Lika Megreladze, village Tsitelmta, Ozurgeti municipality
The etymology of the word ‘’Komli’’ (meaning smoke from a household) is very interesting and if we look thematically, it tells the story of strong, able women. To this day, the rural population is counted by counting households with smoke, each belonging to separate families in the village. The word comes from Georgian ‘’Kvamli’ (chimney smoke), meaning permanent smoke coming out of a house, in winter and in summer. The rising smoke means that there’s food being made there, there’s warmth, there are drinks, tea is brewed… extinguished smoke means that there is no fire, therefore there’s no household. Unfortunately, there are already too many of them in Guria. In central Guria and in the surrounding villages there are many closed houses, therefore, extinguished smoke.
At the end of the 19th Century, Lazare Chitaishvili lived in this house. Lazare had two daughters, of whom the eldest – Marta – was married to another Gurian – Razhden Sadradze. Razhden Sadradze’s family was very wealthy at the time – nowadays people would call them millionaires. He moved from the village Shemokmedi in Guria to Novorossiysk, where he lived owned merchant shops and wine cellars. They had 5 children and lived happily, but then you can imagine what communists did to them… They took everything, all of their children ran away. Mr. Lazare’s second daughter, Ana, was married in a nearby village. She had one daughter and two sons. When Lazare’s wife died, he realized that after his death the ‘’smoke’’ of his house would disappear, so he adopted her granddaughter, Marta, the daughter of Ana. There’s a mountainous village – Mtispiri, famous for its microclimate and vines. Lazare found a husband there for Marta – a strong young man named Pilipe Megreladze and that’s how we adopted the family name Megreladze. They lived happily, had one daughter and three sons. Three of them studied at the Kutaisi Pedagogical Institute, which was a rare story at that time. My grandfather met my grandmother there – a woman from the Loladze family. She was the director of Akaki Tsereteli’s house-museum. By the way, she was one of the first female museum directors. I also have a photo of a board meeting and between so many men, there is one young woman – my grandmother.
Out of four children, three got married in Kutaisi, and in the meantime, the Second World War started. At this time, the eldest son was in the army and died in the first days of the war. My grandfather wasn’t obligated to go to the war, but he still did – first he was wounded, and then came the news of his death. He left one child and a pregnant wife, who a while later gave birth to a boy. At this time, in the house, there was only one son left who hadn’t been called up for compulsory military service, and the elderly were left alone. My grandmother used to say, that her father-in-law, this two-meter-tall man, came down with a carriage to Sachkhere to take her. She already planned to go to Tbilisi as she was a widow and thought her brothers would help her raise children. This man came, knelt down and asked her to come with him and take these orphans and he promised to help her raise them so that the ‘’smoke’’ wouldn’t be extinguished. My grandmother couldn’t say no and she moved to her dead husband’s parents. After some time, the youngest son also returned and there was a split – since my father didn’t have a father and was an orphan, my grandfather strongly decided, that he should be the one to stay in the family and the younger brother should leave. This is how life went there – my father and uncle grew up, my aunt got married, my father got married and I was born and raised here as the only child.
Meanwhile, the ‘’happy’’ 90s came to us. Our house was robbed at least 17 times. They even took books and carpets, but my mother still kept everything by her teeth. By this time, I was already married and lived in Tbilisi. You know the rule – he who has a Gurian mother, is also a Gurian. My children love this place madly and we spent every summer here. We didn’t break the bond. When my mother turned 80, we realized that she couldn’t take care of all this alone. Also, we wanted to breathe new life into the place, rebuild the house, and slowly became homeowners.
Tea Road and Tea Tour
Tea culture is intimately familiar to us. My mother worked at the Institute of Tea and Subtropical Studies in Anaseuli. It was a very important institution in the Soviet Union. Graduated students came from all over the world to study here – from Congo, Sri Lanka, and India. I couldn’t understand back then, but later when I was in the USA and saw academic cities, I realized that it was a typical, high-level academic city with its kindergarten, culture houses, and shops… My daughter is married in the USA and my son-in-law is madly in love with Guria and Georgia in general. The idea of the tea road first came from him. In 2009, when he was still a student and came to visit us, he saw a deserted tea bush that lacked care and asked me what it was. When I explained, that it was tea, he answered – what are you talking about, how could there be a tea bush in Georgia?! I got so angry!
