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.