Stowarzyszenie Projektów Międzynarodowych „INPRO”

I have to admit that Armenians are the kindest people I have met.

Warsaw Chopin airport is said to be unusually close to the city center. The view I saw in the plane window during takeoff was nothing comparing to the sights at the Zvartnots Airport. It seemed like we were going to crash into a district. Or maybe that was just my imagination after the journey and waking up at 3 a.m. to catch the flight.

It is hard to surprise me with things like absence of timetables on bus stops, abundance of fresh fruit and 24 hour shops, timers on street lights, taxi drivers not wearing seat belts, and policemen trying (and failing) to navigate the rush hour traffic. I got used to some peculiarities of Yerevan big city life when living in Moscow, Russia and Astana (now Nursultan), Kazakhstan. What I was worried about before coming was the Armenian alphabet. Fortunately, street names in the city are also written in English, and most products have information in Russian on them. I soon started to feel at home.

 

Unfortunately for me, Armenia is a country of coffee and tobacco lovers and late-night gatherings. At Espaces, my workplace, we had an average of two cups per person per working day. You can get about ten versions of coffee seeds in the shops and have them ground there. All men smoke outside, on the buses, in bars, and everywhere else, which is hard to get used to but understandable considering the price of cigarettes.

Barely anyone starts their work before 9 a.m. Even public transportation starts operating at 7 a.m. When I got up, the city was empty and cold. It the evening, it was hard to make my way among well-dressed cafe visitors in the city center. During the warmest nights, there was a mysterious source of music heard from my window that started playing in the evening. I was asleep at the time it was turned off.

I find it very uncomfortable to be approached and asked questions when walking by myself in the city. Foreigners attract attention outside of Yerevan’s city center, especially foreign Russian-speaking young women. Thank goodness I am not blond. The top two questions I was asked while traveling were “Why are you alone?” and “Do you have a husband?” regardless of the gender and age of the person asking. I have to admit that Armenians are the kindest people I have met. Even driving one hour to help a tourist is not a problem for them. It surprised me how Armenians can and want to express their emotions freely for example when greeting friends, telling or listening to stories, or coping with a bus breakdown. My marshrutka from Yerevan to Meghri (about 8-hour drive) did just that and I have never been a part of a more cheerful group of strangers.

Armenia seems tiny, but the driving times are quite large because of the mountains. Temperature and weather variations are also unpredictable. While I traveled across the county, it proved to be the land of endless mountains and countless hidden churches. I’ve always enjoyed the atmosphere of cemeteries and old buildings, and Armenia offers plenty of them. Still, the most stunning view is Mount Ararat overlooking the city of Yerevan.

I tried to learn basic Armenian. 39 letters might seem too much at first, but it’s great that there is a letter for every sound and there is no need to use letter combinations like in Polish and English. The problem is that there are so many similar consonants, half of them between k and r, and the other between t and j. Despite this, it is much more pleasant to listen to Armenian than to some European languages.

I was very lucky to be a part of the team at Espaces. Everyone was kind, helpful, and most importantly shared their food. I was involved in various projects ranging from social innovations to helping refugees, to taking photos of a birthday cake. Since I have no background in youth work or social sciences, at times I was worried about not standing up to the challenge. It was great to be able to contribute even a small part of my time and energy to improve the world a little bit.

I’ve heard about at least five young Polish people who fell in love with Armenia (or Armenians) and decided to stay here. I did not, but I think this is the best recommendation for others to visit the country.

by Olga Jarowska who volunteered for KASA Foundation in Yerevan, between October – December 2019