Khatuna Ghurchumalidze, 44 years old, village Nasperi, Tsageri Municipality

I’m an elementary school teacher. I returned to the village 23 years ago, when there was a difficult situation in Georgia.
I was the fourth girl in the family – everybody was waiting for a boy. The nurse told to my grandfather that she didn’t have good news – a girl was born. My grandfather told her not to worry – he said even though I was a girl, I would be a good kid. When they brought me home, my grandfather took me into his hands; I smiled at him. Then he asked me jokingly – was I laughing because I was just born and he was about to end his journey?! I was born in March; my grandfather died in May… I finished school and graduated university in Kutaisi; then, since I wanted to care for my father’s house and there were bad conditions in Kutaisi, I returned to the village. The village helped me raise three children, brought me closer to the soil and allowed me to become who I am today.

Legend holds that my village was once inhabited by ogres. There are two related spots in the village. One was where the ogres arranged grand feasts and baked large pieces of bread. Bigger ogres sat at the bigger table, the smaller ogres sat at the smaller one. The second spot, situated a little away, was for evil spirits. According to the legend, the king of spirits lived there. He had the most beautiful daughter. Once a year there was a dance ball on a field in the village. The daughters of evil spirits were prohibited to approach the ogres. But one of them fell in love with a young ogre, disguised herself to speak to him without anyone noticing and the two pledged their love to each other.

Near the land of the spirits, there’s a place named “Sakakilao”. One of the ogres impregnated the spirit queen there; the spirit king knew that she shouldn’t give birth and locked her up in a castle. The girl cried her eyes out and died giving birth. Today there remains a lake at the spirits’ place called “Lake of the tears”. After this, the spirits left our village and disappeared; the ogres never came back.

The village is very small but has a very interesting history. There’s a pagan temple here, Iskelita. Even today there are people who come from the other villages and ask it for more cattle; they bring walnut and bean bread to it. When the cellular network was being installed and the tractor paved the road, we found some old ceramics in the ground. We took them to the museum in Tsageri; a group of archeologists came to inspect them and it was established that the ceramic remains were of Colchian origin, from V-VIII millennium BC. In the village, there is a church; its bell tower is dated to the second half of the 12th century; the church was built by the Greeks in the second half of the 19th century. The church served as a literary center, where books were written and translated. ‘’Vepkhistkaosani’’ was copied by hand in Nasperi. Before a school was opened, literacy was taught at the church. The village school has a long history too. I researched its history, found out some materials, found the people who introduced literacy to our village and opened the first school.

After returning to live in the village, life has been quite difficult for me. But as it’s often said – “Strength and growth only come through continuous effort and struggle.” When I stayed alone and had to be in charge of everything, I didn’t know anything at first but with time I learned everything together with my children. We grew together. I had to do physical work to survive. I’ve gone through a very difficult road. Since my children grew up, I hadn’t had a reason to touch any technical weapons – they do everything we need themselves. Right now they come over the weekends, but in summer and we work together all season. I think children should learn craftsmanship because, in difficult times, I survived by making mattresses for a living – that’s how I started. My children were good students, helped me a lot, helped me stay strong and that’s how my family came to be.

Besides my newfound work as a teacher, my attention was drawn to the endangered fruit tree strains. I have records about which apple strains were grown in my village, which fruits were popular, how they were cultivated. For some of these trees I’m still looking in the ‘’kolmeurneoba’’ yards, I’m collecting them and I want to let them grow in Lechkhumi again – Abelouri, Turashauli, Kinula apple, which could be stored till spring. When a peasant was going to work, he took these fruits to eat. I have a farm, cattle, pigs and my garden is full of veggies and fruits. I learned how to plant them. In spring I cultivate new seeds and sell them; I plant every vegetable that grows in Georgia.