I took him to my mother and she told him the history of tea in Georgia. He researched it himself as well, found information about tea, and the next year when he arrived to ask for my daughter’s hand and the wedding was already planned, he asked us to buy an electric saw to restore the tea area. He started to recover the tea. My mother was arguing with him all the time, that the tea wouldn’t come back, nobody cared about it and that it was all nonsense. She asked him better to go with her to pick tomatoes from the garden. Grandma! – said he in Georgian – wait, they will come, pick it up and they’ll pay you to pick the tea leaves. That’s exactly what happened in 10 years. In the meantime, it has launched the Guria Municipal and EU project – ‘’Participatory Principles in the Development of Guria Tourism’’. We won a small grant there and with this, we organized the tea road and the tea tour.
The Wine Road is a very popular project in Georgia, everyone knows about it. People come from other countries because wine in Georgia has a wonderful, continuous history; it’s not just about agriculture or grapes, wine is a part of our spirituality and identity. But what about tea – is it any less an interesting story?! Wine is drunk by half the world, Muslims don’t even touch it, neither do some Buddhists and confessions. But you probably won’t find a person who hasn’t drunk tea in their entire life. Ergo, it’s interesting to know about tea history in Georgia. It’s acknowledged that tea first appeared in Georgia in 1847, when Vorontsov ordered to plant tea, interestingly enough, in Anaseuli, where a lot of Gurians had agricultural plots. The first tea was planted on a trial plot.
The story of Lao Ghonghao is a wonderful one – in my estimation, it was a great project. In 1860-1880, Batumi was a free-trading zone (Porto Franco). Shipments and people came and went, everybody, wanted to own land in Batumi. By this time, there were brothers Konstantin and Simon Popovs, who had split responsibilities in business – one went to India, the other to China, imported tea and sold it to the greatest houses of imperial Russia. Konstantin bought land near Chakvi, and detected that the land was the same red color as in China, where he bought tea. He had an idea – what if tea could grow here as easily as in China?! During one of the trips, he talked with a 23-year-old tea master and convinced him to come to Georgia with him. “Iveria” wrote: On 4th November of 1893, a ship arrived in Batumi – with Lao Ghonghao, his wife, two small children, his mother, and a myriad of servants and workers.
They brought Eucalyptus, bamboo, tea seedlings, and other stuff. Konstantin planted tea and found out tea could be grown here. He built Lao a house that still stands on 12th Ninoshvili street. This was the most beautiful house, with Chinese design elements, white marble floors, and, in the center, a large living room, stood a symbol for tea – three leaves, made from green gems. Today, cows and pigs roam the place, when it could be a unique center for tea, a Georgian tea museum. In 1898 there already were tea plantations and this man also built a factory, where tea was processed with English steam machines. This factory existed until the 90s when it was destroyed and sold in Turkey as parts.
In 1925, a new chapter began – the Soviet Union. Stalin decided to create a joint share company, “Georgian Tea” – he needed tea for in prisons and the army, so he began massive industrialization. They went to Lao and offered him to lead this effort if only he took Soviet citizenship. Lao answered that he was already too old and tired for this, and he preferred to return to his own country. They made him confess everything for pennies. He came here a young man and left an old man.
Already in the Soviet period, began the second stage in Georgian tea history. There was a scientist, madam Ksenja Bakhtadze, an academic, a selection of world importance. She led the efforts for 29 new Georgian strains, including ones for alpine climate – tea cultivated in Sachkhere and Tkibuli is overwhelming of this variety. The tea now cultivated in Turkey is this tea, taken from here. Here, this tea is cultivated using seeds, but tea only retains its original qualities when grafted or grown from branches, but when massive production started, nobody paid attention to that. All these tea that you see here is cultivated from seeds, that’s why it’s so bushy; Lao Ghonghao’s tea grew wide like a tree – when a seed dropped, it was removed in a hurry to avoid regression. Now there’s nothing Chinese left in local tea.
