The Creator of Yerevan

Postcard from Yerevan

When I arrived in Yerevan I began to construct a new city; it is very similar to the Yerevan on my city tourist map and it is similar to the Yerevan of the people who have lived here all their lives. But this is the Yerevan of my creation. I have populated it with plane trees and nineteenth century buildings of grey basalt and pink limestone; with cobble stones and hidden courtyards spied through arched lane ways; and people in the street in their apparent boredom or beauty, each carrying with them their hopes and fears.

And me, making my way, new to this city, thinking about the opportunities I might have here to build a life and where I might live and how I might use this as a base to change the way we do development in this part of the world. I have also included the elderly white haired woman, long nosed and leather skinned in the seat on the bus beside me. I have made her a grandmother who has seen much happiness and much suffering under the Soviet time. And she has made her own Yerevan that is in many ways similar to the one I have created. But it is different; the streets in her Yerevan are longer and have more hazards; and the familiarity of the parks where she was courted as a young woman; and above the shop where over a dinner party in the home of her future parents in law her late husband proposed to her amid much laughter and happiness, for everyone had been waiting for that day.  And of the house where her daughter lives now with her grandchildren, and the house where her mother died; these landmarks will never be in my Yerevan. And this is a world she has constructed during her lifetime. And the young man on the seat opposite us, coming from university.  He has made a world that has very similar street layout to the old woman’s. But the streets are shorter and his landmarks are cafes where he and his friends meet; a lot of the detail of his Yerevan has yet to be completed as he only has thoughts now for the bus stop and the short walk up Mashtots Avenue, to the Retro Café and girl named Liana who he hopes will be there with his friends.

I see Mount Ararat, snow covered stark against the blue sky and the Mother Armenia statue watching over the city. But the elderly woman sees a Mt Ararat that is a reminder of the land where her grandparents died during the genocide and of stories of the trek her parents made from Van. Instead of Mother Armenia she sees the statue of Stalin who looked over the city from that same place before it was torn down in the early sixties. And I go on creating this Yerevan and take it into my soul, step by step, brick by brick as I wander through the streets of this city built nearly three thousand years ago. This Yerevan, that last year, it did not exist to me.

One way or another we are all creators of the universe we inhabit and somehow we are inclined to forget that each of us inhabits a different world of our own creation. At one level we know that people inhabit different worlds but at the same time we can still think that once they see our world, as we see it, they will leave their own and join ours and our way of seeing and inhabiting it.  And the folly of this is identified in the story above.

(Inspired by Vasily Grossman – An Armenian Sketchbook)

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Gods Tears

Postcard from Yerevan

I was dining with a friend. She told me that three of her friends had been hit by a car at 3am crossing Tumanyan St last night. The road must have been deserted at that time, it has four lanes. But it happened.

She said the passenger in the Mercedes had died, no seat belt, thrown into the windscreen.

The three pedestrians will likely survive but have many broken bones and internal injuries

She was thoughtful.

Her phone rang; it was her friend, calling and upset because Travis was her friend too. In the early hours of this morning, they thought Travis would die. But she has learned that he will survive and is now being airlifted to the States but unlikely to return to Armenia.

She said that she realized again how fragile life is. I said “I think life is only a moment to moment thing, this very moment is all we have, this is all that is real, not the past moment, nor the moment to come, there is nothing more than this……… ever, how many times that repeats is in some ways meaningless. So death is just the end of these moments, nothing to worry about. ” She said that is beautiful. Inside this restaurant in the heart of Yerevan it was warm and the wine was good. Outside the rain was falling like Gods tears and in the street below the automatic wipers of a black BMW cleaned those tears off the windscreen in lazy efficient swipes.

April 2014

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Of Swans and Wolves

Postcard from Yerevan

My fourth floor balcony in the center of Yerevan overlooks a small man-made lake. It is called Swan Lake and it is in the shape of Armenia. Up until recently the weather was mild and the lake had water in it. Sometimes the two swans swimming on it were white and at other times the two swans were black. I guess someone switched them every few days. Black swans are hot weather birds from Australia. Recently it began to get cold and I am imagining as it begins to snow, one black swan turns to the other; “what the frick was that?”

Now the lake has become an ice skating rink. The swans have gone and I watch the skaters doing ballet moves to Celine Dion’s Titanic song, loud through big speakers in the crisp air, ‘near far wherever we are, I believe that the heart does go o-on…”.

Today it is -5C, it started out this morning at -13C so it is warming up. My little electronic weather station also tells me that the humidity is -55%. What do you suppose that means?

