In the village of Zemo Alvani, in Kakheti region in eastern Georgia, an old Tushetian house smells appetisingly of freshly ground coffee. Mother and son, Tamara and Abram, are waiting for guests in the evening – tourists from Belgium.
In the yard, an old Tushetian carpet is spread. Someone has sewn ‘Ofelia and Kalane’ on the rug with white thread. “Ofelia was my grandmother, the mother of my father, and Kalane was the wife of my grandfather’s brother. Ofelia and Kalane were the brothers’ wives, and they wove this carpet together,” 22-year-old Abram explains.
The house was built by Abram’s great-grandfather: “When the Bolsheviks came, they dispossessed my great-grandparents. The house was seized and turned into a village control office. Grandmother told me that, after 10 years, when they returned, portraits of Stalin and Lenin hung in every room. My great-grandfather refused to enter until the portraits had been taken off the walls and removed from the house.”
Throughout his childhood, Abram listened to stories about the Bolsheviks and the havoc they wrought. Born in the village of Dartlo in the mountains of Tusheti, Ofelia, who first appeared in the valley at the age of 14, also told Abram a lot about Tusheti.
From here began Abram’s particular interest in history and his great love for Tusheti. At the age of 12, Abram decided to organise a museum at home. He told his grandmother, and Ofelia loved the idea.
The obliging grandparents vacated a room in the back of the house. For the museum, his grandmother offered up her priceless dowry of antique Tushetian silver: women’s jewellery, men’s buttons, belts and a horse harness.
“When the Bolsheviks came, they hid these jewels in the wall, and that’s how they saved them,” Abram explains.
At the time when the family opened their museum, tourism within Georgia also started taking off, and trips to the region became increasingly popular. There was no shortage of visitors at Abram’s museum, including from abroad.
After graduating from school, Abram entered the Faculty of History at Tbilisi State University and moved to the capital.
Then, alas, the coronavirus pandemic began in the country. The university switched to distance learning, and second-year student Abram returned to Zemo Alvani. “I am sitting in the village and thinking about what to do. I accidentally stumbled across the CENN organisation on the internet – a competition for grants for social entrepreneurs.”
In the spring of 2020, CENN, with the support of the European Union, announced a grant competition for social innovations in the Caucasus as part of the project EU4Youth: Social Entrepreneurship Ecosystem Development (SEED) for Green Growth.
Shortly after applying, Abram received a call. He was told that he would go on to the next stage and would have to do training in Bakuriani.
In Bakuriani, the project participants learned how to work with mentors in various areas, including how to turn an idea into a business and write a business plan. “Before that, I was very far from numbers. At first, I thought I would fail – I could not understand the business plan, budgeting and Excel. I thought nothing would come of it.”
After returning from Bakuriani, Abram wrote a business plan and started thinking about a socially relevant angle for his project. Abram worked in two directions – turning his house into a family hotel and training young guides from Zemo Alvani.
The Ididzes had a two-storey house in Zemo Alvani, but it required work. According to Tamara, Abram’s mother, if it was not for the financial help from EU4Youth, they would not have been able to do this. “With the money we received, we completely reconstructed the second floor of our house, equipped it with a bathroom, bought kitchen equipment, and the house became a family hotel,” Tamara explains.
Abram’s main idea was to train young villagers as local guides. Abram says that many people, including active guides, did not know the history of Tusheti as thoroughly as he did and, of course, did not know English. Since Tusheti appeared on the tourist map in recent years, it has become increasingly popular as a destination. During the high season, many foreign tourists show up.
Abram decided to teach the guides English and the history of Tusheti: “The beauty of Tusheti is in its history. So, I set myself the goal of ‘infecting’ the young guides in my project with a love for Tusheti. We Tushetians love Tusheti differently; we cannot live without it. Even when we are not in Tusheti, we are still there in our hearts.” Abram and a friend also created a particular module for training guides, found materials, announced an admission process, and began training the first group.
In June, Abram and Tamara received their first guests – from the Czech Republic. Their hotel, ‘Alon’, can accommodate up to 10 people.
Tushetian knitted socks and books in Georgian and English are laid out in the hall on the hotel’s second floor. An old record player stands nearby. Before going to Tusheti, tourists experience this region’s charm from the comfort of the hotel. Guest service is Tamara’s job. Abram supervises the training of guides.
The first five guides have already been trained. Due to the pandemic, training has been online. Abram introduced the future guides to the history of Tusheti and the Tushetian way of life. His friend taught English. All five young people from Zemo Alvani are now in business, hosting their first tours.
Abram plans to train five more guides next year. He believes that this will benefit both Tusheti and the youth of Zemo Alvani.
Abram has many other many plans too, and everything is connected to Tusheti and its history. He plans to work to save the Tsova-Tushetian language, an unwritten language related to Chechen spoken by the Tsova-Tushes of Zemo Alvani. This initiative will strengthen the social and educational dimensions of the project.
For the sustainability of the hotel, Abram wants his tourism business to stop being seasonal: “I want our hotel to be open year-round. So, in the future, we plan to work on wine tourism; we’ll build a cellar at home and start producing our wine.”
Author: Nino Narimanishvili
Article published in Georgian on Jam-news.net
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