- Independent Journalism From Today's Armenia
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 December 20, 2002 

A non-Armenian's view of life in his adopted home

Here's the situation:

It is -7 Celsius degrees outside. That's about 18, for you in Fahrenheit world. By any measure, dang cold.

I'm wrapped in multiple layers and looking onto my balcony where snow is deepening on the tile where I was sleeping to stay cool just a couple months ago. I watch the glistening flakes fall like broken panes from heaven's window.

Nalbandian Street is quiet as only snow can make it. Not even the garbage can dogs are stirring and I suspect their fate has been determined by the nose-diving temperature.

There has been no water in my flat for five days, except the bucket full I borrowed from my gracious neighbor.

I'm told the pipes to my flat are frozen. Am told, too, that the person making that determination is too busy to do anything about it.

But that in itself settles a problem for me. For, if I had water, I'd want to heat it for bathing. But if I turn on the water heater, I have to turn off the room heater, because the circuit is too weak to handle both.

Good, one less decision to make. One less question to answer. But one more question raised: What the devil am I doing here?

Thoughts of Southern California sunsets and jacuzzis and tan lines at Christmas have me about a breath away from self pity when my chilled brain goes to 1992-93.

I wasn't even here then, but I've heard the stories so often that I feel like they are my memory too: Electricity an hour or two a day; no cars on the streets because there was no petrol; park benches and even piano legs chopped up for fire wood.

The thoughts don't make me warmer, but they do remind me that I'm just not programmed for survival - not the way these I live among are. Or maybe I've lived too comfortable a life to be naturally resourceful.

In a place I used to live I was the only resident who spoke to the third-floor neighbor. One day I learned why: During the 92-93 winter, he ran electrical wires from out of his window to a main municipal transformer and was getting plenty of power in his flat, but shortcutting the supply for others.

Thinking these things, watching my breath freeze on a window pane and staring into the Yerevan night, I become aware of an unfamiliar light below.

Strung across Nalbandian Street is a thick string of holiday lights. That part isn't new, as I've pondered those lights often from my balcony, trying to guess which decade they come from. They appear to predate independence. On warmer nights and in unflattering condition I have thrown peanuts at them, but during four holiday seasons here I've never seen them burn.

But now they are glowing. Sort of. There's not much that's more pathetic than a string of old holiday lights half lit. A few white bulbs are burning, a few of the faded blue and red ones. Still, I appreciate the effort, and the site almost sends me off on some philosophical rambling about endurance and times changing and the symbolism of holiday lights in a once-dark country, and . . .

And then I start imagining how I might run a line from my flat and splice into the string of lights and maybe get enough electricity to run more than one heater at a time and . . .

And maybe I've been here too long.


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