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 December 13, 2002 
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A non-Armenian's view of life in his adopted home


The first snow of the year is always nice to see. The blanket of whiteness puts a hush over the city and a smile on people's faces. Scarves and sweaters, hats and gloves are pulled out of closets and people look like bundles of clothes waddling down the sidewalks. We know the holiday season is here finally. With our mild fall this year, it seemed to take forever.

The holiday season is a time of happiness because we spend lots of time with family and friends. Offices close. For the most part, work ceases. Like most foreigners living and working in Armenia, I will be returning to my home for a badly needed visit to family and friends.

I have a lot of catch up to do and just a short time to do it. My sister just had a baby that she wanted for a long time. My brother's children will be home from their universities. I need to help my daughter move into a new apartment and my son move to another city where he begins a job after the New Year.

In the midst of this, I will be calling and meeting with old friends, telling them where I've been living for the past few years. "Armenia?" they will say, and when I explain where it is, they'll smile and nod and say, "that's nice," without an idea of what I'm talking about. I'm used to it.

Of course, before I leave Armenia, I'll make my necessary visit to the vernisage market where I will look for gifts I can take back for everyone. This being my third year in Armenia, I've bought all that is possible to get there: Nardi boards, happiness dolls, traditional Armenian hats, matruska dolls, hand painted and hand-carved boxes, ceramic salt sacks, pepper grinders, silver jewelry, and lately a few rugs. And of course, bottles of Armenian brandy.

While the holiday season is a time of joy, it is also a time of sadness. Something has passed, something is gone. When we take time to celebrate, we mark the passing of another year. We think about all the good and all the bad that happened. We think about all that could have changed, but didn't, and all that could have been done, but was not. We think about all the unfulfilled hopes and dreams.

This is also a time to look forward to the coming year, and this is something that fills everyone with hope for the future. Armenia has cause for hope. In the past couple of years, I have seen marked progress, and I see no reason for this progress not to accelerate.

With the help of a few wealthy Diaspora who truly care about Armenia, life is improving. Kirk Krikorian has insured that the sidewalks are repaired and the streets are paved. This alone is enough to raise the spirits of all Yerevan residents.

But there's more. There is new construction all around the city. The streets are congested with more cars. New stores are opening all over town. The pace of life has quickened, because there is more to do. Armenia has a presidential election soon after the new year, and it looks like Robert Kocharyan will be easily re-elected. While not all like him or agree with his policies, political stability is a requirement of economic growth.

Still too many Armenians struggle to survive; too many pick up sticks and branches from the parks so they can have some heat and too many collect bottles to sell so they can eat. But there is reason for hope and this is the season for hope. It may be too soon to say that Armenia has turned the corner, but that time is fast approaching.

(Peter Eichstaedt, who lives in Yerevan, is a writer and journalist and directs a media training center in Armenia.)


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