Musings on the daily events in politics and sports as well as some local bar stops along the way in LA.

Wednesday, September 07, 2005

My journey to Armenia and Moscow day by day (entry no.4)

August 16
Ah, theres no feeling like waking up in Artsakh after a good nights sleep. Actually let me rephrase that. What the hell is up with the roosters screeching at 4:00am. I thought they waited until dawn to wake you up. I guess since this is still technically a war zone the roosters even did their part by waking up the soldiers at such an earlier time. I still ended up with a great nights sleep compared to the absolute lack of sleep I was getting before this night. So I get up and start walking around Shoushi a bit more. Theres just so much to see here and it looks great in the morning. First thing I see is what was probably a 90 year old grandma herding a flock of sheep and jumping over huge rocks and stuff, man they really are agile here in the warzone. I go back to the hotel for breakfast and in the lobby I see a flyer for the local golf course and think to myself golf course? What the hell is a golf course doing in this area and how much is it to play. Turns out its $25 a round and you can rent clubs, too bad we don’t have time to go I’d love to check it out. So we start off our tour of Shoushi with Nara our local AYF tour guide explaining how they liberated Shoushi, the only problem was that we could understand roughly 50-65% of what she was saying, and the story is such a crazy one you have a million questions but cant even ask them because of the language barrier. So we go off and first check out the inside of the church which is a great church, the inside is pretty basic but its in the middle of town and it used to be used as a weapons cache by the Azeris (who they call Turks over there), because the Azeris figured the Armenians would never attack a church. We then go to a rug store where we see a girl who was no more than 14 making some rugs that people ended up buying. There was also a real estate agent right next door, I wanted to look into buying some property in Shoushi until I realized I have no cash but I do have massive amounts of debt, probably not the time to purchasing a home in a warzone. We then check out a bombed out school that lots of famous Armenians have graduated from. It is three stories high but mostly rubble, I end up climbing up to the third story, probably risking my life since it all looked like it was going to collapse, but I ended up getting a good picture (which I need whoever took to send to me). We then go to the Muslim Mosque in the area, first I really didn’t want to go to the mosque since for years we’ve been fighting the Muslims but then I heard the story how the Muslim council decided that Karabakh was an ethnic conflict and not a religious war because of the fact that the Mosques were not being attacked (what a great move on the Armenians part with that one). We go to the Mosque and while its still standing there really is absolutely nothing inside and apparently its going to be a museum. The inside is a two story building but I saw some stairs going to what I thought was a third story so I start venturing up the stairs. It was the narrowest spiraling staircase I have ever been in and I only thought it was going up one floor but it kept going up, and there was almost no light in that place so claustrophobia started setting in big time. I decide to try and run downstairs as fast as I can since I have no idea how high it goes and the claustrophobia was getting a bit crazy, too bad as I turn around I hear other people following me up the stairs and there is absolutely no room to go around them so I had no choice but to double time it upstairs, I finally get up there and its pretty cool how high up you are, people once again take a cool pick from the bottom (a pic im also waiting for), then once again the buses are getting mad that I keep venturing off and they have to wait for me, but oh well im in Artsakh trying to get to see everything.
Next we go off to an area that’s really cool, it’s a dirt area with a bunch of rocks thats at the edge of a canyon. As the vans go through this dirt path I see what looks like a flag and some people huddled around it and it turns out to be the golf course! I have no idea how you could consider this a golf course as I couldn’t even find a green let alone a hole. Just some locals with one club one ball and a flag for the pin. I even tripped over a rock that said hole 5 100 meters par 3. That was just ridiculous, it was a random rock in the middle of a dirt field and it turned out to be hole 5, even though I couldn’t figure out which direction it was in, the locals seemed happy to be playing.
The canyon was really beautiful, I have no idea what it was called but they were telling us some story of princes riding up on horses and stuff. Then one of the drivers starts telling my brother and I some story about helicopters and anti-aircraft guns and some cable that’s tied from one mountain to the other. We completely misunderstand his story (you try to figure it out when theyre using half Russian words for things like helicopter and landmines). The driver realizes that were not understanding his story even though were telling him we understand every word, and he tells one of the Hayastantsis the story who end up explaining to us that the cables are tied from one mountain to the other because they would hang mines off them so the Azeris couldn’t fly low with their helicopters and they would then be in anti-aircraft range. That gets me thinking to how much more has been lost in translation. Oh well its time to leave this golf course.
