Notes From Hairenik
September 29, 2006

There is a Soviet-era popular hit that’s still played on the radio from time to time called “Clean Yerevan.” I hate this song, not only for it’s corny melody but because it is entirely hypocritical and far-removed from today’s reality. Not only is there litter seemingly discarded in every corner and crevice, there is dust flying everywhere, but mostly downtown.

I recommend to anyone reading this blog who is visiting Armenia during the autumn months, or even anyone living here, to get out of Yerevan as often as possible. To the latter I recommend once a week at a minimum. To tourists, leave the city every day if you can. Escaping the dust can be a treacherous task as it usually entails trying not to trip over wooden studs or rusty pieces of iron lying along sidewalks near construction sites. Not to mention dodging pedestrians strolling slower than snails slide or people who unexpectedly come to a complete stop walking just a few steps in front of you. The dust clouds are fairly obvious during the day, which is a plus, as you can sometimes manage to run from them seconds before their particles piece your eyeballs. But during the evening—the most pleasant time to walk around the city’s center—be prepared to be slapped in the face by sand. Try not to walk around with your mouth open or while eating an ice cream, as you’ll most likely get a mouthful of dried mud. Avoid walking along Tumanyan Street nearby the Northern Boulevard if you can.

Quite simply, you need to inhale as much fresh air as possible by getting away as frequently as manageable. At the very least, try visiting Victory Park located just across the very top of the Cascade.

The dust particles in Yerevan as I have mentioned before are very fine, thus they are indeed very difficult to see. Combined with the exhaust from diesel trucks and Russian cars sans catalytic converters, the air quality is fair to poor, depending on the time of day and where you are. Trees that naturally filter dirt are harder to find with every passing month, but try to hang out in the parks surrounding cafés like the infamous Poplovok, for instance.

Since the neighborhood behind my apartment building is now totally destroyed, all that is left is a gigantic gaping hole, as soil as well as clay or sand are excavated by truckloads each day. As a result, all the loose particles of dust and dirt are whisked away each time a gust of wind blows through the city from Mt. Aragast. They usually promptly land on my rear balcony, thus it’s now pointless to hang laundry out to dry there, since after five minutes the clothing items are ready for the washing machine again. Leaving windows open is also becoming a useless way of inviting fresh air into the house, since the dust and even exhaust enters as well. Dust is kicked up from various construction sites throughout the city, as neighborhoods and buildings are smashed into oblivion leaving empty plots instead, and in some cases it takes months before new construction actually begins in such places. Thus filthy powder is continually circulating, with no end in sight. Not for the next five years at a minimum.

However, the opposition in the National Assembly just recently managed to block a bill that would give power to the government to effectively tear down buildings as it sees fit without giving explanations. This will put a cap on the amount of dust flying about, at least temporarily. Hopefully in the process more unfortunate people will avoid being thrown into the dustbowls that would otherwise occupy the areas of their former homes.

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