I got back last night after two very long flights, one very short connection, a lot of sweating, and some fear that my bags were left in Paris (they weren't -- thank goodness!). But I'm back. Back to the humidity and the D.C.-talk (last night at Vahan's there was a long conversation about which federal agency would be the most boring to work for. Front-runners included FDIC, USDA, and the Bureau of Engraving and Printing.)

I promptly crashed at 10 p.m. and got up at 6 a.m. I'm hoping to get out and see some friends and start dealing with Friday's impending move. I have a feeling I'm going to fall asleep on the metro at some point. Oh well. I'll look like a trendily-dressed bum.

As for the move, K and I are moving to 11th and W...for now. Long story, but we're crashing in a one-bedroom for this month until we figure out the situation on the two-bedroom. More details to come on that later.

That's enough for now. I'm going hunting for more coffee, stat.


goodbye armenia...for now...

So this is it. Eight weeks and now only eight hours. It would be an understatement to say that this time around, Armenia has really opened my eyes to what's happening in this country, in my own life, and how the two may someday intertwine. I'm still not yet sure I'm ready to live here, work here, or even permanently resettle here, and those lingering questions leave me struggling with my identity and what that means as an Armenian in the diaspora. A friend said it well: The decision to move to Armenia should never be a struggle. It should come as a natural step and choice.

Not that the aim of my summer here was to answer these questions, but I feel myself wondering about that every time I've wandered through Armenia. It's a question of identity and so it will persevere.

And now, as I leave Yerevan for the fourth time, I feel more secure in my purpose in visiting and the impact I may leave now and the assistance I hope to offer in the future. At first, I felt very discouraged about the state of media here. The general lack of professionalism or adequate training, coupled with the culture of corruption has really weakened press freedom here. I wondered what point there was to investing brainpower in strengthening those outlets. But in the last few weeks, I've seen that when a real effort and initiative is made by determined and capable people, it IS possible to affect change.

I only hope I can be just one of those mechanisms for change.

That's all from Moskovyan Street for now. I'll write from another capital city after I return tomorrow. Thanks for reading!


at least she didn't have to amputate

I'm not sure if the series of medical disasters in the last month or so are a sign that I need to leave Armenia, or if it means I shouldn't even consider it. Either way, I'm getting on that plane Sunday morning and, so far, I should be getting on it in one piece.

The latest medical drama: Monday night I noticed the index finger on my right hand becoming a bit swollen and sore. At first I figured I was dehydrated as my other fingers were also a bit swollen, so I went home and chugged some water. On Tuesday that soreness hadn't passed and continued to worsen until yesterday when I finally asked a doctor friend from the US working here for a month to take a look. She gave me some neosporin and assured me I didn't have some rare strain of finger cancer (after rolling her eyes, of course.) Then she checked off the other ailments I couldn't possible have, including (to my horror) an ingrown nail (!), arthritis (!!), or gangrene (!!!). Instead she concluded it probably got infected as a result of all the dust and dirt that's swirling in the city nowadays, which probably entered my system via an open wound from a hangnail.

The pain continued today when I was visiting my friend Armineh, a surgeon who know runs an NGO specializing in early intervention for special-needs children. And who was the subject of the documentary I worked on here with Harry.

I informed her of my own special need. Immediately upon removing the band-aid, it was apparent that the infection was worsening -- a greenish color had formed around my nailbed. She looked at me and said with all the seriousness of a surgeon: "We have to cut it open and draw out the puss."

I nearly fainted. Protesting did no good. Begging for my mother didn't help. The other women in the office simply laughed and told me to toughen up.

(Here I should note that Armineh lost her leg in the 1988 earthquake and I was whining about my finger.)

A warning for the squeamish: I couldn't even look while she was doing this. You may not want to read it.

She had just gotten a case of supplies from Doctors Without Borders (God bless the NGOs), including sterile kits with surgical scissors and syringes. I gripped the hand of one of their therapists and choked back the tears as she cut and drew out the yellowish puss that had gathered in my finger.

