Archive for August, 2012

Annual Massacre the Trees Day

August 17, 2012

During my last week in my apartment, I opened the window to this:

Ensuring Vardenis remains ugly for posterity

Even after two years some things still make no sense.


Ten Things I’ll Miss About Armenia

August 15, 2012

(Shhh…I’m already home. But more on that later. Here’s one that was in the works.)

To go along with the previous post, here are 10 things that I’ll be missing about Armenia. At least I think so.

1. Beauty
Armenia has heaps more beauty than garbage. There are views that will make you gasp. Villages that will make you smile. Mountains that will turn your head. Flowers that will stun you. Khachkars that you’ll never forget. Golden fields of wheat that make you forget about the upcoming winter. A palette of blues, greens, and grays on Lake Sevan for your eyes to feast on. The bluest winter sky I’ve ever known. Sunsets that put any bad day to rest. And how can I not mention the most peaceful, serene canopy of stars, blanketed by the Milky Way?

Just another day in Armenia

2. We’re One Big Family Attitude
This one is an endearing characteristic, no matter how disgruntled you may be. The Armenians might not be warm, friendly, and smiley as you walk down the street, and yet they take care of one another quite nicely.

There is little to no theft or serious crime, especially outside of the oligarchy of Yerevan. If you leave something in a public place, you are likely to have someone chasing you down to give it back. Men stand on public transportation so the women and elderly can sit. The women who are sitting will offer to hold your bag so you can stand more easily. Little kids are treated like gods, regardless of whether the nearby adults are relatives or not.

There’s also the literal side of this trait: they really are all one big family. With a country of less than 3 million, there is likely a dash of inbreeding going on here. When it seems like everyone is related, it’s probably because they all indeed are.

3. Reusing Attitude
The flip side of being huge litterers is that Armenians are also master re-users. There may not be recycling programs in most of the country, but stuff is recycled regardless out of pure utility. Shipping containers become houses. Cars, radiators and bed frames become fences. Jars become canning jars that are reused for decades. Soviet tractors and vehicles remain in operation well past their expiration date due to mechanical magic and sheer will. Unfortunately, the same also applies to all the apartment buildings, which will undoubtedly crumble some day.

It’s not only nice to see stuff being reused, it’s also really entertaining. Every time I go to the local waterfall, I cross an irrigation channel using a bridge made of old radiators. There’s nothing like buying homemade wine in a Coca Cola bottle. One time I even saw the proprietor finish his drink, rinse it out, and then pour wine in it for me. Gotta love it, germs be damned.

4. Fruit/Veggies
Armenia has delicious produce. I don’t even like tomatoes. Guess what I eat almost every day in Armenia? Tomatoes. Armenia has ruined plenty of other foods for the rest of my life as well: apricots, plums, cherries, and pomegranates will never taste this good again. Not only are they all incredible, but they are also ridiculously cheap. Two pounds of peaches go for 150 dram a kilo (around 15 cents a pound). You’ll never find more delicious, accessible produce in your life.

As beautiful as it is delicious

5. Walkability
I may not have a fridge but I do have all the basic amenities right on my street. I may not have a car but I can get anywhere in town in 30 minutes. Most Armenian villages and towns, even the center of Yerevan, are extremely walkable. There might not always be good sidewalks or other people walking around with you, but you can get almost anywhere you need to be on foot. I will really miss that upon returning to the country that begs/forces its residents to rely on the car.

6. Marshrutkas
I will miss the crazy drivers. I’ll miss the wild rides. I’ll miss the convenience. But most of all I will miss how they work. Imagine a lot of mini buses flying around your city, upon which you could ride for the low everyday price of a quarter. There are so many of them that you don’t need to wait for 30 minutes at the bus stop. You don’t need to plan your day around the bus schedule. Instead they are there when you want them. Even better, you don’t need to know the specific route. You can just look at the sign in the window and see where it’s going. That’d be nice on public transportation in the states. There’s a lot to hate about marshrutkas, but there’s a lot to like too.

7. Wiping My Ass With Cyrillic
The small details of daily life will probably be missed more than anything. For example, while I won’t truly miss hand washing my laundry, the catharsis it provides and the inexplicably wonderful feeling of hanging it on the line will be components of hand washing that I miss. Another of those is coming home from work, putting on my warmest clothes, and hunkering down for a night of interneting, reading, eating, and basically just hanging out with myself with intermittent heater breaks. There are so many small details that I can’t capture. And yes, the recycled toilet paper here does have little chunks of Cyrillic script now and then, along with bits of foil. I’ll miss that too.

