Archive for the ‘Armenia’ Category

so i wrote a while ago about the mysterious loss of a package sent to armenia somewhere in the vicinity of november 16th.  well it finally mosey’d its way to the SRI, just on its own terms. evidently this package was fond of ferris bueller and took an extra few months to stop and look around at life, for fear of missing it. i guess first class mail moves at an uncomfortably brisk velocity for ferris.

Turns out said delinquent package arrived to Armenia around mid-March, putting it at around 4 months late, give or take 37 armenian cigarette breaks.  After notification at my old organization that it was ready for me at the post office, a friend tried to pick it up.  of course this wasn’t possible, and power of attorney was required.  luckily after a week or two it was returned to the US…..intact.

My wonderful parents were determined to get the package to me, so off they sent it again to the Sri…..and luckily within about 5 or 6 days, it arrived, as evidenced below.  but what armenia lacks in punctuality apparently sri lanka lacks in keeping-packages-intact’itness.  nevertheless it was thrilling to get this mysteriously devious package, finally, and read the — yes pre-thanksgiving — “well its almost the holidays” card enclosed inside.  anyway, after enjoying my care package that was sent to me during the previous decade, i realized i was just lucky to receive it at all. especially when i tasted the bacon infused chocolate that this care package contained.

moral of the story, never mail anything important to armenia.

that, and dont trust that swindling ups spokesman with synthetic hair who makes commercials trying to convince you that mailing things is easy, efficient, or cute.


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As much as I didn’t want to, I knew I had to give it a shot before I left Armenia.  I’ve been told its as Armenian as you can get, and the ultimate Sunday morning meal to battle a hangover.  Its name is Khash, it lives in a bowl, and I tried it last Sunday [this is proof how behind I am; in reality this was about a month ago]. (more…)

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i was warned before I came here that the mail could be very unreliable in armenia.  i was told that things could get held up in customs, take months, or just not arrive at all.  these words of warning all sounded like old wive’s tales to me, and I had a few very eager people in the states (ok just my mom, but whatever) to send me something from home.

so i decided to risk it and let them try and send me a package.  well its turning out to have been a big mistake.  said package was sent on something like november 16th and there is still no sign that it has arrived in the country.  i’ve gone to the post office at least 3 times (with an armenian to help) and they love to say

“no we dont have a package.”

“well can you look?”

“if we get a package we will deliver it to you”

ohhhh ok, so thats how the mail works?! thanks for describing how the process should happen.  acknowledging otherwise would be ludicrous, so helping must be out of the question.  so to go one step higher we decided to try and pursue the customs office, which apparently isnt able to communicate with the post office, or at least according to the helpful post office man who told us he couldn’t check with them.

So we called customs.  the first couple times they didnt answer.  next day, we tried again.  they gave us a number.  ok, we tried that number. another number. another number. and another.  seriously, at the end of this we had 6 telephone numbers written on the piece of paper, and at the end of the chain……surprise surprise, no answer.  What do these 6 different people do?

I probably sound like a whiny westerner complaining about this, as this isn’t uncommon in most of the world.  And i knew that going in, but i really thought it would at least arrive, if even a month or so late.  and i continue to maintain hope (take that obama!), that it will arrive before I depart from the land of stones….

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[Disclaimer: I am probably making it sound like all I do here is drink vodka with the copious references to the friendly clear fermented-potato substance.  but it really is a big part of the culture here.  and after all i’m going for that whole immersion thang.  but i promise i’m helping to spread some microfinance too, even if it does involve tasting a borrower’s varietals of moonshine mulberry vodka. seriously.]

So 11 days after commencing, Armenian New Year’s is officially over.  I feel so discombobulated and and confused that I dont know what day it is or if I will ever be able to weigh less than 263 lbs again.

The new year here is a big celebration.  Its family oriented, involves lots of visits to friends/neighbors/relatives and lasts for a week.  New Years Eve is usually spent with family, and, like most Armenian celebrations involves a table packed from edge to edge with all kinds of tasty foods and booze.  In the center is the horovatz (grilled pork) with all kinds of cheeses, dried cured meats, veggies, and often cakes.  I dont know how these families do it because they basically have to be on call for visitors for 11 straight days while anyone can show up at anytime and the table gets loaded up and feasting and drinking recommences.  Everything in the city shuts down (president’s orders – where were you on that one OBAMA?!?) and you can get arrested by the cops if you dont have proof that you’ve gained at least 15 lbs.

12:01 new years at the square....

I was lucky enough to get to experience several different families’ new years.  NYE itself involved hanging out with a fellow group of international orphans at a friend’s apartment, then going down to the central square to see the fireworks, followed by an indeterminate amount of hours at the bar.  And that was day 1 of 11.  The following days were a tour de table of different friends and families, each of which constantly had a table full of meat/cheese/greens/booze on standby for any potentially arriving visitors.  At each stop copious amounts of Horovats (bbq’d pork and always the centerpiece of the table) was consumed with lavash (national bread, like a tortilla with bounce), all kinds of cured meats (I find pastrami to be the most sensual of all the salted cured meats), greens (parsley again, dominates every bite), with lots of wine & vodka with thoughtful toasts to family and friends.  At one point I tried a jug of tasty homemade Georgian wine.  At another I had a delicious banana cake.  Also some delicious dolma, accompanied with yogurt sauce.  On Armenian Christmas itself (Jan 5th into 6th) I was invited to a good friend and co-workers to eat with her family.