Having a cup of tea on my balcony I noticed four council workers each carrying a life-size white plastic swan and apparently a map trying to figure out where to put them. I came out later to clear the used tea bag from the patio table and found it had frozen solid to the glass table top. That is a new experience for me.  I see the neighbor below puts bread on the table in the balcony below presumably to keep it frozen.

I have found this winter weather is fine if you dress for it. A few weeks ago I went to the outdoor market and in preparation for these days and bought a Russian fur hat. One of those hats you see people wearing in Moscow on -30 degree news reports. The Armenian man at the hat stand spoke no English and so we did miming interpretations of the various animals, he had hats made from rabbit, mink and other animals I couldn’t figure out from the miming.  I wanted something a bit exotic and ended up in buying one made from Wolf fur. Thinking I might be  part of some wolf extinction story,  with passer by translating, I asked him if the wolf was a problem in Russia or if it was somehow sustainably farmed for its skin He looked at me like I was completely mad and even with translation I was not able to get any kind of coherent picture except for, a wolf is a wolf you stupid man.

When I got home I checked on the internet and sure enough wolves are a problem in Russia. Recently 400 wolves got together in a super pack and surrounded a village and villagers had to mount snowmobile patrols while they waited for the army to arrive.  Apparently there is a high bounty paid for dead wolves and in Siberia the state has extended the hunting season on wolves to be all year round and on January 15 is officially beginning a “three month battle against wolves”. Anyway I bought the hat; it looks ridiculous but better than my ears shriveling up like dried Armenian apricots with frost bite.

Speaking of fur I noticed many bars in Yerevan have signs that read ‘fur bar’. I never went into any of them as I thought it might be the local term for pussy bar and that is not my thing. But now I know that the Armenian script for Bar looks like fur.

I still only know four things to say in Armenian; Barev dzez  – hello, barev luys – good morning,  lav em -how are you? And my newly mastered shnorhakalutyan – thank you.

Originally posted December 2013

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Driving Armenia


The Road to Alaverdi

Postcard from Armenia

I can’t figure out all the features of my brand new fully optioned Suzuki S X Cross. The manual that came with it is in Russian, so the clock is still 20 minutes fast.  I need to burn some CDs because the radio only plays Armenian folk songs and Russian pop music. Until recently I have been getting around by taxi, old Russian Volgas that drive like tractors, or squeezing in to little boxy Ladas nicotine yellow on the ceiling vinyl. Most taxi drivers have more lucky charms bobbing about on their dashboards than a dancing witch doctor. Real rabbits feet,  or bits of fury skin that I am guessing are from a Yeti,  crucifixes, Turkish evil eyes hanging like grapes from key rings, little elephants with jewels on their head and pictures of saints and patriarchs, Jesus and Mary, hallelujah. And driving with them I know how they feel, you need all the road luck you can get here. So I have hung a rosary from my rear view mirror and stuck a little panel of Jesus, Mary and some orthodox patriarch on my dashboard. I trust in God but I also installed a  little camera which records every journey in case a  voodoo spangled vodka breathed taxi driver or rogue elephant  bus driver is feeling too lucky at my expense.I am thinking Armenian people often seem to be afraid of spaces. Like you can be sitting at a table with 6 people and everyone is talking, actually it sounded like arguing but I have learned this is just the Armenian way of very engaged conversation. And I look around and everyone, I mean all six of my friends are talking at once.  At first this was a mystery but then I surmised everyone was worried about leaving a space in the conversation that someone might move into, so they all moved in together.  And I have also noticed this in queues at the airport, if I leave a small space in front of me then someone will see that space and think that I don’t want it and move into it.  I am learning that the traffic works in a similar way.  If you leave a couple of car lengths between you and the car in front, someone moves in to fill the space. The effect of this is that about every 2 kilometers there is a rear end collision. You know because the cars have to stay in place on the road until the police get there and check things out. It all seems very civilized. When someone runs into the back of someone else, the drivers get out and shake hands, then when the police arrive they all shake hands again. I don’t know what happens after that, but I suspect that sooner or later I will find out first hand.There are many positives about driving here.  One incredibly civilized aspect is that traffic fines only cost between $12.50 and $25.00, a lot for locals but affordable for me. And there is a nine kilometer an hour grace on speed, so in a 50km an hour zone you can drive at 59 km per hour.  And the upside of people cutting in in front of you without warning is that you are graciously allowed to do whatever you like with or without indicators and it seems perfectly natural  and up to others to get out of your way. One slightly disconcerting driving trait is that most drivers seem to cut corners. So if you are on the inside lane you expect the drivers in the outer lane just to cut straight across in front of you, no fuss, no guilt, no indicators. It seems that one assumes this is expected and so to give way or beat them to the corner.  When you want to make a turn into incoming traffic you just inch forward to the point that other cars can no long swerve to miss you, in fact you are now blocking their lane and then you proceed with your turn as though getting out of their way is a favor to them.And then there is the joyful use of horns.  In the West a horn is often a questionable instrument. In the United States you use it in the wrong place someone in front may get out of the car in front and shoot you. In Australia they can be like some accessory that is too good to throw away but not much use.  But here they are used to express the full range of driving emotions. I have noticed that if one of my friends makes a particular unexpected veer into the lane of a trailing road user, they will react with a horn of distress from behind which is quickly followed by my fiends retaliatory horn to the road in front of us.  My use of horn is mainly directed towards buses the size of whales which pull out from the side of the road without any awareness of we smaller fish who just happen to be swimming past.I think the only really disconcerting aspect of driving here is that every so often one encounters an oligarch in a black, top of the range, BMW or Mercedes four wheel drive, with black tinted windows, gleaming chrome and sometimes a trailing body guard car. They are beating three lanes of bumper to bumper traffic by crossing the double lines and hurling themselves down the wrong side of the road into your path. I guess if they get stopped the fine is only $25.00 which is nothing if you have the wealth to live in something that looks like the Palace at Versailles and survive the drive. And it is the same at crossroads, it doesn’t matter about the rules of right of way, the oligarch in the black Hummer has the rule book that we all follow.  I am guessing there are a lot of lucky charms on their dashboards too.

