Friday, January 28, 2011

What to do when the lights go out

So I came home from work, walked in the apartment, and switched on the lights (as I usually do). And what happened? Nothing. Yes, nothing. No lights, no electricity, no humming sound from the fridge. Oh oh, what did I do? Quietly backing out and closing the front door, I rang the doorbell of my next door neighbor.

Me: “Um, my lights don’t turn on, do you have electricity by any chance?” (Thinking the electricity’s off in the whole building perhaps, but asking a stupid question as I can clearly see the lights are on in her apartment.)

Lovely neighbor that she is, Gayane helps me troubleshoot the situation. After a few questions, she gets to the kicker:

Gayane: “Do you have any outstanding payments on your electricity bill?”

Tuesday, January 18, 2011

What Happens When You Can't Go Back?

What happens when you can't go back? Not because you physically can't go back, but because you're no longer able to adapt, to that pace, to that lifestyle that is North America. What do you do then?
(some thoughts after meeting with a fellow repat and strolling the streets of Yerevan)

Saturday, January 15, 2011

Being the Bridge Connecting Armenia to the Diaspora & Vice-Versa

Probably the hardest thing I find about living in Armenia is being The Bridge. The Bridge between Armenians living in Armenia and those in the Diaspora (interestingly, this feeling of being a bridge doesn’t arise in quite the same way with non-Armenians).

Having just returned from a few weeks visiting family in Toronto, I feel like I have to make time to visit various family members in my first week back. Honestly, I haven’t had a day off from family (and family drama). The expectation of news from abroad and most likely gifts and — ideally — money. I am an unofficial Fed Ex employee, Western Union agent, and carrier pigeon all rolled into one. None of these are roles I particularly enjoy or wished for myself. But, alas, it comes with being Armenian and visiting the homeland (more so if you have family in Armenia).

I have spent the better part of my week back meeting with family and sharing details of family in Toronto. How can I explain to someone who’s never lived or even been abroad how life is not only difficult in Yerevan, but elsewhere too? How it’s colder in Toronto, takes 1–2 hours to get around (especially in traffic) and the sheer volume and variety of products in stores is enough to make your head spin (not in a good way). How it’s not what you imagine it to be, though I understand how life in Yerevan is not perfect either.

Being in Toronto makes me miss Yerevan and being in Yerevan makes me long for the smooth sidewalks and roadways of Toronto, government agencies that function and the availability of eggs (and other items) in stores year round.

But who to tell about the wonderful Yerevan weather (more sun and always much, much warmer than Toronto), the 10 minutes it takes to get around town (and, if you choose to, you can even walk or bike it), and the people who call you ջան (jan) only a minute after meeting you and who make you feel like you’re family.

The important thing I’ve realized is to appreciate the beauty and make the most of wherever you happen to be. The other important thing I’ve realized is though I understand and empathize with my family in Toronto and my family in Yerevan, I find it difficult to explain the experiences and viewpoint of the other to them. Too often I take on the burden of explaining, but no avail. In the end, the only thing I achieve is burn out.

Have you experienced this feeling of being a bridge between two cultures or two communities? If so, how do you deal with the issue? Do you manage or do you feel burned out (like I do)?