Crooked Cupboards

by Lilit Markosian, AEN volunteer

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To start, let me introduce myself: my name is Lilit, and I am a high school senior from the United States who has come to Yerevan  to study and experience a general change of environment. One of the main goals of my stay here in Armenia is to spend my time doing something meaningful and worthwhile. For this reason, I decided to volunteer for the Armenian Environmental Network and started work last week. During this short period of time, I have already learned a tremendous amount about the environment, and have been exposed to issues here in a way which I never expected. I am really looking forward to the coming months, and hope that my work here will be a significant contribution to AEN’s objectives. If you wish to get to know me a bit better, you are welcome to read this short piece which I wrote for my own personal blog about Armenia. Nice to meet you!

The first morning in Yerevan, I went with my father to visit my grandparents who also live in the city. The moment I stepped out onto the street, I realized how much I had missed this place. It was Saturday, so the Bazaar which functions only on weekends was up and running in the street. Colorful hats and ornamental rugs contrasted the white snow and fog of the morning beautifully. All throughout the market, Armenian music sounded from various vendor’s stalls, and people bustled about with the intention of staying warm. Four subway stops and a short uphill climb later, we were walking through the back alleys of Yerevan. As we neared my grandparents’ building, I marveled at the beautiful scenery that surrounded me. The ground was lightly covered in soft, white snow which crunched underneath my boots. On both sides of the street, five-story tufa buildings stood somberly, a disarray of balconies climbing up their sides. Everything looked worn and aged, yet the winter scene was beautiful and inviting.

When I stepped into my grandparent’s tiny fourth floor apartment, a sense of familiarity rushed over me as it always does. There, across from the front door, stood a dresser in the same place it always stands. The living room walls were still covered with the same beige, faded wallpaper, and in a corner stood a large china cabinet filled with crystal vases and porcelain tea cups: the very ones I used to play with as a child. My grandparents’ apartment looked the same, smelled the same, felt the same, and was in every way warm and comforting. In honor of our arrival, my grandmother had prepared a small feast, and so we  sat down at the old kitchen table, ready to eat.

While I sat there in my grandmother’s blue-tiled kitchen, I ran through memories of eating breakfast with my cousins, playing poker with buttons while we ate. Filled with bittersweet nostalgia, I scanned the walls in order to soak in every detail, especially those which never change. Before anything else, I noticed that the doors of the white kitchen cupboards were awfully crooked. For some reason, these misaligned pieces of wood made me incredibly happy. You see, in Armenia one can always rely on things being broken or badly put together. I know that does not sound very nice, but let me explain the beauty of it. This country is full of superficial imperfections: the amount of trash exceeds the capacity of trash cans; abandoned construction sites and depleted buildings are everywhere; drivers simply do not believe in traffic lights; and everything is always dusty. Many scorn these details, but I love them. Funnily enough, I enjoy being here in the rubble, the disorganization,  the dirty and busy streets. I feel alive when I am here, and much closer to reality than I do when I am in California. To my eyes, imperfections are what make Armenia special. I find it refreshing that there is a place in this world where perfection is not sought after, or really even thought of. After all, life is never ideal, and this country gladly acknowledges that fact.

I am not saying that Armenia should not strive to improve its traffic laws and waste programs, of course it should. However, I find it remarkable, that even though Armenia has numerous economic and political struggles, there is something like a deep joy in the spirit of the country. Yes, the people complain about absolutely everything, but at the same time they are joyous, always celebrating something or another, and are generally proud to be Armenian. The culture here values family, and life itself, more than anything materialistic. That is why these people are able to function, with relative happiness, in a country that is broken and corrupt. Perhaps you will not agree, but I find that to be quite beautiful.