About my life in Armenia, about being a mom and an activist, working for women's rights.
The challenges and benefits of raising a family in a post-soviet republic.
Finding a place, my place and calling it HOME.


I don't want to get old in Armenia

Julietta is born in 1934, She is my downstair’s neighbor. When I moved to my new apartment 2 years ago, Julietta was cleaning the entrance and talking to everyone passing by. I smiled at her and went up to my apartment. From that day, she always chats with me when I leave the apartment and tells me that she went to the church and prayed for me and for my children(I think she says the same thing to everyone in the building).
Julietta lives alone in her one bedroom apartment. She spends her days on the stairs or in the pak , collecting things from garbage cans, papers and pieces of rags from the streets. I never understood what she was doing with all that stuff. But one day, as I was walking down the stairs, her door was open, so I peeked inside saying “hello”. The first thing that struck me was the smell, an unbelievable smell, a mix of urine, dirt and old things. It was horrible, I couldn't go inside, the entrance was blocked with all kinds of stuff, from old soviet refrigerator to thousands of different size and color nylon bags filled with things. The whole apartment was full to the ceiling with all kind of items: bottles filled with water, dresses, curtains, boxes, newspapers books, food containers, empty cans, nylon bags filled with garbage that she did not have time to open yet, broken toys, I even saw my old stuff, everything I threw for the past 8 months.
OMG, I thought, poor lady, what is she trying to do? There was no place in her house to sit or to lie, everywhere filled with filthy old stuff from other people’s garbage.
I thought she was alone with no family and since Armenia doesn’t have adequate support for elderly people and even less for elderly suffering from Alzheimer or other mental disabilities, the only thing to do was to survive in a way in this dumpster that she was immersing in day after day. I gave her some money to light a candle in church (her favorite activity) and run quickly upstairs because the smell was becoming unbearable.

Four days ago, I returned from Shushi and as I was taking my stuff up to my apartment with my whole family, I saw her sitting on the stairs with her door open and half of her things and collection outside on the stairs all the way up to my floor.
She was crying. The neighbor downstairs was renovating his apartment and needed to go inside her apartment to do the plumbing. Since they couldn’t enter, the door was stuck behind all her stuff; they helped her put part of her things outside.
For the past 5 days she is trying to organize her belongings (her garbage) and sleeping on the stairs to guard her things so nobody can steal them.

Julietta needs help. She doesn’t have water in her apartment, she doesn’t have money, she doesn’t shower and she is forgetting lots of stuff. She has a daughter and a son that she did not see for the past years even though she says the opposite. She has neighbors who are loosing patience since the smell coming from her and the apartment is awful .
For the past couple of days I am trying to think what to do to help her. Calling the police is out of question, since they don’t know how to treat people with dignity, specially people like her. Social services did not call back. She is not giving me her daughter’s number or her son’s, saying that they are busy with their families.
Today I covered my nose with a handkerchief and entered her apartment to open the windows to let the air enter. A group of cockroaches fled away instantly from the open window, even they couldn’t bear the smell and the mess.
Julietta is not alone, there are lots of elderly people like this in Armenia, some on the streets begging, and others lonely in their houses without any support or human touch.

We say we are a nation who respect the elders and takes care of them…in the meantime some of them are just waiting that death comes and spares them the unbearable shame they are left with.


histoires shushiesques de femmes- 1ere partie

Nano avait 15 ans quand la guerre s’est terminée et Shushi essayait de reprendre des couleurs. Elle ne savait rien de ces ruelles. Elle essayait d’oublier la peur, le danger. Elle voulait s’adapter à cette ville de fantômes.

La mère ne voulait rien savoir. Elle avait un regard vide, qui mettait Nano dans une complète désuétude. Elle venait d’une grande ville lointaine, dont elle ne prononcerait plus jamais le nom. Elle ne voulait plus rien savoir du passé, du présent et du demain. Elle roulait ces cheveux gris en une petite couronne et essayait de lisser sa jupe noire plissée aux cotés. Elle regardait souvent les paumes de ses mains vieillies les serrait fort pour cacher les souvenirs, les peines, les blessures. Puisque ces mains avaient fait tellement de choses dont elle n’était pas fière. La vie parfois nous emmenait vers des recoins sombres ou la réalité devient tout autre ou les conventions n’existent plus, ou la dignité est échangée facilement pour sauvegarder la vie incurable.

