Author Archive

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[Dispatches from Armenia]: Soothing Vanadzor.

August 11, 2010

A trip to Vanadzor this weekend enabled me to see the hometown of my co-worker Hasmik. Once again, I was welcomed by Armenian hospitality so exceptional that it didn’t seem real. We dined at tables filled with some of the most delicious food that I’ve had here — smoky eggplant and peppers, soft fresh bread, the quintessential cucumber and tomato, fresh raspberries and strawberries from the garden, the most amazing cake layered with rich caramel and doused in chocolate shavings. And vodka. And coffee. Of course. I even tasted chicken for the first time in nine years. No, I am not going to break my quasi-vegetarian ways permanently, but I have to admit it was good.

Our walks under the nurturing sun were broken up by visits to family — the art studio of Hasmik’s uncle Ara, the patio of her grandmother, a walk with her cousin Mane who is visiting from the States and the constant delightful company of her six-year-old niece Nare.

Nare 1

Credit: Erin Henk

We meandered through the park, watched children ride paddleboats in Vanadzor’s lake and sat in the backyard garden. I even told an Armenian joke, via Hasmik’s translation, which was met with laughter. (Oh I am so proud.)

–  Erin

Ara’s art studio

Ara Gevondyan

Credit: Erin Henk

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[Dispatches from Armenia]: Vanadzor Old Age Home.

August 10, 2010

Spent Saturday in Vanadzor and we decided to pay a visit to FAR’s Vanadzor Old Age Home, which currently houses 50 senior citizens who can’t afford to live on their own. We traveled by car up a rocky mountain road to the entrance of the home, which overlooks a gorgeous view of the mountains. Residents gathered on the front porch, playing backgammon and talking.

Residents playing Nardi

Old Age Home-nardi

Credit: Erin Henk

Lunch had just finished and resident chef Alvard and nurse Alisa led us around. Airy, clean, with light literally pouring into pretty much every room and hallway, we were able to see a beautiful project in action. There’s plenty of indoor and outdoor recreation space, activities and round the clock medical care for all. Residents were sweet and welcoming and they tolerated my camera with grace. We were lucky enough to meet the adorable resident couple and I even recognized Ashot, an elderly man who has made appearances in our brochures and annual report. After approaching him he exhibited his delightful nature by reading our palms. (It’s good to know I will have good health and love in my life, but I’m not so sure about his prediction that I’ll bear three children someday.)

Ashot reading our palms

Ashot

Credit: FAR Staff

The grounds are dotted with picnic and barbeque areas where residents can pass the time; some even take trips into the main area of town if they so please. Our meandering was accompanied by talk of the residents themselves — how they gossip and how the occasional love triangle surfaces. It’s somehow comforting to know that these things go on here because it’s another testament that there’s life in this place. It’s obvious that these residents are well cared for, happy and continually occupied.

– Erin

VOAH’s resident couple

Old Age Home photo

Credit: Erin Henk

 

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[Dispatches from Armenia]: The Original Odar.

August 9, 2010

I’ve been privileged since I arrived in Armenia one month ago, and in many more ways than one, of course. Over these past few weeks I’ve been able to see so much, learn so much and do so much, that it often overwhelms me to try and explain how I feel about it all. I won’t even try in this entry. But I will say that one of the running jokes about me coming here is my quest to become an “honorary” Armenian. Personally, I don’t think I’m worthy of such a title just yet, even though I am still trying to earn it. I am, however, proud to say that I actually have been able to meet the true honorary Armenian, who not only knows the customs, history and language of this rich land backwards and forwards, but who also knows nearly everyone walking down the street in Yerevan. As someone who has not one drop of Armenian blood running through her veins, but who is definitely falling under the spell of this country, I love hearing about her Armenian experience. I know I am not the only one. This past week she launched her first monthly column called “Odar’s Corner” for The Armenian Weekly. Here’s to telling your Armenian story, and telling it well, Kristi. 