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The Salt of My Father

Postcard from Albania



Dad Catherine and Me

Me at 3, my sister Katie and my father Ian

I shake the salt container into my hand and sprinkle it onto the chips, I do this again and again as a reflex, watching the white sand in my palm and the unconscious motion of the sand to the chips. I think when did I start to do this in this way? And I remember it was what my father did, reluctant to let the shaker determine how much salt went onto the food. I remember as a six year old watching my father read the paper and eat breakfast toast. I watched through the window of the laminex top that was a kind of bench between the living room and the kitchen. My Dad ate the toast, read the paper and unconsciously ran his thumb across his fingers, with the skill of a pianist, to shed them of crumbs. And I thought when I am an adult this is what I will do. On the wall beside the laminex counter is a shadow box with blown glass birds and once my sister ran into me holding one and the sharp glass neck of a stork cut a long deep gash in my finger near the hand and  fifty years later I still have the scar. Like I still have the scar of my father’s strengths, my father’s weaknesses and his way of shaking salt.

But I am in Tirana Albania eating sword fish at a Greek restaurant and my father. long since dead, lives in me and in the way I use salt. He never traveled except to Thursday Island in the war where he waited for action which never came and caught sharks on big hooks and blew up reef fish with dynamite.

My father was a man who was honest in the world, he valued honesty, his name and his reputation for being a good man. And that is also the salt I look from him. While fearlessly honest in the world I don’t think he ever went deep with it within himself. I have tried to do both. He taught by his example of honesty and straightforwardness in the world and he taught me by his example of fear of self-examination. And I resolved to follow one and address the other.

I have done neither as well as I would have liked. I believe I am a calculating rather than a courageous man. I have been courageous at times when I have ventured into the unknown with communities I work with, not knowing whether I have the stuff to address a situation. But it is only them and me that will know if I have or I haven’t and maybe that is not such a risk.

When I was forty something,  I received the highest honor from the prestigious  private school I went to.There was one medal given each year to an alumni who had contributed greatly to the Australian society. So there I was in the company of the man who developed the world acclaimed bionic ear and several of what Australia calls its National Treasures. I was receiving my medal as the exemplar of that year in front of four thousand people and had thirty seconds to accept and say something. I started by acknowledging the indigenous people on whose land this auditorium  was built and more than implied that our White man success was only possible through their loss of county. This was like serving pork at a Jewish barbecue, and the school has never invited me back to speak to students. And this was brave, I knew it at the time, it was brave.

