Friday, November 09, 2001

The first opportunity I had to visit Artsakh was in the first week of June, 1993. It was a long waited discovery trip, which I had tried to do the previous October with no success due to a lack of transportation. Going to Artsakh was intended to give me a better understanding of what was really going on and to see firsthand what could be so special about this land that people were willing to die for it. Not only did most of my questions get answered on that trip, but what I saw and experienced changed my life forever. Though I could write volumes about that trip and plan to do so one day, the story I will share with you today took place on the last day of that first trip, where I found myself in the village of Vaghuhas in the Mardakert region. This was a village that during the war, changed hands a couple of times and the last time the Azeris took it, they burned down every house and almost every barn there. We had stayed the night before in one of the barns that were still intact. So that morning the people in our group were being offered a tour of the destruction and to visit the last outpost the Azeris had on a hilltop in the village which still had the remains of the invaders littered there. I passed on the offer and stayed behind to slaughter lambs so we could take them with us to Yerevan, as at that time there was a meat shortage in Armenia and Artsakh has a surplus. So almost everyone went off and left me, our driver Vartan and some of the villagers behind. I had brought with me from America a duffel bag full of new baby clothes to pass out to the villagers and had sent out word about the baby clothes before going off to a yard where hundreds of lambs awaited my arrival. With me I had my mother's new Swiss Army knife, which she lent to me just before I left for Artsakh (she could not come along, as she was conducting a workshop in Yerevan). So with this new razor sharp knife, I slaughtered and skinned 3 lambs. Then the experienced villager who had slaughtered, skinned and cleaned 2 other lambs, came over and cleaned out the guts of the 3 lambs I had left hanging. We chopped up the meat and hauled it back to the barn where we later loaded it into our jeep. Being it was my first time to slaughter a lamb and my lack of experience, I was covered from head to toe with blood and was in need of a bath. I got my towel and shampoo and began to head to the stream. The woman in whose barn we were staying told me that the stream was cold and I would get sick. I told her that I was going to also be washing my hair and it would be better if I went to the stream. She insisted that this would not be a good idea and ordered a couple of boys to go to the stream to bring water which she would heat for me. I could not argue and the boys soon returned with the water, which she heated. She then put out a large pan on the ground in the yard, next to the barn door. I was not sure what to make of this, but figured that if these people have no problem with taking a bath in the yard, then I better get over any shame of my body I may have and take a bath. Besides, there really was no one around other than this village woman, who had probably seen everything and a couple of friends of mine (one of them was her brother), so what�s the big deal. I took off my clothes and stood in the pan and she proceeded to pour water over my head. I lathered up. As she was rinsing me off and I could open my eyes, what do I see, but the village women with their children, who had gathered at a table near us where we had put out the baby clothes. They didn�t seem disturbed at the scene so I just played it cool like business as usual and lathered up again (I always soap up twice). While I was lathering, I hear the sounds of an approaching group. It was the explorers returning from their hike. With them was this village woman�s husband. He asked her what was going on? She told him in a very normal tone that she was giving me a bath. He said, okay, just asking. So I rinsed, dried off and got dressed. No big deal. No one really talked about it, it was not a big deal. I thought to myself that I had just experienced real Armenian village life. One big family looking out for each other. The following year when I came for a visit, the village had changed quite a bit. There were now houses. The village woman was now a widow, as her husband had been killed in a battle a couple of months following my last trip there. The bond that I had with his family had effectively made me the 5th child of the family and talking openly was not a big deal. So as we were all sitting around that night, reminiscing of the days of my first visit, the question came up about the bath. She confessed it was the first time that anything like that had happened in the village, but thought that in the US that�s the way we must do things, and she didn�t want to make me uncomfortable by saying anything. I was still a little confused and only figured out how the whole thing happened, but not until the next morning, when I decided to wash my hair, shave and nothing more. The water was heated this time by her daughter and the same pan was brought out for me to hold my head over while washing my hair. It seems at that first time when I told her I was going to also wash my hair, she had understood I was interested in only washing my hair and not take a bath. So when she put the pan out in the yard, she had never expected that I would get undressed and stand in it. I mean maybe only in some third world country they do that, but not here or in the US. Live and learn, and boy did they learn a lot about me. I�m sure that I was the talk of the village for quite some time after that. I mean how often is it that you get some Armenian from America coming to a remote village for a visit, let alone one that takes a public bath? Well it sure is a good argument for not immigrating to America. And if that much good came out of it, then it was well worth it. One thing I will say is that after that experience, I got over any shame I may have of my body and my level of self-confidence is much higher too (not that it was ever low). Oh, and for those of you that are wondering if I had enough sense to keep on my underwear (because every time I tell this story I get that question), the answer is no, because you can never get really clean wearing dirty underwear when taking a bath.

No comments:

Post a Comment