December 6, 1996
My last day in civilization. This was one trip where I made a special effort not to have a hangover on the plane. Ran all my errands. Lawyer says if I write out my will long handed, it should stick..he hasn't seen my penmanship. Made my run to Prochaska..still need a file. For the first time in a while, I made a trip to the gym. My heart says stay..the head says go. The head won..greed played the deciding factor. I miss watching my nieces and nephews grow up. Getting on the plane and ending this charade made life easier..get this circus on the road. Once I got on the plane, I had no inkling to turn back and go home..where would I go anyway? It's a waving contradiction..I get what I want and I'm not happy. Go figure. The plane rides were uneventful. Sure wish I would have known I could have three pieces of luggage instead of the two my mind was set on..would have made packing less problematic. I could have had five pieces checked in and two carry on. Hopefully, I wouldn't have had more..just had them better packed. I did get to talk to some wonderful women while I flew..makes travel more interesting.
December 7, 1996
Wake up and find I'm in the Netherlands. What a concept. First order of business was getting my luggage and moving it to Armenian Airlines..almost a grand. Off to the hotel..a day room..dark and cramped..primitive but I was too tired to give a damn. Hunger wasn't too far behind. It really freaked me out having to get my passport stamped so I could go buy a burger and at Burger King..surely my last American meal for a while..eight bucks for a double whopper meal..makes Kodiak seem like K-mart. Back on board..flying Armenian Air was like flying a military transport plane..functional. We got into Armenia about a half hour late. Going through customs was fun..pay the extra twenty two bucks and go sip Coke at the bar. My semi load of footlockers and duffel bags made the trip intact. The luggage was loaded and brought to the hotel. The bellhops got hernias lifting and carrying them to my room. We had power all night..something I didn't have last time I was in Armenia. Skies were wet and foggy..somewhat like Kodiak..no snow. Armenian women were still the same..black hair colored to brown..as gorgeous as ever. Men are starting to adhere to the rules of fashion..at least the wealthier ones with knits and tasteful plaids. Good news..Yerevan has a Coca-Cola bottling plant. My driver / interpreter got stopped on the way for not having his lights on..he could see better with them off. I was worried I'd never make it to bed but they let us go. There were lots of open air shops on the way from the airport..mostly sodas (Coke, Fanta orange), vodka, beer (Heineken), crackers, candy bars (snickers and other Mars products), and the obligatory cartons of US cigarettes. Looking beyond the stores, there was plenty to remind me of the decay of Communism with buildings stopped in mid construction or others falling to serious decay if not ruin. First impressions of a second visit confirmed my two year old prediction that Armenia would be the first of the former Soviet nations to succeed. You can read the impressions of the people's faces..they're proud of their progress as they should be. When I was here last, the dollar converted to 375 drams. It's 425 now..not bad..growth without major inflation. At least, they've progressed beyond the 25 dram notes I got when I converted a five dollar bill and got the volume equivalent of about five decks of playing cards. Prices at the hotel were half of what they were last time. The Armenian Hotel owners bought the hotel behind it and renovated it's rooms exactly like the front part except for an added porch. It hasn't got government permission to raise the rates of the back half to match the front half. It's still the grand hotel it was when I was here last..marble floors, hand made carpets, shiny tiles..highly unlike the rest of Armenia. Got back to the room and gorged on Lisa's fudge..everything was closed and I was famished..looking for that damn adapter so I can plug in my power adapters for my computer and other electric gear. We'll have to educate the Armenians about Lou's toys..there just aren't enough outlets. It's quite common to find lots of outlet multipliers in foreign countries..how do they expect us to make them modern? This smallish room was engulfed in footlockers. At least I don't have to worry about my Huskers any more. They lost the Big 12 Championship to Texas 37-27. .caught the highlights (or is it lowlights) on CNN. All I need to figure out now is how I got this gash on my finger..like Spam..it will forever remain a mystery. Getting adjusted to the nine hours in time changes from the midwest (12 from Alaska) won't be easy. Cleared 'VIP' Customs in an hour and a half..definitely worth the fee of twenty-two extra bucks. My five footlockers and two duffel bags made through with no problems..except for the hernias for all who tried to lift my luggage. Made it to the hotel around one-thirty in the morning. Each floor of the Hotel Armenia has a floor woman..keeper of the keys. When you check in the hotel, you get a card that you give floor woman. She stopped by the room and I could have sworn she was asking if I needed 'company'..sorry..I'm fine. Thanks but no. Getting to sleep wasn't easy either. The hotel has MTV reminiscent of early MTV, it has less talk programming than their American predecessors) , CNN International, CNBC, The Cartoon Network combined with TNT, and Eurosport as stations I could watch and make sense of as an English speaking person. French seems to be a popular secondary language. We have a couple of channels that french is the predominant language. Unfortunately, my french has diminished to only being able to read bits and pieces. Click one channel on and fade off to the land of zzzz's.
December 8, 1996
The hotel maids were hanging around the outside of my door making no effort to lower their voices for this dead ex-pat. The shower had water..hot and cold. Apparently, the water scenario has not healed itself..large storage tanks bridge the half hour of water allotted each person. Toilet paper made the cheap college stuff seem like feathers..more on the caliber of sandpaper. Try wiping your buns with this stuff..be wary of sparks from the contact. It only flushes once. Tossing it in the toilet on the first time, it will wash down the drain. The second time, it will stay in the tank no matter how wet it gets..go figure. Woke up around lunch time..hungry as if I were going to the chair. There is no English speaking Catholic mass..I'll have to confirm this with the Embassy. Downstairs for 'pork barbeque'-four one inch cubes of pork, some nasty looking fries that congealed quickly, mushroom soup (noodles, parsley, and rice) with a heavy suggestion of vinegar, and warm coke. At least, they had a gym..primitive Russian cross between a universal and nautilus lifting equipment..one size fits all..about what we had fifteen years ago..six bucks..I just paid this for World Gym back in the States. The bosses came by and invited me to dinner. I had a large number of computer chores to get caught up on. Dinner was at a subcontractor's restaurant..pool, brew, lots of food..Dino's Club..right across from the US Embassy we built just a few years back. They had a wedding party going on in the main dining room..lots of loud music and dance. The bathrooms were nice but reeked of urine. One of the guys noticed folks staggering everywhere and using whatever plumbing fixture to relieve themselves..sounds like a US concert. The bathroom had three different types of soap..shampoo, hand soap, and body soap..cross this with the hand towels being bath towels..clueless. Got to meet the crew - two I already knew: Jim McMahan and Dennis Erickson. Most of all, it was a chance to meet the boss on an informal basis. I think we'll get along fine. Food wasn't much different than lunch..lots of grease. Our host was gracious bringing us an endless stream of food (fried chicken, lunch meats, breads, lots of vegetables, fried potatoes, and octopus..Coca-Cola was the dinner drink..small eight ounce bottles) and drink..lots of whatever. If I eat out much, it will be that way..something I'll need to be aware of. Our dinner was on the house..call it payback from a subcontractor who's behind schedule on building our field office. The apartments the company will be paying for are quite nice. There's a market for places the Armenians will only rent to Americans and other wealthy folks..a huge diversity between the upper and lower classes here..comparable with the rents paid in larger cities..and Alaska. I'm shooting for the built in maid to come in and clean a couple of times a week..protect the damage deposit. We traveled through the damp dark streets of Yerevan, on foot, without notice. The biggest struggle was avoiding tripping while trying to find the way. Cab fares were comparable to Turkey.
