Wednesday, September 25, 2002

As Lena would say, Mama Manoogian has come for a visit. Yes, mom is in Yerevan and I went last Friday to see her.

Friday morning started out with a visit from an old woman who had been coming to my house for 4 days with no luck in finding me. I was told by my neighbors of this old women coming to my house and waiting for hours for me to come home. I knew well why she was coming around so I took the time to learn who she was and her whole life story prior to her seeing me that morning.

Her name is Rosa and she is 60ish. She works for the waterworks as a cleaning lady. Her husband who in a country where heavy drinking is considered normal is considered an alcoholic. He works for the trash collection service.

So that morning when Rosa knocked on my door and I answered, she started to complain as to why I had not been home for 4 days. She complained as to who I was giving aid to and how there was one person who was better off than her. She then went on to tell me of how she had lost 3 sons to the war and how difficult life was. When I sympathized to her condition and asked her about her son and daughter who were living and if they help her, she asked if I am denying her aid because he has children? She said she has only one daughter and no son (which is not true, she has a son who is a drug addict and has been in trouble with the law). Not that this should matter but, her 3 sons that she lost to the war, 2 of them were lost over 20 years ago while they were serving in the Russian army in Germany. The information I have is that the one that was lost in our war here died during the war, but due to a non-war related accident. So with that information in hand and Rosa�s version of what she wanted me to believe to be her condition was not something I wanted to hear that morning.

Though I felt sorry for Rosa, I explained that unfortunately it had been decided as to who was to receive aid and there was nothing I could do to change things so she could receive any.

She didn�t like my answer and wanted to know who decided as to who would get aid? I told her I decide. She asked who gave me the right to make those decisions? I didn�t even answer her and told her I was busy, ended the conversation and closed my door.

She walked off cursing me and complaining to the people (my neighbors) who she encountered on the street about how I help people who don�t need help and don�t help the people who do need help. She told them she was going to complain to the government about this.

At 10 AM, along with some friends, we headed in the direction of Yerevan.

In Stepanagert, I stopped in to see my friend Hagop, who is the reason for me getting into the granite tile business. He was returning to Australia on business and I had samples for him to take with him.

One of the samples was a very high quality green-blue granite tile, which we were able to cut 1/4" thick due to its hardness. Yes, Hagop was impressed and told me of a housing tracked that his son is building which will probably order 1,000 square meters of the green-blue granite.

I stopped in to have my cars electrical system worked on. My usual auto electrician Sasoon (I wrote about him in prior logs. The 14 year old kid whose father went to Russia to work and he had to drop out of school to work and take care of the family) was not in. He had gone out to have his father�s car fixed. In his place was his father, who had returned from Russia. Yes, Sasoon�s father has returned. I asked him if this means that Sasoon will return to school? He said that Sasoon does not want to go to school. He enjoys what he is doing. He asked me what kind of future his son will have? I told him it would be a good idea to get him back to school and then to the university as to what I�ve seen in his son, he has a great deal of potential and a more promising future if he gets a good education. He agreed but said that he is now the bread-winner in the family and he (the father) has plans on returning to Russia. He mentioned how proud he was of his son to know that he could take care of the family.

I finished with all my car repairs and after having lunch, we headed on to Yerevan.

In Goris, I was stopped by the police who asked me why my car registration was not current? I explained to them that I live in Artsakh and as far as I know I have until December to register my car (August is the deadline for registration in Armenia, but last year cars with Armenian plates in Artsakh had until December). They asked me where I was from and when they understood I was born in America, they let me go.

In Vike I was stopped by the police for the same reason. This time the traffic cop David I knew from years ago. He didn�t remember me but was convinced I knew him when I started to tell him his family history. He still didn�t remember me, but let me go since I knew so much about him.

We went to a village on the outskirts of Yerevan to the house the relatives of the people who came with me.

The next morning (September 21st, Armenian Independence day) we went to Yerevan to find my mother. We sat and talked for a couple of hours and agreed to meet at the Ani Hotel at 4 PM as there were some visitors that wanted to see me.

My friends and I went to the Bangladesh bazaar where last month I had purchased a cellular phone for my fish farm project, but the battery was not keeping its charge and the person who sold it gave me a one month guarantee. So I went to exchange it for a newer model that would keep its charge. My friends told me that there was no way they would take the phone back. I found the guy who sold me the phone and after a 10 minute talk on the meaning of what his life could be like if he didn�t make good on his guarantee, he exchanged the phone. My friends were quite impressed in my methods of diplomacy.