We then go to the Shoushi hospital where Land and Culture Organization is helping upgrade and rebuild the place with more modern equipment. Some people go inside the patient rooms to talk to the patients but I didn’t really find that appropriate so I just wandered around the place. We quickly headed off to Stepanagerd to check out the AYF/ARF agoomp there. Most people could care less to see the agoomp and just wanted to walk around stepanagerd, well we lost the bus with our guide Nara in it and nobody knew how to get there so we just pulled over and were told to go grab food and meet back in 3 hours. Well me Tatevos (our AYFer Yerevan tour guide) and my bro actually want to check out the agoomp so we walk into parliament and ask them where it is. We get to the AYF office and see the other bus that we lost over there, Nara shows us around the place and introduces us to a few people, its always cool to check out the agoomps around the world and for being in Artsakh this is a really nice and modern building. We even eat some apples we picked from the tree in the back. From there we go to get something to eat, everyone goes to the place across the street called Flamingo which looks completely like a European tourist trap. Sevag and I decide that this isn’t where we want our only meal in Stepanagerd to be so we start walking around and run into Roupo and Sako our two drivers who were about to grab some food themselves. They ask some guy on the street where we can eat and this guy takes us to a room with four walls that they call a restaurant. I actually entered through the window because there was no front door, inside there are about 3 tables, no pictures on the walls no tablecloths or silverware or anything to make you think that it’s a dining establishment. There was a backgammon board randomly on a table and one table of people eating, so we sit down. Some old grandma comes out, not with a menu or anything but just asks what we want, khorovadz is the only option and the only question is if we want pig, lamb or cow and if we want eggplants and other random vegetables bbq’d as an appetizer. We decide on the pork cause that’s what the drivers wanted and their the locals. Roupo and Sako are shocked that guys at the age of me and my bro are not married. We explain to them that in the US you don’t get married at 21 and they seem perplexed. We then shock their world by telling them that we don’t mind if our future wives are not virgins and that in the US its not acceptable to cheat on your wife as often as you like the way they do in Armenia. Then they start laughing at us and calling us pussies when we tell them about community property laws and what would happen to you if you treated a girl in the US the way they do in Armenia. They were literally laughing at us for not having mistresses and letting our future wives actually have a sexual history. (needless to say the woman’s rights movement probably still has a ways to go in the Stan). The food gets there end then once again theyre laughing at us because were eating the food with a fork and knife and they tell us here you eat with your hands. This was actually the best meal I had in Armenia, in a random shack where I had to enter through the window, there were no menus or even signs of it being a restaurant. We ask for the bill and the lady arbitrarily throws some number out there and it seems reasonable (like 3 bucks each) so we pay it and leave.
We then head to Ashan, on the way to Ashan we drive through Aghdam which was a city 3 times the size of Stepanagerd but it was populated by Azeris so now theyre just using the stones from those houses to rebuild Stepanagerd so the Azeris now really have nothing to come back to, the entire place was rubble, like a ghost town it was crazy. Then we go through ridiculous dirt roads and go into what seems like the middle of nowhere for about 2 hours until we finally make it to Ashan. We visit a school that was built with Armenia fund money and the principal tells us that over there is the sports complex that was built with ANC funds so I go check out where these ANC funds are going and realize that the sports complex is basically a bunch of dirt within 1 foot high stone walls, not exactly a complex (I actually have a pic of this one ill post, sports complex yegher). Then we go to the camp which the AYF Youth corps has been building for the past 6 years. At this point everyone is ridiculously tired and cranky since we’ve been going for hours through random dirt roads to this ridiculous camp site in the middle of nowhere where were supposed to have a bbq and drink. Too bad once we get there everyone was so miserable that they convinced the group leader Shant (who also hated it) to turn around and just bbq at the hotel. I actually like Ashan but that was more because it was Youth Corps people who built it, and it resembled a ghettoer version of AYF camp that I love. What are you expecting in the villages of Karapakh its not exactly gonna be a 5 star resort. I take a quick tour and we leave. Now everyones straight miserable so in our bus we realized there is only one cure, it’s a 3 hour van ride back to Shoushi so we need to start drinking now. Jiro says he has a bottle of cognac he bought for his dad but is willing to open it. We promise to buy his dad a better bottle (ah the empty promises of alcoholics) and he busts open the bottle and we get to drinking. Once that bottle is cashed then Ara says he has small airplane bottles of chivas, absolute and Johnny so we obviously drink those too. Now were starting to get drunk but were out of alcohol, we know there was alcohol in Shants bus because he had it for the bbq. We pull over and ask him for one of the vodka bottles and he says no he doesn’t want anyone drinking in the buses (a little late for that). We get mad and get on our way and in about 20 min I tell the driver Sako to pull over so I can go to the bathroom. He pulls over at a shack which I tell everyone I have to go take a piss but in actuality I realized it was a liquor store and I bought 2 bottles of vodka for 3 bucks total. So now were on our way to Shoushi and were wasted as Ara takes out a letter his dad wrote to him right before Ara left for Armenia, it talks about the places he will see and the emotions he will feel while in the motherland and it ends with the famous Saroyan poem about building a new Armenia. Now let me tell you that’s a crazy poem and letter to listen to while your wasted in karapakh. Then the singing obviously starts with me and Sevag leading the charge as were on our way back to Shoushi to bbq and party all night long.

Tomorrow: Drunk at night in Shoushi then Gandzasar and Noravank.

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