December 9, 1996
The rain stopped overnight. Overcast skies did little to highlight the dingy gray stone structures about the city. I awoke early..by Armenian standards..my standard if five a.m..these folks were still asleep at 7:30..doormen slept on couches in the lobby. I guess this is their home. Lots of employees running around in bathrobes and slippers. Back up to the room to kill time as the restaurant was closed. Breakfast was an adventure. Uniforms were black suits coming from older men with thick heavy beards. I ordered an omelet with ham and cheese. The waiter offered coffee or tea. The true American in me came out..I wanted milk. Coffee or tea! The ham and cheese were brought out separately long before the eggs. Could someone clue these folks in? Ketchup was chopped up tomatoes..not like the Heinz I'm used to. They tossed in oj, spinach, and a salad consisting of cauliflower, carrots, and Italian dressing..for breakfast? The marmalade for the bread..no toast..and the salad were the winners of this sad contest. My first day of work. The boss likes to freak out the locals giving them a hearty hello..they're not used to the positive attitude even though they've come a long way since Communism fell..distrust is a tough pill to spit up. Got to meet the rest of the crew and went out to the job site. We have no comfort that this facility we're building for the Armenians won't go to hell like the rest of the area. The Armenians are adept at building lavish facilities..they just don't take care of them. We were discussing the actual need of this facility..we see none. Armenia's exports are dwindling. Border tensions are easing. The cost of exporting goods by plane is astronomical. Low labor costs will be wiped out by high transportation costs. If someone opposed the facility, they would be opposing progress..even if it wasn't needed. Maybe, it was inspired by optimism..faith that exports will grow. I left my computer stuff at the hotel so today was pretty boring. The Armenians are struggling to get into the rat race but have no clue on how to jump in and make it work. The crony system is alive and well. Lots of folks either on the payroll or just hanging out and appearing to be on the payroll and having nothing to do..stopping by to chat. The phones don't ring. Is that better than the US method of business..smothering ourselves in useless paperwork and useless statistics we call facts..is that more important than the work? We had a couple of Russian delegates stop by our office. They were interested in doing business with us saying that US firms are more competitive than other foreign contractors..call it one reason why the US is burying itself in bureaucracy. One vendor came by with lots to sell but no clue on how to market himself. We need lists of materials he could provide with the specific quality standards..somehow this didn't get through him and or the translation. I mostly worked on settling computer problems. The boss, a Brit, is content to let me pick my own path. Hopefully, I'll have an e-mail address soon. I'm losing a bit of sanity without my Internet. We can get what we need..we just need time to work through the buddy system personified..get what you need through friend of a friend of a friend..network. It ain't like the states where one call gets you another which yields another..trying to track down the root source. They'll do it for you. I'll get to hire some engineers to work under me. Most of these folks are either overqualified or underqualified for the engineering positions we offer..that damn catch 22 we call experience..you never have the right amount. Of the stacks of resumes we've received, I was given three and the best one I got was from a woman..not surprising in the States but this is Armenia..where women are decorations in the eyes of most. I did get to call Dad early this afternoon..early morning for him. We spoke for a while when an employee mistakenly turned on the fax machine not knowing I was on the line speaking to Dad..got cut off. That will minimize the phone bill. Jet lag still has the best of me. I was struggling to make it to quitting time..with something to do tomorrow, it will be easier to fight the good fight. Dinner was Chinese..greasier and more expensive than most of the reasonably priced restaurants around here. We, my boss and I, played a trick on one of the guys..we took his DC..more sacrilegious than I'd ever think. Hopefully, it will be at his doorstep when I get there in the morning. I fell asleep right after dinner and woke up when it was time to go to bed.. Stayed up and worked on the diary.
December 10, 1996
In hindsight, it may have been overkill to buy the extra battery powered lamps and arctic Carhartts. So far, the power and heat have been on all the time. Weather has been relatively mild but..it's better safe than sorry. The atlas says we're the same elevation as New York. Only time will tell if it gets as cold. Today's breakfast..'pancakes'..a deep burrito stuffed with a ground beef like meat..perhaps pork. I ordered jam instead of meat but the waiter messed up. Everything else was the same as yesterday except they used yogurt in lieu of dressing. The case of DC was inside the living room when I got to Dennis's house..nothing lost..nothing said! Work was better today..worked on the schedule and got my own computer in order. The boss is cool. Work starts after breakfast..around 8:30 and ends after six..odd hours but this is a Brit. He jumps my case when I work on 'that damn schedule'. It's a real laid back environment except for the owner's rep, Ken..closest thing I could relate him to is a hypochondriac. Ken is worried that the horse won't get out of the gate..he is driving us nuts..poor guy hasn't been in the real world of construction. Ken's an eastern Indian. It's funny to watch him relate to the Armenians. His subordinate even called him his highness. We met with the building code instructor..he thinks the whole company (Ken & Co) is out to lunch. We were impressed by this official's down to earth attitude. He took us to meet The Godfather Of Armenian Construction. He was supposedly the biggest airport contractor in Armenia. I felt like I was meeting the Don. When this official suggested we 'pay our respects', he called the Don who would meet with us immediately..unheard of in US business. In the US, we'd have tons of memorabilia on the walls..books, computers, awards.. This man had half a shelf full of books, a couple of phones, and a fax machine, a couple of pictures. Using an interpreter (No self-respecting Don would speak in English), we informed Don that we need supplies, not services. Don said that if we need him, he would be at our call..sound familiar? We're having problems getting our equipment from Egypt. Lunch was shish kebabs..probably lamb..with onions and covered in pita bread. We spent quite a few minutes looking for single containers of Coke. Most folks are unaware of the quantity of Coke I drink. The Georgians are holding up our containers..they want to see what's inside and aren't releasing them until we do. We're trying to get rebar. They don't make it in Armenia. We'll have to go to other countries to get it with the certifications we request. Any rebar that is in Armenia is left from the communism days. Armenia just isn't industrialized. We hit the Chicken Store in search of DC..we found..at fourteen dollars a case..four bucks more for a case than I paid in Kodiak. It isn't called Diet Coke. It's called Coca Cola Light made in Saudi Arabia. It has the old pull top tabs, 375 ml (appx 13 oz) vs 330 ml (12 oz in the US), and must be made with saccharine rather than NutraSweet. I think I'll convert to the cheaper, made in Yerevan, Coca-Cola Classic. Coke (can), Snickers, and U.S. smokes..cost about the same for single serving sizes..fifty to seventy-five cents. The DC tastes flat..like it's been on the shelf too long. This was truly a grocery store for the elite with lavish baked goods, foreign foods such as Uncle Ben's Rice..reminiscent of the food courts..multiple businesses in one area. When I get settled in, I'll have to look up this place. Catching up to local time is still a problem. I laid down after I got back from the store and fell asleep. I woke up for dinner..beef stroganoff. It was the first thing I ate that I actually recognized but scarce on beef. Instead of soft noodles, they gave deep fried noodles..like shoestring potatoes. Not knowing what would come with dinner, I ordered rice. This was the initial course along with bread..plane rice..plane bread..boring(!) and Coke..looking for milk. Off to the gym! I tried to finish off my book but found I was finished off..couldn't keep my eyes open.
