Why Armenia?

My sister fears that I will spend my old age gibbering incontinently in her outhouse. My decision to leave the world of employment in favour of two years unpaid in Armenia has caused her to sputter more than usually loudly about stability and security, pensions and national insurance. I can’t say I blame her, for I am notoriously and chronically improvident. She says “we are getting to a fair old age and there’s not much time”.  I agree—and that’s why I’m going to Armenia, because if not now, then when?

I would love to tell you that I have long been a student of all things Armenian; understand the political, geographic and economic nuances of the Azerbaijan-Turkey-Iran nexis; and am close to Yer Man in Yerevan but none of this is true. Armenia chose me, and I am grateful, eager, and more than a little surprised.

The whole thing started with my application to the U.S. Peace Corps last January, shortly after I became a U.S. citizen. (I expect I’ll say more about this another time.) When a placement person emailed and said the Country Director in Armenia was interested in my resume, I was momentarily thrilled, much as with a Tinder match: “I can do this. See? I really am desirable…This could be the start of something big.” Here, the comparison to Tinder ends, for unlike most right swipers, I decided to follow through.  I looked up Armenia on the map, and swotted up a little (of course they don’t speak French stupid, that’s Algeria) and looked for stuff we had in common. I came up with a shared love of lamb, a long-standing acquaintance with the ways of the Christian church, and familiarity with intense and destructive border disputes (did I mention I was brought up in Belfast in the 1970s?).  In the last little while (100 years or so), Armenia has survived a Turkish 1.5 million plus massacre that wiped out whole families and towns, leaving terrible, still-livid scars;  soul-destroying Soviet domination; the emigration of millions, plus the loss of its iconic mountain, for Ararat now has a Turkish address. Armenia may not have its sorrows to seek, but it keeps on trucking. I like the sound of it.

I am going because I love the kind of work I do, and the difference it makes. I flourish when organisations and people bloom. I am going because my own children don’t need me much anymore, and perhaps someone else’s do. I am going because I want to see the iconic Ararat for myself. I know that wherever I go to, I bring my whole self with me–there’s no escaping the bad bits– but I like starting again and enjoy building a life from scratch, even when I make the same mistakes, and always add some new ones for good measure. I am a bit of a tourist in other people’s lives–the narrator not the protagonist, and an observer even when I am the spectacle. This is why I find the structure of my Armenian adventure so appealing. I will be living with a family I don’t yet know, working with people whose language I don’t yet speak, and finding my way by my wits. In observing, absorbing and interpreting the ways of those I will live with, I should come to know myself better.  I like change, and uncertainty tests my mettle. My sister is riled by my restlessness, and says I get bored too easily. Curious and questing, I call it.   She  will be rolling her eyes as she reads this—time that would be better spent installing an outside toilet, and thinking about how she can get a shower and a bed in the shed.

Every day I hear a little more about the life I can look forward to in Armenia. Not all of it is appealing.  A lot of people are smokers, hungry dogs have been known to bay on street corners, and Soviet concrete dulls the traditional beauty of Yerevan’s pink stone buildings. It snows. A lot. All winter. But there are wide streets, beautiful sunsets, big skies, cafes with great coffee, and no shortage of pomegranates. There are ancient monasteries and kebabs and brandy and board games. If I am lucky, there will be more friends, fresh purpose, and new marvels: language, tastes and colours. Why Armenia? Why not!