motorcade, armenia-style

Still sick (ugh) but I'm determined to stay in the next couple days so as to be at least 90 percent better by the time Dad gets here Sunday night. That means no more lazy nights at the cafes, no more rock concerts because "it sounds so cool!" Siiiigh.

Anyhow, I wrote this up Tuesday afternoon before the plague descended upon my house and thought my D.C. readers especially would enjoy it.

Living and working in the Washington area, I've almost become accustomed to the regular traffic disruptions of motorcades. After nearly a year I can almost distinguish the presidential motorcade from the diplomatic missions from the high-ranking Congressional members.

But today was an Armenian first. An executive level motorcade for the visiting Greek president. Why is he in town? Well, he's Greek so clearly it must be the Summit of Nations that Hate Turkey.

The motorcade itself -- pretty funny. The streets were cleared a good 10-15 minutes before the presidential escort actually arrived complete with a fleet of motorcycle officers (another first for me in Armenia -- they got motorcycle officers here?), followed by black Secret Service-style SUVs carrying Secret-Service-looking agents with walky-talkies pressed to one ear. (I guess they're not advanced enough for the little ear piece thingies.)

My favorite part: The absolute silence that resulted when the police stopped nearly all the traffic in the city. No honking taxis or mashrutkas. No dirty, loud, old Opels or Nivas. Not even a flashy BMW or Mercedes revving its engine to show off. Only the quiet sound of me chomping on sunflower seeds, a few birds chirping, and the occasional cop yelling at a pedestrian to get off the street and onto the curb.

A total stand still.

And in a flash -- the arrival of the motorcade -- it was over.



There are few things that irritate me more than being sick in the summer. In the winter it's expected and in some strange way a little comforting to stay home, bundled up in blankets, drinking soup.

But in the summer, in Yerevan, where it's hot and dry and you don't have a can of chicken noodle to make you feel instantly better, it leaves a lot to be desired.

I've had an unproductive couple of days due mostly to interview subjects flaking on appointments. Yesterday I ended up having nothing to do all afternoon so I just wandered around town, stopping for a bite to eat, grabbing a beer, then coming home to cook a quick dinner. It was as I was sitting on the couch, catching up on CNN that I started feeling the chills. I was wearing a tank top and it was windy outside, so I closed the window. Then I put on a long-sleeved shirt. Then I wrapped myself up in a blanket. I took a decongestant, thinking it was my backed-up sinuses bothering me again, but that's when I realized I was feeling pretty woozy and my whole body was aching.

It got progressively worse after that. I finally dragged myself to bed and tossed and turned most of the night until I woke up late this morning feeling only slightly better.

I think it's a flu and not a cold, because it's not just a runny nose (though my nose is still a bit stuffy.) I still feel somewhat woozy and weak. My plan now is to gather enough energy (my remaining Luna bar helped here) and go down to the corner to buy a big bottle of Sprite and, if I'm feeling a little stronger, try the hot and sour soup at the closest Chinese restaurant.

Hurry, Dad! Get here, so you can bring me soup!


connected to the world

I decided to cave and buy a dial-up Internet card today. Boy am I glad I did! The connection is far better than in the Internet cafes as I'm not battling for bandwidth with pre-pubescent boys playing online games. Not to mention that 1,000 AMD for 8 hours is a steal compared with the relatively cheap Internet cafe price of 300 AMD/hour.

The only snag is that my phone card is very short and the jack is directly behind the TV stand. I've pulled up a chair right behind the TV (which is as far as the cord will extend) and am using that as a desk. Dad, maybe you can bring a longer phone cord? Oh well. This'll do for now.

This has been a successful week for interviews. I got 6 good ones done. Now I'm looking forward to a weekend of sleeping (as if I could sleep any more), a little shopping (I've so far resisted at Vernissage, but I'm sick of my earrings and think it's high time for new ones), and on Sunday going to Pyuragan with the staff of Yerkir TV, which ought to be a little crazy, but definitely fun. For those unawares, that's the Tashnag TV station. And if you don't know what a Tashnag is...well, I'll explain when I get back. :)

Apparently the connection isn't quite good enough to upload photos. That'll be my next task, I promise.



exchange rates

Today it hit the lowest I've seen in 2 1/2 weeks here: 341 AMD/$1. Only 2 1/2 years ago it was floating just above 500 AMD/$1.

Life is still relatively cheap, but it's left me wondering what money is worth nowadays. You used to be able to buy a shawerma and a tahn for a little more than a $1. Now it's about $3. A taxi anywhere in the center of the city was about $1. Now it's creeps closer to $2 to $3.

It's still inexpensive for me, but what about the rest of the country? How are their lives being affected? With massive influxes of tourists every summer -- Armenians eager to spend their money in the motherland -- prices for everything on the rise. Even apartments. My rent here costs more than what I was paying in Arlington.

The last time I was here I was stunned at the site of a Lacoste boutique on Sayat Nova. Now there's Hugo Boss, Levi's, Mango, and Benetton. If I can't afford it, who here can?


workin' hard for the money...?