Being in touch with land and nature led me to write new recipes for Lechkhumian food. I found Lechkhumian spices, sprinkled them and made a Lechkhumian, already forgotten spice – ‘’grandmas’ salt’’. I wrote down this recipe from my mother’s mother who passed away when she was 110 years old and she always prepared it herself at the fireplace. This is a mix of vegetables, which were made by Lechkhumian housewives in the autumn and was used in the winter until green herbs appeared.

I do everything with my own hands. I have two traditional grindstones. We don’t need blenders or any other tools. I want to do everything in the way it was always been done. I want Leckhhumian people to go back to their traditions. the process of preparing Adjika was also interesting. Lechkumian Adjika was created to be taken within the mountains – when people were going in the mountains and took cattle, housewives let them take something that would last longer. Adjika was prepared in May-June that’s the time when we have a lot of green herbs. It’s made from herbs, garlic, and nuts last longer and retains its ingredients. The old Lechkhumian tradition of producing oil is also very interesting. We harvest a lot of walnuts and it grows fattier here than in any other place. I found some old records and learned how to produce walnut oil, which is more delicious and healthy than any other oils. My family has been producing Khalami (ceramic bowl) cheese and pickles for a very long time now. Not every cheese can be put in the Khalami, it has its own rule – summer cheese is stored in the ground in a ceramic bowl, which is stored in the second section of the cellar, in a so-called ”dormitory”, which gets closed and is only opened on the last week of Lent.

After this, I attended the Oni Agro Festival, for the first time. The representative of the information center of Racha-Lechkhumi and Kvemo Svaneti got information about my activities and decided to visit me at home to get to know me. I wanted to represent Lechkhumi and that was the reason why I wanted to participate in the Festival. I had to find something about Lechkhumi to tell people what Lechkhumi is. Lechkhumi has his own cuisine, its name, its place. I took sauces, Adjikas, ”Grandmas salt”, dried fruits, shashlik, which I made from pork meat, good quality food so that everything would be delicious and put on the table. I didn’t even know that I had to sell the products, I just took them to present. Everything was sold out and it gave me the reassurance and motivation to produce and sell. If I hadn’t gone there, I couldn’t realize this.

Now I want to build a brand. My dream is to build a kitchen house, to have a simple wooden house in the village. My goal is to employ women and engage them in this field. Also, I decided that women from my village have to study English. This will be useful to meet our foreign guests, to understand what they want and how we can provide the best customer service. Tsageri district government helped me in this. Twice a week, a teacher comes to the village and gives us lessons. Currently, there are eight women in the group and men are encouraging these women to learn. Men help with children and they don’t have a problem doing it. I want these women to be involved in the spice and Tkemali realization as well. As a result, people will not leave the village and there will be a desire and purpose to stay.
My morning starts at 6 o’clock. As usual, I wake up by myself, without any alarms. In the morning, I take care of cattle, pigs, and chicken. I have 7 cows, if I have to collect milk, I do so – I clean the place, give them food… I prepare a meal for my mother and then I prepare for school. Working in the school is the best part of my day. I call my students sunshine and they really are. When they make mistakes, I say that the clouds are covering their light and I’m here to help to bring them better weather. These students are the future of my village and I believe that every one of them will be even more successful than I am.

Now I have 3 students whom I teach a complex curriculum – in the first and third grades. In the village, there are places, Nazandurebi and Nakhorgali, where we planted varieties of wheat. I’m looking for young people, who will plant wheat – my students are actively involved in it. Any plant needs love to grow. I can’t live without them. The main thing is to teach the student how to love. When they see your love, they give back twofold.

Love gives me the greatest strength. Your attitude must be formed by love in any job. To work with the soil – that’s love. The land is a living organism, part of you, your protector, who gives you food, drinks and helps grow your children. This is a long road I went through. There’s a saying that every woman needs a home, but I can’t imagine Lechkhumi without warm homes. It wouldn’t exist without them.

Author: Nino Gamisonia 
Photo: Nino Baidauri
Translation: Mariam Kajrishvili