-Maman je reviens tout de suite, ça ne sera pas long, je t’assure. Dadi Arus a dit qu’on pouvait trouver de belles tasses en céramique pour le thé. Je reviendrai avant le soir, t’inquiète pas ma chérie.

Nano savait très bien que sa mère adorait le thé et toute la cérémonie qui entourait cet élément important qui demeure le seul inchangé de toute sa vie. Mais elle savait aussi combien elle détestait boire ce thé dans ces petites tasses en métal que quelques soldats avaient laissé derrière eux avant de partir vers le front. Le métal donnait un gout amer au thé et la frustration était insupportable. Nano savait que sa mère ne sourirait plus jamais, par peur peut-être de montrer ses dents jaunies. Mais elle savait aussi que ce thé bu dans une belle tasse de céramique lui changerait un peu les idées et lui donnerait espoir que la vie peut encore être agréable.

La gigouli attendait au coin de la rue. Une petite verte ancienne avec des sièges en cuir noir. Dadi Arus s’impatientait.
- Nano jan, vite aghchi jan, il faut être de retour avant la nuit, sinon…
Nano s’est vite lancée dans la gigouli et hop la petite voiture a disparu derrière les immeubles en lançant au passage toute la poussière du monde.
La mère n’avait pas trop d’attentes pour le futur. Tout semblait noir en ce moment, même le sourire de sa fille si joyeuse l’attristait énormément.


To move or not to move

It’s been almost 7 years that I moved to Armenia with my family. My oldest was 2 and a half at that time, my second was 7 months old and my 3rd wasn’t born yet.
It was quite challenging at the beginning; trying to find the essential products and foods needed for my babies, the search for a good pediatrician, then a trustworthy babysitter to have some spare time and work on the “women’s resource center” project. It was also difficult to adapt to the different language (eastern Armenian) and the cultural differences. But for us it was an interesting challenge that we took wholeheartedly. Armenia was something we wanted to experience, my husband and I since our student years at Concordia University in Montreal, Canada. And we made it happen.

Some people still don’t understand how you can leave a “perfect” country to settle for this problematic one where human rights are not protected, where every daily chore is a challenge of its own. Local Armenians still ask me “but why? Why did you come here?”

I don’t know what to tell them. Being in Armenia came naturally to us. I don’t deny the fact that some days it gets so hard that I often question my move too. There is just no right answers …you need to experience what you feel you should and then see how it goes. You never know where it will take you after.
Armenia did change me a lot…it tested my limits, both as an Armenian and as a human being. It helped me understand what is important and what is not in my own identity and life.

But most of all it helped me to UNLEARN and to be free.


Yerevan parks tested by my kids(continued)

Lover’s Park: Very nice but not very suitable for very young active kids. Lots of restrictions (no playing on the green, no throwing pebbles in the water…). Unless you have a child who likes sitting on a nice bench and reading a book or taking a nice walk, it is not a place where children can play freely. I think it is mostly designed for adults or quiet and calm kids. My daughters enjoyed the art corner very much though. There is toilet facilities and the park is really clean and you can find good sandwiches for your little ones.
Disadvantages: not very big or no large areas to play active games (with ball).

Santa Fe’s playground(near cascade, facing Tumanyan statue): For the past couple of years, this place was a lifesaver for us. It has the most secure (relatively to others) play equipment for kids older than 3. Very interesting slides, climbers and swings. They also have real sand covering the play area, so children can go barefoot and enjoy playing with it. Last year they also added a craft corner (ceramics) in the afternoons. They also have a green area where kids can run freely and play ball. Near the playground you have the café and adults can sit and enjoy a drink or food while watching the kids. Toilet costs 100Drams per use.
Disadvantage: Gets too crowded especially in the evenings and not very fun for the younger ones. Service sucks at the café, so you have to be very patient.

Luna parks: I personally don’t like them at all, too noisy, artificial and very bad quality. We go there very rarely, on occasions to do something different. My kids enjoy some of the rides. The one on the corner of Khandjian and Tigran medz has rides for all ages. Toilets are very dirty and service unfriendly.