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Home is where you put your weight down

Postcard from Yerevan

Swan Lake Clear Night in Autumn

The View from my Balcony – Swan Lake in Autumn

I am stretching my legs with a walk up to the galley next to the toilets on the Fly Dubai plane on my way to Yerevan. Two men are chatting outside the service galley, look like soccer hoodlums to me but it turns out that they are missionaries from South Africa who come to Armenia each year to preach at a summer camp for young adults. Some kind of church to church support. As they tell me about their upcoming few weeks in the Armenia countryside. I am imagining a big tent with open sides and lots of people, singing and clapping and praying in tongues and saying how happy they are to be here and the people up the front saying how excited they are and using lots of words like majesty, savior  holiness, redeemer, justified, kingdom and more about personal and you than about others and us. Who knows, anyway I liked them and their commitment and if it wasn’t about Jesus and in another place these guys would likely be ready to blow themselves up for some Jihad somewhere.

It was a long flight, fifteen hours from Melbourne, seven more as a stopover in Dubai and then on to Armenia, my new home. At the luggage carrousel, I stand chatting with a suave Armenian guy named Karen, who is in his early thirties and looks like he has just been unfolded out of a shirt box. He lives in Dubai and sells luxury cigarettes for $30 a packet. I ask him if he smokes and he says no, neither does his boss. And then one of the mishos comes up to me and says that God has given him a prophesy about me, he bows his head and moves in close and I am pinned between him, Karen and a concrete pylon and I look up to see if there are any vines to Tarzan my way out. The mishos shinny bright eyes look knowingly at me; I guess he thinks I am looking to the heavens.  He says that the work I will do in the region will be much more impactful than I can possibly imagine and that the image he has is of an atomic bomb going off, it is so powerful. He is imagining grace, I am thinking self destruction. But for my first day here, seems like a good sign. Karen gives me his number and says lets hang out, I say why not.

Yerevan in summer is a dry heat 32C, wide pavements and big green lush tree lined streets, a city of parks and monuments and pillars with the bronze busts of poets and politicians of old grand Russian buildings and shopping. So many young women with shopping bags from the summer sales, the kind of girls who dress and laugh and walk intertwined arms and legs like sibling puppies and sway as they do in that kind of way that would make a bishop want to kick in a stained glass window. And there are churches here that go back to 300AD and now when they build new churches, they build them in the same shape and style as the old ones. If you are on a good thing you might as well stick with it for a thousand years or so. I think it is different where I come from, if you are on a good thing you tend to take it for granted and then grow unhappy and want to get rid of it, do a new design and make it bigger or smaller and more modern, more something. I wonder where modern comes from.

I have made new friends in the office, many people with names so different from any I am used to, like Armenuhi, Artak and Aramazd and surnames that are like some kind of scary Sudoku puzzle, Ghalamkaryan, Bezhanyan, Khaleyan and Saghatelyan. The good thing is all names seem to end in “yan” so I remember the first letter, and then mumble something and add yan at the end. Friends here are suggesting I learn Armenian, I am thinking I would rather be boiled in oil and I will be doing well if I can confidently get a few surnames right after a year. I do know two short phrases to get me out of trouble. “Problem cheeka” translates to “no worries” and “lave em” means “I am fine”. I am still working on “thankyou” which is pronounced “shnorhakalutyun”; seriously.

One of my friends here in the office told me a story about international development.

He says a man was traveling along a dirt road in a shiny Toyota Land cruiser, he is forced to stop as a large flock of sheep is blocking the road. The man gets out and walks over to the shepherd.

“If I tell you how many sheep you have, can I please take one for my research?”

The elderly shepherd nods in agreement.

The man from the car pulls out his Ipad, goes to a satellite App and after less than a minute says, “You have 353 sheep.”

The shepherd scratches the stubble on his chin and says, “If I tell you who you are, will you give me back my sheep?”

And the man from the car nods his agreement.

“You must be from USAID.”

“How did you know? Asks the man with the Ipad

Well I didn’t ask you to come here and you told me what I already know……… and now, will you please put down my sheep dog?

