Friday, September 10, 2010

In Yerevan, it’s dangerous to get used to the quiet

Photo: Wikimedia Commons

My apartment is my sanctuary. Every day, I come home from work, tired from cycling and stressed from the sort of the day that only come if you work at a news agency. I realize how much I crave that moment: that moment of stepping into my place, quiet and serene, where I can remove — both the physical and metaphorical — layers of the work day I carry with me, jump into the shower and de-compress.

Perhaps it’s not so much the nature of the work that I find stressful (which, of course, it can be), but the environment in which I work.

I work in a rented unit that’s part of a large apartment complex in a busy part of Yerevan. By large, I don’t so much mean that the building is tall, but that there are many buildings connected to each other overlooking a central space that can be considered primarily to be a parking lot. The room I work in has lots of windows which is great for natural light, but not so great when it comes to looking into your neighbors’ windows and hearing every single argument and noise coming not only from the neighboring units, but also from outside.

Every day, at least 2 or 3 children call for their mothers from the concrete square that though is mainly a parking lot, it’s also a children’s playing area, a spot for an impromptu game of backgammon between older unemployed men, and the spot from which watermelons are sold out of the trunk of a car as a man yells “Fine watermelons! 100 dram! Delicious watermelons!”

Come to think of it, I haven’t heard that man in a while, but over the span of a few days not too long ago, I heard the price of watermelon go down from 120 to 100 to 80 dram per kilo (don’t assume the price is the cost per watermelon — oh, no, it’s the cost per kilo) and my heart went out to the vendor and his business, competing with the low prices offered by supermarket chains.

Apart from children calling out to their mothers (why, by the way, is the intonation always the same so even when it’s a different kid “Mama!” sounds the same?) and women calling out to their husbands or brothers or, surprise, surprise, their children, I have the fortunate opportunity to hear the sound of a vacuum that comes on and off daily while I struggle to get that news piece online, or, say, find the best translation into English for a particular Armenian word.

At first, I thought that our neighbors followed the adage “cleanliness is next to godliness” and had a penchant for vacuuming EVERY DAY, but it turns out that’s not the case: rather, there’s a guy operating a car cleaning service out of a garage right below our window. And as if it’s not enough that I have to hear the sound of a vacuum every day (trust me, you can only imagine how lovely silence sounds after the vacuum is turned off), our dear friend likes to turn on the music from whatever car he’s cleaning at the time and entertain the neighbors with the latest Armenian rabiz hit song.

Despite the party soundtrack, I don’t have the urge to dance.

So you can imagine how, in comparison, my apartment feels like a sanctuary. And yet, in Yerevan, where one is inundated with sounds and smells at every turn, I think, it’s dangerous to get used to quiet.

And now, I sit here in my apartment with the window open, overlooking yet another residential courtyard (a hayat as it’s known), usually quiet, but today there are contractors working on adding another room to an apartment across the way and the sound of the circular saw is a reminder that no matter where you may be in Yerevan, you cannot separate yourself from its sights and sounds...


  1. I know exactly what you mean when you say that your apartment is your sanctuary. I feel that way every time I unlock my front door and enter my home.

    But I also know what you mean when you say there's no getting away from sounds in Yerevan. I'm writing this from home, hearing the sound of an electrical saw from one side and drilling from the construction site on the other side. Sometimes, mostly in the evening, there are moments when it is absolutely quiet around my building. Those are the moments I notice and cherish.

  2. Myrthe jan, I agree. Wholeheartedly. Thank you so much for your presence and your words ;)

  3. i would like to learn Eastern Armenian language can you suggest some good websites

  4. Hi Ashish, I'm sorry but I don't know of any specific websites to learn Eastern Armenian. I'm sure a quick search online will yield some helpful results :)