I’ve just finished a week’s work in Armenia working with folk who are trying to encourage community engagement, citizenship and social accountability in a post-Communist environment. it was an interesting and challenging experience.
Some impressions on Armenia. I have absolutely NO IDEA how the pedestrian crossing system works in Yerevan (the capital) – green lights for pedestrians seems to be a signal for cars to try and run you down! Mt Ararat (not actually in modern-day Armenia) looms over the city – visible only at times through the haze and smog that blankets the city. Surely the number of smokers in Yerevan contibute to the smog! I’ve done enough passive smoking during the last week to last me for a very long time. The north of the country is stunningly beautiful with gorges and mountains, forests, eagles and ancient churches built in impossible places.
I’ve worked in many places where time has a meaning of its own. The Armenians have it down to an art form. I had to draw heavily on my open space principles to be flexible enough to deal with the fluid approaches to time and to get through the considerable amount of work that I was charged with delivering. And I also had to draw on my improv principles to respond to ‘offers’ made by the participants.
I learnt about the Armenian tradition of toasts over dinner – the role of the toastmaster – and the many uses of vodka. It’s so cheap that it makes a very good anti-freeze to use in your windscreen washers apparently during the very cold and harsh winter.
Being in Armenia was like living in parallel universes. One moment it was like southern Europe – cafes, long, languid meals in the dying heat of the day; other times it was like being transported back to subsistence agriculture, with people gathering fruits from the many fruit trees that scatter the plains, using donkeys to transport them and their boon back to their villages. And shepherds with flocks of woolly sheep or herds of cattle. And then there’s the Communist history that’s hard to miss. Huge, ugly, blocky, concrete building falling into disrepair; old men selling their bits and pieces at the market, all displayed immaculately in order of descending size – drill bits, spanners, bits of metal, coils, toilet seats, knives – you name it. And playing dominoes or backgammon while patiently waiting to pack it all up and return the following weekend.