After an intensive search I found a two bedroom apartment right in the centre of Yerevan that will suit me well. The search itself was an adventure, with agents and agents of agents, sometimes five in a room speaking Armenian or Russian, one time I found myself mistakenly trying to do business with the guy driving the Mercedes, he turned out to be just the driver of the agent but he nodded a lot and seemed to like shaking my hand after each apartment viewing. Most apartments’ here are fully furnished. In Yerevan that means that every surface is covered by something, walls lined with grand cabinets and side dressers and little carts with little wagon wheels to put drinks on, paintings and chandeliers and mirrors. They find places to include some mirror in part of everything and if there is nothing to put mirror on in they just do straight mirror on the wall, size of a door. Like Louis the 14th meets Salvador Dali. I have been wondering what I am going to do with the 1800 kilos of furniture and personal possessions I shipped from Australia. I have found these things have a way of working themselves out but as yet I can’t see how this one will. Landlords here don’t want to take things out as they don’t know where to store them. My apartment is just round the corner from the Opera, which is one of the main landmarks in Yerevan. It was built in 1933 and has the Aram Khachaturian Concert hall at the back. Most people know Khachaturians Sabre Dance, it goes: DA DA DA DA DA DA DA DA DA DUH DA DA DA DUH DA DA DA DUH DA DA DA DUHDA DA DA DE DOODOO DOODOO DOODOO DOODOO WEEOO DEEOO WEEOO DA DA DA DA DA DA DA DA DA DUH DA DA DA DUH DA DA DA DUH DA DA DA DUHDA DA DA DE DOODOO DOODOO DOODOO DOODOO WEEOO DEEOO WEEOO BUM BUM BUM BUM BUM BUM BUM BUM,

I am going to the opera tomorrow night to hear Dmitri Hvorostovsky, who can forget his duet with Soprano Anna Netrebko in St Petersburg. I was lucky to get a ticket.

Swan lake skating

From my balcony: Swan lake, ice skating in winter



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History and Me

Armenians being Marched by Turkish soldiers near Van 1915

Postcard from Yerevan

I stumbled on the rocky ground but managed to grab hold of the piping rail and pull myself up the grid iron steps to the rear landing of the carriage, just as the train picked up speed.  And it was only then that I saw Jane running towards the train along the track from the station. Alongside I helped her up and she said the men at the station had told her to wait until the train came back again from the siding. They took her to the Station Masters office and some of the men had tried to rape her. She wrestled herself free, jumped off the platform and ran.

That was over 30 years ago. Then the Shah was still in Iran, it was before the siege of the American embassy, before Gorbachev and Regan, the fall of the Berlin Wall, before the collapse of the Soviet Union, Bosnia, Rwanda and the genocides, before Bin Laden, Al Qaeda, 9/11 and falling men. Before the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq. Before mobile phones and laptops and IPods and 24 hour news. But we had seen lots of stretchered bodies in black and white on the nightly TV news in Vietnam and otherworldly kids with big eyed scull heads, pathetic skinny arms and dazed squatting women in cloth in Ethiopia in 73. And the camera usually showed some soldier with a bandage over his eye to be sent home or a starving woman in a tent with a bowl and made some comment like, “and these are the lucky ones”. I have noticed that reporters in tragic places still say this. It must be taught in journalism school. Or maybe we have a luck rescue gene in our unconscious that emerges to give us hope or let us off the hook.

Jane and I were backpacking from Australia across Asia to London. We had been gone over a year now. We went overland and through Afghanistan before the Russians had taken over militarily but there were signs of Russian influence everywhere. And in the summer of 79 in the Afghan countryside there were messy lines of men signing up for the army. Most young and some old with henna stained beards, turbaned and in baggy olive green, sand beige, kurta pyjamas, squatting in the precious shade of skinny poplar tree rows. We stayed a few days in Bamiyan north west of Kabul by the old silk road, within the high walls of a place that for centuries camel trains stopped for rest and supplies. We had stood atop the 50 metre high Buddha and taken in the valley below. Settlements of mud walled compounds joined together like a pencil maze and some like medieval forts. Small farms a few green trees stark against the beige and grey landscape. That was before the Taliban had blown these statues to rubble.

We took a bus to Herat and on to Tehran where we boarded the Lake Van Express, which in those days went all the way to Istanbul. The trip was 4 days and in Turkey at Van on the eastern shore of Lake Van the carriages were shunted in to the bowels of a ship. The crossing took four hours then the carriages were hitched to locomotive on the western side for the remaining 2 days to Istanbul. It was just before the locomotive re-coupled that Jane needed to go to the toilet and so she was still on the ship when the carriages were connected and hauled a mile up the line. And me not thinking that the train was actually going back jumped off rather than leave Jane and I only barely managed to clamber back on when it finally reached the switch point and reversed back to Tatvan station.