December 11, 1996
The first six hours of pure straight sleep I've had in weeks..what a joy. Woke up to do that necessary evil..pay the bills and work on the paper. We still can't get that breakfast thing down. Each time I order one of those pancakes with jam, they bring me pancakes with meat. I'll deal. Spent a lot of time driving around and going to meetings. I'm beginning to think those overcast skies are caused by pollution. Riding around town in that Lada Niva, an AMC Gremlin on a short Jeep chassis, was beginning to be excruciating..cast iron suspension. Driving in traffic is as bad as any place I've been overseas. They do mind the traffic lights but have little regard for oncoming cross traffic..they're going to have to stop their 30 mph progress so I can cross. I'm amazed more folks don't have accidents. If and when we get our trucks licensed, a saga of it's own, the boss has given me a Chevy S-10 to drive. I may just park it. My nerves won't have it. Our driver, 'Sam', speaks no English and we speak no Russian or Armenian. We tell Sam who we want to see such as 'Mr. Dennis' and he knows where they are and drives us there. I'm amazed that he doesn't fall asleep as he has little to do when we're working. He always manages to find us when we get off work..before we hit the Niva. I got a line from a chap whose been here for a while and will set me up with those American haunts. We sent our foundation drawings in for approval by the local authority. We paid him big bucks to expedite his review process. He told us that we should proceed with the construction. He sent his review comments to us without that approval. He can't approve it and won't recommend it to the right authority..our customer..asking the customer to approve it is like the cat chasing it's tail..welcome to post Soviet Bureaucracy..something like our own government. The DC mystery was resolved today. It's rightful owner, Dave Chappuis, didn't put it together. He wondered whose it was and didn't notice that the impromptu copy machine stand was missing it's third case of DC. Today, I began my quest for an apartment. I have this thing about linoleum..I hate it. This place wasn't bad but I saw linoleum out in the hall and it had two strikes already. Price wasn't bad compared to what I've seen that the other BHIC folks had. Got my first load of mail from home..magazines, bank statements, and other miscellaneous items..nothing substantial. That checking statement was a real bitch. For dinner, I had our driver take me to the supposedly best pizza joint in town..it was quite good. All those vegetables the Armenians are so fond of went to good use in the pizza with everything. I walked home. The 'stores' were closing. Excitement was permeating the air. Typical makeshift stores..temporary outdoor stands made permanent. A bunch of stores banded together makes a mall. You could eat well and cheap at these facilities. Hunting for a specific item could be time consuming. Many stores of the same variety often band together to make a shopping district.
December 12, 1996
I drifted off to sleep and couldn't complete the checking account. Early this morning, I completed the task..haven't got the time thing down. Drifted back to sleep and couldn't get up with the alarm. Yesterday, I negotiated a deal with the maid, or rather, she with me, to do my laundry..seven bucks. She didn't return any colored clothing, just whites, but was insistent for payment in full for services not fully rendered..I'm too much of a softy. Today, we had some firsts. We finally got breakfasts right. For the first time since I was here, there were patrons other than me in the dining room. The hotel tried making a breakfast buffet. With the 'rush' of customers, the restaurant was ill-prepared using standard plates. Today, the sun actually came out but that fog was still there. There's no air velocity and all that smoke from the fires and furnaces still remains. The Armenians are some of the most educated people there are. Each engineering resume that we receive (we have stacks) has more than an undergraduate degree. Overall, Armenians have a rate of literacy of 100%. Twenty percent have doctor's degrees. It's a poor but well educated society. Unfortunately, most of the experience I see on the resume is in either interpreting or in research for the universities. It's very rare to find people that we don't have to train. The few that do have construction experience, have topped out on the salary scale of their present jobs..much higher that we're paying. If they do have experience, it's with Harbert from our Embassy project over two years ago. Today, I had a person that I was just about to hire with Harbert Embassy experience. He must have read my mind because I was about to place his resume on the boss' desk and he came in and said to withdraw his resume from consideration. He had a security guard position at the US Embassy..stable employment that he didn't want to lose for one year of employment in his chosen profession. In this regard, we had a lot in common. To have a job in construction, you change jobs a great deal as have I. I've often questioned whether the pursuit of this profession is worth it or not. With as few jobs as there are in Armenia, this person has deemed that it isn't. He liked working construction but stable employment at a menial task is better than one he enjoyed that would last less than a year. I have opted for the other path but sometimes question my choice. I went hunting for apartments with Armand, our weakest driver but best interpreter. He said he quit his job at the Embassy for a job with Harbert. For Armand, the short term was worth it. We looked at a couple of places. The second place was a good candidate but the cheapest I've seen and not as nice as the rest of the crew. As long as the company is picking up the tab, why not go for the best. I wasn't too fond of the kitchen. I'll keep looking bearing this place. We went looking for Mexican restaurants settling for a place called Amigo. We didn't see much Mexican on the menu. Armand suspected it was named Amigo for being gay. Even in Armenia. It was an interesting contrast when one of the expats working for us sent Armand on an errand for a couple of bottles of Bacardi rum..twelve bucks a piece..one bottle is a great portion of what Armand makes in a day..dangling that golden carrot of wealth in front of the poor. We tried eating at the Embassy but Armand had no ID so we blew that off. I did get the lowdown on the Embassy. I can get in at any time with a driver's license. Although I've seen it, there's a decent movie playing there Saturday night..sounds like a plan. Back home at the Hotel, I could only muster enough ambition to crash for the night.
December 13, 1996
Friday the 13th. Only time will tell if it's bad. Another good night of sleep waking up early to capture my thoughts and enter them in the diary. As is always the case, I'd rather sleep but if the body won't cooperate, I'd rather do something useful. I opened up the double chocolate sandwich cookies Mom sent me..shouldn't last too long. Today, they got breakfast right..even the entree was on the buffet bar. The sun was out and shining over Yerevan. A lot of the fog was blown away. We could see for miles. Being the mushroom that I am, I only saw it traveling to work. Windows 95 greeted me at boot up saying that my work computer may have a virus..welcome to the middle east. I hope to have the remedy via e-mail soon. Skipped looking at apartments tonight. The boss thought I wasn't going to look and sent our driver on..canceled for me. Made a gym run and then wandered down to find the Holsten bar. I was told there were many. I took the right road and then started thinking too much and turned a half block too soon. I found two others and stopped at one and had a beer getting the right directions this time. Once getting there, it was full but not packed. On a good night, it's supposedly swamped. The boss was there along with my new friends Roy and Jerry..talk about a pair..a bullshitting Brit and an equal from Armenia. I fit in fine. There were girls handing out free cigarettes to the smokers of which I'm the minority anywhere I go. We even had a drag queen. It takes all kinds I guess. As a nice out, we left early having to work tomorrow.
