Monday, December 12, 2011

Postcards from Armenia

So five days after Terry left for Armenia, his parents arrived and we are having a grand time Chez Pooh. I plan to head home shortly for a nap but meanwhile I've culled some gems from Terry's e-mails, should you care to get a feel for his time in Armenia. He gets back Saturday, then turns around to leave Sunday again for 5 days in Cyprus. Then Vacation! Yay!

Things that are cool about Armenia:

1) Mt. Ararat (found the ark, btw).

2) Armenia was actually part of the Soviet Union

3) The Armenian Alphabet

#2 sounds odd because of course it was - but I didn't actually make that connection before. So this is the first country I've been to which was actually inside the old Evil Empire as opposed to just a satellite state like Montenegro, Kosovo, Albania, Macedonia or Mongolia. Also the fact that everything is connected to Moscow is kind of cool. Makes me want to go there (Moscow).

#3 is for the linguists among us -but I found out last night during a long (very long) dinner that Armenia is the center of the Universe. But also that the Armenian Orthodox church was established in the 300s and shortly thereafter the alphabet was developed here. It seems to have been made up by the Church fathers and isn't connected to Latin, Arabic or Cyrillic scripts. It looks totally different from any of them.

The fact that Armenians developed their own alphabet system and didn't draw on any of the three major standard international scripts should give you an insight into all you need to know about Armenia culture. I would say it's like Albania but it's not - Albanians have borrowed heavily and freely from everyone around them except for the Hoxha era. Armenia is the exact opposite on that - they didn't borrow from anyone and preferred to reinvent the wheel than borrow a neighbor’s.

I also found out that Armenians invented wine. They introduced beer to Europeans thousands of years ago, plus they taught the Greeks how to make those little grape leaf rolls that are supposedly a Greek traditional food.... I'm sort of guessing that some of these pieces of information may need to be triangulated for confirmation.... but the very fact that I was told these things should tell you something about Armenians at any rate...


In general, Armenia reminds me a bit more Soviet and a bit more down at the heels than Albania - although similar in many ways too. I do like the fact that there aren't very many vehicles (in comparison) and no new vehicles. Lots of old beat up Ladas from Russia but no Hummers (at least in the circles that I am moving).

The weather is cold, but not so cold as Mongolia. However, there's no heat inside the hotel either - so win some lose some.


Armenia is starting to grow on me a bit. Amazing scenery in the area I am in now - reminds me a lot of Lesotho - big grassy mountains and snow. Of course, Yerevan is kind of a pit… The only thing I like about Yerevan more than Tirana is that there are far fewer cars here and much less ostentation - there's a lot of corruption, but it looks like they keep the earnings offshore. But other than the cars (oh, and the insane construction - Yerevan doesn't have that either) but aside from those two things - Tirana is nicer I think. However, I really like the Armenian countryside.


Not much to say, went out this morning to small beautiful village in the mountains, breathtaking scenery, blah blah. Did an interview with the local mayor. Very pleased with WV - blah blah blah. Child well-being blah blah blah.


Some more things to like about Armenia:

1) Armenia has Cilantro! The most common food I've eaten here: Take a tortilla-like piece of dough, put a slice of cheese on it accompanied by a handful of Cilantro. Roll up - eat - rinse- repeat. It's amazing.

2) Red beet salad. They have this red beet salad that combines red beets, walnuts, pomegranate seeds and cilantro. I've eaten about 3x the amount of the average Armenian just because it's so great.

3) The Armenian Orthodox church. I don't know how to describe it, but it's one thread of history that Albania doesn't have in full force.

4) A really really long history. While it's kind of annoying to be in the center of the cultural universe, it is true that Armenia is part of the "out of Africa" migrations of humanity which spread up through the Middle East and then up through the passage way between the Black sea and the Caspian Sea (the Caucauses) - so there's a lot more history here then in many places outside of Africa simply because people were here for much much longer.

5) There's an Armenian version of Stonehenge (just about 10 minute drive from the ADP offices) plus there is a 1200 year old Monastery within an hour's drive - one of the oldest in the world.

6) The Soviet thing is really really cool.


Long day - but interesting. Google "Tatev Monastery" and "Armenian Stonehenge" to check out two places I was at today. We interviewed the Abbot of the monastery as part of the evaluation. It was interesting. I think you'd like Armenia - it's gloomy.

So evidently the Armenian Orthodox church is the oldest national church in the world - predating Constatine by a decade. The Orthodox are kind of like Catholics from an alternative universe. The Armenian Orthodox church is about 1700 years old. So picture a Jantzi and a Phelps having 1700 years to decorate a cathedral in the best way they know how. The Jantzi would be all like "hey, let's put even MORE curly-cue gold fillagree everywhere - shiny stuff" and the Phelps would say "Let's make it big and dark and gloomy so people feel their insignificance in the universe" - combine the two and viola – Armenian Orthodox Church.

The Armenian priests are interesting - they can marry - but they dress funny. They reminded me either of the Deep Down Dwarfs from Pratchett - or Darth Vader...or maybe those desert sand people from Star Wars. Either way I sort of half expected either light sabers or chainmail throughout the evening.

We got there about the time evening prayers were about to start - so we stayed through that service (about 30 minutes) and then had tea with one of the head priests who is connected to some of WV's projects.

It was an amiable chat - but I kept thinking how odd my life is. If you could put little picture slice montages of my life and show it to me as a youngster, I think I would be puzzled ... Candle-lit drum music in African huts, motorcycles in Bolivian jungle, meat feasts in Mongolia, chatting with Darth Vader bearded priests over tea in Armenia...etc. I bet I could put together a really pretentious blog!

1 comment:

Becky said...

you say odd, I say fascinating!