Monday, August 23, 2010

The world's oldest shoe and a snake pit: Weeks 8 and 9

My time in Armenia is coming close to an end now, and I think though it will be nice to get back to normal life I'll be very sad to leave. In terms of AIESEC work things are quite relaxed now, as I hand over to my replacement and get together the EB* for the next year.

Over the last couple of weeks I've been up to a fair amount, so I'll try hard not to make this blog post too epic...

Trip to the museum

Over the last few weeks I've been to Republic Square a lot of times, and I think it is my favourite place in Yerevan with lovely soviet-era buildings (normally an oxymoron) as well as the dancing fountains I mentioned before:

However I've not been inside the huge museum which overlooks the square until now. With a morning free me and Karen my host decided to have a look around the bottom 3 floors that house the National History Museum.

Armenia has an incredibly rich history. Their position in middle of major trade routes meant they were frequently invaded by several different empires, however at one point Armenia controlled a huge area of land.

Unfortunately I wasn't allowed to take photos inside the museum but there was a huge amount to see. When Lake Sevan was drained by the Soviet Union a large number of preserved artefacts were discovered, including a 2000 year old wagon, which was on display.

Another one of the main exhibits was a shoe dating back to 3500 BC, the oldest in the world...

It looks a bit like a pasty
Moving house

The next day it was time to move again, this time to stay with Arman, a member of the OGX* team and his sister Shushan. Again I noticed the Armenian approach to houses, while outside the block of flats was quite plain and the exterior wall unpainted inside the flat was very nice.

Arman has a large collection of English films, so we've been watching a few of them. I think he is glad not to have to watch movies with his sister, whose tastes seem to be limited to rom-coms. Their parents are currently away in their cottage for the summer holidays, and should be back next week, so we're all cooking together although it's quite hard to find the ingredients for the recipes I know in Armenia.

Khor Virap

A couple of days after moving house me, Elize and her family drove up to Khor Virap, one of the most popular sites in Armenia. Right next to the Turkish border (as in about 50 meters away from the first fence) this church is built over the pit where Gregory the Illuminator was imprisoned for 13 years, with only the old woman who would sneak him food and the snakes for company.

You can climb down into the pit through a metal ladder tucked away to the side of the church's altar. It's about 6 meters down, and a bit of a squeeze for me (not many Armenians are 6 foot 1). Fortunately they had got rid of the snakes and put in a few lights, but the air was still very stale, and I was finding it hard to breath after only 5 minutes down there.

It was the pits

We also climbed up the hill next to the church to get a better view of the border. Sadly Mount Ararat was pretty hard to make out in heat haze, but you could see all the countryside for miles around.

Afterwards we went for a picnic in the shade before heading back to the city. Elize's dad is a keen photographer and was very pleased with all the photos he'd managed to get from the day.

As for Gregory the Illuminator eventually he was released by the King in exchange for curing his madness, and went on to convert the whole country to Christianity so I guess it all worked out in the end.


Next time: Adventures in Yerevan markets and my last days in Armenia!

Also because you demanded it, a photo of That Place, the bar in a car park.

*EB - Executive Body / Board, the people in charge of each functional group in the Local Committee

*OutGoing eXchange - In charge of sending people abroad

Sunday, August 15, 2010

Brit Pop and a Dog called Barks: Week 7

This draft has been sitting on my laptop for a long time, just got it finished up so there will be more to follow!

This week has again been fairly busy for AIESEC work, as we're getting to the stage where we need to have a full plan for the next year. However I've had a little bit of time to see the sights as well as a few other things.

Last Sunday, after I got horribly sunburnt at Lake Sevan (it's pretty much all better now!) I went to the AIESEC Armenia handover party. This was a big event where the new team for AIESEC Yerevan was announced, with the traditional glass of water over the head.

I also met a lot of AIESEC Alumni (ex-members) including Manu, who along with two other people both called Gaya has set up a group called Indie Libertines. They organise indie music parties in Yerevan, where the musical scene is pretty dominated by metal.

It happened that later that week they were going to be running a British music night at one of the clubs in the city. Naturally being the incredible expert on the UK indie music scene I was instantly recruited to help out. Sadly Armenians aren't quite ready for dubstep :(

The party was pretty great, they'd decorated the place with a giant Union Jack on the ceiling and had one of Yerevan's 7 indie bands playing covers of Oasis and the like. I'd put together a little UK pub quiz for everyone, and was quite proud to see how quickly they learnt they could cheat on their iPhones.

Not quite sure what they'll do with the 6 foot long Union Jack now...

The next day I moved house once again, this time to stay with Karen (pronounced Kharen) an AIESEC Alumni. Karen lives with his family (including aunts and uncles) in a sort of compound of 3 houses, in a part of Yerevan known as Bangladesh. It's called this for pretty much the same reason we'd call a part of a city Timbuktu although it isn't actually that far away, only 40 minutes on the bus.

