About a blacksmith

Perhaps my submission is a bit different, but its proverbial implications fall in line with the call. It’s about a blacksmith, which turns out to be rather important in the village context. Vano Imediashvili lives in the village of Patara Chailuri in Georgia’s Kakheti Region. He’s a short man with thinning white hair and a red face. He wears the same sweatpants and plaid shirt every day and for every occasion. He speaks rapidly, with a thick regional accent, his words often getting pushed together as his smile grows. He speaks Russian when he has to and knows eight or so English words that I taught him, four of which are types of alcohol. His last name means “child of hope,” the full meaning of which I’m still trying to understand.

Patara Chailuri’s name come from a legend about a giant who spilled his tea because it was too hot, forming the Chailuri River (“chai” meaning “tea”) which runs between the two Chailuri villages, Didi (“big”) and Patara (“little”). Patara Chailuri, like most Georgian villages, has two types of inhabitants: The ones who have Tbilisi money and indoor toilets, and the farmers and schoolteachers who have neither. Vano is in this second group, but his place is the village is more significant than creature comforts and income flow. I doubt Vano knows anything about international aid organizations, NGOs, or what they try to do for communities such as his. I was probably the first foreigner he’d seen since returning from compulsory military service in East Germany thirty years ago, and he received me as a matter of course. Vano doesn’t have time or the mental bend to get excited about these sorts of things.

A husband, a father, a joker (his nickname is the “Rooster”), a recovered and occasionally lapsing alcoholic, a tile-layer, mechanic, a wine-maker. Vano has many roles, most of which are more noticeable than his most important. First and foremost to the people living in Patara Chailuri, Didi Chailuri, and Kakabeti, he is the blacksmith. In these villages there is no one who is more vital to the way of life. Almost ever day for the past thirty years, Vano has risen before sunrise and walked four kilometers to his smithy. He makes and repairs the tools that plow, prune, and harvest the corn, grapes, and watermelon that the villages rely on for trade and subsistence. Vano only grows grapes to make wine and tchatcha (homemade vodka) for personal consumption. His customers usually pay in kind with produce, eggs, and other foodstuffs. For money, Vano takes on tiling and electrical jobs in Tbilisi, about an hour away by mini-bus.

Three years ago his heart partially exploded, the result of many years of hard drinking, but he happened to be at a worksite right next to a hospital in Tbilisi. If he’d been in the village, he would have died. He didn’t drink for the entire year that followed, blaming his first lapse on me during a visit. After he almost died, Vano took on an apprentice, the son of his cousin, realizing that if he died, the villages might die too.

Vano accepts life for exactly what it is, without hyperbole or superlatives, with complete realism and humility. Once I asked him how he met Ketino, his wife. His answer took over an hour and involved buying a car in East Berlin and the whole winding journey back to Georgia through the entire western half of the Soviet Empire. He didn’t come straight home, but drove past his village to another 25 kilometers away, returned the next day with Ketino, for whom he’d driven from thousands of kilometers to marry. To me, it was such an adventure; to Vano, it was simply the answer to my question. He’s the same about being the blacksmith. If I were to ask him what he thought about being such an important person, he’d probably shrug and tell a joke. Ketino is in her own way vital to Patara Chailuri. She a kind of village doctor, administering shots, prescribing home remedies, and helping the sick.

Between Vano and Ketino, the village is just that much more successful and healthy than it would be otherwise. I lived with them for two months when I first came to Georgia. What I have done in Georgia – at the time Peace Corps, later and currently a variety of development work – started with Vano showing me that you do what you can for people, honestly, humbly, because that’s simply the best way to live. No one, not any type of international or local organization or myself, could tell Vano how to better benefit his village. No initiative or program could replace or improve on what he was already doing. Vano is the blacksmith doing blacksmith’s work, plain and simple, because there’s a need and this is how he wants to live his life. His beneficiaries are whole villages of people he knows by name rather than as numbers. There’s no proposals or projects or outcomes. No fancy datasets, obtaining goals, or worrying about sustainability. He’s simply playing his role in the human experience in his own way as part of a community that he happens to have an important role in holding together. He helps people make the best of their situation in the agricultural region of eastern Georgia. When Vano dies, his apprentice and likely his young son who will have grown up will take over his smithy, and the village will continue its existence.

