Telavi, my new host family picked me up and we mad out way across the valley, to my new home in Zemo Alvani. I knew I would be moving when I returned, but didn’t know what to expect, as there is little information on the internet about anything in Georgia, and almost nothing about villages, even unusual ones like this.

Zemo Alvani and the neighboring village, Kvemo Alvani are noteworthy for two main reasons. One of these you can see from satellite: these are the only two planned villages in the country. The streets, like cities in America, run on a grid system, and the infrastructure (though largely abandoned) seems more appropriate for a small town than a village of 2,000. There is a community center and several small shops, a statue of Stalin that has seen some action recently, a well-maintained school, and several empty public buildings whose original purpose I haven’t yet ascertained. Marshrutkas run several times a day (or more sometimes!). To the north, a 20 minute walk, are the foothills of the Greater Caucasus, and to the south a half hour on foot will bring you to the Alazani river. The local church is Alaverdi, an amazing complex which is also one of the main attractions of the region.

The less obvious difference between the Alvani villages and others in Kakheti is the origin of the locals. These villages are the home of many Tushebi, people from the nearby mountain region of Tusheti. Until recently, Tusheti was practically inaccessible, and it remains so from October until June, so many Tushebi live here when the mountain passes are closed.

In any case, I’ve already made myself at home in the village. My host family is lovely, and the house is very comfortable. Unlike what I’ve heard from other volunteers living in villages, we have indoor plumbing, hot running water, and even indoor pets (two cats and a tank full of tropical fish). Like every house in this village, it has a large rectangular yard in the back, with space for a garden or a few animals. Currently, there are only a few fruit trees, but neighbors have all sorts of small farms happening in the back yard. Sheep and cows are common, chickens everywhere, and I’ve even seen a few greenhouses.

School just began again after the winter vacation. I already recognized pupils in all my classes, as I’ve spent a good deal of my time here meeting friends, neighbors, and relatives. Village life definitely has a slower pace, and “social” is definitely the default setting of every day. I’m finding that I really appreciate being a part of such a small community again.

One of my resolutions this year is to write more, and hopefully this will improve the frequency of my blogs. No promises here, as schedules here are less predictable than any I’ve ever encountered, and hours tend to pass in unexpected ways. Routines are definitely out of the question. But as soon as I find a cable to connect my camera to the computer, I’ll post photos of my new favorite village.

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2 comments

  1. Zemo Alvani is definitely a place I wish I had gone to while I was in Georgia. Does your family speak Bats? Do you hear any Bats spoken at school? Or anywhere?

    1. The grandmother does, from what the family has told me. They call it Tsova-Tush. Yesterday my co-teacher unlocked the village museum for me, and they had a few books for learning Tsova-Tush (from Georgian, of course). I haven’t heard it spoken at school, but I’m not entirely sure I’d recognize it. I’m going to try learning a bit of Tush once I’ve mastered Georgian a bit better. For now the only word I know is bitchoni , which means popcorn.

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