One thing I can’t help noticing in Armenia is the preference for clothing labelled with ludicrously exclusive designer names, particularly Gucci, Armani, Prada, and Louis Vuitton. It must be obvious to everyone that a trucker’s baseball cap is not genuine Louis Vuitton, so the cultural implication must be more along the lines of the “Real Fake Watches” shop I saw in Izmir. That said, my favourite shirt so far was one I saw on a middle aged man, which read “Adidas Skafeboarding” in pink and blue letters. A close second was the t-shirt of a woman on the platform at Yerevan’s train station:
Yerevan sweltered during my two-day interlude from south to north; sitting on the steps at the Opera House, I felt my flesh roasting through my clothes. But arriving in Sevan, I found it cool enough for a sweater.
There, I stayed with Morgan, another wonderful Peace Corps volunteer, who lives in another quirky, crumbling, Soviet-era apartment. From her charming balcony, we had a perfect view of the neighborhood children’s afternoon entertainment:
I wish I had had a dress like this to have pretend weddings in when I was a kid! And also such a crowd to go along with it. Notice the kid with the bucket-turned-drum. The cheering and banging and shouting continued for at least three rounds of the courtyard.
I was hard at work in Sevan, first interviewing some members of the Sevan Youth Club, whose English skills were commendable and whose optimism and ambitions lit up the room. (Do I need to point out that these were all women?)
We toured the Sevan Culture House Museum, which I think is a natural history museum? Among many other facts, I learned that the Sevan area has 267 bird species, many of which are migratory. I didn’t count, but it seemed like the museum had a taxidermied specimen of each variety; this certainly made up the bulk of their displays.
Morgan had two other PCVs over for dinner, James, an economics major from NYU, and Collin, a business major. A highlight of their discussion centered on hang-drying their laundry. Morgan had worked out a color scheme for her clothesline items that she felt lived up to neighborhood standards, and James and Collin debated the best way to hang a t-shirt to avoid creases. This shows some insight into Peace Corps life, at least in Armenia.
My second day in Sevan featured the Knowledge Day First Bell ceremony to welcome students back to school. Knowledge Day is September 1, and even though it was Saturday, the kids and parents dressed up in fancy clothes and assembled at the school, bringing bouquets for their teachers, some of which were very elaborate (and likely pricey).
In the afternoon, I spoke with several members of a Ukrainian-Armenian family. Later, I interviewed a woman who was bridenapped 30 years ago. Bridenapping is a phenomenon that seems only possible in a culture so stepped in shame, where a 17-year-old girl could be forced to marry a boy who trapped her alone in a room – even if he didn’t touch her – because the shame of the implications of this and the ensuing gossip are so intense that the girl’s parents refuse to speak to her for weeks afterward.
The book I’m writing features the details of these interviews, once I’ve had a chance to reflect on them and weave them together cohesively with the previous research I’ve done on Armenia and Armenianness around the world and in my own family. This woman reasonably requested I use a pseudonym for her, which is the least I can do to thank her for sharing the details of the most difficult period of her life, while simultaneously plying me with well-aged cognac, candy, and fresh fruit.