My 4 PM visit at the Ani Hotel had great results. My conversation with one person turned into a group discussion with quite a few influential and active Diaspora-Armenians. I not only found a possible client for granite tiles, but also $250 in donations for the sponsorship program and the possibility of more donations.

One woman who is involved in a project that provides aid in the amount of $250 a year per family agreed after our conversation that no one person let alone a family could live off of $250 a year and my $600 a year amount made more sense. Another woman said she heard of a program that you can sponsor someone for $200 a year, but after our conversation agreed that every little bit helps, but to claim that someone could live off of $200 a year is harmful in many ways.

Being that it was Armenian Independence day, we went to Yeraplur (this is a cemetery where Armenian freedom fighters are laid to rest). We took flowers to the graves of people we knew. One of the people with us took a look around and made an interesting observation. She said that Monte Melkonian�s grave had only a few common flowers when we got there. Vasken Sarkisian�s grave had a large arrangement which had the names of the people it was from who were the presidents and ministers of Armenia and Artsakh. She said that Monte did no less for Artsakh than did Vasken, so why was there not similar flowers from them on his grave? One other thing she pointed out was that Vasken and Antranig Pasha are side by side and Vasken�s rank in the military is higher than Antranig Pasha�s. What a joke.

We left Yeraplur and I got stopped again by the police. This time a moving violation. It seems that I made a lane change in the intersection (which I did). Okay, this time I was wrong. The cop walks up to my car and asks me in a very rude tone why I broke the law? I told him to begin with, change your tone of voice and talk to me in a normal way. He said he was talking loud so I could hear him. I said I was not deaf and could hear him fine. He said he was going to write me a ticket. I said fine. He had me get out of the car and walked to his car. One of the cops that was with him I recognized as a cop I had harassed in the past. That cop mumbled something to the rude cop, who immediately smiled to me, handed back my documents and walked away.

On the 22nd, we went to Water World since they had advertised on TV that the Water World season was ending and the entrance fee was now 1,000 dram. We got to water world to find that the entrance fee was 2,000 dram and 1,000 dram was for their last day which was the 23rd. No big deal, we paid and spent the day at Water World.

At night, we went to the government square where there was a concert. We ran into Madlene and Arthur. Madlene looked great!!! She had flowers in her hair and told me about how it was for Arthur�s video. I took a picture of them, which I have to send to her which maybe she will post so you can see for your self how good she looked.

On the 23rd we went to Yerevan so I could have my car worked on. I needed to have the frame adjusted so I could have the front wheels aligned.

On the way I was stopped again by the police. This time it was the check-point where a few years back I was called in to see the chief of the traffic police. I knew they had stopped me for my registration being expired. This time not only did the cop notice that my registration was expired, but he also noticed my international drivers license had long ago expired.

Talking to this cop was of no use and he said they were going to impound my car. They called me over to talk to his commander who told me that this year I don�t have until December to register, that was only for last year. I told him I didn�t know that and assumed it was the same this year. He said that it made no difference since my license was expired he could not let me drive. I told him that I had no way of renewing my license without going out of the country to do it or I would.

He asked me what I do here and I told him I�m a auditor and monitor the government. I then went on to explain that I had applied for citizenship in Artsakh and if I received it when I was suppose to, I would have a local drivers license and we would not be having this conversation. He said he didn�t understand, if I�m a member of government why could my friends not get me all the documents I need? I told him he didn�t understand me, I�m not a member of government, I monitor the government and document what they do and how much they stuff in their pockets. He and the other cop looked to each other, one winking to the other and saying that it all makes sense why they don�t give me citizenship. He asked me when it was going to get better for them and I said when our government understands that you have to pay people real wages so they don�t have to look other places to supplement their income. He told me that by law he is not suppose to let me drive, but seeing that it�s not my fault for not having a valid license he will let me go.

I went to the mechanic, who gave me the bad news of it costing $200 and 2 days to fix my car. No thanks I said. My car I paid $300 for, spent $300 to fix up and I know there comes a time that a car is just too tired to continue on. So I decided that it was time for my 1972 Fiat to retire.

I went to see Madlene, who I knew had been looking for a car so I figured she could advise me on where to look for a car. Madlene put me on the phone with David who told me he would call around. I then went off to Armenian TV where I was told they advertise cars. I asked them what they have available and told them my limit of $2k for a non-soviet/Russian car. The woman said we have nothing less than $3,500. No can do. All my friends in Martuni are paying $1,500 for a good condition German made car and they get them in Armenian. I had no luck in finding anything.

That evening we went to Paplovak for Sushi which was great!!! They have added some stuff to the menu which includes raw fish (we are now dealing with real Sushi here).