December 14, 1996
Saturday! I checked the computer..no viruses were detected. A short day at work. Boss intends for long days as soon as we get into the new office. Today's wierdness: In America, the deception of a 2 x 4 is that it's about 3 x 5 due to smoothing the board's surface. We ordered some lumber from a local mill. They sent it to us with the bark still on it. Today's ugly thought. It's a common thought that married couples begin to look like each other as they grow older. With all the pretty young Armenian women, and all the ugly young Armenian men..it seems to be true. Women here grow wider and harder. First order of business, after work, was to attend the Armenian Philharmonic Orchestra and Choir perform at the opera house..a grand facility, unlike most, that looks as noble from the outside as the inside. I've never been to a formal music function so it was impressive for me. When listening to music, I try to separate the sounds from the individual instruments. It wasn't hard with the orchestra. The first set was hard to understand. I wasn't familiar with any of the music except for Handel's Messiah. Some of the first act was in English and the rest in other languages..assume Armenian. The second set was more traditional Christmas music with songs I recognized from my childhood..no references to Santa. The Armenian choir did well on pronunciation but had no concept of the spirit of the songs. None the less, I did enjoy the performance seeing someone else's impression of our holiday. Armenians celebrate Christmas on January 7th. I ran into someone I knew who worked on the Harbert Embassy project. I believe his name is Tegrin. He said he'd send someone by who had a place to rent. Off to the Embassy for a beer, dropping off some letters (send stamps..the boss is real cheap about mailing off our mail..only when the company has official business), and a movie. It brought back memories of a couple of years back but the living quarters wing still looked like a crumbled Howard Johnson's. I'd seen the movie before but a night on the town is just that. One man complained to the only person in charge that the movie was bad..even before it started. Obviously an American. Why was he there? Nobody forced him to go but he went knowing the content was bad. As Americans, we have a higher standard. We demand it of others but shrug our shoulders when we are unable to provide it individually..blame the system. Not knowing this person, I can only surmise that he viewed this as America..but it's not! It's America in a foreign land. Play your role as the ugly American somewhere else! Treasure the thought that you are congregating with fellow Americans for a night of entertainment. Now that I've jumped down from my pulpit, shall we move on? I walked back to the hotel stopping at one of the Holsten bars I'd stopped at the night before. The boss liked this one better than the other ones I'd been to. The waitress spoke to me in Armenian..looking like the locals..she had little English but some pointing got the job done for dinner, chicken fried steak and fries, and a brew. Back to the hotel with little energy to keep my eyes open.
December 15, 1996
I've been here exactly one week. My sleep schedule is back to normal..if I could call it that. It's been a pleasant surprise with a lot more to do, see, and buy than when I was here last. Perhaps it's partially due to having to get out in the community rather than eating and living in a structured environment like we were last time. There is no doubt in my mind that there are more businesses than last time but we lived under sheltered conditions and had little time to explore. What's more amazing is that I've been living out of a suitcase for a month. Yes, it's been a month since I left Alaska. Alaska, Birmingham, Virginia, Omaha, and then Armenia. My spirit adapts to these transitions and living in hotels easier as time passes. Making it seem like home, my hotel room is completely trashed..clothes and computer components everywhere. A day off.. I finished off my book that I've been reading for the past seven months. Started in on another one. It was a lazy Sunday morning. I broke out the speakers and CDs and it was just like home. It was so sunny that I could see Mt. Ararat from the room. Ran down to the market to see what was there. This particular market featured packaged goods such as liquor..American brands..mostly rums and whiskey with Turk beers(it wasn't uncommon to have an open bottle for consumption in each unit), candy, soda (Coke products with a smattering of Pepsico..boost my stock boys!) , juices, and cigarettes (which had a separate store). Your vices will never run out here. The only thing that will keep this country from becoming first class chain smokers and alcoholics will be price as most of these items take up a large portion of their income. They'll have to settle for the cheap knock offs. There is a lot of Turkish products on the market leading me to believe that greed breaks down tradition. Perhaps, some day, Turkey and Armenia will put aside their past differences and get along. I'm sure that today's generation has to read about the hatred from history books. Having a watchful eye and patience will yield whatever you are looking for..lots of time needed on this one. I was looking for milk and an extension cord. I found the latter. Another 'store' had clothes. Each shop was part of the 'store' and had their own proprietor. All of Yerevan was there, either as a customer or proprietor. Finding my way through the masses involved a lot of pushing..lots of elbow to elbow traffic. Armenia is definitely a consumer nation. Anything that comes in a package is imported..they don't make much here except for Coke, cognac, and vodka. Packaged goods come at a definite price premium as do non-pork meats and fruits..oranges and bananas. Apples are cheap and readily available. Cigarettes and candy bars from Mars seem to be the only exceptions to the expensive package goods rule. They've flooded the markets. Each store comes in stages. The low budget ones sell packaged goods including fruit and alcohol tightly crammed into dark, small spaces trying to sell as much as possible. These stores all seem to look the same and carry the same goods. Proprietors act like it's some big secret of where they got their merchandise but the competitor right next door has the exact same stuff. Most try to get the jump on the competition and display their goods outdoors. Everyday, you see them moving their stocks outside for more visibility to the passerby. Most businesses have caught on to this ploy and they do it too..it's a blatant signal that it's another cheap package goods store. To make money in this town, you have to toot your own horn..these are definitely small time investors trying to make the big time..single proprietor, single employee or family businesses. They parlay their investment into bigger and better stores. The market has tons of these. Some specialize in meat or fruit. Unfortunately, the law of supply and demand will diminish the huge quantity of these type stores. Then we graduate to those that have refrigerators and milk. The big stores carry meat, fresh fruit, bread, meat..perishable goods..like real small town 'supermarkets' back home but in much lesser proportions. These stores don't move their stuff outside. Many have the multi-tenant setup..small, wealthier investors who've grouped together to make a supermarket. Their package good selection looks like the small stores but the convenience of one stop shopping works here too. Specialty stores such as stereo, clothing, and florists, go full boat seeming to have big bucks behind them..probably worldwide conglomerates investing in Armenia. You can tell by just walking in to the store if it's owned by a private investor or a corporation. The clerks loiter around you like they do in the department stores in the States. I had our digital work camera with me and took several pictures for the folks back home. I can't figure out why people were staring at me but they were. I had a couple of liters of Coke and wore blue jeans and my fleece wool jacket..hardly anything unusual. It might have been the wrap around shades. Go figure. This is the shopping malls revenge for skipping the country during the holiday shopping season. Lunch was bought from the local food stands..a couple of sandwiches and an apple..less than a buck. Far cheaper than the five to ten bucks it costs to eat in a restaurant. I got up enough ambition to take a nap this afternoon. I was leaving the room when I heard a knock on the door. It was Paul and Dennis.."where are you going?" "Heading out for dinner." "Good, let's go." And off we went to Dino Club for a fashion show. Paul's taking personal responsibility for ensuring my stay in Yerevan is a 'cultural one'. Fashion is an abstract concept to me. Good looking women are not. Paul and Dennis gave little warning of their intentions. In the back of my mind, I knew there was an upcoming fashion show. I just didn't know it was today. I wore my best t-shirt and jeans..looking totally out of place. Dennis and Paul wore suits. Jim, whom we met there, was wearing a jacket. At one time, I could swear that I saw gunny sacks decorated and molded into fashionable clothing. The drinks and desserts kept flowing..all in a twenty-five dollar entry fee..once again overlooked by a subcontractor who's behind schedule. Among the models were participants in the Miss Yerevan contest and Miss Armenia herself. Among the numerous accolades in Armenian was the mention of our company. Paul said if we were called upon to make a speech, it was my duty to make it. I must admit that I was working on an impromptu speech, in my mind, just in case. Thankfully, we were called up to draw one of the prize winners in a raffle contest.. Jim took care of that. Between sets, we were entertained by a comedian, band, and singer..all in Armenian. After the show, I'd had enough to drink. Rather than facing rejection in making a play for the young beautiful ladies, I headed home. Jim and Paul stayed. Dennis left in the middle of the show.
