3rd – 23rdJanuary, 2013
Yerevan is an ice-rink and we live in a fridge. The bathroom is a damp closet with a permanently wet floor – the kitchen too, since we turned off the fridge a few days ago to save electricity. The kitchen is colder than the fridge was anyway.
The Ghost left while we were in Iran – a seventeen year old boy from Iran, brought to Armenia by his parents some months earlier. I only ever met him twice during the ten days I was here six weeks ago. The Ghost huddled in his room playing computer games all day, door bolted, occasionally shuffling out to boil some pasta. He left without paying the rent.
A permanent ice patch has settled herself in the centre of the long, uneven driveway that leads down to H’s steps. To keep warm, we cozy up in front of the gas heater in the hallway, nicknamed the Black Stone, after the one in Mecca. To us, this oversized Soviet metal contraption is equally as sacred. It’s the only heater in the house.
Outside, leaves bluster under heavy clouds. Stilletto heels ice-pick pavements, as Yerevan women demonstrate near-fatal feats of balance on the slab of ice that covers the city. They don’t put down grit in Armenia, and only the very biggest roads will occasionally get cleared. A journey to the shop is a treacherous venture.
H works Canadian hours here in Yerevan, meaning work starts at 5:30pm and ends at half past midnight. The Canadian company he works for are keen to give the impression to business people they’re cold-calling across the US that their workers operate from an office inside Canada. This kind of work is quite typical in Armenia, where people have to fight for jobs. It’s not uncommon for a company to close a few months after starting, or to outsource their operations still further, to yet cheaper workers in China or Singapore.
We are nocturnal hermits, watching documentaries under blankets in front of the computer, drinking too much coffee and too much wine. Occasionally, we go out to a bar.
Lisa arrives from Tbilisi one blustery day, having hitchhiked well over 2,000km, through snowstorms, to visit me in Yerevan. It’s Lisa’s first time in Armenia and I’m intrigued by her reactions to a city I’m growing so accustomed to.
Lisa discovers parts of Yerevan I haven’t even noticed yet, like the old Blue Mosque in the South of the city centre. “It’s so fast!” she giggles as we jump onto the escalator down to the metro platform. It really is fast – strange how I never noticed before. “It’s so communist!” she says, as the metro screeches in. I impart my faithful advice, useful for all post-Soviet countries I’ve experienced thus far: “Don’t Smile. Drink!” It’s useful to remember that here, smiling is kind of weird. My friend Alex, who was born in the Soviet Union, explained it to me like this: If you smile, it means one of two things: 1. You have something to laugh about – that means you have something other people don’t have. 2. There’s something funny on the other person’s face.
It’s hard for people like us, who were socially conditioned from birth that if you meet a stranger’s eyes, you must smile, to respond to stares with a blank expression. Also, it’s hard to dis-attach myself from the idea that it’s rude to stare!
Braving the cold, Lisa and I take a marshrutka (shared minibus) 23km East of Yerevan, to the pre-Christian Garni temple – the only surviving one of it’s kind in Armenia.
Lisa is gone after a few days – too fast. The ice shows no sign of thawing. What has changed, is that I’m once again able to see Yerevan through a traveller’s eyes. There are curiosities and hidden corners, so much more to discover.