8. Relaxed Time Attitude
My punctuality is getting away from me. For the most part I really like the attitude towards time here. Road rage is nearly non-existent because no one really cares when they get to their destination. A few minutes late to work is no big deal. Things will get done when they get done. There are periods of time when you’re forced to wait on something. You can either be frustrated, or you can sit back and decide to enjoy the scenery, try to decipher that juice label in Russian, or just be with the Armenians as they wait. The attitude can also be maddening, depending on what you’re trying to do. But I’ll miss it.

9. Outfits for Days
This habit will be the hardest one to shake. It makes so much sense. Instead of worrying about what to wear to work for 5 different days every week, I usually just use 2 outfits for the whole week. If I’m feeling fancy, then it’s 3 outfits. After 1 day of normal wearing clothes just don’t smell bad. This cultural norm slices the amount of laundry that must be done in half. It also limits the number of clothes you need to own. When you own less clothing, you need less closet space. The snowball effect of this one single rule is incredible! I remember our first days of training and our shock that our language teacher wore the same clothes several times in a row. As it turns out it’s been much more of a blessing than we realized back then. So, don’t think I’m weird if you see my trying to bring this piece of Armenia home.

10. Mystique
Armenia is a mysterious country, there’s no doubt. With overrun gardens that are older than our country, you never know what you’re going to find. It’s a historic land with so many nooks and crannies to explore. I always enjoy going to a new village just because you’re never 100% sure what will be there. That sense of “What lies over the horizon?” is captivating and special. It’s no surprise that most Americans explore Armenia much more thoroughly than the Armenians do. From the mist covered mountains to the ancient gorges, there is always something from a distant world waiting to be discovered.

Explorer’s paradise

The Whirlwind of Leaving

August 5, 2012

That was a crazy week. Trying to pack up, say goodbye, get work done, and enjoy the last moments all at once adds up.

While I still have some stuff to get done, I’ve taken care of almost everything. I have only three days left in Vardenis. The time will fly. On Friday, I start the long journey home.

I plan to keep writing (I have a big draft under way) throughout this crazy time. To tide you over until the next entry, here is a taste of what I’ve been up to recently:

The Volunteer is Leaving Impressed
21 (sic) year old Kevin Crookshank is from the USA Peace Corps volunteers. He came to Armenia 2 years ago with the goal of doing volunteer work. By the way, he learned Armenian during the 2 years; he speaks and reads fairly fluently.

My impression from the beginning in Yerevan, in the airport, was very different. There are many differences from America. The first thing that I noticed was the soviet cars. We don’t have anything like that in America. I was very fascinated. Then, the culture, I don’t know, it left a good impression on me.

Kevin worked 2 years in an international organization in Vardenis. He organized projects, did consulting, and helped NGOs in the regions. He lived in an Armenian family.

I didn’t know a single word when I came to Armenia. I lived in an Armenian family. We were speaking with gestures, but it was still very difficult. Next, our culture is very different. And maybe my family, our village didn’t understand me. In the same way, I didn’t understand them.

He says that the life in Armenia passes very slowly.

It’s not liberal. They [women in villages] can’t be free outside with boys. It’s like that. It’s surprising.

How are the living conditions in the village?

The conditions? The conditions were good. But passing time, it’s a little slow. Everything goes slowly in Armenia. In America we always hurry, we’re always running somewhere. We don’t wait, we don’t enjoy nature or our neighbors. But you guys do.

The residents in the regions and especially in the villages are very good people he says. He likes that they have always been very kind towards him.

Everything in Armenia is delicious. Everything is natural. There’s nothing artificial. That’s good. I haven’t eaten khash. I’m scared of khash. But everything is good. Kyufta, dolma, khorovats, I like everything.

Kevin has traveled from city to city and village to village using public transportation, about which his opinion is anything but negative.

We have buses, but there are no marshrutkas. But I really like marshrutkas because it’s easy. You sit and you give money; there is no ticket. You don’t have to call ahead. It’s good. It’s a little uncomfortable, but it’s okay!

In one week Kevin will return to the US. His friends and family are waiting impatiently for his return. But, as he noted, he’ll miss Armenia and especially Vardenis, which has already become his own city.

I will come again to Armenia. I feel great when I think about Armenia. This is my second country. I know that I will really miss our people and your country. It’s a very special, pleasant place.