I tell this story to everyone who comes here. Then we go and see the tea bushes – most, especially young people, have never seen one. You’ll rarely find a person in Tbilisi, Kartli, or Kakheti, that has seen a tea bush. In my plantation, you can see 7-8 strains of tea: one with slim leaves, one with lightly-colored leaves, one has thick leaves, one is of more red-hued color, and so on. Then we pick the tea leaves with hats and baskets, teach them how to pick it. If the guest is staying for 2-3 days, he can watch tea processing himself, it’s a whole production. After that, he’ll wander around Gomi mountain, Ureki, Shekvetili, and when he returns, the excess water from the tea leaves has already evaporated and the leaves lend themselves easier; it’s essential for bending it. Then I let the guest bend the leaves softly, to avoid damaging the leaves, and they expand when you pour water on them. I have special glass teapots for this. Then it must undergo fermentation and, in short, guests can taste the tea that they themselves processed. If the guest can’t stay, we tell them all this and then go directly to the tasting. This is the tea tour.
Tourism isn’t just my main focus, it’s my and my family’s life. I want to restore the exact “Household smoke” that stood here at the end of the 19th century and at the beginning of the 20th. As the first order of business, I want to restore the wine cellar to its original state. Tea tour was the first project, but a “Komli” cannot exist without wine. My American son-in-law, of whom I’m very proud, got very interested in Georgian wine. There’s the single Georgian restaurant in Washington, D.C., called “the second embassy”. My son-in-low leads a Georgian table every last Thursday of a month, without any compensation – he tells toasts, presents Georgia, spreads the word about Georgian wine. Once he told me – Mother, I receive a lot of guests; isn’t it a shame we don’t have a vineyard? Let’s ask grandma to plant grapes instead of hazelnut. There was tea planted in the vineyard’s place. When we lost the biggest Soviet market, my mother planted hazelnut instead of tea like the majority of Gurians – it was easier to care for and more profitable. We cut down hazelnuts, brought a special tractor (I wasn’t here at the time), and my mother called me – she said I’d go insane by hearing this, but they discovered a Kvevri (large underground wine container made of clay) in the ground. When my son-in-law heard this, he celebrated it like the container was filled with gold. Now I have five grape strains planted – Sakmiela, Kamuri, Badagi, Mtevandidi, and Rtskilatubani. These are Gurian strains, there are lots more, but now I’m interested in Djani and plan to plant it.
This fall, after much coercing from my son-in-law, I made wine. He directly brought grapes to me and said: Mother, you have to make wine. What was I supposed to do?! With phone consultations, without a cellar or any tools, I made wine, Chkhaveri Rose. It worked. I sent 252 bottles today. My wine is named “Komli”.
Village problems and “Women against pit toilets”
As you know, in the village everyone depends on pit toilets. There was no central sewer system, was not and couldn’t be. In modern times, with all the washing machines, toilet bowl, cleaners and so on, all the chemicals go to the ground, which isn’t good, water gets polluted and so on. Previously, those pit toilets were used in a specific way, composted, they weren’t open like today. Now everyone wants to have an easy life; some people even told me to let everything flow to a river. That’s the prevalent attitude. Since this is a very important problem, we won a project in the UN Fund For Women, created an initiative group for women living in villages, and want to spread awareness about septic tanks, what it means and why it is important. We want other women to know, that we’re responsible not only for our but all the children and family members. We want to issue booklets. We underwent consultation with many experts.
In villages, irrigation is a serious problem. 42% of Guria is water, but we still have a water problem. I have a wonderful well, but during droughts, it still dries up. Not completely, but enough that it can’t cover all needs. Along the main road in our village, there’s a very large irrigation system that goes to Ozurgeti. Every time we asked, they said it would be too expensive to connect it to our village. There are countries that buy water from neighboring countries, and here we have such a situation. During Soviet times the piping was already put in the ground, but they didn’t have enough time and, during the 90s, all those pipes were sold for scraps.
There are almost no kids left in the village. The school is on the brink of closure. Moreover, this isn’t a village in the mountains – it’s 4-5 kilometers from Ozurgeti, but there’s no youth here. Healthy young women left to work, seasonally or completely, in Russia, Turkey, Greece, Italy, to care for elders and sick there. There are villages around here that when someone dies, there’s no woman to cry at the funeral. It’s tragic.
I want to use the sun’s energy to the fullest extent. I want to use my Kikvata flow for irrigation and not have to use artificial irrigation systems. I want to live in an eco-village, I walk around here and it’s like my ancestors dictate where everything is, where should I do things. I want to make everything like it was two centuries before, but with modern knowledge and approach.
Author: Nino Gamisonia
Photo: Nino Baidauri
Translation: Mariam Kajrishvili