Notes From Hairenik
September 21, 2006

I just arrived in Armenia on the eve of Independence Day, a fitting time to return I should say. The trip for the most part was pretty smooth—I flew from Los Angeles via Amsterdam. There were no flight delays whatsoever, and I am pleased to report that the new terminal at Zvartnots airport welcomed us. When walking into the place I found a clean, well-lit and well-organized space. Going through the visa check was a snap as there were several officers available for processing the passengers. The employees are more professional than ever for sure. Perhaps the most bizarre thing about arriving is the fact that when you leave the visa checkpoint you are required to walk through a duty-free shop in order to get to the baggage claim carousel. Naturally everything for sale is more expensive than what you would find in the Amsterdam airport gift shops, with the exception of the Armenian vodka and brandy for sale there. You can save quite a bit, around 1,000 dram per bottle, more or less. Leaving the terminal was a madhouse, unfortunately. Complete chaos. It was difficult to steer my luggage cart through the crowd as everyone nearly refused to get out of the way—Armenian standard practice. Old habits die hard. But as an end note to this airport discussion, I do like the original terminal, and wish that it could be renovated. It needs some tender loving care for the most part. The building is in excellent shape, the design is superb, and I do generally think it can be improved to better service passengers. But unfortunately I heard that renovations are not in store for it, and I can only guess that it will eventually be demolished—another fine example of Soviet Armenian engineering ingenuity to be lost forever.

But I am suffering from a sort of culture shock and don’t expect to get over it for a couple of weeks. I had been living in Orange County, just south of Los Angeles, for two months, where the streets are lined with 100-foot tall palm trees, are well lit, and are extremely clean, there is plenty of fresh air along with neatly trimmed, perfectly grown green lawns, and so forth. Not to mention neat shopping plazas offering anything you could possibly want to consume seemingly everywhere. I was working and staying in Irvine—the office was virtually across the street from the hotel that served as my place of lodging. I might as well add here that the hotel, called the Homestead Studio Suites, was a dirty, mice-ridden complex. I changed rooms about four times during my two-month stay. Six days after checking in my room became infested with cockroaches. The grounds and even access ways to the rooms on the upper floor of the two-level structures comprising the hotel were always dusty, a la Yerevan. The bathrooms usually have fungus growing on the grout between the tiles and along the tub basin, thus there is always a mildewy smell in the air. I am glad to be out of there.

In any case, Yerevan is a totally different animal. Here I have to deal with endless circulating dust that is virtually invisible until it piles up a couple of millimeters high on the furniture and floors in only a few days. It settles evenly on everything I discovered so long ago. And at times it can be brutal on the respiratory system. There are other things to have to be contended with, such as people walking around or driving without noticing what’s happening in their immediate vicinity. Going from store to store to find a loaf of bread the other didn’t have or whatever else is also a pain. Then there is the unavoidable displeasure in overhearing people on the street arguing about any trivial topic imaginable at the top of their lungs. Littering is common practice, with trash deposited in any crevice that can be found. Do I need to mention having to mingle with people in public gatherings who do not fathom the necessity to bathe frequently?

Luckily I was dealing with people from the Yerevan office constantly on my business trip, so I was not totally out of the loop for two months regarding customs and habits that I am not particularly fond of. But the people I was with do not have the typical “vochinch” mentality I have so often discussed on this blog. So I will be obliged once again to confront phrases I do not rather appreciate, like “It doesn’t matter,” “What can I/we do about it,” “I didn’t do it,” and, my favorite, “How?”

On a sad note the hamlet behind my apartment building near Republic Square, which was virtually hidden from sight until about 10 months ago, has been completely destroyed. Nothing is left of it—just a small iron cross suspended on an aluminum pole on the site of the last home to be raised only three weeks ago belonging to Ophelia, the “Godmother” of the former neighborhood, as a testament to what was there. Her home was a historic structure, dating as far back as the late 19th century. Apparently each of the people registered as being occupants of her home were awarded $35,000 by the developer of the future high-rise apartment building to eventually go up—a bit hard to accept as being true—and her son has been promised a new apartment as documented in a signed agreement. Most of the citizens of that neighborhood left virtually overnight more than eight months ago, and the monetary amounts they received to do so were never discussed, so it is indeed likely that everyone was well taken care of there, but by the developer.

The idiot living on the fifth floor of my apartment building who has been working on renovating his home by essentially constructing a penthouse chiefly made from cement, judging from the amount of sand and cinder blocks that were hoisted up, has decided after much speculation on my part to build his own personal elevator so that his fat-ass wife won’t have to climb the stairs any longer. A metal frame, which looks shoddily erected not surprisingly, is already in place in the corner of the entrance way, which actually was moved a bit to the left to make room. The frame is already partially blocking the windows that provide natural sunlight to the stairwell, which by the way is completely caked with dust. Although most if not all of the construction the idiot is financing is illegal, since he has close ties to the Prosecutor General he can virtually do whatever he wants, as residents are too scared to try and stop him for fear of being harassed or beaten up. And until people do start speaking up in this city, such madness will continue.

So far I can say it is good to be amongst friends and family again, but I will have to be candid in that I cannot say I am necessarily relieved to be here. I think in a couple of days I will feel much better about that, especially after my wife arrives on Saturday from her visit with my parents in Boston. But when I started up the Niva this morning and realized that I was virtually out of gasoline as the car just stopped working only after five minutes while parked, it wasn’t a good feeling to know that someone essentially siphoned fuel from my tank. It’s not the first time that’s happened, either. I suppose it’s my fault for not screwing on a locking gas tank cap, but that’s one thing I never had to be concerned about when living in the US. It could have been worse—my car could have been stolen or vandalized. Anyway, I will have more to report about what’s happening in the good ol’ fatherland in the days to come.

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Blogger Ara said...
Welcome home.

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