I’ve been having so many adventures lately, I don’t know where to start writing, about what…
What’s been really fascinating is hanging out with four young journalists from Chile, on an interesting documentary project
, exploring Armenia, Georgia and Azerbaijan fifteen years after the collapse of the Soviet Union. They’ve been interviewing common people and officials on the changes in politics and society, the youth, the future. Interesting and fun.
So, we needed to get a cellphone recharge card the other day, for which we go to one of the better-equipped stores in the centre of Yerevan. Following the general direction of the little poster advertising the cards, past the meat and sausages, we reach… the fruits section. Hmm… this can’t be right, they wouldn’t be selling cellphone cards next to apples and bananas. Doubling back, we approach the money changer, who, it seemed, would be the rational choice for this sort of thing. Wrong again. The check-out counter ? No. It turns out the cards are sold (some of you may have guessed it) alongside the sausages…! Claro
. At least they weren’t in the fridge… ;-)
But yesterday’s adventure was quite incredible. The Chileans needed a special kind of battery for their video camera, which they had to order online, to arrive only after they would leave Santiago. So, they had it sent over here via a big courier service (which will go unnamed). The place calls to say it’s arrived, so we go there, only to discover that we have to go to the airport’s cargo terminal to pick it up in person. Sigh…
Off we go, behind and quite a bit beyond those dazzling casinos en route to Zvartnots, completely uncertain of how to go about this. All we have is some airway bill or whatever it’s called. We had a somewhat unpleasant experience there my first year in Armenia, so I wasn’t expecting a smooth ride, but I didn’t know what we had to do at all; all we saw when we got there was just a big bunch of people, standing around some windows.
We approach one lady. She says we have to go upstairs. We go upstairs. The building itself is pretty nice, I’d even say impressive for Armenia, but all we have to work with is a long corridor with doors. We get to the right door on our third or fourth try. This room has even more windows to approach, and is brimming with people. We catch hold of an official, tell him our situation. He gets us krantsvadz (“registered”), tells us to wait. So we wait…
There’s already, as I say, a ton of people there. Waiting. One of them befriends us and informs us, in flawless if accented English, how flawful and awful the place is. It’s his second day there, he says. First there’s this window, then one has to move on with some paper and such-and-such document here, pay 5500 drams in costs, plus 20% of the item’s value there… In a word, quite the hassle.
So, what does a young Armenian do in such circumstances ? I promptly took out my phone and called my dad. No, he did not have any friends or acquaintances there, but he advised me to catch hold of an official, speak strongly, make sure he knows I know that anything less than 500 dollars in declared value can be brought in tax-free, take down names, call back if necessary, etc., etc.
So, I go up to the same guy as before and explain our situation to him again. “They’re young journalists from Chile, this seems like it will take long, we have an interview at the UN soon [which was perfectly true, by the way], could you please lend us a hand ?”.
With a slight sigh, this guy gets up, takes our documentation, orders another guy, who takes us downstairs and out, straight to the large cargo area. He brings in a third guy, who, maybe five minutes later, gets us our little package.
“What now ?”
“Now ? Go. El inch es ouzoum
So we went. Not a singly penny in fees or bribes, no extra paperwork, nothing. I’d like to say that the system works and/or I beat the system, but it was neither, really. We just got ourselves a couple of officials with good enough spirits to help out some spiurkahay and odar strangers. Getstsen