A lot of you have been asking about my work. First off, I should note the big differences between doing a research project in Armenia and actually working in an office, NGO, as many of the friends I've made here are doing.

Work mainly consists of reading newspapers, watching TV newscasts, and surfing the Internet for Armenian news all in the name of determining how electronic media are transforming the overall media landscape and, in turn, influencing the democratic transition.

The answer so far: Not by much.

It's a solitary adventure, which for the most part I enjoy. After working at a newspaper for so long, where you're constantly dependent on others, it's nice to be able to do things my way. That means setting my own schedule, reading and writing what I want, and generally being independent.

The drawbacks, of course, are that I miss out on the collegial workplace environment. I have been doing some research in the resource library at the Caucasus Media Institute, but the resources available to me are limited.

As such, it's been challenging to stay focused and not wander the streets like a lost little puppy. Though I have deadlines, they require very little of me, other than the final research report, which isn't due until a month after I return. I try to schedule an interview or meeting every day so as to structure my time, but it's challenging even to stick to that.

Part of my grant requires me to volunteer my time as a media expert. I'm hoping to start some of that work soon with www.Hetq.am, Armenia's investigative journalists organization.

That's about all for now. I'm going to go to bed early for a change and wake up before 11 (shock!) to attend a conference on modern Armenians communities tomorrow. Should be interesting.


requiem for moskovichka (and blogger, too)

I've been having trouble logging into blogger the last few days, that's why I have appeared to be MIA. Fear not. I'm back. Below are some thoughts I wrote a few days ago about my neighborhood market. I'll add more up-to-date stuff soon (provided I can log into blogger again.)

On Monday, I woke up early and, for the first time, felt fully rested after a normal night's sleep. I took a shower, had a glass of pomegranate apple juice (delicious) and decided to leave the house early to stop at the market across the street. I'm running low on water and wanted a few more snacks. I saw a group of people standing outside the Moskovichka market. It looked like either a fight was brewing or maybe someone fainted on the sidewalk.

That's when I smelled the smoke. And I saw the melted glass on the sidewalk. And I saw the unconscious woman.

I peeked inside the store, whose doors were open. Black smoke had stained the walls and ceilings. Some of the glass deli cases were ruined and others were pulled onto the edge of the sidewalk. The beverages section survived in tact, but the deli, and breads, and cleaning products seemed to be wiped out.

I felt a pang of sadness and personal loss. The little corner market was my Moskovichka. After only a week it was my little market.

I carried on to the CMI library to do some work and by 2 p.m. was sufficiently hungry that I went for a pizza at Square One on Abovyan. Just as I was finishing my lunch, the skies turned dark, and a wind I can only describe as hurricane force (I think some of the trees outside the windows were on the verge of snapping in half) blew hard through the city. I could hear the distant thunder and then: The rain. It started steadily, then grew harder, and with the wind seemed to at one point be falling horizontally. I waited. And waited. Slowly sipped my Diet Coke until finally it stopped. I paid my bill and decided to head home to type up my notes.

It seems the rain came at the right time to blow away the smell of charred breads and melted glass. As I walked home, the young women who worked at the Moskovichka were all sitting outside the dank, dark store. Doing nothing, and looking very sad in their milkmaid-style uniforms.

I'm still not sure what happened. But it seems there was a fire either late last night or early this morning. I passed by the store the night before around 11 and was disappointed it was closed because I wanted to get a few things.

Now I suppose I have to start going to the Russian supermarket - SAS Supermarket -- another block over. Of course it doesn't compare to American-style supermarkets, but it is much larger than the Moskovichka, with American-style checkout counters, and a far wider selection of brand-name products. (An addendum: It also has American-style prices. Another reason to be disappoitned.)

Somehow it only makes me sadder.


a little about where I live

So I thought I might give you some insight into my neighborhood. For those of you familiar with Yerevan, I'm on Toumanian, near the corner of Baghramian Street. If you know where the CNN building is (i.e. the building with the CNN logo on it. Who knows if it actually contains a CNN office), it's just down the street from that.

Living so close to the center of the city means I can:

*Walk to the Opera house (and the oodles of cafes that surround it) in about 5 minutes.
*Walk to Toumanyan Shawerma (best shawerma EVER, PERIOD, HANDS DOWN) in about 10 minutes.
*Walk to Republic Square and CMI in about 12 minutes.

In other words, the location rocks my world. Plus, I have a 24-hour Internet cafe and a supermarket across the street.

Last night I decided to do some exploring in my neighborhood and ended up a rock club (Stop Club) also across the street. I listened to the band that was billed as folk-rock. It turned out they were a bit more indie. It was awesome. What was more awesome, as I sat at the bar, was seeing one of Anya's best friends walk in. Yup, finally found Maro! She came here as a volunteer for two months. That was eight months. Maro was supposed to go home next week. I may have convinced to stay at least as long as I'm here. (Sorry, Anya!)

