Notes from Another Place

[ed. note: "Notes From Another Place" is a new column featuring ideas–perspectives and vignettes on life in Armenia from a Diasporan’s perspective–and occasionally the tables will be flipped and the Diaspora will be in the hot seat. Alex Sardar is an Armenian American who moved to Armenia in early 2002 to work on a US government-sponsored democracy project. This column will be published twice a month in the Saturday issue of Asbarez Daily. If you have commen’s–questions or corrections–you may contact him at Enjoy!]

New Year 2004 is just around the corner for some–or by the time you read this week’s column (understandably because of the hustle and bustle of the season–you haven’t had a chance to pick up the paper–yet) you’re nursing a bad hangover–which in many cases helps my cause–because you’re paying attention–since you need to get your mind off the headache.

But I digress.

A few days before leaving Yerevan to join family for the holidays–I got into a taxi cab late at night for a quick ride home from a friend’s place at Sakharov Plaza–named after the brave Soviet human rights activists and dissident. The cab driver asked me where to and I gave my usual descriptive address/directions because–in Yerevan–building numbers mean very little–whereas stores and other markers mean everything. For instance–to get home in a cab–I usually say–"Moscovyan and Baghramian–second entrance–across from the CNN sign–next to the red umbrellas of the Moscovsky grocery store?"

As we drove off in the white–clunky Lada–the static-filled airwaves were sounding off a familiar tune. It was not the latest foray into bridging the cultural gap between Iran and Armenia–or Turkey and Armenia–or fill-in-the-blank and Armenia by one of the many pop artists nowadays; no–it was a familiar tune that took me back 10 years to my college days. The Berkeley–California rock group Counting Crows were belting out–"Mr. Jones," competing with the heavy static. The song had become an anthem of sorts for my generation at the time in college–since we were that strange "we-don’t-know-who-we-are-we’re-stuck-between-Generation-X-and-Y-in-that-no-man’s-land-of-generations-where-no-international-peace-keepers-nor-any-parental-arbitration-groups-can-help-us-with-our-angst" group of early 20-somethings–getting out of college–with no good job prospects–as the techno-revolution had not reached the little people yet–and ?well–you know that one–that generation–that song.

So–Adam something or other–the lead vocalist of Counting Crows kept yelling into this Yerevan cab–"Mr. Jones–believe in me–help me believe in anything–’cause I–I wanna be someone who believes?" and as we made our way down Sayat Nova–I asked the driver what station this was–and he said the National Radio Music Hour.

We proceeded to make small talk about things–as it goes usually during cab rides–and I asked him what he was going to do for the holiday season–and he answered–"Well–I’m going to do the usual New Year’s eve dinner (code speak for ‘my wife–mother and daughter are going to be cooking for a week for all the relatives’) and then I’m going to take my kids to Geghard–so that they can pray for the New Year–so that they believe in the traditions that we have–and to make sure that we are lucky next year."

Reasonable–I thought to myself–paid my 1000dram cab fare (don’t ever pay anything less in Yerevan)–and got out and went upstairs to my apartment. Doing things around the house that night–I put on "Mr. Jones" and after listening to the song over and over again–I discovered that I wasn’t feeling much different from 10 years ago in another apartment–in the small college town of Berkeley–when I was doing things around the house–albeit less expertly–and listening to Adam whatever–looking for something to believe in.

Yes–as much as I thought I had progressed (and quite honestly I do iron my shirts much better now) I was still looking for something to believe in. I think we’re all looking for something to believe in. The only difference is that then I was a member of a group–a team that had no apparent common denominator except that we were the same age and–somewhere in the vast world of being that same age–we encountered some of the same issues. But now–I’m a member of a very specific group of people–one with a common history–a common identity–and I truly hope a common cause. But I think we would all agree that we–more often than not–feel the great need to have our own Mr. Jones and a voice as loud as Adam whatchyamacallit–and the ability to be heard because–so many times–we feel the need to yell out something along the lines of "I wanna be someone who believes?"

When I left Armenia and met various family members in Europe–I talked to some of them and other friends–and inevitably the conversation came to all issues relating to Armenia. The good–the bad–all things Armenia–and the reality of being an aware Armenian is that we do indeed have a belief–a belief in a country that is not the country that we believe it can be; a belief in a nation–that we believe has not yet reached its potential as a collective; a belief in us–a group that we believe has something to give–but has not managed to give it yet. A belief in what was–in what is–but also in what might and could be.

We do believe–and just as the two kids of the cab driver from Sakharov to Baghramian will also believe this year–we have to go to our own Geghards–our own sanctuaries and try to believe in what Armenia can be tomorrow–on January 3–2004–on December 31–2004–and on January 1–2020.

So–as we celebrate the dawn of a new year–and all that’s associated with renewal–let’s pack away that Counting Crows CD (mine’s already scratched) and create our own anthem–that of deed–principle–engagement–and not one of hollow belief. Because you never know who Mr. Jones is–and what he’ll make you believe in.

Now–back to nursing that hangover–we’ve got lots to get started on–like planning trips and moves to Armenia.

Happy New Year 2004!

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