But then I knew nothing of Van and its dreadful history or that the fathers of the men who had tried to rape Jane would likely have lived there when the killing of tens of thousands of Armenians living on the wrong side of a line drawn by colonial interests. And in 1915 Orders out of the fearful minds of Jevdet Bey the Governor of Van and Enver Pasha the Minister for the Ottoman Army, lead to the Armenians who had lived here for 1000 years being butchered and driven on death marches while the soldiers took their valuables and neighbours stole their houses. And those who somehow survived became refugees in Syria, Lebanon, and to every corner of the world. All together around 600,000 Armenians were slaughtered outright and a further 400,000 women, children, elderly and infirm died on the death marches to the Syrian Desert. Over 150,000 Armenian children became orphans. In the USA, France and England there were some who wrote about what was happening but nothing was done. And the Turks have never admitted their part so to this day there is little healing on either side. Hardly a family in Armenia didn’t suffer loss.

I went to the Genocide Memorial in Yerevan and the most moving thing for me was walking through the fir trees planted before the museum itself. The haunting music of the duduk, a reed flute carved from an apricot branch is piped through these trees and it reaches into you like the plea of a child, audible tears of the heart.   Yesterday during some prayers at a work retreat and thinking about our world, we sang the following song as a wake.

“If the war goes on
and the children die of hunger,
and the old men weep
for the young men are no more,
and the women learn
how to dance without a partner
who will keep the score?

If the war goes on
and the truth is taken hostage;
and new terrors lead
to the need to euphemise,
when the calls for peace
are declared unpatriotic,
who’ll expose the lies?

If the war goes on
and the daily bread is terror,
and the voiceless poor
take the road as refugees;
when a nation’s pride
destines millions to be homeless,
who will heed their pleas?

If the war goes on
and the rich increase their fortunes
and the arms sales soar
as new weapons are displayed,
when a fertile field
turns to-no-man’s-land tomorrow,
who’ll approve such trade?

If the war goes on
will we close the doors to heaven,
if the war goes on,
will we breach the gates of hell;
if the war goes on,
will we ever be forgiven,
if the war goes on…. “
The pastor said afterwards; let’s just take a few minutes to cry. I felt the Armenian genocide like a wound. That song is true of this genocide and it speaks true to Afghanistan and Iraq as it does to the 13 shot dead in Washington while I was there last week and the deaths yesterday at the Westland Mall in Nairobi, where I have often been on other Saturday afternoons to see a movie.

Much of the Armenian countryside is rugged and parched dry in summer, steep stony mountains and wretched twisted trees and brittle bushes hanging on for life. Some friends and I drove to the Geghard Monastery built in the 4th Century and once housing the spear that lanced Jesus on the cross. The road wound its way through little villages, green oasis, filled with fruit trees and every kind of vegetable which are for sale on the roadside stalls. Elderly woman sit beside trestle tables stacked with jars of all sizes filled with pickled fruits and vegetables all colours and shapes. And my friends fiancé says that I should never buy pickled goods from the road side stalls, as there are frequent outbreaks of salmonella poisoning and as she said, “whole families has been massacred by the pickled vegetables and all ended up dead”.

One Saturday afternoon I sat with my friend Suren’s extended  Armenian family around a table of local food all prepared on the table we ate at or from the wood barbecue in the garden amongst the fruit trees. I avoided several dishes lest I too be massacred by a pickled vegetable. My friend’s father, he no English and me with no Russian or Armenian, toasted each other and the family with the 62% Cognac he had made from the apricots of the trees in the garden under the balcony on which we now sat. He instructed that with each toast and there were many, I take the shot glass full, swallow it in one and hold my breath. The warmth of the alcohol and the essence of the apricot were like shots of apricot sunshine. And then he told me he would sing. He said there are only seven songs in Armenia and they are all about honey and bears. Then starting low and in the tones of a lullaby he began to sing. I recorded it and later asked a friend to translate and the words are:

A kind, faithful and virtuous friend

Makes one shine like the sun

If you have a faithful friend by your side

You will pass through darkness like in the daylight

Even if you sacrifice your life to a friend it will not be enough

A true friend is just like a torch and will always help you to go up the stairs of life

When attacked by enemies, a brave friend is like a sword of protection

If you have a close friend you will never feel old.

I feel it such a privilege to be here, doing something I believe in with people who believe in me. And I think this is really at the heart of human development; believing it is possible that something can be done to make our lives better and believing in each other to make that difference come alive. I am thinking that my work in local economic development is as much about finding new ways to be friends as anything else.


Lunch on Suren’s balcolny

1 Words & music John L. Bell & Graham Maule, music John L. Bell, copyright @ 1999, 2001, 2002 WGRG, Iona Community Glasgow G2 3DH, Scotland.

(Yerevan September 2013)

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