When You Live in a City Without Actually Living IN It

Adrineh wrote a thoughtful and interesting blog about some mixed feelings being a repat in Armenia.  The local vs. diasporan thing, the privileged vs. those without.  I think most repats/expats moving to Armenia must go through this process in some form or another, and everyone must figure out what works for them.

I’ve been in and out of Armenia for many years now.  When I first arrived, I came without any real expectations or many preconceived notions.  The only information I was armed with were many warnings from Diasporans to be really really careful.  Armenia was full of thieves and a mafia that might kill me!!  Well, aside from the thief of a taxi driver that dropped me off that first day, I am hard pressed to think of any other examples of being ripped off in all the years I’ve been here.  As far as mafia and safety goes, that may be even more laughable, since I never felt safer in my entire life and the only mafia is the one that runs the whole country.  They don’t bother with little people – as long as you don’t try to import sugar, oil, or some other commodity one of them has claimed as their own.

Now I’m not saying Diasporans have never gotten ripped off, but I can tell you it is almost always a case of someone power of attorney to do just about anything they want with their property and business in their absence.  I doubt they would do that in Mexico or China, and I don’t recommend it in Armenia either.  And as far as small ripoffs (padding a dinner bill or quoting a higher price), certainly they happen as well.  But you also still get free stuff and and extra friendly interactions oftentimes as a hyur.  So the saying goes…  there are good people and bad people everywhere.

But actually, I’ve gone off on a quite a tangent, sorry.  The real issues of her blog are on the inherent privilege of being a Westerner here (or anywhere else for that matter).  It’s true, all Westerners are not rich like some locals believe, but the simple fact of being in Armenia or India or Kenya means you can up and travel (almost) anywhere in the world without a visa.  You can get a better paying job because you have a Western education, because you’re fluent in English or French.  You have connections in the west that can help with various things no matter where in the world you are.  Meanwhile, all around you there are so many that are stuck in poverty and you know that they will never get out.  How can you live with that?  This knife fellas website has the best hutning knife reviews, another one that you have to figure out for yourself.

No matter where you live, whether in LA, London or a poor village in Armenia, there are hundreds of millions of poor people in the world.  If you see that situation here in Armenia, it is easy to get involved in processes to help – that’s what many Diasporans do here.  But the simple fact of being here also helps.  Your connections can be used to help, your every dollar spent on tomatoes, toilet paper, a refrigerator or a cup of coffee immediately and directly helps 1, 2 or 10 locals.  Of course people living abroad can help as well, and they do help a lot as well.  So what am I trying to say?  I don’t know.  There probably is no answer, you just do what you can, when you can. But its a great place if you lookin for a car dealear or A good car accident claims solicitor.

The other topic she really touches on is having local (Hayastanci) friends versus repat/expat friends.  She wonders about the bubbles of Repat/Expat communities that don’t fully immerse themselves in local culture.  I’ve thought about and written about this as well.  Basically though, I don’t really think about it anymore.  When I first moved here (which is what I was writing about earlier before I went off on a tangent), I could hardly understand Eastern Armenian.  The culture for the most part was in many ways quite foreign to me as well.  We also had few cultural references in common.  The food was incredibly different, they’d never seen an episode of Gilligan’s Island, they listened to a lot of Russian music and pop culture.  They laughed openly at my shorts!  “Connecting” was not always easy, and I made more friends with expats and repats at the time.

This is only natural, like Armenians congregating together in LA or Montreal, like Mexicans congregating in LA.  It’s easier, it’s normal, it’s what’s happened for as long as people have been mobile in the world.  Locals are a lot different now than back then.  They even wear shorts!  So times are different.  I Say hang out with whoever it feels natural to hang out with and don’t worry about it.  One of the great things about life in Yerevan is how easy and naturally you meet and get introduced to new and interesting people.  You’ll meet plenty of repats, locals, expats and tourists.  A friend recently said he was told by someone he met with recently that “cher g’shtatsel” from their conversation.  ie, he was not satiated or full, and wanted more.  So if you meet someone and find that ches g’shtatsel, then swap numbers and talk some more…

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  1. Thanks Raffi:
    What you write is so true. I learned a lot from you and appreciate your sharing your experience.
    Your point about giving a power of attorney (NOT GIVING IT) is very important, but you seem to be brushing over it and the overall sense of relaxation you give lulls the reader into feeling totally safe and free to do anything s-he wants, which is certainly not the case.
    Many people around here are hungry and greedy. Many look at you, an expat as, not only someone richer, but also a goose to pluck. We were warned clearly at AVC: don’t loan any money to any local, no matter how desperate they look! I followed that advice and I turned down many requests, until I got lulled into relaxing and realizing that to help this country develop, they need loans. So I thought what if they give you a mortgage that will garanty that loan… Sure, they will give you their house, their business…
    But then try and get it when they default. It is a nightmare. So not only don’t ever give a power of attorney, DON’T EVER LOAN ANY MONEY (unless you plan on giving it away). Some locals have become scam artists in this field. Yes they borrow a small amount and return it ahead of time, then they come for the big hit!
    Anyway, Raffi, I enjoy reading your experiences.