December 16, 1996
There was frost on the ground as we were driving to the airport. Temps have been declining while I've been here. Winter seems to be on the way. Today, we met with the Environmental Minister to discuss our project. He reminded my of the college professor of yore complete with plaid jacket, white dress shirt, and bow tie. He had no clue as to why the owner's engineer had incorporated some of the features they did. Speaking through our interpreter, we weren't able to provide any relief but it was clear that he hadn't done any projects with American design. We spoke to our computer contractor..Internet soon. Interesting mail call today..including the remnants of my bills while I was in Alaska. Lets get this paid off and start making some money. Got a Christmas card from Architect's Alaska and Mr. Veal. My former associate and roommate is ready to go home. He's tired of the ill-mannered Chinese and says he's seen it all. Interesting letter! I would have liked to have been on this project. Unlike the places I've been, he pays eight bucks for a Budweiser. In these days of shrugging our shoulders and blaming that monster we collectively call the corporation for errors beyond their control, I was surprised to find a letter of apology from Delta for my three hour delay recent flight from Atlanta to Omaha. The writer and I share the same belief, it's better to arrive late than to leave on time and never arrive at all. It was probably a form letter but, still, I felt it was a class move by Delta. Armand and I may have found my apartment. A nice little place over by the American Embassy and American University. Looking off the front porch, I see the Armenian President's back yard. It was the large expansive ceilings with a chandelier that sold me. Price, $480 including maid and laundry. Much less expensive that the $700-$800 units of my associates. Rent is paid three months at a time. I have my choice of satellite services of the college or the president as my landlord will tap into their satellite. The kitchen has a gas oven. Fuel will be purchased off the street. The only question is whether or not the Russians will get it before I. The landlord says the Russians are looking for office space and he's given them first shot as he had no idea we were coming..Why would the Russians be hooked on this place..are they still in the spy business having the president's residence so near? I made a special effort to eat near the hotel so I could get back and work out. I was close to postponing it but I did that yesterday with the fashion show so I pushed myself only to find it had closed early..at least an hour before their advertised closing time. After work, I entered the hotel and the doorman, a distinguished looking gent except for teeth that looked like Jaws from James Bond, asked me what I was doing..I live here. He'd mistaken me for a local. Later, he asked me why tourists (a blatant overture) were so cheap by not tipping the doormen? 'In America, we don't have doormen.' 'But they make lots of money in America.' ' It costs a lot too'. Maybe when I leave, I'll drop a tip.
December 17, 1996
Internet tomorrow! Today, I saw the aftermath of my first accident. A BMW mashed into the median. It wasn't far from the police station / stationary speed trap so police were right on the scene. The Armenians aren't very creative about their speed traps. They're too poor to go cruising so they park their car at the police station. They watch their radar detectors and wave their baton at speeders passing by. They give them a verbal warning and the speeder is freed. The smart speeder knows where the cops are and slows down in time and speeds up just as quick. The national speed limit is 40 kph..about 25. I'm amazed at how the maze of traffic gets through the mass of pedestrians. There is no yielding the right of way around here. If you hit the brakes, you've yielded the right of way. Otherwise, keep going. The other guy will stop. Busses trump all. They run red lights like their green. Pedestrians have no right..you just hope to cross and not get hit. Duck and dodge baby! The apartment is in final negotiation stage..landlord doesn't want to rent to the Russians. Dinner at Pizza Roma..my favorite pizza place. I spotted a nearby burger joint. Tomorrow, we'll see. There was a lot to do on the evening agenda. Sent some computer pictures home along with the printout of the my first twelve days in my diary. Paid some bills and had a workout. Getting to bed at my normal hour was out of the question.
December 18, 1996
That late night urge..when you have to go to the bathroom..can it wait or must I go now? It was a simple reply..go now! The maid didn't leave any extra rolls of toilet paper. Imagine the scene..running through the halls of the hotel at four in the morning in search of toilet paper..not speaking the language. Perhaps, it's the maid's revenge for having my junk strewn out over the room. Any hopes of going back to sleep were dashed with my solution..shower. Today, we finally got Internet service..14.4k but it works sometimes. We hammered down the lease..tomorrow, we sign. Who could resist a place with an address called Bagramian First Blind Alley? The landlord is concerned that we haven't done a shot to consummate that lease. It comes complete with phone..furnished and maintained by the government. Even our ISP says it's so bad, they will only connect through AT&T lines..not PT&T. Calling out on PT&T lines, two out of three times, the system will be busy. Sometimes, phones ring out of the blue with nobody on the other end. I still can't believe we had the cold war with these folks. The airport has intercom lines along with the AT&T and PT&T lines. They can't figure out a scheme to combine these different lines on a single handset. AT&T lines cost a fortune to install and use so you'd figure they'd do something. Started looking for the gyms. We found one but it was not for weights. Armand found someone who is planning on starting his own. He thought next month but I'm not holding my breath. Ate at my new found burger joint..Queen Burger. Not bad but lighten up on the salt on the burgers. Someone sunk some serious bucks in this joint. Fries are real. Burgers and buns were real. It was a knock off of the major fast food chains done well. The only thing missing was the fountain for the sodas. They only had Sprite and Fanta but it was ok. Price..under four bucks. An uncommon thing for Armenia..too much light. There were just too many bulbs a burning. I'm getting used to half the bulbs out but they were all blazing. There wasn't a single thing wrong with this place. Floors were shining quarry tile, marble counters, lots of glass, and lots of gloss..inside and out. Most places, if they're nice at all, it's on the inside. I only wish I could have seen this place when communism was in its' prime..back when the money was flowing. There's a lot of broken dreams here..half completed projects, once lavish structures allowed to fall to decay and ruin. The Armenians are definitely working on remedying that. Any company that works on maintenance and exterior upgrades could make a fortune. The one thing that is improving but has a long way to go is street lighting. To walk on the sidewalks requires three eyes..one to watch the constant change in sidewalk elevation: curbs, missing manholes, dips and irregularities. The next eye is to look out for oncoming pedestrians..which there are plenty. Last, and not least, is checking out cars, busses, and trying to figure out the directions to the location. Unfortunately, none of us have three eyes. At night, the light level obviously drops. It only compounds the problem. I've walked the streets at night..no reason to be concerned about violence..just cars, busses, missing manholes..and where I'm going.
December 19, 1996
Today, I'm a tenant. We had a 'small' celebration of our lease..vodka, cognac, fruit juice, salami, olives, bread, vegetable spread, and red peppers. We did a shot of each. Levon said God likes three..we'll have to consider the fruit juice to be the third. I've never had a landlord that encourages alcoholism. I move in Monday. Next stop was the Embassy for dinner. Walking home, I passed through some of the actual stores..not markets. I finally found milk in Armenia..Russian whole milk but milk none the less. I wanted to go to the gym but the shots were enough discouragement.
