Notes From Hairenik
January 16, 2008

The goal for persons living every winter is to keep warm at all costs. It doesn’t matter where in the world you live or what your social status is—heating your home is top priority and a good chunk of your earnings goes towards that. In Armenia there are chiefly three ways to heat the homestead: gas heaters, electric radiators, or stoves burning wood or anything else that ignites. Setting up your home to provide heat with gas is hampered by the need to establish an exhaust mechanism, usually in the form of a six inch in diameter aluminum pipe inserted into the wall, depending on the kind of gas unit installed. Basically you need a suitable place to set the thing up. It is supposedly illegal to install a gas heater on the side of the apartment building facing the street, so if your apartment is laid out in way where the wall on the opposite side of the building is not accommodating to an exhaust line for whatever reason, gas heat will not be an option although it arguably is the cheapest one. You have the same problem with wood-burning stoves, not to mention the soot that cakes on the ceilings and walls in no time. Often families using such units are required to huddle around the stove in the room where it is situated, the same room where everyone will sleep for the remainder of the winter.

In my place I have two oil-filled electric radiators working 24/7. I have found that two rooms as well as the main corridor in the apartment stay fairly warm. The guest bedroom is closed for the winter since it is too damn big, although there is a converted steam-to-electric radiator just in case I happen to have a visitor. The thing is it will be costly—I estimate that the electricity bill will be way above $100 at the end of the month. Yet someone I work with told me that it may be more cost efficient to leave the units on continuously rather than turn them off during the day while at work as I was doing up until a few days ago. After all, they do shut off every 10 minutes or so anyway, so perhaps I may not be using as much electricity as I think. The great thing about these 10-fin radiators is that they have a thermostat with which you can control how warm you want them to get. Also you can choose to use only a half segment of the radiator with a flick of a switch, although I don’t know what the point of that is. A couple of months ago I closed up the gaps in the window sills with adhesive foam strips (perhaps the only product of true value imported illegally from Turkey) as well as with masking tape, which is serving fairly well to insulate the place.

The Yerevan winters can be brutal, bitterly cold, so cold that you can feel your bones become numb. Thankfully there is usually no wind chill which would make the situation a pristine hellish experience. But I cannot imagine how people are living in poorer parts of Yerevan, particularly in hostels where families of 10 cram into an awkward 10 x 12 foot room as I have witnessed. Armenia’s downtrodden manages to survive but I don’t know necessary at what cost. They persist, the manner in which unbeknownst to most, defying the odds against them.

The sidewalks remain as treacherous as they have been winter after winter. They are usually iced over, but if you are lucky you can find some lined with packed snow providing adequate traction. Businesses usually fail to clean the snow on their doorsteps, with very few exceptions. Some store owners simply shovel a narrow path from the entrance to the curb stone. However, cleaning the snow might not necessarily be beneficial in cases where the sidewalks are made from polished stone or bricks. Walking on them is no different from walking on ice, they are just as slick and sometimes undetectable before applying the first step. But I can’t say yet if they are equally as hard on the poor ass as I haven’t yet wiped out this year, knock on wood.