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A Peace Corps Volunteer on the Raod in Armenia
A Peace Corps Volunteer on the Raod in Armenia
On the Road in Armenia
By Lindsay Young
I love Jack Kerouac’s On the Road.
He’s a great writer, and it’s become a classic. But what I like about On the Road is Kerouac’s uninhibited zest for life, out on the road, fully experiencing everything he encounters—a smell, a love, a hate, a stranger. The road moves Jack Kerouac. It makes him who he is, penetrating every inch of his body and soul.
It’s music that moves the people here in Armenia—makes them forget there’s no work, little money and bad weather, if even for a song or two. It’s when I feel life here—stronger than I’ve ever felt it at any point in my life. The pulse of truly living radiates through a room when the people rise to dance.
It’s not something you find much of in America, or at least in my part of America. What I’m used to is the hum-drum of regular life, going through the motions, and if there’s dancing to be had, it’s not typically in a living room, and it usually involves some degree of inhibition.
Tagoohi is my single friend of about 40 who fits her name perfectly—“Queen.” She truly is queen of her life.
“Ins shot em ciroom; im andanik shot em ciroom; kiank shot em ciroom; hayastan shot em ciroom ...” and on and on she went the night I visited her on a whim. She danced around her house, twisting her slightly plump frame, hips going here and there, to Enrique and Whitney. She hummed along, throwing in the occasional English word.
I asked if she liked living alone, remembering having told her I didn’t know any other women but myself who did so. (This had elicited a hearty laugh.) She answered with her sly trademark wink, and then grinned, eyes shining: “Shot em ciroom,” pushing her head forward and shaking it slightly, but intensely, as she spoke. And added that only with a “lav amoosin” would she do otherwise.
Then she turned up the music and pulled out her pictures, her body still moving ever so slightly to the beat.
Not far away, just outside of town, sits Tsovaguye, a village about which I had mostly heard bad things. It’s at the end of a road that leads slightly up the mountains that, like a wall, stand behind Sevan. The night I went, I was crowded into the backseat of a small car with three other people I didn’t know well. One was my student, who was celebrating her birthday.
Almost immediately, as we entered her house, after the customary introductions and questions for the American, the dancing began. The teen-aged girl grabbed the remote, flipping on Ricky Martin for what would be one of three or four times. (The rest of the time was Armenian music; Ricky was played for my benefit.)
“Yekek—Parek!” She took my hand and dragged me into the middle of the living room, and soon her aunt, a woman in her late 30s with the look of someone in her early 20s, both in style and energy, twisted out onto the makeshift dance floor. The room was glowing.
As the rest of the family rushed around, spearing fish for horavats, putting candles on the birthday cake, cutting bread and lavash, the newly turned 16-year-old danced around the main room of the large but modest house. As if a magnet, she drew other aunts, uncles, sisters and brothers onto the floor throughout the night—no shame, just fun.
So much that I couldn’t dance by the end of the night—an early one, 9:00 PM. But aside from being tired, there was no reason for not dancing—inhibitions don’t belong on an Armenian dance floor. Who cares if you really can’t dance? It’s irrelevant.
I came home tired, but high—a high not even a 15,500-dram electricity bill could bring down. Almost as high as I was after a fish dinner in Gavar, a place I had expected little from. (I’ll admit.) We were in Gavar for the teacher-training workshop in early December; after the workshop, the university treated us to fish and a dose of life.
Toward the end of the meal, a man at the end of the table stood for a toast. Instead of speaking, he sang. His deep full voice boomed over the heads sitting at the long table in the narrow room. The hands started to come together, a beat some stood to dance to, with their hands in the air and smiles on their faces.
The face of the voice was a proud one on the body of a short, stout man, his posture set like an opera singer, hands resting at times on his round belly. He sang at least two songs, but it could have been more. I don’t quite remember. I was caught up in his singing, Armenian pride reflecting in his eyes, while I watched my friends—Armenian and American—dancing in the tight space. That, added to the success of the workshop and a few unexpected famous visitors, left the volunteers smiling for the rest of the weekend.
It made for an atmosphere I believe even Jack Kerouac could have gotten his kicks from.
* * *
If anybody tells me I’m disillusioning myself, or harboring ‘pretenses to a higher mentality,’ or even ‘trying to rise from the people,’ I’ll tell them they’re damned fools and will go on writing, studying, traveling, singing, loving, seeing, smelling, hearing and feeling.
So now in this exact minute, I must dress, put on my pants, go back to life, that is outside life, streets and whatnot, as we agreed, it is now one-fifteen and time’s running, running.
—Dean Moriarty (Neal Cassady)