–  Erin 

Doorway to Geghard Monastery

Door

Credit: Deb Collins via
Creative Commons / flickr

 

 

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[Dispatches from Armenia]: Park at Dusk.

August 8, 2010

Children at play in Station Park

Bysicle

Credit: Erin Henk

 

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[Dispatches from Armenia]: Juxtaposed.

August 7, 2010

Sunlight hits new construction in Yerevan

Yerevan

Credit: Erin Henk

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[Dispatches from Armenia]: Bound Opposition.

August 6, 2010

The other night I attended Armenian-American artist Melissa Boyajian’s presentation at The Club restaurant on Tumanyan Poghots. My co-worker Hasmik interpreted the event, which showcased some of Melissa’s photography and short films. The first film was “Tip of the Tongue Phenomenon,” which depicted the close-up shot of a mouth. As the tongue was bound again and again with thin wire and yarn, the mouth attempts to speak. It was impossible to distinguish the words, of course, and as I watched I found myself becoming more and more fixated on the discomfort and pain I sensed from the screen as the wire grew tighter and tighter, eventually cutting off blood flow. This lasted what seemed like several minutes. I winced repeatedly, felt more and more uncomfortable as the film went on, and was even slightly grossed out at times. I kept anticipating the point when it would become too much to bear (as I am quite squeamish) and I would have to shift my gaze. But much to my surprise, I didn’t.

Diane Arbus was an inspiration for Boyajian

Melissa

Credit: Arpi Adamyan

Boyajian made this film shortly after the murder of Hrant Dink, the prominent editor-in-chief of the Turkish-Armenian newspaper “Agos.” Best known for advocating for Turkish-Armenian reconciliation and human rights, he was assassinated in Istanbul in 2007 by a Turkish nationalist. This film was, indeed, a significant reminder to me about how the attempts by some to silence the voices of those who speak out for justice and peace are often too painful to bear. As someone who used to spend her workdays (and nights) trying to report honestly about homelessness, crime, and, at times murder, I firmly believe that freedom of speech and expression is an essential ingredient to a fair and open society and that those who speak out for reconciliation and peace should never be threatened. It was refreshing to see something reignite that belief in a new, different and uncomfortable way.

All of Boyajian’s pieces were highly emotive. I found them to be very candid, thought provoking and complex as they challenged culture and gender roles as well as power dynamics. And it was wonderful to be able to take them all in at a café in Yerevan.

–  Erin

Melissa Boyajian presents her art

Melissa by Ocean

Credit: Ocean
 

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[Dispatches from Armenia]: On Foot.

August 5, 2010

Supposedly, when you start to cross they will stop. I’ve seen it happen, but only when I’m with other people. When alone, I am merely an obstruction in the race to their destination. Even at red lights those Ladas, Mercedes, and BMWs taunt, revving their engines like angry bulls so I walk faster. Others fly around corners. Reckless abandon, I tell you. I also never take too much stock in stoplights; their time counters don’t make sense. Oddly, at some six lane intersections we’re given 12 seconds to cross and at two-lanes we’re given 30. A few weeks ago I saw someone driving on the sidewalk.

Yep, I am no master yet. For me dodging traffic in Yerevan often evokes the fear of death – or at least hospitalization. When I venture out alone on my walks around Yerevan I occasionally feel like I’m taking my life into my hands when crossing the street — the major ones anyway. Cell phone off. Keep distractions to a minimum. Look both ways. Constantly. Focus. Walk. I thought my other travels conditioned me to handle all traffic with composure. Guess not. … Are you laughing Yerevantsi?

– Erin

New Image

Credit: Erin Henk

 

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[Dispatches from Armenia]: Nighttime in a Small Corner of Yerevan.

August 4, 2010

11 pm – The sounds of a very loud movie, which appears to be playing right outside my window. Although I can’t understand a word, I decide that it must be an enormous screening of the “Color of the Pomegranate” since the Sergei Parajanov museum is right next to my apartment. I really need to watch that movie, soon … 
 
12:30 am – The move is over and has been replaced by very loud Armenian dance music. I wish that I was back in Karabagh skipping across the floor with my YPT friends.
 
