Saturday, November 10, 2001

Well the weather is starting to warm up again. Could this be mini-summer running on Armenian time? All I can say is that if it is, bring it on. I was able to get out and wash my car today. Since my return from Yerevan a couple of weeks ago, I have not had the time, nor has the weather permitted me to do so. It has almost become embarrassing to drive around, thus making a walk the better mode of transportation. Much of my time these days has been devoted to writing. I decided that this winter (which I was convinced had already come) would be the time to sit down extract from my journals the modern Armenian history I have witnessed for the last 12 years. I�m not sure if this is material that will ever be published, but for the possible benefit of Armenians who may never have the chance to see this place for themselves, it could give a different perspective of life in Armenia and Artsakh that they would never know otherwise. I don�t want to claim to be a writer and will say that I have no formal training what so ever in writing. If one day I actually attempt to get this work published, you can be sure a professional writer will iron out all the kinks and enforce the rules of writing for me. So keeping that in mind, the following is another shortened log version of one of those stories.

After the earthquake of 1988 that killed tens of thousands of Armenians and left many more than that homeless, I was given the opportunity to come to Armenia on a fact finding mission with my parents. They were working with the Eastern Diocese of the Armenian Church to investigate the building of a library in Stepanavan, Armenia. I went along to video tape everything and also get a chance to see Armenia for the first time. What I saw of Armenia as a guest of the government was quite impressive. What I saw when everyone else was drinking at dinner and I would go out for fresh air and invite myself into government officials' neighbors houses was quite a different picture. I guess we have to remember that this was the tail end of the Soviet Union, and it did collapse the following year. One night we had dinner at the home of the Sardarabad museum's curator. The ride back that followed was quite interesting. It seems that everyone that night had too much to drink (all but me). My parents got a ride back to hotel Armenia with the director of the National Library, Henrik Liloyan. I rode in the InTourist van that was assigned to us while we were there, with a bunch of librarians. Our driver, Benik, had been sitting next to Liloyan at dinner and apparently, Liloyan was filling the driver's glass for him to drink as well. All I can say is that the screams from the librarians when Benik was driving like a drunken madman, coming very close to hitting the cars in front of us, as he would swerve around them with horn blaring, was quite frightening even for me. I was in the back of the van and could see that this joy ride could end in our becoming a statistic. So I stood up and called out to Benik, �You know, I�ve come all the way from America and have really wanted to drive in Armenia, so why don�t you give me a chance to do that now?� Benik pulled over the van and I made my way to the front. Now mind you, this was a Soviet-made van with no power anything, and the car I was driving in the States was fully loaded. So I sat behind the wheel, and Benik gave me some pointers on the brakes and so on. We got started and Benik, still in a playful mood, was pushing on my knee to give more gas, so we would go faster. Well, little did he know that in the states, I was the king of comedy traffic school, thanks to my annual speeding tickets that I would get for breaking the speed of sound (the sound of a CHP siren). So I played along and drove just like he was, in the middle of the road, not between the lines, but on the line (government vehicles have always done that and do even to this day), honking the horn as I was getting right up behind cars before swerving around them. Well, the librarians seemed a little at ease. We soon found our way to the hotel, and I pulled up in front. I guess Liloyan�s driver had taken a shortcut, as they were out front of the hotel waiting. So when I got out of the driver's door, Liloyan thought that it was another van. He looked a bit confused and upset when I walked passed him as we made out way into the hotel. The next day he told my father that this was the first time in InTourist history that a tourist had driven one of their vehicles and if something had happened with me behind the wheel, he would have had some real problems. I wonder what would have happened if Benik had crashed and it came out that Liloyan was the one filling his glass? Anyway, nothing happened. Our trip concluded with Benik dropping us off at the airport a couple of days later. Well, years passed and I always wondered what became of Benik. In 1994, while getting into a mashroot (a privately owned van which move on a fixed route, taking on passengers), someone in front of the van called out my name. It was Benik�s son, who was with us back in 1989, when Benik was our driver. And who was at the wheel of the van itself? Benik. Yes, still driving, not for the government, but for himself now. He told me that after that trip, because of that driving adventure we had, he almost got himself shipped off to Siberia, no joke. Fortunately, some relative of his had connections and resources to pay a bribe to get Liloyan to forget the whole thing ever happened and let Benik off the hook. So Benik gave me his phone number so we could get together and reminisce. God, if I were him, I would just want to forget the whole thing, but I guess we did have some good times on that visit together.

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