Tuesday, June 28, 2005
Good news, but how good is it really?
Wednesday, June 22, 2005
Longer Update from/on Armenia
I haven’t been following up on the situation in the ME lately (although I did read about the assassination of George Hawi and the train crash in “Israel”), but I have decided to post on the situation (economic and otherwise) in Armenia. My first impressions were definitely NOT good. When I landed at Zvartnots Airport I was given a lot of trouble for something that made no sense: apparently they didn't like the fact that my passport had an "old" picture of me (the picture was taken some 6 years ago, and the expiry date of the passport was extended twice [legally of course]). The passport expires in July 2006, which is a good year away from now. The airport official asked me about the picture and I told him the passport was valid, and that I didn't see what the problem was (I was given U.S and Canadian visas with that photo...). He then asked me why I hadn't changed the picture on the passport. From there on, you get the picture. After much trouble and waiting for more than an hour, with no clue who took my passport and where it was taken, I was given a 21-day visa (another note: I got a 2-year U.S visa with that same picture...) which is a standard (but also stupid) procedure, thanks in no small part to 2 Russian military women deployed in the airport. Now, the first impression was NOT good, I can tell you. Not good at all. The airport was quite old and small and confusing, but I managed to find my way out, and miraculously didn't have my luggage opened. My guess is that I was given so much trouble because they saw I had Canadian and U.S visas, and figured that if they gave me enough trouble I'd just give them money... Or maybe it was my accent - I don't know. But I was the only one who was held for that long, although there was also another woman who was questioned about her photo and was given her passport back without any delays...
Going on to the economic situation in Yerevan, it's not as bad as people think. Houses and apartments are usually old, but a significant majority of the people always dresses well, goes to the opera (which is mighty cheap, I must add!), theatres, cafes, etc. To be sure there is a lot of poverty in the city, but it's not too visible except in certain areas. I get the feeling that most of those who have lived through the Soviet regime and survived the tough years following the independence, although keenly interested in the "outside" world (e.g. USA, Canada, UK, France, etc.), prefer to live in the city/country if economic and other conditions allow them to. In fact, one thing that struck me as very interesting was the questions they asked to diasporan Armenians and foreigners. For example, I met a man from Kotayk a few days ago who asked me where I was from, and when I said Lebanon, his face immediately brightened up and he said, "so you took part in the revolution?" The way people talk about revolution here is quite indicative of their aspirations. They want to remain in Yerevan but they would like to get rid of the corrupt government and for once have a government that is sincerely interested in the welfare of its citizens. Sure they are fooled by the propaganda of "revolutions" going on around them, but I think that their want for a revolution stems from the utter need for change in the country. The country has adapted to the post-Soviet era quite well I must say, and I must give some of the credit to diasporan Armenian volunteers and repatriates (most of whom are from the Middle East). There is surely a lot to be changed, but I was expecting much less, and was actually impressed.
Most people converse in Armenian, as opposed to Russian, which I am told was used a lot in day-to-day dealings in the Soviet era. The level of knowledge of English needs a lot of improvement: most people don't know English, some people are at an intermediate level, and a very low number (mainly those who attend the American University of Armenia) are quite fluent. I must admit, though, that I was not too impressed by the attitude of locals towards speakers of Western Armenian (the dialect that I use). Yesterday I went to an Advanced course in Eastern Armenian, and I was told that the spelling and grammar I used were WRONG. Mind you, Western Armenian has a much more correct spelling than Eastern Armenian does, and at some points it is also cleaner in the spheres of grammar and vocab. I don't want to get into a childish back-and-forth "debate" about which came first and which is more correct, but let's just say that I was not impressed when I was told I was WRONG (as opposed to, say, "that's how WE say/write it). Another interesting aspect of Yerevan is transportation. The metro (subway) system is pretty awesome (metro stations have pretty artistic designs I must add! They're not your regular Toronto subway stations) and there are also minibuses, which are very crowded. I would prefer to take the metro, except that my location doesn't favour that option, so I am obliged to take the minibuses, which are quite fun when you get used to them. People in the minibuses are quite nice and thoughtful of others (most people share their seats so that others wouldn't get tired because of standing up in an awkward position for so long. I wonder why they don't use bigger buses, but that's for me to discover (hopefully soon). I haven't started full-time work yet, so I've had the chance to do some walking-discovering around the city. Yesterday I went to a food store called "Aleppo". The owner is a repatriate from Aleppo, and his store had everything from the A to Z of Aleppo food products (olives, olive oil, cheese, etc.).
Locals are generally VERY helpful and hospitable. I've stopped a few people on the street and asked them for directions in broken Eastern Armenian (I don't like speaking Western Armenian around here for some odd reason) and they've been quite understanding and courteous.
Last but not least, I would like to share a few photos:
The Opera house
View from a hill in Khor Virab
Khor Virab Monastery
Monday, June 20, 2005
Republic Square, Armenia
Wednesday, June 15, 2005
I'm off for now.
Saturday, June 11, 2005
Did I say I'm glad I'm leaving the country temporarily? I'm quite sick of seeing all those morons tearing each other apart just for a freaking seat in the parliament. That's right - Aoun is included on that list. I'm only sad my flight wasn't a week earlier.
Yup, that's an accurate picture of me, given the hysteria surrounding the selections in Mount Lebanon.
Friday, June 10, 2005
I guess I missed something.
Tuesday, June 07, 2005
Me: Hey, could you tell me how to get to LAU?
Man: You know where martyr Rafik Hariri's house is, right?
Me: Umm, no I don't...
Man: What do you mean you don't?
Me: I mean I don't know where Hariri's house is.
Man: Are you kidding me?
Me: What do you mean?
Man: You really don't know where his house is?
Me: OK look mister, I don't care who Hariri is, let alone where his house is. Now are you going to tell me where LAU is located, other than in relation to Hariri's house?
By the way, today someone asked me if the orange colour on my blog had anything to do with Aoun's LFPM. I didn't know Aoun had a monopoly on orange. (Orange is incidentally ?? also the colour that anti-"disengagement" "activisits" in "Israel" use).
Saturday, June 04, 2005
More on elections
Wake me up when the monitors say something about Bourj Hammoud.