Wednesday, January 19, 2011

Somewhere between every day mundane and every day extra ordinary

This morning as I boarded my Marshootni to Yerevan I noticed how easy it has become to slip into this Peace Corps robe, to become homogenous with the Armenian culture and to almost fit in it, in fact I’d almost say that life here has become mundane. Sure people in Spitak still stare at me all the time, but at least now when they stare someone explains to them I am the American English teacher. I know people still think its weird when I walk into a hanoot with Sophie tucked into my bag, but now they just excuse it as an American custom. I no longer have to get on to praying to God that I read the sign right and am going to the right place, I know where the van is going by looking at the driver. I have begun to figure things out here and it’s amazing to not feel so lost all of the time. I’d dare say I know the marshootni times better than most of the locals in Spitak.
I now know to always sit in the window seat, as you can carve out your own space there. I know never to sit by a young man if I have a choice, not only because I will be amoted, but because a 2 hour marshootni ride trying to avoid the shuffle of someone’s feet as they attempt to play footsies with you, is not preferable. I know to put my ear phones on when I don’t want to be bothered and to sit by a tatik if I want to talk. Yes I’d say I have Armenian transportation down at this point, or so I’d thought.

One thing I didn’t know, I guess someone forgot to explain to me, is that fist fighting is perfectly acceptable form of communication on a Marshootni… I wish I would of known that today as myself and the other 15 passangers of the Spitak line traveled down the road up North…
What started as a normal Marshootni ride with my least favorite driver, yes I have favorite drivers now, suddenly turned wrong when a taxi cab pulled up alongside us and signaled for us to pull over. Crap, I thought, just what I need a friggen flat tire…
But I noticed something strange as we pulled over onto the side of the road; the taxi was pulling over as well. “Well at least they are going to help us” I thought to myself as I turned up the sound on my earphones, believing we had a long wait ahead of us. I watched as a man got out of the taxi and began walking to the van door. The driver did not budge, just sat patiently waiting. He must have chased us down in the taxi to get on the marshootni I thought, annoyed because there clearly were not any empty seats for a new comer. I watched as the man opened the van door and climbed into the back. He yelled something, as he came my way. I turned my ear phones down and looked up as the man was standing over me his fist flying toward the man sitting behind me. Confusion delays my memory here because I didn’t really understand what was happening, but somewhere around punch number 4 or 5 a scream escaped my lips. What the hell is happening, I think I said. No one moved, no one tried to help the young boy who was being beat. I looked pleadingly toward the driver, I don’t know if he took mercy on me or the boy who was being beat but he began to yell at the man to leave. The man took a few steps back, yelled at the boy again and turned to exit the marshootni, but not before a hand flew over my seat to grab the man. The boy wanted his revenge; he leaped up to go after the assaulter but was pushed back.
The man ran into the waiting taxi, and they drove off. I sat in my seat, mouth wide open, too confused to be scared. Did a taxi really just chase us down to assist a man in beating another man? Did my driver have any idea this was going to happen? Why didn’t anyone say anything? Why did no one stop it? Was I just dreaming about an episode of the sopranos? Really what the hell just happened?
I wish I could answer any of these questions but I can’t. We simply got back on the road and made the two hour drive, no one saying a single word. If anything more people stared at me for screaming than they did at the boy who was beat… Just goes to show, no matter what happens here, I am still the strange American and nothing I do goes un-noticed and nothing will ever be normal to me here.


  1. Wow, I would have screamed too. Or kicked the guy doing the beating. In this case it's perfectly alright to be an American and not fit in. Fitting in would be supporting the thugs action and that would never be right. I don't know why that happened, I'm just glad your o.k. Love and Miss you always your American mother xxoo P.S. it's a good thing you don't have your mothers bad mouth, it would have made the situation that much worse!

  2. Hi Alyssa! many times accounts of wrongdoings are settled that way in passionate Armenia. They will not break bones of each others, or make bleed, or give serious damage, but like you saw, a careful beating which if it was not in a bus may involve also the legs. I would agree with you that the driver was careless since the passengers were his responsibility, not only the boy but you also, as with ladies around that aggressor should have behaved more humanly and left the settling of accounts to another time and another place.

    In market Vernissage of Yerevan you might come across a group of sellers surrounding a thief they have caught stealing and giving him punches and kicks so he will never come to that area or steal from them again. If there is a cop around he will stop it and arrest the thief, but if a cop is not around then they take the law into their own hands (Ha ha! start teaching your students that it is wrong to take the law into their own hands). But foreigners have nothing to worry as Armenians there will NEVER treat them the same as they do their kins in settling accounts, they will forgive the foreigners and respect them.

    During the disturbances of March 2008 in Yerevan, I saw in TV, near the municipal building of Yerevan, a group of civilian protesters surrounding a lone police officer and giving him punches and kicks, then after a short while they stopped and the policeman got up and walked away.

    So remember you are in Caucasus, and not only in Armenia, but in other regions, they behave the same way and have same customs, this is not something particular to Armenia and Armenians of Caucasus.