2 am? – I can hear only the constant crying – no shrieking, definitely shrieking – of a small child.
 
Sometime between 3 and 5 am – I am suddenly awakened by complete silence. How is this possible?
 
6 am – Someone’s car alarm. This is the norm.
 
7 am – Howling cats.
 
I love this city.

–  Erin

Yerevan at night

526294938_e8d3aa5688_b

Credit: Intrepid Wanderer
via Creative Commons / flickr

 

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[Dispatches from Armenia]: A Medical Resource for Armenia.

August 3, 2010

The other day Hambartsum, coordinator of FAR’s medical programs, a fellow YPT member and I took a ride to the Republican Scientific-Medical Library, where we had the chance to see the facility and meet the library’s Director Anna Shirinyan. I had heard quite a bit about this place since starting my work at FAR. Formerly known as the Soviet Medical Library, the FAR Medical Fellow Alumni Association spearheaded efforts to revamp it with new resources after the 1988 earthquake. At the time, only a small portion of its books were available in Armenian, but the collection eventually grew through shipments from the United States and later through updated computer technology and the development of an extensive online database and network.

Today, it’s an advanced library, which plays a major role in the development of medical education and the sciences. The library not only has a tremendous resource of journals and other books, it hosts teleconferences, seminars, classes in medical English and also produces the annual Armenian Medical Review Journal, which is supported through FAR.

Republican Scientific-Medical Library

DSC05412

Credit: Erin Henk

Anna’s passion for this facility is clear. (She and her staff even lovingly planted rose bushes and trees to enliven the otherwise barren yard surrounding this building.) Her feelings that the facility needs to be expanded are also strong, and she is right. There’s barely any space to house all of the books and journals that are stored here and there’s limited room for teleconferences and computer classes. But as she said, sometimes it’s hard to convince people that this sort of resource is important.

Medicine is changing all the time and Anna and the rest of FAR’s medical programs team are trying to emphasize the importance for Armenia’s doctors to have the best resources they need to keep up with the latest advances. They hold information literacy courses and the team collaborates with the heads of the National Institute of Health and several medical schools to try and spread the word. Plus, they are trying to secure funds to make the medical library fully electronic, so that information will be accessible by both doctors and patients. Yet, another imperative resource for this nation.

Erin –

Republican Scientific-Medical Library

DSC05411

Credit: Erin Henk

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[Dispatches from Armenia]: Sunday at the Shuka.

August 2, 2010

Sunday morning and my kitchen is bare. I head to the shuka around the corner from my house to pick up some fruit and vegetables and whatever else strikes my interest. Before I know it, I’m mesmerized by row upon row of eggplants, cucumbers, tomatoes, apricots, oranges, sunflowers, and buckets of saffron that look like gold. I could go on forever. I haven’t eaten yet and I want to devour it all. There are baskets of pears, peaches, and plums on one shelf, smooth and so perfectly poised with even their stems and one green leaf intact. They don’t look real.

Shuka 1

Credit: FAR Staff

I’d never had a fresh apricot before coming to Armenia. Now I don’t want to try one anywhere else because I know they’ll never be as good. I buy some of these, along with peaches, apples, cucumbers, tomatoes, a cluster of basil. Then there’s the dried fruit. I don’t even have a chance to say (or signal) that I’ve spent all my money before vendors cut me sample after sample of cherry-wrapped almonds, and figs, apricots and peaches that are sweetened with honey and stuffed with walnuts, hazelnuts, cashews and cinnamon. Before I know it I’m full, my arms ache from my bags, my fingers are sticky and I’m making promises to come back after I go to the bank. If there’s a better way to fill one’s stomach and cupboard, I have yet to think of it. 

Erin –

Shuka 2

Credit: FAR Staff