The Silky Way Adventure
Slices of Armenia
Chapter 2 – The family
Previous chapter: The mayor’s office
The walls had once been white and they were almost completely bare. A calendar, a drawing with a strange picture under it, that was all. This main room was quite big. Opposite the door lay the big wooden chest where the sheets are kept, and which can turn into a bed when needed. Left of it, the small stove, bearing a big pot full of hot water always at the ready. Along the wall on the right, a sort of bed used as a couch and next to it, a little chest with some colourful schoolbags. On the left, a big table . Next to it, a smaller one with a TV on it. And, in the left corner, next to the kitchen door, a washing-machine, one of those strange models that I had used already in Yerevan, and where you have to move yourself the clothes from the washing part to the spinning one. Rather unpractical, but it is still faster than to wash it by hand.
Some ten minutes earlier, we had been standing on the side of the road, at the end of the village, under an « Orange » street lamp. The light it was casting was white, but attached to the pole was a big orange plastic cube with the name of the French telecommunication company on it. It appears that Orange sponsored all the street lamps (and quite a few bus shelters) in Armenia, since you find them in all villages and towns of reasonable size*. They are turned off around midnight.
Artyom’s hopes to be hosted by locals had been harshly dashed at first. We needed a plan, just in case. We decided to ask the next driver to bring us to the next crossroads. There, we would knock at the door of the farmer we had spoken to earlier that day and ask him if we could pitch our tent on his grounds. That was good, we had a solution in case no one offered to share their home. And, in the worst-case scenario – no driver stopping for us – we could always pitch our tent right across the street in that dark orchard. We hardly had time to finish discussing this strategy before Mher stopped for us. On the front seat sat his eight-years-old son. Artyom explained the crossroads, the farmer and Mher offered us to stay with him and his family for the night. « But we’ve just moved in, he warned us, the house is in a pretty bad shape. »
So, there were eight of us in the main room with the once white walls. Four adults and four kids. Ahstot and Aren, eight and four years old. Their parents Mher, thirty-one and Manushak, two years younger than her husband. And Mariam and Artur, eight and twelve, probably some niece and nephew living next door, as, as Artyom explained « it’s often like that in Armenia ».
Manushak seemed truly happy to meet and host us as well. Her smile was beautifully heart-warming, despite her spoiled teeth. She didn’t stop, all night long: giving the kids a bath after Mher had cut the boys’ hair, wiping the wooden part of the floor (the rest was bare concrete), preparing our beds, cooking for us, after Mher had asked us when we had snacked for the last time… It was rather difficult to offer my help, since I knew very little language and didn’t know how most things worked around there. I tried offering my services in the kitchen, but they were categorically refused. As a guest, I was supposed to stay at the table, drink tea and nibble. So, as Artyom was conversing with Mher in Armenian, I began to unwrap my little treasures for the kids, starting with the guitar. This time, I got Artyom to perform, too. Everyone listened attentively to a few pieces in unknown languages (Artyom sings American folks) and we received a very enthusiastic round of applause. The kids tried the guitar, and I tried to teach them some chords. Then, I took the trumpet out. Everyone tried blowing into it, except for Mariam, who was too shy. Laughs guaranteed. Mher was a musician as well, he played some folk clarinet. But unfortunately, he didn’t seem in the mood for performing for us that evening.
After his haircut, Aren, the youngest kid, spent half-an-hour running up and down the room, from the TV to the couch and the couch to the TV. He was obviously used to this, because he could do it grazing the burning stove without ever touching it. Only the big fat cat warming its fur next to it seemed to mind his little running game. I started catching Aren every time time he was rushing by, and then only mock-releasing him, which got him to giggle a lot. I talked to him in French, and there was a quite astonishing moment when he understood exactly what I was asking him, and readily obeyed. The gesturing most likely helped, but I also believe that when using your first language, you have a more refined range of intonations at your disposal to help convey the meaning. The rest of the company was as surprised as me at to witness Aren’s reaction!
Four kids of different ages can be a difficult crowd to keep entertained. I took some pages out of my notebook, and gave them some pens. This drawing activity was a good idea. Artur was as keen as earlier with the guitar. Ashtot was indeed very talented, and Mariam, who had only been waiting for the right activity to finally come out of her shell, very diligent. Only the little one was left. He seemed rather tired from his running around, so I took him on my lap to allow him to watch what the older ones were doing. After a while, he fell asleep right where he was. Before taking him from my arms to put him to bed, the dad called Manushak â€œLook where he fell asleep!â€.
A while later, as the cousins had gone back to their house and the two kids of the house were soundly sleeping, Mher explained that his cheeky little boy was in fact extremely shy. He very seldom gives strangers like me his trust, and that is why they had been so surprised. So, we drank to children, and Mher wished us to have soon our own kids, because children are the most beautiful thing in the world, and his children bring him happiness everyday, however hard life gets. When my turn came to say a toast (it might have been the second time already, my first toast had probably been dedicated to our host’s incredibly kind hospitality), I chose to raise my glass to Manushak, to everything she had done for us all night, hardly sitting down for one second. To her, and to the deliciously simple food she had cooked for us â€“ divine fried potatoes with shallots and some herbs. « It is only when you can cook something amazing with the simplest of ingredients that you are a good cook », I said to close my toast. Manushak was smiling shyly, looking rather embarrassed by so much attention being directed at her, and Mher decided to take the floor before we could empty our small glasses of their golden and slightly young home-made wine. « You’re right » he said. « I have been invited to magnificent receptions where the tables were covered with complicated and remarkable dishes, but I couldn’t eat any of them, because they were lacking something. These dishes had no soul… »
We chatted a little while longer, then it was time to go to bed. Manushak offered me a chance to dip my feet in warm water, as there was some left. I enjoyed my little foot-bath, and it served as ablutions. I went to the toilets, a scrappy hut in the middle of the garden, and to the washroom, behind the kitchen, to brush my teeth and wash my face. The washroom contained the only tap of the house, and plenty of basins and cans. It was already late, and in the night, the water supply is cut off to allow the village’s reservoir to fill up again for the next day. So the water I used came from one of those cans. A basin, emptied outside now and then, was collecting the waste water.
We slept well and weren’t cold that night in the living room near the stove, hosted by this beautiful and kind family who evidenced a sort of simple, warm and true happiness. Our adventure was indeed starting well.
Next chapter: Armenian coffee
Artyom’s version of this evening are on his blog.
* later on, in a part of Yerevan where I had never been, I saw street lamps sponsored by other brands: the clothes companies Gap and Zara…