- Independent Journalism From Today's Armenia
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 July 18 , 2003 

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

Once when I wrote an essay about trying to understand the Genocide, a reader said (warned?) that I was "really becoming Armenian". I suppose it was intended as a compliment. In any case it showed some insight.

But if there is truth in such evaluation of the influence of this place on this outsider, then my "becoming Armenian" might better be revealed in the following unflattering but undeniable truth:

I hoard plastic bags. There, I said it. The first step toward recovery at any Armenians Anonymous meeting. "Hello. My name is Hovhaness. I collect cellophane."

Go in any kitchen in this country and you'll come to understand that the red, blue and gold of the National Flag is no more symbolic of the people, than the sickly green and yellow of low-grade plastic. Look, usually on a top shelf, or perhaps hooked onto a kitchen doorknob and you'll see the stash.

If you live in the Environmentally Correct West - specifically in places like California, or places in the UK that are trying to be like California, except with bad weather - the bag thing may not seem so odd.

You'd call it a "recycling bin". Here, though, if the bag bundle had a name it would be more like "Cheap way to tote stuff."

Go to any major airport, train station or bus depot and if you're looking for an Armenian, look first at the hands. Plastic bag? Armenian. Specifically so if the bag is printed in English on one side and Farsi (Iran seems to have the corner on poly-vinyl-chloride import here) on the other.

I've got a bag of bags in my kitchen. Next to the sugar canister and strawberry preserves, it bulges like a badly stuffed pillow. I know that it wasn't there when I moved in, and I don't remember consciously starting it. But like learning to say "no problem" as an answer for everything here, it just happened.

And while I'm in a confessional mood, I stipulate to another sorry fact: I have sometimes planned produce shopping based on which markets give the best plastic bags. (They've got really high-quality bags at the corner of . . . No, I'm keeping it to myself.)

When I first moved here, I found it curious that while carrying groceries or whatever along the street, passersby always stared at the load. For some time I thought they were trying to snoop on what the goofy American had purchased. I've come to believe, though, that they were checking out the quality of the bag.

A sort of common man cell phone, plastic bag quality is something of a status symbol.

Top of the line are the ones from Duty Free airport shops, followed closely by the ones advertising American cigarettes or French perfume. Those are the ones I keep deep in my bag of bags; they're not coming out for just any old transport need.

If you haven't spent time here, you probably think I'm making this up. So I offer the following anecdote as defense of my cultural hypothesis:

Earlier this week an associate and I went to the bank to withdraw monthly expenses for the newsroom.

"Should we take a plastic bag to put the money in," I said to him. These are not words I've ever said concerning an act of commerce abroad. But even that is beside the point and less evidence of the bag influence on this society than the following:

My colleague replied to me: "They'll probably give us one at the bank. Anyway, I think I've got one."

Just like that. Do I need to tell you that he is Armenian?

According to Agnes
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Click to enlarge.


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  Photo of the week
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Click on the photo above to enlarge.



In a village near Tsakhkadzor an Armenian burro finds shelter from the Armenian summer.



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