It was over in a few minutes, my finger throbbing somewhat less. She sent me home armed with a kit of iodine, cotton swabs, bandages, a big hug and an order to email her upon arrival in the U.S.

I love Armenia, but I'm really looking forward to going home.

Me, post-op, with my saviour.


camera revisited

As soon as I have normal Internet connectivity again (dial-up is KILLING me!), I'll upload some pictures from Kharabagh...because I got my camera fixed!

I was very distrusting of the guy at the repair shop. He was sort of crabby and blamed me for not immediately taking my camera apart after it got wet (like I know how to do that) to dry out the inside. When he did, it was completely rusted inside. But after grumpily explaining to me that there was only a 10 percent chance he could fix it...VOILA! He did!

I almost kissed him when I picked it up. (Don't worry, Vahan. I didn't.) I did, however, happily hand him the 5,000 AMD I owed him. (Roughly $15.)

my battle for karabagh

It’s been a while, but the last week has been jam-packed with getting through the last of my research interviews, dealing with IRB consent form signatures (which meant going back to all the people I interviews in June. Not fun.), and generally running into people I haven’t seen in years and didn’t realize were in Armenia. So now my social calendar is full.

I finally got to Kharabagh this weekend…just barely. I figured it would be an adventure when three of my friends decided to rent a car and drive the 350 km ourselves over mountains, and bumpy roads. But I wasn’t expecting what happened three hours after we left Yerevan.

We were taking turns driving (everybody wanted to say they’d driven in Armenia). We stopped off at a field in Sisian to admire the view and Mary got behind the wheel. About 10 minutes later, as she was driving, she got distracted, realized she was veering off the road, overcorrected, resulting in a nasty fishtail across the two-lane highway before the car took off over a sloped embankment and banged into the field.

It felt pretty awful and probably could have been much worse. We flew over several sizable piles of rocks that probably would have caused the car to flip, not to mention the fact that the three of us in the back weren’t wearing seatbelts, a la Armenian style.

I got banged against the passenger door pretty hard and probably clenched my jaw because it’s been sore ever since. A few cuts and bruises cover my elbow and my right arm and leg have been really-strenuous-workout sore the last few days. I asked a doctor friend who’s in town to check me out and she proclaimed me paranoid, but lucky. Also, it appears I’m not bleeding internally. Apparently if I was, I would have passed out a few hours after the accident. Good to know, eh?

So we call the rental car company, which drives out from Yerevan with a new car for us to destroy…errr… drive. Of course, since we’re three hours outside Yerevan, we had to wait. In a field. With no food. Or bathroom. And it was so windy outside we couldn’t even really stand outside the car. The phrase “bonding experience” doesn’t it justice.

Finally the rental people arrive, are incredibly kind, and send us on our way. Only to call us the next morning in Shoushi to insist that we return to Sissian right away so that Mary can take a blood alcohol test. 24 hours AFTER the accident. Uhh. No. We didn’t go.

Instead, we had a wonderful weekend in Kharabagh. (Even if we did get there four hours after we planned on arriving.) Saturday night was a party at a Kharabaghtsi’s house with the Birthright volunteers who were also there for the weekend. Sunday morning we attended services at Shoushi’s beautiful church, which when Shoushi was held by Azeris during the war, they used as an ammunition depot.

Then we drove down to Jugulduguz (not sure if I got that right.) Basically a giant beautiful gorge in Shoushi. Then we drove to the town of Aghdam, a village that was completely annihilated by the Armenians during the war to ensure that the Azeris wouldn’t and wouldn’t want to capture it again.

Driving through the ruined buildings and homes felt like going through a ghost town. A few squatters had taken over some plots with horses and cows. But we saw very few people in a village that probably once was home to thousands of people.

The eeriness continued when we reached the mosque in Aghdam, which the Armenians allowed to stand, but desecrated inside. Now it’s the home for several cows and pigs. We climbed to the top of the minaret for an amazing view of Kharabagh and, to the east, Azerbeijan.

