It was like an arctic wonderland: the early morning sky bleeding shades of orange, red, and yellow as the sun prepared to rise from the mountains separating Armenia from Azerbaijan. The mountains were completely white with snow, as was everything around me as my feet crunched with every stride. I cautiously navigated past the packs of street dogs, not being able to think of anything except the beauty of the moment.

When I first came to Vardenis, I never thought I could discover any beauty here. Now I know that even this place can be beautiful if you look at it the right way. Yes, a fresh coating of snow definitely helps. But I think it’s more a statement on my overall feelings of living in Armenia. What can I say? I am happy here. Armenia is my home now.

A lot has happened. Some things have probably already slipped through the cracks of my memory, but what follows was significant enough for me to remember. Get ready for a disconnected blog post…

After basically hibernating during January, I awoke from my slumber. I think I only left my site once during a large chunk of January. Between Nor Tari, moving, and getting back into the swing of work, I was content to stay in Vardenis. The past week forced me out though, as I had multiple meetings.

Monday I went to Yerevan for a meeting and to handle some PC paperwork. The place was alive with volunteers because there was a conference going on. It was one that I did in the fall. I picked up some books at the office, ate shwarma, and had a good, though long, day. Tuesday night I found out I had a meeting in Yerevan again on Thursday. I wasn’t thrilled to go back again so soon, but then again I knew I had to be there Friday for a meeting as well. However, staying in Yerevan is very expensive on our little volunteer budgets. A night at the hostel is 5000 AMD, which is like $14 or something. Add that to meals and probably some beers (let’s be real), and you can quickly run out of cash. Plus just getting to Yerevan and back is 3000 for me.

To combat this dilemma, I decided to call my host family in Solak. I wanted to visit them this weekend anyway, so staying at their place Thursday night seemed like a good move. Luckily, they didn’t mind that I called them Tuesday night and asked to stay Thursday night. So, after a successful meeting with World Vision, I hopped in the marshrutka and headed to Solak, 30km away. It was my 2nd visit there since training. Just like the first visit, it was a great time. I could speak with them a bit more, understand a bit more, and generally basked in their awesomeness. There was good food, a warm wood stove, and I even got to see their newly opened store. I think part of why the visits are so good is that it brings back so many good memories from the summer time. Living in Solak was not easy because I was going through all the growing pains of adjusting to life here. But in retrospect, I can appreciate the gains I made, the friends I made, and my first home in Armenia. It leaves me with a special connection with the family as well. These people took care of me when I could barely communicate with them. There is also an air of happiness in Solak when compared to Vardenis. On my walk into town, I passed a group of kids laughing and sledding down the hill with a dog chasing them. They warmly welcomed me, as did several other people walking by. I stopped and chatted with a couple girls near the school. All of this adds up to make you really feel welcome.

Friday I got to see a lot of volunteers in Yerevan. I stayed at the hostel and went out for food and drinks with people. We had a meeting, but most of it was just social. I think everyone else was like me – they had been cooped up in their sites since December and were ready to get out and see each other. I’m going to use my momentum while I have it to visit Martuni today for a Super Bowl gathering and to visit Gyumri next weekend. In Martuni we will attempt to watch the game on an internet feed. If it works I will be amazed. If it doesn’t work I won’t be sad since the Packers are playing. By default I must root for the Steelers, even if Ben Roethlisberger is an idiot. We will be watching at 3:30 a.m. local time. My bet is not on the game however. I am betting on the fact that I can stay up all night, watch the game, and get back to Vardenis in time for work Monday morning.

On the way to Yerevan Thursday morning, a car started honking at our marshrutka. We pulled over on the side of the highway. The driver got out. I thought it was due to engine trouble. Then I saw a white Lada pulled over in front of us. Its driver (maybe 30) got out and ran to the marshrutka driver (50ish). He started screaming and shoving our driver against the side of the marshrutka. That prompted the 12 or so Armenian men in our marshrutka to fly outside to participate in the skirmish. The shoving continued even though it was 1 on 13. I found myself alone in the marshrutka, save a tatik and a military guy who seemed uninterested. Memories of the harsanik fight swirled in my head as I watched through the frosty window. After 1 minute, the fight ended. The drivers got back in their respective vehicles. The Armenian men filed back in, climbing over my legs. Then we continued our journey. The driver’s adrenaline must have been flowing, because we kicked it up to about 120km/h. The marshrutka was shaking as if it was going to blast into outer space. Somehow, I am still alive.

I noticed this stencil of Armenia included Nargorno-Karabakh and disputed regions of Azerbaijan in between.  I didn't understand the text though.  After a translation it all came together.

"Liberated rather than occupied"

Another topic of interest over the past few days, among Armenians, was my love life. Or, specifically, lack thereof. My host dad in Solak was asking a bunch of questions about taking an Armenian girl back to the states. When I told him with a laugh that I didn’t know and that I hadn’t found anyone yet, he looked at me in a piercing way. “Loorch” (seriously). “When you find an Armenian girl to marry, I will be the godfather at your wedding. And if you can’t find one in Vardenis, tell me. I will find a girl for you here.” All this promised effort from a man who shouts for his wife in another room to grab a knife out of the drawer that is literally right next to where he is sitting. I am touched, and a little creeped out. Another volunteer explained that it means they really consider me part of their family. That’s fine, but I don’t want an arranged marriage. I would actually like things like, you know, love and compatibility. Plus there is the element of “does she love me or does she just want to go to America?”

Moving on to marinara sauce. I made my own last night for the first time. I took tomato paste and added water, sugar, and spices. It was a bit too sweet, but much better than tomato paste plain. That’s right, I have been eating pasta with tomato paste. Besides canker sores, there appear to be no other ill side-effects, other than the taste. I need to experiment with the marinara though. It is easy, fun to do, and potentially very delicious. I’ve also been foraying into other unchartered culinary territories, mostly due to the lack of Jack’s pizzas. I made fried rice the other day with potato and bologna. If that isn’t a Kevin meal, I don’t know what is. It was really good!

In Yerevan I bought a couple Armenian films. I have no television now, and thus, no access to the subpar Armenian programming that I “studied”. Unfortunately, the films have no subtitles. I also can’t find subtitles on the internet. I watched one last night from 1980 titled, “Xoshor Shahum”, or The Big Win. I understood maybe 30-40%, but subtitles would be a big help. One of the disadvantages of learning a small language like Armenian is the lack of resources. You can find subtitles in 50+ languages for American movies. But I can’t even find Armenian subtitles for Armenian movies. Oh well, I guess I will just watch them until I learn from osmosis.


One Response to “Musings”

  1. Nancy Says:

    Kevin, your life is such an amazing, gracious, interesting adventure! Of course, I always knew it would be!!

    Be Safe! Stay Happy!


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