Karen lives with his Mum and Dad on the top floor of one of the houses along with his brother Armen and Armen's wife and 1 year old son. However the bottom floor of that house is currently uninhabited so me and Karen have moved in there. When I first arrived I was met by a very woofy dog who appropriately enough is called Barks as well as their slightly quieter hunting dog Jacque.


On Saturday me and a few AIESECers went to the Genocide Museum in the park just outside the city center. It was a short walk up hill though some nice woods and gardens, but apparently on Genocide Memorial Day (April 24th) there is such a long line of people you can end up spending a whole afternoon walking slowly to the top in the middle of a huge crowd so quite a few end up fainting!

The museum itself consists of a memorial with an eternal flame, as well as a large exhibit hall that tells the story of the genocide through photos, documents and contemporary accounts. The Armenian Genocide isn't really covered in UK history lessons so if you don't know much about I'd advise reading up on it here. It was quite moving to hear the AIESECers I was with tell me about what happened to their grandparents, including how one fled Turkey with their mother and hundreds of orphans.

More updates to follow soon, sorry for neglecting the blog recently, a combination of laziness and busyness. Watch this space!

Friday, July 30, 2010

The world's first Cathedral and the world's reddest Jamie: Weeks 5 and 6

Ahh, I've been really rubbish at updating this, so it's time for another epic post. Been really busy over the last 2 weeks with AIESEC work so I'm going to break my no blogging about work rule to explain what I've been up to. We've recruited a load of new members for RAU and have been training them up. Last Sunday we had our Orientation Day, where we taught our newies all about AIESEC.

I ran a session on AIESEC History, which meant actually learning the history. I'd definitely recommend AIESECers looking it up, it's quite a story. We had lots of games and things as well to keep the newies interested, and judging by the feedback everyone had a good time. Thanks to Ani, Zara, Lusine and Tatevik for helping out!

As my time in Armenia is starting to come to an end (still got 4 weeks though!) I've been trying to get out of the city and spend less time working since my teams are pretty well set up now. On Friday I went to Ejmiatsin, a small town outside Yerevan, with Elize, Ani and two Dutch journalists who have been traveling from Egypt back to Holland over land.

They ain't getting on no plane foo

We took a minibus out to the town, which took about 20 mins (Armenia is a pretty small country so it never really takes more than 2 hours to get anywhere). Ejmiatsin is pretty dominated by the cathedral and the buildings around it. The Armenian church is a separate organization, and all its priests are trained here. We saw a fair few priests wandering around in their black robes, as well as lots of tourists (which I've not really come across anywhere else in Armenia).

Bell tower of the Cathedral

Inside the Cathedral there were loads of decorations and paintings, as well as an altar in the center with a bible and a metal cross which many visitors would kneel to kiss. There was also a throne for the Patriarch (the Armenian pope) to sit in for the services and lots of incense holders.

After having a bit to eat we walked around to another church. There is a lot of building work going on, which made a difference from Yerevan where the general strategy for construction is:

1. Dig a massive hole, build the foundations and put a few cranes in before running out of money
2. ???
3. Building finished!

In the church we saw an Armenian christening, where the whole family is christened together. Afterwards they handed one of the Dutch guys a sugar sculpture of an angel. Apparently they give these to people who have not yet been christened, to remind them to get it done. I'm not sure the message sank in though, as he tried to eat it.

Yesterday we went to Lake Sevan, which is a huge lake to the north of Yerevan. It used to be larger but was massively drained by the Soviet Union . The same guy would go on to work on the Aral Sea which turned out brilliantly, I think he really hated water.

We got to Sevan town via minibus, where we met Ani and Elize's friend who lives by the lake. He had to go to a wedding, but managed to set us up with a taxi and direct us to a good beach.

Lake Sevan is pretty popular with Armenians in the summer, and the beach was pretty crowded. Much of the sand has disappeared as the lake is rising again (about 50 cm a year) and some of the resorts have already been flooded. The water was an amazing shade of blue, and apparently it changes colour a lot throughout the year.

We went for a swim in the lake, which was pretty cold even in the middle of summer, and afterwards had a picnic. Despite being careful with the sun, and trying to stay in the shade I managed to get quite burned, apparently this is normal in Sevan as the sun is very strong and the beaches quite exposed.

Even the horses needed to cool off

After a nice day by the lake we headed back to Yerevan, managed to get to the office to finish off a few things before heading home for a well-deserved rest.

Monday, July 19, 2010

Golden Apricots and Ancient Temples: Week 4

This week has been pretty busy with AIESEC work for both Bristol and RAU. However I've managed to get a bit of time to see a bit more of Armenia too. Firstly on Thursday I moved house again. I'm now staying with Tatev. a new AIESEC member, about 20 minutes walk from the office. It's nice to be staying with a family again, but I'd forgotten how much food they give you.

