Installing a Heater as a Microcosm of Life in Armenia

There are times when I wonder if I am really giving you the accurate picture of life in Armenia. I’m not sure what your impression is at this point other than you know it’s somehow different and that there are some weird Americans living there.

Well, as I type there is a little uninstalled Persian heater taunting me from my peripheral vision. This guy is gonna provide the perfect opportunity to give you a taste of how things go down here.

Heater, or representation of my lack of independence?

Last winter I moved into my apartment. Since I was moving from a room that my host family used as their refrigerator before I lived there, the apartment felt relatively warm. I was content with my little PC electric radiator thingy. Who cares if I can see my own breath still?

That attitude persisted for a month or two, but I finally did admit that it was pretty cold in my apartment. This observation was made more obvious by Aga’s constant mockery of my freezing apartment. She had a Persian heater which made her place very comfortable. “That would be nice,” I thought, but it was already late in the winter and didn’t seem to be that important. What I didn’t realize is that Cold Inside lasts until like early May. If I could do it over again I would not go through being cold like that.

So, that brings us to Fall 2011. Suddenly the weather changes and I know it’s time to act on getting a heater. The Y had an extra one that they said I could use. Perfect.

Somewhere in the middle of September I mentioned to my counterpart that I needed the heater. She agreed and suggested I ask someone at the Y to help me take it to my apartment in a car. Deal!

It was a few days until I had a chance to ask the guy. He agreed that we could do it that day after work. But when I left he wasn’t there, so we weren’t able to hook up.

Then, he didn’t show up for 2 more weeks. This is normal. I didn’t sweat it, but just kept telling myself in a calm voice, “It’s Armenia – we’ll get it figured out before New Year’s hopefully.” After all, I could keep warm with the heater I already have for a while.

Finally, this past Thursday we were able to haul the thing and its exhaust pipes up to my apartment. Victory! Sweet, sweet victory.

But that was like winning 1 game of a 5 game divisional series (just like when the Cardinals beat the “best” team in baseball last week, no big deal). I still need a couple more victories, and thus the heater mocks me and my permanently cold fingers as I type this.

The next step is getting the landlord to come over and help cut a hole in the concrete wall to my bathroom in order to run the exhaust pipes through. I planned to make some progress on this yesterday, which also happened to be the day I always pay rent. Money is a good reason for someone to come to your house, right? I thought so. But after calling him in the afternoon and then waiting to hear a knock on the door the rest of the day, I finally gave up at 11:00 and went to bed. I haven’t heard from him today so no telling what is up. Maybe he forgot, maybe he was too busy, or maybe he is now a migrant worker in Russia. And this is one of the more reliable guys, who asked me once why I was 2 days late on paying my rent.

But wait, there are 2 more hurdles. I need a couple more exhaust pipes to make it all the way to the exhaust vent in the bathroom. I’m not sure where I can get those. We also need the gas company to come and unlock the gas line that will be used for the heater.

All things considered, I will be happy if the heater is installed and working before I leave for America in early November. And so a task that would take 1, maybe 2 days back home to accomplish ends up taking weeks and months. It demonstrates also the hurdles that make me dependent on the locals and the way they do things. Language barriers, lack of a vehicle, lack of power tools, and lack of ability to deal with the gas company…

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