Tretuk

One of the coolest things that Peace Corps offers me is the opportunity to constantly experience new things. There is a mysterious place to go and explore, or a new person to converse with, or a funny experience around every corner. With that in mind, yesterday Aga and I set out for a distant village at the base of the mountains comprising the Azeri border.

The village is visible from Vardenis on a clear day. There are several villages sprinkled right at the base of the mountains, which are majority refugee. Tretuk was our choice mainly because of its remoteness.

Our walk took us through Mets Masrik, which is a decent sized (several thousand) village outside of Vardenis. As a foreigner walking through a village, you are sure to turn every head. So, it’s a bit of a weird experience. But as we were greeted by some village boys in Armenian, rather than a high-pitched mocking “helloooooooooo!!!” we would get in Vardenis, the village had a charm.

After Mets Masrik, we turned onto the road leading to Tretuk. Surprisingly, it was in great condition. On top of a great road, the weather was near perfect. The wind was calm but refreshing, the sun popping out from an overcast sky now and then, and the birds in the fields chirping away. The lack of traffic on the road made for a very peaceful walk.

One of the most relaxing moments of my life

We stopped at an abandoned complex of some sort. I couldn’t really tell what it was – there was a small empty building with a fenced area that contained a man-made, sod covered hill with a lock on the hatch. We sat down on the angled edge of the hill to take our boots off and have a snack. Laying in the middle of nowhere, looking out at the mountains with the warm highland sun beaming on my face, feeling the onset of fatigue after a couple hours of walking, and knowing that we were about to go to a new place, I can say it was one of the most peaceful and serene moments in my life. The world seemed to belong only to us.

After another hour of walking we entered the village. It was quainter than I had imagined. There were lots of destroyed houses everywhere. I couldn’t figure out if the destruction was due to age or warfare. There weren’t many signs of life until we came around to the other side of a large plain building, where there were 6 Armenians or so squatting in the shade. They looked up at us suspiciously as we walked by. My game plan had been to be really friendly in the village, in hopes of meeting someone interesting, but something about their glares sent my plans dashing.

We kept walking down the only road. There was an old woman walking in front of us. When she heard us, she turned around, gave us a WTF look, and then sped up. “Okay, maybe we won’t meet anyone in this village…” I thought to myself. Since we were hungry, we decided to scale a hill and sit at one of the destroyed houses to eat.

Once we got seated we had a pretty decent view of the village. You could see the villagers still congregated and contemplating our presence. Then, from behind one of the standing walls of the house, a guy on a horse appeared. He rode right up to us and we began speaking. He was a younger guy and didn’t really look Armenian. His dark weathered face was accented with light brown hair and light eyes, a rarity among Armenians. After correctly guessing that I was American (that never happens), he offered us to ride his horse. Sadly, all I could think of was Peace Corps’s rulebook stating that we are forbidden to ride a bike, donkey, horse, etc without a helmet. That, plus considering the roughly 10-15% grade of the hill we were on, I politely declined.

“Are you hungry? If you’re hungry, let’s go to my house.” We were both happy that he offered, and agreed to go. His house was just at the bottom of the hill. After tying up the horse (named Bullion) we were met with a Noah’s Ark of animals. Turkeys and chickens started spilling out of the yard. A huge fluffy dog rolled around on the ground wagging his tail. The man went to the dog and held its mouth, like a muzzle. It looked like a friendly dog, but I didn’t mind the gesture since you never know. We were also met by an older woman and a cute little girl, who promptly ran away accordingly in cute fashion.

Inside was another old woman and one of the most beautiful Armenian women I’ve seen. Her beauty was simple, without makeup or glamour. And after talking with them, it was obvious she was beautiful on the inside too. To see someone like that in a village was a bit of a surprise. She was holding a little boy, and my first thought was that she was the wife of the kind man who invited us in. I thought what a great couple they are. But it turns out she is his brother’s wife.

We sat down in their warm family room and were served homemade cherry juice. They kept asking if we were hungry, or if they should bring bread, or if we wanted matsun, but I kept declining. We brought food with us, and I’m sure even though they were willing, the family didn’t have a lot of excess. It felt great to sit down after a 3 hour walk. Aga tried speaking to them in Russian, but they responded to her in Armenian. So the conversation during our hour long stay was Armenian. I was surprised that their barbar was not as thick as in Vardenis. They asked all about us (Who told you about our village? How did you know it was here? Why did you come here? How did you get here? How are you going back? Can we get a car to take you? How old are you? Are you brother and sister? Are you married? What do you do in Armenia? Were you born in Armenia? And much more). It was great to talk to a family in such a remote place. Their village is only 100 people. Can you imagine living in a place like that?

Then, it was time to leave. I asked if they wanted a picture of their family. They were interested in my camera and agreed (except for the pretty girl – interesting, and refreshing). We said goodbye and left having made some new friends in a faraway place.

New friends

On the walk back, I couldn’t help but think about the man, Davit. He is 24, just like me. I thought he might be much older, but living in a village in Armenia isn’t exactly an easy life. I wondered about his life, what he does, what he will be, how easily I could be in his place and he in mine, and if he will find a great girl to marry. I also thought about how drastically different our lives are and if we would be friends in another world. Despite all these ideas out of my control, I am happy to have met someone like him who is somehow open-minded despite his situation.

In other news, our Border2Border project has been completely funded! Thank you to everyone who contributed, shared the link, joined the Cause, or told your friends about it. We really appreciate you guys helping us out. In April we will be printing out our curriculum, buying prizes for the kids, and making other preparations ahead of the June start date. Late April/early May will be site visits, where the walkers will drop off thousands of brochures and posters along our route and meet with community stakeholders. We have been meeting with Armenian Red Cross and fully expect to utilize their partnership to make the event a success. Also, as I am not a walker, the lead team members called me and welcomed me to participate in any stretch of the course I would like. I appreciated the gesture, and will probably take them up on their offer. There is a stretch from Martuni to Yeghegnadzor, the final stop, which I would like to do. It involves 2 days through a mountain pass and a night of camping. Although, after walking 27km yesterday, I’m glad that I’ll only be doing a couple days of walking!

Next Sunday I will go to Georgia for the first time. The plan is to take the train from Yerevan, which takes 15 hours or so. Then I will stay with a CouchSurfer in Tbilisi while we meet up with Aga’s friend to show us the sights. It should be a great experience. I’m ready to see Georgia after hearing many great things.

More soon!

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2 Responses to “Tretuk”

  1. Peter Says:

    Kevin,

    This might be your best post yet. More than any other I felt like I was there experiencing these events by your side. You are blossoming into someone that, to quote ‘the hills’, can “write good”.

    -Peter

  2. icenugget Says:

    Thanks Peter. Your memory of our jokes never fails to amaze me! I LOL’d at this one.

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