On Friday I went to the Golden Apricot film festival with Haykaz (my Finance and Law* guy for RAU). Every year they have a big festival, with directors coming from all over the world as well as lots of Armenian films. I went to see From Ararat to Zion, a documentary about Armenians in Jerusalem. It was pretty interesting, although the power went out 5 minutes in, so we had to start the whole film again. They also said the film was in Armenian on the program, so there was a massive rush for the door when they then announced it would be in English with no subtitles.

Me at the Moscow Cinema

In the evening we had more AIESEC elections, this time for the vice presidents. I was acting as an 'international observer' so I counted all the votes and announced the results. On Saturday we were meant to do the same for the MC* but not enough people showed up so we didn't have quorum. Instead we went to another of AIESEC's favorite pubs, West. It was a Wild-West themed bar, with swinging doors and electric guitars on the walls.

On Sunday I headed off to the University for the AIESEC RAU member meeting. Afterwards Tatev's family picked me up in their car and we all headed off for my first trip out of the city!

We headed north into the mountains (although pretty much any direction you go in Armenia is into the mountains). The roads were quite windy, but in much better condition than the guide book had led me to believe. We stopped briefly at the family's summer house to drop off the food for the evening before heading on to Garni Temple.

It was built in the 1st century by an Armenian king using money the Roman emperor Nero gave him to say sorry for destroying his capital (he was meant to use it to rebuild the city). When they converted to Christianity it got turned into a summer palace for the royal family. In 1679 it got knocked down by an earthquake, and was a big pile of stones until the Soviet Union decided to rebuild it.

The result is pretty impressive, especially as it's surrounded on 3 sides by sheer cliffs. However if you looked a bit closer you could pretty clearly see the bits that the Soviets filled in (see if you can spot them)

After this we went to another Armenian 'must see', the Geghard Monastery. This is meant to be the place where the spear that pierced Jesus' side is kept, and is part of a large complex of little cells carved into the cliff walls. Monks would come here to get away from earthly desires, and would live in these little holes, which could only be reached by ladder, for years.

By the entrance there were 4 little holes carved into the cliff, which people try to throw stones into while making a wish. If you can get one in then your wish will be granted. I managed to throw one in, but it fell out again, not sure what this means).

The larger caves have been carved out over hundreds of years, as the springs inside were worshiped back in the Bronze ages. I collected a bit of the spring water in a bottle to take back home.

Armenian Priest in the Monastery

After a long day of sight seeing we headed back to the summer house for Horvats, Armenian barbecue. It's quite similar to British barbecue, but with more fire. First everything is put on massive skewers while a big pile of wood is collected. The wood is set on fire, and the vegetables put straight into the flames. They quickly get completely burnt, but this is meant to happen. Once the fire has died down they take the veggies out, and someone picks off the burnt outside while the meat and potatoes are cooked on the ashes.

Expert Chef

The food was really delicious. and we has a huge meal out on the patio. The house is up in the hills so you can look down and see Yerevan in the distance. In the evening we headed back to the city, and a was able to give Rajitha a call to say Happy Birthday before I went to bed.

*Finance and Law - Does the budget and the compendium (constitution) for the Local Committee. Makes sure we don't break any AIESEC rules.

*Member's Committee - The National Committee for AIESEC in Armenia

Monday, July 12, 2010

Day 21: Wet wet wet

Yesterday was a very significant day in the Armenian calendar, rooted deep in their culture and history. It was National Throw Water at Everyone Day!

It's based on an old pagan holiday to celebrate the waters of Armenia, where everyone gets massive buckets of water and tries to soak everyone else. Apparently to cleanse their sins. As a result I didn't bring my camera along to the meeting today, which went quite well (we were introducing more newies to AIESEC).

After we had to escort the projector through the streets around the university, with about four of us acting as shield for the guy holding it and two more running ahead to check for people hiding around the corners.

We managed to get back to the office in one piece and headed out for lunch. While we were waiting to cross the road a car with blacked out windows went past and some kid with a super soaker totally drive-byed us.

After grabbing some lunch me and few AIESECers decided to have a water fight, before drying out in the sun outside the university. In the evening I went off to the Botanical Garden with a couple of other AIESEC people.

In the days of the Soviet Union it used to be one of the nicest gardens in the USSR, but since then it has gone downhill a bit. There were a few massive greenhouses with panes of glass missing, and the plants growing out of the windows. It was a bit Jurassic Park-y, especially as hardly anyone was there.

We played Frisbee in a clearing in the woods with some people from the English club (a place where they go and practice their English by talking about things). After that we went back to the office, getting soaked again on the way.

