- Independent Journalism From Today's Armenia
 May 2, 2003 

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

Some stories you don't tell because you don't like the way they end. I guess this is one of those. Some, you tell in hope that confession will lead to redemption. I guess this is one of those, too . . .

Just behind the Opera House on Sayat Nova Avenue, the man stood sort of leaning against but not into the large garbage barrel. He was propped on his right elbow and was holding a piece of bread in his hand.

In thousands of coffee shops from airports to shopping malls the bread would come in its own envelope, served up on tongs and priced to include sanitary conditions. It would be called a baguette.

This baguette had been culled from a trash heap and the man was using a knife to scrape greenish mold off the crust. He had a plastic bag of bulging whatever at his feet. He was wrapped in a coat and wore a watchman's cap, even though it was May 1 - May Day - and everyone else was celebrating spring.

I took all this in on a single glance without slowing my pace. It is what you learn, when you've lived in the West: Look. Ignore. Move on. And for God's sake don't encourage "them" by giving money.

Living abroad changes perspective. Should.

I stopped 50 feet down the sidewalk, realizing that street people in this city have inherited the ill-repute of those Westerners are more familiar with. Don't give them money; they'll just buy drugs or liquor (as if we've never done either).

Those are here, too. But that was not the man at that dumpster. Still, I didn't turn around. Don't make a spectacle, I reasoned (but very likely thinking "don't encourage 'them'").

I walked on and sat in a comfortable café with nice music and ate a $2 sandwich made from fresh bread.

Six years ago I wrote a travel piece about Armenia for US newspapers. I remember writing of my astonishment at not seeing any beggars in such an impoverished country.

Times have changed. So should some attitudes. One has . . .

Outcast shouldn't equal outlaw. Nor should honest desperation bear the burden of illicit opportunism.

I've passed her probably 500 times since living in Yerevan. She sits on Tumanyan Street with a tin can in front of her folded legs. A 10-dram note is paper-clipped to the can, as if her station were not obvious. She never looks up, and I've always been glad about that. Don't look "them" in the eye.

On my way to the newsroom this morning she was there, cross-legged in front of a night club that advertised dancing girls.

She wore a faded gold scarf and a brown shawl and still didn't look up, but nodded, when I put money in her can.

It was such a self-conscious act that it shamed me.

I don't know what I was trying to buy. Whatever I got was short of absolution. That's waiting, I hope, beside a dumpster on Sayat Nova Avenue.

  Don't Tread In Here
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  Photo of the week
  Gone. Forgotten?
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Gone. Forgotten?

May Day was yesterday. Time to haul out the icons of the past and remember "the good old days".



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