Five years

This entry was written exactly five years ago for a column of the same name as this blog which appeared in The Armenian Weekly. The adventure described marks the beginning of a downward spiral I would descend which eventually forced me to return to the United States in December 2002. For personal reasons it was not until September 2004 that I returned to Armenia. It is one of a few columns written during that time that I plan to recycle and print on this blog.


The persistent Yerevan summer heat is stifling and incapacitating. It induces strange effects on the mind and body, slowly braising the mind in its own juices and reducing the body and spirit to a lethargic, unmotivated state of stagnancy.

During the last four weeks I have had trouble focusing on the work and goals that I had originally set out to fulfill here. Each time I remind myself of why I’m here, I seem to forget again only moments later. My mind and spirit are overheated. Even as I write this column I’m having trouble sifting through my thoughts and deciding what to convey. It seems that the only remedy is to keep cool at all costs, breath slowly and deeply, and drink plenty of liquids.

On Sunday morning, while my body and mind were simmering, I decided to venture out of my apartment located in central Yerevan and explore other areas, without a clear plan of action.

I walked down to the corner of Tigran Mets and Agatangeghosi streets across from “Kino Rasia” or Cinema Russia, which is a building that has been converted to a giant clothing and home domestics market. I began to study some of the minibus routes by reading the stops written on the route signs and, naturally, my braised brain could not decide what minibus to get on, or even if I should get on one.

Along the streets of Yerevan vendors sell whatever they can to earn a living -- fruity drinks, sunflower seeds, fried dough-like pastries, cigarettes, newspapers, and so forth. One gentleman had parked a large, wooden barrel filled with a cool drink called “gvas,” which is sort of a mock-beer made from dark bread. I drank down a cup of the sweet-tasting stuff and then ran after a near-empty minibus as it pulled up along the curb to pick up some passengers and climbed into the front seat. The Route 54 minibus drove through the southern industrial part of the city known simply as the Factories quarter, where dozens of factories are located, both functioning and shut down, congested in one location and surrounded by all types of high- and low-rise residence buildings. The minibus ended its route in an area called Charbakh, not far from Karekin Njdeh Square. I asked the driver how I should continue, and his braised brain deduced that I should hop on a Route 39 minibus that travels to the northwest parts of the city, going in the opposite direction from where I was.

The minibus traveled along Karekin Njdeh street, continued on Arshaguniants street, then turned left on Gregory the Illuminator Street and ascended the high, northern parts of Yerevan via Proshyan Street, otherwise known as Kebab Street because of the hundreds of barbeque vendors and restaurants that line both sides. We passed through “Paregamutiun” Square and proceeded north on Gomidas. Halfway up the boulevard I decided to switch minibus routes yet again, and got off in Zeytun, located just north of Victory Park, at Garabed Ughetsu street, which leads directly to Mother Armenia.

Naturally my brain, at this time thoroughly simmered to perfection, could not process how to proceed, so I headed towards a small roadside grocery store to have a cold drink. Nearby in the shade were two vendors perched across from one another. An older gentleman named Khachatur sat along the curb of the sidewalk selling sunflower seeds, both salted and unsalted. A middle-aged woman named Koharig had set up a small fruit stand. I stood near them in the shade and conversed with them. Baron Khachatur deduced from my Armenian and the way I was dressed that I most likely from America, and began speaking bits of broken English. We quickly switched to Armenian, and I realized that he was speaking to me in Western Armenian. He told me he was born in the Latakia, Syria and moved to Armenia with his family in the 1940s, when the Soviet Union opened its borders to Armenian emigrants seeking to return to the homeland.

“There is no sea like the sea of Latakia. I saw the sea of Beirut, read about the seas of America and India, but the sea of Latakia is like no other,” Baron Khachatur insisted.

I sat down next to him, and he and Digin Koharig offered me some words of wisdom while I sipped a Kilikia beer and chomped on sunflower seeds.

“Take care of your money. You should keep it in the bank. Don’t walk around with it -- the pickpockets will steal it from you. Stay alert all the time. What are you doing here, anyways? You’re really living here -- where? Why pay rent for an apartment when you can by a house? You can buy one around here for a good price. It’s up to you. But you should home right now and call your father and tell him to send you money to buy one. Aren’t you married? You should find a good girl to take care of you. There’s plenty of good girls here, but watch out. Or else, go back to America to be close to your mother…”

After my fair share of afternoon advice, we wished each other well, and I followed Mother Armenia’s guidance towards Victory Park. Then I descended the unfinished, crumbling sun-bleached Cascade steps, my mind in a heat haze, my spirit evaporated by Armenia’s unrelenting summer sun.


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