December 20, 1996
Living in computer virus central, I'm bound to find some. On my work computer, I found three. The first challenge was to find the software as one of the folks from the office never downloaded it from the Internet properly. Next challenge..finding an uninfected computer to get a needed boot up disk. Last, was to kill the viruses. It was a challenge that took most of the day but I did it. Armand thought he'd found a gym for me but it wouldn't be open when I could use it so we worked out a deal with the hotel to use their gym..six bucks a pop..anytime I want it. These folks don't think before eight in the morning. Unlike the States, early bird doesn't necessarily get the worm. The streets are deserted at eight a.m..when I hit the road to work. Stores are just beginning to put their merchandise out on the curb. Back to Queen Burger. It must have been having a grand opening for all it's staff wore Benetton t-shirts and there were chicken and bunny characters greeting the customers. Armand felt uncomfortable in the fast food environment. He kept expecting someone to come and ask us our order. Last stop on the itinerary was hooking up with Roy and Jerry for a few business talks and then some brews.
December 21, 1996
The first day of winter. Other than the days getting shorter, we haven't seen any signs like snow or ice. The nights are getting colder and I'm making a concerted effort to wear my stocking cap wherever I go. My continuing receding hair line makes walking hatless rather frigid to the forehead. The locals freak when I wear a t-shirt or other short sleeved shirt. They think I should be wearing a long sleeve shirt. The boss is the same story..short sleeves are fine. Hey..we'll tell you when it's cold around here. Sure ruins the image of those bundled up Soviets we watch on the movies. The brain is suffering from morning fog. It was that damn beer again. I tried reading before I went into work but that was useless..couldn't think or read straight. More computer virus saga..found two on the boss's computer. WordPerfect to the rescue. Working on a model for the sign for work. Couldn't do it with Word or Excel..WordPerfect did the trick. Yes, I own stock in Microsoft but I don't have to believe in it. There just isn't the options with Word as WordPerfect. It's Saturday and we're working as usual. Today, we got some of the company vehicles on the road today. The boss got the Caprice..a popular car in Armenia..call him the Don. We went looking at some of the more extravagant grocery stores in town today..wanted spices. Not much luck here. We stopped for gas..far different from the convenience stores of America. Unit costs are for twenty liters..almost five gallons..prices are advertised on signs visible as you approach. The least of these stations are mere tanker trucks filling up the five liter containers. The more moderate are small shacks with the gas stored in these containers. The most extravagant was the full fledged pump house..common to the US twenty years ago..just a regular filling station where you park and pump. I did make a trip to the gym. Thursday night lease signing party and hooking up with Roy sure put the squash on the workouts. Another hook up with Roy and Jerry. I was just getting over the brain fog from that morning..follow rule one of drinking..never mix colors..stick with one. I felt real dumb starting to drink again just getting the brain back to normal but you only live once. We hooked up with Harbert folks at Dino Club. Time to shoot some pool. The one thing I keep wondering is who's picking up the tab for this. Tonight, it was the boss. I had no clue until afterward. By then, it was too late. Our next, and final stop, was the Moscow Bar..truly expensive drinking by local standards..about seven bucks for two brews. I kept trying to get the waitress to smile..that's one thing that's missing from this place..nobody smiles. That's how you can pick out Americans..along with jeans and colorful outfits..also uncommon for Armenia..these folks just don't have bold colors. I'd settle for bold smiles. One would expect as life is getting better around here, that these folks would smile but most expressions are blank prison type stares. Smile folks, life is getting better.
December 22, 1996
Every day, at every hour, on every floor at the Hotel Armenia, there's a floor lady located at the elevator lobby. Each time I leave the room, you give her your room key and pick it up upon your return. Sometimes, they stay in their room and I have to get the key out of her drawer..unlocked..not much security. The maid uses it to enter the room also. There's an older woman with a nasty orange die job with fragmented English. Each day that I see her, she asks when I'm leaving and the reply is the same..Monday..for the past four times! Somehow, we haven't struck comprehension with this person. My reservation is upgraded by the week and my week is up..Monday! Today's mission..get all this stuff back into some suitcases..not fun! I did a pretty good job of that. I miss not being able to attend mass. Rumor has it that the Vatican will be having an embassy here. It's part of my routine. Wherever I go, I always establish a routine to live by. Tuesday, Thursday, and Saturday, I go to the gym. Sunday, I go to mass. Saturday, I do the shopping, cleaning, and hang out. It develops a much needed sense of balance to live by..creatures of habit. This way, I make wherever I go, home. As noon time rolled around, I headed to the market..the same one I went to a couple of years ago. Someone spotted my Maglite, a mini flashlight mounted to my belt. He wanted to know if I'd trade it for some Russian watches..nope..not for anything. I spotted some hard wood chess sets that Lisa and Eddie might want. I'll have to check via e-mail. Came back to the room for a nap and some reading. Pretty much killed time for the rest of the night. The one question I do have is why does the band at the Chinese restaurant wait for customers to show up and then go on break? It always seems that whenever I go there, the band goes on break right when I arrive.
December 23, 1996
The one goal for today was get into my new place..nothing else mattered. That was going to be the adventure. We drove to work and dropped off the boss. Sam, our driver, and I headed back to town to get my stuff out of the hotel. He was supposed to return to the office at 1:30 p.m. to take us to Roy's concrete plant but he never showed. My guess is that my interpreter never said anything about the time and he thought we were going right after I returned from the hotel. This means that I drive..not my first choice. Not more than a couple of miles from the office, I get pulled over for speeding..60 kph in a national zone of 40. I knew that they were there..I just didn't recognize where I was at. They let me go..don't speak the language..there are some blessings there. Dodging the endless barrage of pedestrians, busses, and cars while putting myself and the car through major stress is not my idea of a good time. Our quality control man, Art, a true idiot whom one of our subcontractors got at a bargain price jumped my case when he saw the frustration I was going through with the masses. His claim that these were some of the smartest folks on earth and was vigorously defending it. Smart folks don't walk in front of 4500 pound cars without looking. I realized it was futile matching wits with an unarmed person and dropped it. Between Art, Ken, Avatik, (the owner's representatives), and the masses, I was fit to kill but somehow, we survived unscathed. This was definitely a model for shock absorber testing grounds with endless pavement irregularities, potholes, and driving down the tracks of the trolleys. It was a never ending quest to see what would pop up next. It made Turkey seem like a bunch of Valedictorians of driver's school. Paul and I thought Sam would show up around quitting time. Nope. Next stop was the job site..not there either. We could only envision my stuff being sold on the street somewhere. We were told that my things were at my house which we confirmed. Levon was still working on it even though he said he'd be done yesterday. It took a few hours before he showed me how the hot water worked. All I was thinking was how I was getting screwed with no hot water..it works but has the velocity of a cheap squirt gun and the temperature of lukewarm tea. In any case, it was MINE! Paul and I headed down the street for dinner and shopping to get food for the new place. I brought fruit and other instant items..who knew what I had to eat or cook from. My suspicions were confirmed..plates and bowls only. No utensils, silverware, or cookery. Getting unpacked was easy but I didn't have much time for today's mail call..lots of bills including the MasterCard..what's been my financier of this whole journey..twelve hundred bucks..even after I paid nine-hundred of it in advance. I knew it would be a big one but didn't think it would come soon. I have my choices of tv, Russian or Turkish..at least, the company lent me a VCR. They also loaned me a microwave oven. Sleeping conditions are small but good, a single and a day bed. The pillow is a gargantuan feather pillow that's quite firm, a feather mattress, and a heavy duty blanket guaranteed to stave off those harsh Soviet winters. It's not sour grapes when I say that my back needs firmness and the soft mattress may be my folly. The day bed, a much firmer surface, will have to do.