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Is the future like the past?

This is a great story, Gillikin, and you tell it very well – thanks for sharing it. I am thinking about its implications: does this mean that, in your opinion, the people like Vano and Ketino, who are most critical to the continued health of communities in Georgia, are building a future that looks very much like the past? Is it the case that rural Georgia is reproducing itself more or less like it has always done?

Yes, in a sense they are continuing into a future that looks very much like the past. This is the reality of most of rural Georgian, reflecting both materiastic possibility and the typical metality towards change. You’ll also this status quo varies, and I would say that Vano and Ketino help make that future, though it’s very similar, to be a little brighter, and a little less worrisome, especially as Georgian villages do often die. 

The oppurtunities for more ‘system changing’ initiatives are much, much fewing in rural Georgian than in the urban areas. I’ve seen a few, speciafically with mobile banking and dentists, which have made things alot easier for villagers. Also good things are being done with agricultural education. But for the most part, yes, life continues on as it always had, give or take a very modern conveniences and technologies. Vano and Ketino don’t have the tools - the capital, the oppunities - to make a future too different from the present, but it’s still a better future (and I think psychologically as well) than many Georgian villages have. 

Beautifully written

I have been thinking about your story. What does Vano would ask about the lives of others, what his opinions would be of the efforts of people who participate in hackathons or try to create smoke free spaces in the city. And where he could see a possibility to support or collaborate with their work with his skills, experience and resources available to him. A little context


I guess it’s hard to say exactly what Vano would think (I can’t presume one thing or the other). I think the only precedent I have would be he always insists that people be genuine in what they do. The only time I’ve seen him scold anyone was when a friend of mine told a joke about a vegetarian. Would Vano understand the reason for smoke free spaces or hackathons? Maybe on some level, but probably not. He’s a village blacksmith. I could ask him, though I don’t know if I’ll be able to get out to the village in the next few weeks.

However, that doesn’t mean he hasn’t affected others or spurred on initiatives. He’s one of the reasons I’m still in Georgia (not the main one, but a significant one). My main thing right now is launching a Georgian arts & culture website that hopefully will both gague the contemporary scene here as well as give it more of a voice. It has nothing to do with Vano, but because of him I know there’s more to Georgian culture than meets the eye because I know there’s more to Georgian people than old dances, wine, and trying way too hard to copy US/European fads. I can write more about this project if you like.  

Migration/no migration => future

As someone who grew up in a small town (and, now, an expat) I know all too well that the decision to migrate versus staying is one of the most important we make. Some European countries, especially in the south of the continent, are losing their young to better economic climates in the north. These decisions loom large on the future: with a super-low feritlity rate and mass migration of the young and educated, my own country, Italy, is in the early stages of a feedback loop of economic depression - migration - more economic depression that points to extinction. Anything that keeps people in Georgia, or aims to, is a good candidate for being a piece of the future in my book. 

another interesting Kakhetian

This submission reminded me of another guy from the same region in Georgia. Those who have driven to Signagi from Tbilisi more than once probably have noticed a guy on a bike carrying a lot of empty bottles. I can’t remeber his name at the moment, but I have had a long chat with him: he lives in Zemo Magharo and fixes bikes and collects bottles for a living. He speaks more than handful of languages (English, Russian, German and others), never drinks water - he says that eating fruits and vegetables gives you more than enough water…Locals take him as kind of a weirdo, but I see a bright man in him who is concerned about ecology and try to live as close to the nature as possible.

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interesting indeed!

I really like it, how people with very little are trying to make a change. For example the unemployed guy in Vera Park who is tagging all the dogs so they wont get killed by the municipality. It’s the little things that do matter!