To ensure my own safety, I insisted on driving back. It was a pretty incredible feeling to be driving the streets of Stepanakert, through the Lachin corridor, and the fields and mountains of Armenia.

Now I’m working hard to get through the last of my grant requirements in my last days here.

Back to DC on Sunday!

(For my odar (read: gringo) friends, a primer on the war in Kharabagh. And here’s another on Kharabagh in general.)


another vartavar victim

When I left the house yesterday afternoon, I thought to myself, "Hmm, I really ought to leave my digital camera here." Then I forgot to take it out of my purse.

When I got soaked by the man on Nalbandyan, I thought he just nailed my skirt and some of my shirt. But then I reached into one of my purse pockets and found soggy pieces of paper. Then I remembered my camera.

It wouldn't turn on. I took out the battery in the hopes that drying it out would help. It turned back on when I put the battery back in and would turn off when I hit the button on the camera, but it wouldn't turn back on unless I took the battery out and put it back in.

So I dropped it off at a computer repair shop today in the hopes that they can open it up, let it dry out on the inside, and then (hopefully!) now how to put it back together again. If not, I'll have to spend my last two weeks without a camera. :( I'm very, very unhappy about this.


battleground armenia

I've been dreading today since I arrived in Armenia. I knew it would involve sneaking from shop to shop, ducking behind cars, and sometimes running for your life.

It's vartavar. A day when children -- really anyone with a mischievous streak -- is given free reign to terrorize unsuspecting people with buckets of water, water guns, hoses, and anything else that will enable them to drench the defenseless pedestrian.

Vartavar's origins are actually found in the church. It falls 98 days after Easter Sunday. But it is also a mix of pagan traditions. A brief Google search didn't turn up a more complete explanation.

At first, I was steadfastly opposed to leaving the house today. I figured I'd stay home, get some work done, do some reading, and glare at the mean little children gathered behind my building. Instead, I decided I should at least experience vartavar firsthand once. And so, with a deep breath, sandals, and clothes that would dry out quickly, I left the building.

As I stepped out of the elevator I waited for someone to jump out and immediately drench me. At which point, I figured I'd just go back home and sulk for the rest of the day. Instead, it seemed the hallway was safe, as was the entrance to the building, and the street outside.

"This isn't so bad," I stupidly thought.

I walked a good five blocks before I heard a whoosh and a stream of water came crashing down from a balcony above. It only splashed the back of my feet. I looked up expecting an 8-year-old culprit. Instead, I saw a woman my age and her mother. I smiled and walked on.

As I got closer to the city center, it felt more and more like the wild west. The streets are unusually empty for a Sunday afternoon. Maybe Toumanyan, a main street that runs near the opera house, would be a bit quieter. I was craving a shawerma anyway.

Bad choice.

Both sides of the street were lined with boys and girls armed with buckets, hoses, water guns, water bottles, and various other weapons of choice. That was the first time they got me good.

I ate my shawerma and decided to keep heading down Toumanyan, which looked quiet enough. As I approached the corner of Nalbandyan I noticed a man standing in a doorway with one hand behind his back. I immediately grew suspicious. Then he put his hand forward and I saw it was empty. I relaxed. He stepped inside the shop, and I figured I was in the clear.

Wrong again.

Just as I passed the shop, he emerged with a large blue bucket. I screamed and ran but he drenched me. I stood on the corner wringing my skirt out as the policemen across the street laughed at me.

Finally, I got to vernissage. I was determined to finish my souvenir shopping today. I figured with all those goods, I'd be safe there, too.

Apparently, I'm a slow learner.

While there were no buckets, it seems every jewelry seller keeps a water gun hidden underneath his table. I got sprayed a few times, but luckily no drenchings.