After that, we went to an Irish pub and then a cafe near the opera with some Brits of Polish origin who'd come to Armenia for the week to see the Armenia-Poland football (soccer) match. I got home at about 3:30, which means I woke up at 1 and barely got out of the house a few hours later, which is probably better because the atrocious heat has begun. You can't walk 10 minutes without sweating like a pig. Ick.


the bulleted update

* Got the suitcase -- but got reamed on cab fare. Ugh.

* The heat has begun. Thankfully, the late afternoon thunderstorms are still coming and clearing the air at night. There's a nice breeze going now, and back-to-back lightning. It feels good.

* Got set up at CMI. I'll be working from their library, which has a computer with an Internet connection at my disposal. (Sweet!) I won't be there every day, but it's nice to know I have a space that isn't the apartment with all the distractions that come with any apartment (i.e. TV, refrigerator, balconies that peer out on interesting neighbors.)

* Also got my first interview and set up a few others. I'll be checking out NDI's Yerevan office on Monday or Tuesday. I'm excited to finally see a field office at work.

* Eaten at Toumanyan Shawerma twice already. Never gets old.

Those are the high points for now. It's about 11:30 pm here. I'll try (again)to write something more cogent about my impressions on how Yerevan has changed sometime tomorrow.



pari kaloosd

Parev from Yerevan!

I arrived late last night, 1 1/2 hours late and one suitcase short. British Airways apparently decided to only load one of my suitcases on the flight to Yerevan. Unfortunately, the one that got left behind had all my toiletries in it. They promise it'll arrive by Wednesday morning.

Otherwise all else is well. My apartment is amazing. I highly encourage anyone who's considering visiting this summer to do so. I've got more than enough space to house a couple people. It's a brand-new renovation -- I'm the first person to stay there! My balcony has a view of the opera building and the kitchen window looks out toward the Cascade. It's probably bigger than my place in Arlington. Seriously, people, come visit!

I woke up late today and got moving rather slowly. I'm still jet lagged and exhausted from the trip -- even though it was so much shorter than flying from California. But I did take a nice walk around the city today. I stopped in the IREX office to thank the staff who helped me find a place. Then there was lunch at Artbridge, my favorite cafe, where I met one of my favorite friends, Azatouhi, with whom I spent a lot of time when I was here in 2004 with Harry. I took a walk around the city in the afternoon only to be caught in a serious thunderstorm.

It finally let up and now I'm at the 24-hour Internet cafe across the street from my sweet pad. I'll probably go to bed early tonight and get to work setting up interview tomorrow.

My brain is a little mushy now. I'll try to write something more eloquent tomorrow and give you a little insight into how I think Yerevan has changed in the last 2 1/2 years. There's plenty to say about that.

Until later...


obligatory airport post

Got to London safe, but perhaps not so mentally sound. Why didn't anybody tell me that only one carry-on (as in, one bag, not one purse and a bag, JUST ONE BAG) is permitted on flights in and out of London. Well, apparently United isn't too strict about into London, but they should be as I had a minor meltdown at Dulles as I tried ot lighten the load of my main suitcase (It was about 27 pounds overweight.) and then also cram space in my carryon for my laptop and enough space to cram my purse in London. Stupid stupid terrorists. They ruin the fun for everybody.

Anyhow, I ended up having to buy an extra carryon that I checked and was able to lose the extra 27 pounds in my massive suitcase, and consequently avoided paying $50 penalty I would have been charged.

Needless to say: A very unnecessarily stressful experience. Avoid this at all costs if you can.

That said, I'm only 7 hours away from Yerevan and getting more excited by the minute. Mostly I just want to sleep. It's 6:30 my time (11:30 in London) and I slept only about 2 hours on the remarkably short flight. Another bonus: A 24-hour wifi pass at Heathrow runs about 5 pounds, or close to $10. Money well spent on killing three hours if you ask me.

Another word of advice: Californians move to the East Coast or travel overases from the East Coast. Wayyyyyy easier on the body. It only took 6 hours getting from DC to London. It takes longer flying home to California. Amazing.

That should be all for now. Next post/stop: Yerevan!


leaving on a jet plane....again

Vahan says I should write that I'm so happy to be leaving and I can't wait to get to Armenia.

Only the second part of that statement is actually true. I'm very excited for my summer there, but I'm also a little sad to be gone from here, Washington/Virginia, my new home these last 10 months. That said, I'll be back in eight short weeks, and still have three weeks of summer to live it up. (As much as you can live it up in the disgusting mugginess that is D.C. in August.)

I'm excited, however, to be living in Yerevan for two months. Though my trip last spring was also two months, I felt I was getting back on a plane by the time I got used to a new place. This time, I'm actually going to get a sense of living in Armenia, something I've been wanting to experience for a long time.

So I'll do my best to keep you posted with funny English translations, crazy cab drivers, delicious Toumanian shawerma, and maybe occasionally write about my work. Oh, and there'll be pictures, too!

Lots of love to you all!

bachig bachig!