Manoni Akhvlediani, 48 years old, village Ghvirishi, Tsageri municipality

‘’I’m a certified teacher working in Ghvirishi public school. I’m also a majority MP in our community, in Tsageri municipality. My decision to become a member of the parliament was taken adequately by my family and society at large. On the contrary, nobody opposed it. Before that, I was working in a store for 15 years. No offense, but store clerks are often pejoratively referred to as ‘merchants’’, and as such to be chosen as an MP means something, you must be respected. I didn’t choose this way of life to be in politics. Neither did I have any financial interest, all I wanted was to help my village. I’ve always been responsible, but since I became an MP, my sense of responsibility increased. My dream is to help our hardworking people living in unbelievable poverty. With my current job, I want to bolster development in my village and I think I’m managing well. I see that some things got a new start in life. I have dreams – want to cultivate apple orchards, want to revive the Zanduri wheat. My school and students are also actively involved.

                                                              

,,The home of Zanduri’’

Zanduri is one of the species of wheat, endemic to Lechkhumi. Some say that all strains of wheat are based on Zanduri’s genes. There are no sources of nutrition on earth more important than wheat and if we consider the genetic makeup of global wheat may be standing on Zanduri’s shoulders, then every grain of Zanduri must be worth its weight in gold. As far as we know, Zanduri’s seed was exported from Lechkhumi, but its grain mutated, it’s not the same as before, because it got its strength from the nutrition and nourishment this land gave to it. The primary reason why I got interested in Zanduri is that it originated in Lechkhumi. Lechkhumi isn’t as well known and it’s not prominent in Georgia, so I think that would help putting Lechkhumi on the front. My grandmother often talked about the Zanduri bread and it stirred my love from the very beginning. Levan Ozbetelashvili, who works in the Botany Institute, gave a small lecture abour Zanduri, which I attended with my children. I thought, at first I would collect the ethnographic material which was related to Zanduri – how it was cultivated and after that I could develop thoughts and ideas. We started to get some materials – some of that I had at home, in the family. Then I checked with my neighbors, started to discover some more with my children in different villages. These items – shnakvi (the tool for wheat), dzghavi, kakaba (wooden base of plough mouldboard), kevri (a tool), kavi (the hanger), tsipkha (the basement storage), aren’t used any longer. For example, tsipkha is a lechkhumian vessel, made from wild cherry skin, with beautifully braid sides and looks amazing. I hung all of them in my barn and that’s where the name ‘’the house of zanduri’’ comes from. The ethnographic material is already collected and it’s really pleasing to the eye, but the main point is to actually get the wheat harvested and bake bread from Zanduri wheat. There are practically no seeds, we barely got some, which I’ve planted and I’m very carefully taking care of it.  We are waiting to get our first harvest to make a whole field from it. I’m trying to make this popular and maybe win nihilist people back too. We have a very large resource base, which we are not using at all. Our people shouldn’t even called lazy, their whole psyche is destroyed. They are going abroad to work for money, then when they come back all this money goes in restaurants, flats or in real estate. They could invest this money in their villages, build fruit gardens, plant vineyards, do anything… I have such plans and I want to make it real – I want to plant wheat fields, harvest them and sell the product. I think there will be people who’s interested. I’m pretty sure time will come when Bio products will be in demand, I really hope so. I’m planning for the future, I want to get the next generation interested, and who will then continue my job. I’m not only doing this for money, but for Lechkhumi and its development.

‘’The house of Zanduri’’ will aid ecotourism development in our village. The tourists will have something to see. Here’s a vale I want to build the ethno-village in, with a small Lechkhumian house with vintage balconies and fireplace. I want there to be little huts and relaxation desks. I may put the first brick in the wall, but I don’t have much finances to finish it, it all requires large amounts of money. Maybe if the government saw it this way, aren’t they people too? Maybe they’d be interested. They’ll see that I already did something and it’s not just empty words… I have to do a lot of the work, but I won’t spare effort.

Since I’ve found these old tools, I’m always thinking how they’re all made with love. We didn’t held to the same symmetrical principles, haven’t retained the same love and care, so creativity diminished. The place where they got this stones is at least 15-16 kilometers away from Khvamli and one can only imagine how much they’d have to struggle bringing them home to make their homes beautiful. They had this motivation and we – we have lost it. Maybe we can restore it.

When I was a kid I wanted to be a tractor operator. When I bought a tractor, I joked that one of my dreams had come true. The cultivation of apple orchards was a childhood dream as well. When my husband passed away, I bought Panta apple seeds and cultivated it. It was hard work; my children helped too. As it turned out the seeds weren’t ripe and we didn’t get any harvest, I failed. Then I got visitors from an NGO and they promised to help with the irrigation system. I didn’t believe they’d really do anything but I still wrote a project; that was a lot of responsibility for me and it wasn’t easy. I bought some seedlings in Gori, settled the land and plant it. The soil was hardened, we barely dug out the holes. I took a great care of the seedlings, like they were my children. The first time it yielded fruit, I brought my neighbors to see, I couldn’t be happier. I went there at least ten times a day to snuggle the trees. I can still picture the first two red apples. Then I planted tomatoes, bell pepper and eggplants. On every fifth day I brought 200 liters of water and also sprayed pesticide. It caused my eyesight to degrade. Then I planted onions and garlics in 60-meter rows; it was tiring to even cast a glance from start to end. Digging the ground was not easy, the soil was still hardened and I the physical pain almost made me cry. But when I looked at my results, I was at my happiest; I still get chills when I remember that feeling.

I have a honey bee farm too. I was hysterically afraid of them, I couldn’t get close to them and my husband took care of them. After my husband’s death, my father continued his job. But bees don’t like to be cared by someone else. They need care like a baby does. I couldn’t do anything because of my fear and after some time the farm was ruined. Only 4 of the original 23 apiaries remained. One of my friends promised to help to keep them. I reluctantly agreed, since I knew how much work it entailed. He came to help several times. He helped for a year, then I shied away from asking him again, and decided to risk taking care of it by myself. At first when I was close to it I was shaking anxiously, then I started searching for more information on the internet. I decided to bring out the ‘’mother bees’’ from the apiary. Bringing out the mothers is similar to doing a c-section. After the first try I was so stressed I couldn’t move for 3 hours. It’s not physically hard, but emotionally. Now I have 54 apiaries. I worked really hard, got results and now I have plans for the honey bee farm as well – I want to produce bee milk and nucleus. I’m also selling honey. The Georgian government didn’t prioritize beekeeping and doesn’t support this industry. I created all this at great expense.

My husband passed away 14 years ago and after that I’m doing everything on my own. When I was 14-15 years old, I was afraid of many things – frogs, snakes, butterflies, and darkness. I was also lazy and if anybody asked me to bring water, I claimed to be too scared to go to the spring. I’ve been told by many that I’m lazy and my whole life I’ve tried to fix this complex with hard work. I really am lazy by nature, but I also have a sense of responsibility to my society. I have to be right to myself and when I do, then I’m happy. If I do something wrong, I can’t find rest, I cried a couple of times because of that. Regret is hell, they say, and I’ve had my share a lot of times, be it because I said or did something wrong.

I don’t follow the village day routine, I work and struggle every day. I wake up at 8 o’clock in the winter, scroll the Facebook quickly to cheer me up, then I get up and start working. I love the morning droplets on grass the most, looking like diamonds; I take their pictures. I also love to be busy around bees. But the biggest energy I get is when working on the land.’’

Author: Nino Gamisonia
Photo: Nino Baidauri

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