Now I've taken refuge in my apartment, but I've stupidly agreed to dinner with a friend in an hour. I guess I'll be taking my chances again.


one last rant

Probably my biggest complaint about Armenia is both personal and relates directly to my research. Telecommunications infrastructure is beyond antiquated. While I understand that it's only been 16 years since independence, there's no reason why until now there has not been more investment in DSL or even a decent wireless network for Yerevan. I won't even get into the issue of Internet connectivity in the regions outside Yerevan.

So it was with some surprise that I came home from dropping my dad off at the airport tonight only to discover him on Gmail chat. Apparently, the Yerevan airport now offers free wireless.

Only in Armenia. Le sigh.

(I hope I've given you enough to read, Dikran.)

a few of my favorite pictures

Drinking buddies at the Irish pub.

At Amberd in Byuragan, during my day trip with Yerkir Media.

Just one of the presents Vahan sent for me via the obliging Pifer. I haven't yet enjoyed the soup. I also received a second can of soup, but that one was condensed. Additionally, I've enjoyed the two-week-old copies of the Grand Rapids Press and the Kalamazoo Gazette. If sending two cans of soup and newspapers from halfway around the world doesn't say love, I don't know what does.

That's enough pictures for now. Each one takes roughly several minutes to upload. I'll work on putting some more up tomrorow/today.

this one goes out to Dikran

I've been having trouble logging into Blogger due to Armenia's generally poor telecommunications infrastructure coupled with the fact that I'm handicapped by a weak dial-up connection at home. No matter. I promised Dikran a blog posting (apparently it sucks without updates) and so I'll deliver.

Also hampering my communications these past two weeks has been my dad's visit. Though we didn't travel around the country very much, we somehow managed to fill our days in Yerevan between visiting friends, lounging at cafes, and probably eating too much. (Sorry, Mom.)

So in honor of my dad I'll share my favorite story from his week here. I will preface the story by saying that I'm now officially boycotting Magnolia, an opera cafe next door to Megheti (Melody in English.)

A few days ago we stopped in this cafe for lunch. Dad was craving ghorovadz (BBQed pork) and wanted to sit outside. He ordered a beer and the waiter said they had beer on the tap, so I ordered one, too. The waiter arrived with our drinks and placed a very tall beer in front of my dad and a much smaller glass in front of me.

I gave him a funny look and dad told him he didn't order a large beer. The waiter replies: "Here we give the women smaller glasses."

As you can imagine, the fury began to rise in me. I glared at him and said: "Aren't men and women equal?"

"Oh yes, yes, but that's not the issue. We give women smaller glasses because they're lighter and easier to lift."

This is when I kindly informed him that I'm a feminist and I won't hear such nonsense.

After we finished lunch and the bill came, they of course charged us both 600 AMD (about $1.50) for each beer, regardless of the fact that I was served only about half what dad got.

Only in Armenia.

P.S. It seems I've finally been able to upload a photo to the blog (though it took some time). I'll try to post two or three more here and there when I can.


in praise of fathers

All a sick little girl wants is her mommy. Short of that, her daddy will do, too. I'm very glad my daddy got here Sunday night with Robitussin, Ricola, and DayQuil at the ready. I downed all three before calling it a night. The cough remains, as does the runny nose, and now I've developed a lovely case of eye boogers. Sorry, but if I must suffer in Armenia, you too must perish with me.

There are other reasons why dads are great. They buy you delicious Thai food for dinner, and make you go to smoky jazz clubs because they met the owner on a train in Italy. Then they buy you a $10 glass of cognac because "it's good for your throat."

Also, they want to go to Karabagh and Georgia with you. They even think it'd be fun to have hamburgers on the Fourth of July across the street from Vernissage. They think walking around Yerevan aimlessly is just as fun as you think it is. And they feel as sad as you do when you see the sad, lonely, hungry dogs and cats that wander with even less purpose on the streets. They make you salads with tomatoes and cucumbers, and cut up apricots for you to share.

Dads are great and mine is even better.

P.S. HAPPY BIRTHDAY ANYA! (It was on July 3rd, people. Make the call.)