Freedom Park (monument): still very soviet era rides, weather is nice and is spacious. My kids have usually lots of fun there and you could spend almost half a day or more, nice shady areas. Usually packed in the weekends. It is nice to go there with a group. Toilet dirty but don’t have lots of choice.



If you are in Armenia during the summer, you have to be very creative to find good, fun and safe entertainment for your kids. The challenge was bigger a couple of years ago when even the basic necessities (baby food, milk, diapers...) were hard to find and activity centers for kids was almost non-existent.
Today you still find some good choices:

Public park: In Yerevan, there is a couple of nice spots, but if you are looking for nice well equipped and safe playground, that would be real hard. Most of the parks have nice green areas, colorful benches but rarely a playground for kids. Some of the parks have old soviet iron playground not very safe for small kids. The other disadvantage is that most of the public parks don't have bathrooms and that could cause a problem for newly potty trained kids and older ones.
In general, kids in Yerevan need more playground public safe spaces, something that no one is investing in right now.

the parks tested by my kids (4, 7, 9 yrs old):

The italian park (near the Sundukyan theater): very nice, shady, lots of trees and green spaces and cool water fountain in the middle. Kids play with sand near the fountain and you can sit near them on a nice bench reading a book and enjoying the breeze.
disadvantage: no toilet (unless you go to the nearest cafe or ask the theater), no playground-slides, swings, you need to bring your own toys.

The park near Poplovok: This is a very small park near the famous cafe Poplovok, and surrounded with many other cafes and is usually very crowded after 6pm. Here you have some playground equipments (not very safe) you have to be near if your child is too small. Slide, Climber and a swing. The interesting thing is that the park has a craft area where children from 3and up can buy their little ceramic statues and paint them. This is not expensive and usually children enjoy it a lot.
disadvantage: the slide is a little broken, you need to be careful. No toilet, unless you go to Poplovok.

The park on Khandjian (near swiss chalet): We went once to this park and did not like it. from far it looks so nice and colorful but once you approach it you see how badly maintained it is. The slide has a big hole in the middle, someone can cut itself if not careful. The swings are not attached very well and the park was very dirty with bottles on the floor and also too noisy (near a big street).

(to be continued)

Goris des femmes

Je ne connais rien à cette ville
Je ne connais rien à ce peuple qui construit sans arrêt

Les petites ruelles bordées de verdure, d’arbres majestueux
L’eau qui coule sans attendre, emportant la saleté de toute une nation

Vieilles femmes clouées devant la porte
En attente de cette chose qui n’arrive jamais
Tristes, douces, aux visages millénaires
Yeux qui sourient, bouches qui marmonnent
“C’est lui, ce n’est pas lui…il est parti, non, je ne rentrerai pas, pas encore?”

Rena n’en pouvait plus avec son mari jaloux
Elle a cédé sa place à son frère en politique

Sirva veut finir à temps, elle est pressée
Ludmila se moque des homosexuels
Naira lutte pour sa place dans la municipalité et craint que d’autres femmes lui volent son homme.

Emma est très nerveuse, elle a contribué à la radio et TV de la ville
Elle a souffert trop durant la guerre
Ses enfants cachés dans le sous sol de l’église
Elle courait sous les bombes pour annoncer les nouvelles

Irina accepte maintenant les femmes sans mari, qui engendre des enfants
“La vie est drôle, elle nous impose souvent l’impossible”

Janna a caché des années son statut de femme divorcée
A l’Université, ça lui aurait posé des problèmes.

Pas de travail, pas de ressources
Pour garder les hommes
Il faut hausser les salaires
Pour qu’ils ne partent plus
Pour qu’ils restent

Parfois le départ est essentiel
Douloureux mais libérateur.

Ces maisons en pierre, connaissent-elles le Bonheur?
Il faut observer les femmes
Il faut suivre leurs pas
Il faut écouter sous la fenêtre, le soir, leurs gémissements
Extase ou souffrance?

Des visages tristes embellis d’Oriflamme
Des corps insensibles ornés de tissues ‘made in Taiwan’
Le sexe disparu au fond dans les ténèbres
Moisi, perdu dans un sommeil profond
Parfumé à l’eau de Cologne
Parfois orné de dentelles
En attente de celui qui ne reviendra jamais, de celui qui n’a jamais existé.