December 24, 1996
The three electric heaters located around the apartment did little to warm my cold feet as I hit that cold, exhilarating shower. Most water heaters are tank constructed..ugly but effective. The shower heater has an in line heater..not too efficient..and reminded me of those awkward bathtub shower conversion kits bought at the local dime store. For the record, if this city runs out of water, it won't be from my showers. The numerous radiant tube heaters around the perimeter are non-functional..one of the many blatant signs that communism is history. As a policy, we have to start english speaking engineers at $206 per month. The UN has outbids us at $400. Paul gave me the blessing to raise our offer to $240. We haven't stood much of a chance in convincing anyone to come to work with us. I doubt it will do much for us but I'll give it the best. We have rocket scientist caliber folks applying for any position they can get. If the situation were different, I'd probably be their underling. They have tons of education but no practical experience. The boss gave me the S-10 today. A primitive vehicle with stick, plastic interior, no AC, AM radio..one station that plays mid 80's pop dance music. I don't listen anyway..it's just noise. I'm too busy trying not to kill or be killed. I'm afraid I didn't do well as I got stopped again..stop and go penalty for speeding. As I was going home, I could barely see with the dimly lit street and the dark headlights. Damn near wiped out a cross walk full of pedestrians. After gaining composure, I promptly and unintentionally got lost. I finally made it home unscathed..just in time to install the new heater I got from work..should but some BTU's in the place. As I was picking up the heater, our local warehouse person, called me brother of Bill Clinton. He did it twice. I explained that calling someone that was the equivalent of calling an Armenian a Turk..fighting words in Armenia as is the converse in Turkey. He caught on real quick. The maid did a bang up job on the place. Everything was neatly in a place. I'll put it in the right place tomorrow. Tonight was our Christmas party at our usual hangout, Dino Club. I gave away some of Lisa's fudge for Christmas presents to the crew..it was the right thing to do. It was the same cast of entertainment performers as the fashion show: a couple dancing, a young attractive female singing in Armenian, a polka band with an excellent violin player, and a man who performed as a drag queen with a monkey and a large snake. The animal acts seemed cruel: literally dragging the monkey around by a leash and whipping the snake around like it was a scarf..back and forth. It was supposed to ooh and ah the audience but all I could feel was compassion for the animals. It wasn't funny or entertaining. Otherwise, it was a pretty good show with a good turnout by the owner's crew. The Armenians celebrate Christmas on January 7th so it was a tad bit early for them. I was sitting with the engineering locals. They kept giving me crap about not bringing them beer. Life around our table was starting to get interesting so I thought an icebreaker would be appropriate. Rather than drink the local drink, vodka or cognac..they drink the stuff like it was mother's milk, I thought an American drink would work..tequila..went over like a lead zeppelin..wouldn't touch the stuff. I ended up giving the shots to more of the daring Armenians around the party. The women really got off on the native dances..we Americans tried but did best at the sidelines. Like every other party we had there, the staff kept bringing us food..lots of hors d'oeuvres followed by three full course meals: fish, pork, and turkey. It's my belief that every meal in this place is fried and served with fried potatoes. It's inevitable. I stayed through two meals but ate part of one and some hors d'oeuvres but I didn't need this much fried food..does numbers on the digestive track. How I yearn for baked or mashed potatoes, rice, or noodles to be served in any restaurant! The ladies of our party thought they'd missed the subway train to take them home so I offered to give them ten dollars so they could get home..a lot of money to these folks but they declined and opted to hitch with other party patrons. Given my earlier experience while sober, I deemed it best just to walk my way home and verify their arrangements. Paul said the turkey was awful..burnt on the outside and raw on the inside. The one male of our party, Avatik..Ken's right hand boy..a martyr for tolerating Ken in my opinion, fascinates me...and reminds me a lot of myself. He's fresh out of school, skinny, huge ears and slotted eyes reminiscent of Mr. Spock, awkward, and socially inept, with an insatiable curiosity about computers that's hard to hide. We get a new computer item and he sees it, picks it up, and opens it without asking..not much social grace here. The difference between us is that I have the computer experience and money to satisfy that curiosity.
December 25, 1996
Merry Christmas! No Catholic services for this boy..any Armenian services are done in the Armenian tongue. The boss said today was optional so I went into the office and checked the e-mail, sent out my e-mail Christmas update of my diary through yesterday, called the family, and went home. I missed getting them all together at T & A's. Barb was still there. It was minus two on the mercury..forty-five around here..gray sky. Mom and Dad were home. They got my letter. Spoke to Pat..Mick was asleep with Danielle and Margret. Lisa said she got herself a part time job working in a gift store. They had their foundation excavated and Tyler had a ball 'supervising' the construction and playing in the mud..just like his grandpa and uncle. Gigi was just on the way out the door for Lutheran church services. That was the run of things on the home front. Christmas just didn't seem like Christmas without all the commercials, decorations, Santa, and parties..nobody else was celebrating it except us expats. Did some reading this morning. Waited until noon to head up to the 'mall'. It was swamped. I thought I might have gotten away since it's the middle of the week. They had a large portion of it under ground. I've started to think that I didn't buy enough antiperspirant so that was my mission today. I found a few cans of spray..nothing that I'd recognize if it weren't for the brand..Gillette. I'll hold out until I go on vacation this summer. The stores were bigger but it was a market like the rest. I haven't seen such large clothing stores in Armenia as I saw here. I'm coming to the conclusion that I need to shop at the 'supermarket'. They're the places that Paul showed me. I hate the market as much as I do the mall. Catalog is the only way to shop and you don't get that around here. I dropped three bucks on American style toilet paper..eight rolls per pack. Enough of the stuff they use here..a cross between newspaper and the brown paper towels we used in elementary school. Russian toilets..now there's a piece of technology! There is no basin reservoir of water. You go, and it's exposed until you flush. Unlike the American toilets where the bottoms slope to the back, they flush forward and are flat on the bottom. You could solve the whole thing by sitting backwards or..changing the design. One major score..a new source of Diet Coca-Cola..Turkish for about half the price..seven-fifty a case and in cans that we're used to. I bought fruits and vegetables until I can get pots, pans, and silverware from the landlord. Until then, it's restaurant cuisine. There's woman who comes to visit the landlord..quite attractive..she's our interpreter. Tonight, we discussed the cooking requirements. We found the silverware. The pots and pans are forthcoming. He doesn't want me parking the truck in the street anymore. I'm afraid that if I park it in the drive, it will get stuck on an icy day. He'll help me out. Can you shut off the electrical heaters when you shower? Oh, God! These suckers draw quite a electricity flow evidenced by the big spark when you unplug them. We're living in a death trap. Had to pass on the coffee..off to the gym and my favorite, Queen Burger. They had more characters waiting for us. I got in several dances with a chicken..who's going to remember? The rain awaited my trip home so I hopped in a cab and directed the driver by pointing my way. Travel was diverted on Bagramian street. The president wanted to go out. His security in no way parallels that of our president. There were just a few cops on motorcycles and a few more closing off the connecting streets. Still, it commanded quite a large pedestrian audience. When I got to the gym, I was directed by some form of military to forgo my usual exercise of climbing the stairs and to take the elevator. It was rumored that an Iranian delegation was in town. It was a tad bit unusual for this Catholic to see Christmas decorations going up around the square today.