Tuesday, July 6, 2010

Ancient Manuscripts and an Irish Pub: Week 2

Hi everyone, sorry again for infrequent posting, I've gotten out of the habit a little bit :(

This week has been fairly busy with lots of work on AIESEC RAU. We will be getting a shiny website in the next few weeks, and have been working hard promoting ourselves on Facebook and another Russian social networking site.

On Thursday I got a bit of time to relax and explore the city. Miko, Ishxan's brother, was my guide. First we went to see his friend in the city center. When we arrived at his flat his mum immediately set out huge piles of fruit and cake, and served us all ice cream. Apparently this is normal in Armenia, would be so cool if this happened in the UK.

Yummy Foods

Miko, his friend, his friend's younger sister and his friend's cousin (who spoke english with an American accent), took me to the Matenadaran, the only ancient manuscript museum in the world [citation needed]. We saw lots of illustrated manuscripts up to 1000 years old, as well as books, papyrus scrolls and inscribed banana leaves from all over the world. They were all very interesting, but I couldn't take any photos,

So here is a photo of the outside of the building instead.

On Friday I said goodbye to Ishxan and his family and moved on to my new home. Originally I was going to stay with Sargis, but repair works at his flat have run on a bit longer than planned, so we are both staying in student accommodation. It's nice and close to the office (only 15 minutes walk) and quite comfy too.

Sunday evening we had an AIESEC party to celebrate Sargis becoming President. We had it in the Irish Pub, which was one of the least Irish places I've ever been. They had strobe lights.

It was all good fun though, there was a power cut, so everyone got out their phones for light, and the owner lit some candles. Everyone had a bit of a sing along, and then we went on to That Place, a new bar in the middle of Yerevan. It's a bit weird in that it's in a car park, apparently it's popular with Armenians coming from abroad. Maybe they like car parks. The facebook page boasts:

"Reflecting the owners' passion for bikes, you'll feel like you are in their own garage."

More posts soon, I'm planning to finish off seeing the sights of Yerevan over the next week, so lots of pics to come!

Tuesday, June 29, 2010

Breaking the silence: Days 4-7

Hi guys, sorry about not updating in a while, I've been fairly busy with AIESEC stuff. On Thursday (Day 4) I had to prepare a presentation for all the AIESECers in Armenia about the UK. So I spent the afternoon doing that. It went down quite well, and after I introduced them to a new AIESEC Dance:


Today was spent sorting out various AIESEC Bristol things, sending emails, writing business plans and generally planning and scheming. I also had a wonder around Yerevan, having a look at a few nice places.


Today I had quite a busy day. I got up with Ishxan to go and visit the bank where he works. It is quite a nice building with air conditioning near the city center, so I think he is doing quite well. The only issue is new employees in Armenia have to work very long hours, and often on Saturday too. Apparently there is an issue with lots of workers becoming ill from working too hard and having to retire early.

After seeing the bank I went up to the AIESEC office to meet the MC* who gave me my brief for the summer.

I will be in charge of setting up AIESEC Rau (the Russian-Armenian (Slavonic) University), a new LC* in Armenia. I have a team picked by the MC, and two months to get us to LC status. I have some very good AIESECers on side, so I am confident we can manage it.

The rest of the morning and afternoon was spent coming up with a plan for the LC. After that I went to a birthday party of an old AIESECer Nune, which was at a karaoke bar. Everyone had a lot of fun, and it turns out that Ishxan is a very good singer!


Today was the first meeting of AIESEC Rau, at the secondary school attached to the university where our office is located. I got to meet lots of new members, as well as Laura, who is here from Australia on an AIESEC exchange.

Some of the RAU members

I did a presentation, explaining my plans, and we worked out which group everyone is going to be in. We will hopefully increase recruitment over the next few days to get more members involved in AIESEC.

After that I went home for a nap, before more planning, and another delicious meal from Ishxan's mum.


Today was spent in the AIESEC Armenia office, sending off emails and planning out various parts of setting up the LC. I worked on a few things for AIESEC Bristol, had to be done but not very interesting.

At about 6 the TM team showed up for their first briefing, which the MC VP TM* ran partly in English (so I could understand) and partly in Armenian for the difficult bits. Everyone seemed enthusiastic and ready to get recruiting.

After this we had a member meeting, with all the Armenian AIESECers, where the new LCP* of AIESEC in Yerevan was announced. I wish Sargis lots of luck, and look forward to working with him over the summer!
When someone gets elected in AIESEC we throw water on their head. Not sure why.

*Management Committee, run AIESEC Armenia, not allowed to be called National Committee as this is illegal in some countries like Cambodia. All MC members in Armenia are graduates who are working part time for a company and part time for AIESEC.

*Local Committee, AIESEC committee for one university or area, made up of President, Vice President for each functional team, and team members. All of whom are students.

*Management Committee Vice President of Talent Management

*Local Committee President, what I am in Bristol