Her younger brother and his 3 friends were very intrigued having an American at the table.  Basically I was treated as a pet tamagachi, and the boozing got taken up a notch or five.  It was kind of like those house parties when a bunch of idiots think it’s a good idea to try and get the cat or dog drunk, that’s a little bit how it worked….”yaa lets make the American drink a shot every 3 minutes!!!” However, as a stand for all the dogs and cats out there I decided I was not to be shown up.  I kept shoveling food in my mouth between every shot and lasted lasted lasted until the 19 year-old ringleader eventually started to slow down a bit.  Somehow I survived until they got bored and moved to the couch.  Victory, America.  I was so proud of myself, I had passed the official Armenian booze test.  Next stop, Russia.

All in all the New Years break was a whirlwind of barbecued meat and celebrations with friends and their families.  It was great to experience the holidays overseas in such an authentic and traditional way.  Plus it was a ton of fun, too.  While I don’t think I’ll let myself accidentally miss Christmas/New Year’s at home next year, this one will definitely always stand out as a great memory…….The Christmas/New Year’s that lasted 11 days and when I lost my six pack.  I’m gonna have to really start pounding my core again.


kaaaa boom

one of the many new years table spreads

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Before leaving the States, a friend asked me if i was going to start dabbling in the musical genre of ‘deep techno’ while in Armenia.  I hadn’t even really considered the role of deep techno in Armenia at the time, thinking of it more as an inhabitant of 5 story dance clubs in places like prague, or the dojo where you fight morpheus.  nevertheless i decided to keep my eyes out for deep techno and see if i could make friends with it here in Yerevan.

Well, I have to report that while out and about a few weeks ago deep techno was spotted.  Its not exactly prevalent here, but one night i went with some friends to one of the more popular clubs here in Yerevan.  After walking through the black-painted double doors, it got insane.  Strobes, and sirens, and bears oh my!  Deep techno had been found.

It was pretty much as to be expected, with lots of double-raised-fist-dancing, and the the occasional guy by himself in an extra-small tshirt and fedora hopping around and doing those weird cross-step dance moves that were popular at middle school dances, in the 1990s.  And apparently, we went on the ‘international student day,’ so at 11 pm promptly, everyone started filing out for the exits.  they all had curfews and needed to be home.  after realizing this I felt immediately uncomfortable.  But I have to give credit to the people there that night.  They were entering the club with more flair than anyone I’ve ever seen.  They would storm in, go fishing for the beat, catch it, and start riding the pony a la ginuwine, slapping their imaginary tanto (and flipping the lasso) as they circled the dance floor to the bass of the deep techno.  The instantaneous transformation in enthusiasm and energy after passing through the club doors was impressive.

But the kicker was when I looked up and saw wesley snipes suspended upside-down from the rafters in a black leather trenchcoat and sunglasses with his arm cocked, holding a shiny ninja star.  I officially knew it was time to get out…

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This was the first time I spent Christmas away from the homeland.  It was definitely difficult but kind of fun in an unconventional way.  Plus Armenia is the first nation to have officially adopted Christianity so that’s a neat place to go for Christmas.  And don’t try to tell me otherwise.  However, Armenians don’t celebrate Christmas on the 25th of December, but January 6th instead.  I guess originally Christmas was on the 6th but then the Romans didn’t find it convenient, so they switched it around to fit their new calendar, but Armenia kept the date, yada yada yada, now there’s a disparity between dates of celebrification.

All in all, I think it was probably the best alternative I could have had to not being with my family, and here I am 5,000 miles away in post soviet lands with a bunch of armenians who don’t even celebrate the 25th of December.  I was in the mountain town of Tzakhadzor for 3 days with my host MFI because they were having their year-end company-wide conference which involves workshops as well as a chance to just bring everyone together once a year.

I spent time sitting in on the workshops but also got a chance to walk around the city and see what the town was all about.  On the 24th I happened to cruise by a church and stopped in to freestyle a little Christmas Eve mass.  A priest even came in and started saying what appeared to be a mass, but I wasn’t too sure and didn’t stick around to find out.

Christmas itself fell on the third and final day of the conference, which was great.  During the day I actually went skiing (see below) and then at night they held the end-of-conference party.  this involved massive amounts of food, lots of wine, and vodka.  the food was the standard armenian horovatz — delicious barbecued pork accompanied with lots of bread, fresh veggies, and wonderful armenian treats.  we feasted and toasted together with all 200+ Aregak employees.  A great pseudo Christmas if I do say so myself.  And a pretty good way to juxtapose the year-end mfi party onto my concept of December 25th.  Lucked out there and was great to make me feel at home.

Eventually, Armenian dancing broke out as they had a live band as well as a rented Santa to MC the events with some year-end awards going out.  I was REALLY hoping for most-improved loan officer but I was BARELY beaten out by a 10-year veteran.  I guess she deserved it.  I was pulled into the armenian dancing eventually and had a grand time.  Armenian dancing is kind of like Irish footwork with middle eastern arm work.  I like it.


So I have now completed one of my top 7 life objectives: I have now successfully skied at top speed down a mountain in the former soviet union while eluding a KGB agent chasing me with a klobb.  This now certifies me as an official yellow belt along the becoming-james-bond continuum. (more…)

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[a quickie from the fellows blog]

By Brian Kelly, KF9, Armenia

After making several visits to various borrower communities in the rural villages throughout Armenia, I started to notice a familiar figure emerge.  Each village seemed to have a mayor.  Not a mayor in the traditional, sash-wearing, top-hat donning, political scandal-causing sense, but a mayor of microfinance.


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