December 26, 1996
Today's driving: no stop and go's..no near accidents..no accidents..all went OK. I've got the biological clock all screwed up by working out yesterday so tonight I had dinner at the embassy and went shopping for food. Levon brought me three pots. I'll definitely go out for more. It was definitely a warm evening as I started to overheat under my coat. I even unplugged two of the heaters. The boss says we'll get two days off for New Years and another day off for Armenian Christmas. I won't know what to do. The one thing I will be sure to do is take my computer into the office so I can watch and listen to the husker game the day after New Years. Levon dropped by to get his rent money and share some beer..what a landlord! He speaks a little bit of english. In spite of this, we managed to communicate. He likes to hunt and fish. I showed him Chaco's home page with all the huge halibut.
December 27, 1996
An interesting day.. I got my deposit back for my pad in Kodiak..four-fifty and change. I can live with a hundred and fifty deduct from my original deposit. Today, I got a genuine stop and go from the cops on the way to work. I wasn't speeding. We thought they might want to just see what our land yacht Caprice and driver looked like. I'm starting to get this night driving thing down. I was trying so hard to identify the pedestrians as they crossed the street..concentrate on the silhouette and don't hit it. I had some of the worst pizza I've ever had. I thought I'd try a different place. Actually, it looked good until they popped it into the microwave. I believe I'll pass next time. I hit the gym an hour before closing time but it was closed so I really got my workout just walking down there. Unlike all my past Friday nights here, Roy was out of town so I didn't go bar hopping.
December 28, 1996
It's strange waking up on a Saturday morning with a clear brain..concept! No brain fog. A short day at work. We've been batting 1.000 getting new engineers of late..hired four. A busy evening. Bought some cookware. I spent about eighty-six dollars. The folks at the store gave me a free church key for all my purchases..guess that was a big deal to them. Ran all over town in search of dish soap..how do they was their dishes here..don't want to know. Bought some groceries..now I should be in business but I unloaded the purchases and headed to the embassy for dinner, a movie, and some NFL football..just too damn busy. It's tough watching football when the game starts at nine..just like Monday Night Football on the east coast.
December 29, 1996
Did a lot of work on the home pages..some day, I'll get it posted along with the memorandum from my first days in Yerevan. Went downtown for a workout and more groceries. Downtown streets were blocked off for the Christmas decorations..nice and simple. It's just too weird having Christmas now. Most businesses will be shut down as will we. I tried finding a shortcut to get me to the main thoroughfare quicker..guess I've already found it. I did get in a nap..let's not forget the important things in life. Today, I began cooking..chicken, rice, and carrots. Getting the gas stove to work without pilot lights or a recent tune was a interesting process. The connecting hose fell off midstream. It could have been a disaster of major proportions but all is well. Landlord fixed that and stopped by for a small New Year's care package including a nice decoration, a couple of apples, a couple oranges, a beer, and some of that vegetable 'dip' we had when we drank to our lease agreement. The chicken and rice were done. Carrots were a bit crunchy. It was ok, it was mine. The microwave oven doesn't heat other than the convection part..not what a microwave is for. Other than that, it was a slow boring Sunday evening. I tried watching some videotapes. VCR won't even play on this Russian TV. I settled for rotting my brain with a couple of beers.
December 30, 1996
As I was driving to work, I noticed someone was slaughtering a cow right on the sidewalk. Several impromptu stands were made along the road..some used the trunk of their cars..with quarters of beef for sale..getting ready for the holiday season. How he does it, I don't know but Paul found a winner of a bar..Manhattan. I thought it was a casino so I never bothered..there's just too many empty casinos around here. It was a real nice place with good looking waitresses. Paul said there were a lot of pretty girls..more girls than guys..not tonight. Avatik, Ken's 'boy', joined us for a few brews. Two beers and my brain was mostly cloudy so doing anything but cooking my dinner was a challenge. Tonight, I baked fish. As it turned out, it was smoked fish. I tried doing a potato in the microwave but the microwave element is out..rice again.
December 31, 1996
A New Year's Eve of classic proportions.. We could see Mt. Ararat..Turkey..on the way to work..the mountains were really stunning..a beautiful sunny day. I struggled through work and left early to get in the last minute things like the gym and grocery shopping. The stores were jammed and the shelves were emptying quickly. Finding bread or fruits and vegetables took some hunting from some of the more prominent grocery stores. I knew my food supplies would last through tomorrow but not much further. I must have hit seven before I completed the shopping list. I tried the Armenian equivalent to fudge..like eating a glob of chocolate frosting. Finding a restaurant was just as difficult as my favorite haunts were closed, police had blockaded the main square which was all decked out in Christmas fare, and traffic was just plain insane. Everyone was getting ready for the big weekend. Most had taken today off and didn't plan on returning to work until Tuesday, the day after Christmas..the sixth. I settled for snacking on my new purchases and drinking beer to round it out. I polished off two beers while walking to the Manhattan Bar. Paul was there with no help from the BHIC clan. I knew I'd best pace myself as that beer I drank on the way was strong and would put me down for the count. We were having fun with the waitress..ours was a doctor. We joked that our waitress was going to be an engineer or a doctor. We gave her Paul's card hoping she'd call us as we really do need a medic at work. Our only hope is that she talks to the right interpreter and sends her our way..we need a pretty doctor. One looked like Hillary Clinton so Paul called her Hillary. I nursed a couple of beers and we left as the guy count was getting a bit much. We discussed the difference between my last visit..living in dorm settings versus apartment style living as I am now. The dining out and / or cooking and shopping when usable time is short really sucks but you get to go out into the community more often and get to see a great deal more. The trend for food is not like the States..either fried or in its' natural state..no spices or sauces..just naked food with lots of vegetables and bread..the dietary mainstay of most Armenians. Next stop was another Holsten bar..there's lots around here. Some day, we ought to do a crawl from Holsten bar to bar..or Heineken bar to bar..one beer at each. I asked this waitress if she was a doctor..Paul guessed engineer..chemical engineer was the right choice. Not much going on here either. The locals say that it really doesn't pick up until midnight. We couldn't see that anything other than a mass exodus from the homes to the streets would heal this scenario. With our haunts closed down and not much happening where we went, we headed home. As a last ditch effort, Paul did a u-turn and we stopped at Dino Club..not much going on here, either, but we could shoot some pool. We invited a couple pretty young girls to join us and the evening started to pick up. Besides New Year's, we were also celebrating two birthdays of our companions. One of the initial girls we met was eighteen..she didn't look it and would have been tossed from any US bar..these girls were YOUNG! They had no clue on how to play pool so we taught them and laughed with them watching the learning experience. They spoke limited english and we spoke no russian or armenian. We stumbled through the communication process as best we could and succeeded. As midnight approached, the waitress put some dance tunes on the stereo and the mercury shot up about ten degrees. She grabbed the pool cues and put them down on the table..no more pool for you! She wanted to dance! We'd added the rest of the females in the place and we made our own dance floor..life was definitely picking up. We danced, sang, toasted the new year, shot more pool, and just had a blast. Some of the local guys tried to join us but couldn't keep up. We wanted more folks but they just lost interest and left our group. They even knew the Marcarena. Oh my god! The next Electric Plague..I mean..Slide..has gone global!. God help us! We stayed away from this devil's dance. I have no clue as to who paid the tab or what time we left but it was a New Year's Eve of classic proportion. A u-turn for the better..
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