Since my car was too dangerous to drive according to the mechanic, I called the Tuesday mini van that goes direct to Martuni to see if there was room. Yes there was room for all 5 of us. We agreed on a time and place.

We returned to the village and not 5 minutes of the news of me retiring my car did a villager come to see me about buying the car.

Ara: What will you give?
Villager: I don�t need the whole car.
Ara: Well what do you need?
Villager: Well if you take out the transmission and engine, but leave the alternator, battery and carburetor, I�ll take all that�s left.
Ara: Well how much is all that�s left wroth?
Villager: Well how much did you pay for the car?
Ara: $300 and I paid $300 to fix it up.
Villager: The transmission is worth $300 and the engine you can�t get more than $100. The front tires are worn out from the alignment problem.
Ara: But the steering wheel is from my Niva and was $60 at the time and the windshield was replaced last year and cost 25,000 dram.
Villager: Well they sell windshields for $10 now and the steering wheel for $10.
Ara: So how much will you give me?
Villager: How about $100?
Ara: Well I can�t give you any answer right now but will let you know.
Villager: When will that be?
Ara: After I talk to the people in Martuni to see how they advise me.

After that encounter and the low value of cars in that village, we decided to call the Martuni van back, cancel our reservation and drive my car back, ignoring the advice of the mechanic, who told me the front tires could fall off at anytime.

Well needless to say, I made it back to Martuni and though there is not much left to the front tires of my car, I think that if the road was open, I could have driven all the way to Baku.

I got stopped by cops on the way back a couple of times for the registration, but they let me go without any real resistance.

When I got home and opened the gate to park my car, this really good feeling came over me, the feeling one gets from going someplace and then coming to the safety of ones home. Not to say that Yerevan is not a good place, but it�s not home for me. This is my home and I get the feeling will be so for many years if not generations to come.

Friday, September 13, 2002

A couple of days ago the money arrived for the sponsorship program we have started.

I took some time away from work and went to the bank to deal with transferring money from the foundation�s account to each individual recipient�s account. I deducted 1% from the $50 per person plus 1000 dram for the initial fee to set-up the recipient�s accounts. Each person this month received $47.75.

The next day, I returned to the bank as I added a sponsor, who wrote me to tell me that he had sent $600 to the foundation, so I went ahead and added our 13th person using the money in the foundation�s account I have for the recipients for the next 5 months.

While I was there filling out the papers for the 13th recipient, I could hear one of our 12 recipients in the other room who didn�t know I was in the other room asking where this money had come from? They gave my name and the old woman began to cry and thanked God for giving me life and wishing me a long life. She went on a bit telling the bank worker about how this wont bring back her son, but maybe the world is not such a horrible place and there really are people who care.

As we were filling out the papers another old woman walked in to the room we were in. She was probably 85 years old and walked with a very rustic looking handmade cane. I asked the woman who was filling out the papers for me if this was one of our people? She said yes. The bank woman asked the old woman if she brought her passport with her? She said no, she forgot it at home. She said that she could only give her the money if she had her passport and the old woman (who only lives across the street) asked if she could bring it later? The bank woman said no and asked her if there was a child at home that could bring it over? Now even I would not have asked that question to this old woman as I know almost every woman on our list had lost their children in the war. The old woman looked to the bank woman with tears in her eyes and said �No, their all gone, I have no one.� She walked out of the bank crying. I didn�t say anything to the bank woman, but I could tell from the look on her face that she knew she made a big mistake saying what she said. I commented to the bank woman that today you will be hearing a lot of crying.

The bank lady informed me that since this is aid that we are distributing, they are not going to deduct the 1% transfer fee, meaning that the recipients are to get 100% of what is intended for them. Also, the foundation is covering any wire-transfer fee that they may be subject to. Next month, I�ll give each recipient an additional amount that reflects what I deducted for bank fees that the bank did not charge.

I�m going to go to the bank next week to see about parking the foundation�s money that is intended for the recipients in interest bearing accounts that mature in time for distribution. This way we can maybe in time have enough to add another person or help out someone with a onetime gift or something.

I�m getting the expected fall out from the �church lady� types of how I went about selecting people. Everyone wants to receive this aid and one person is worse off then the other. One woman, I think she is �the church lady� herself even had the nerve to ask someone who this Ara person is to have the right to decide who is going to get help. One person said that I should just ignore it and to remember that it is impossible to select the wrong person as everyone today is in need.

Tuesday, September 10, 2002

I have been so busy this last week that there has been no time to log. I guess this is the way things are going to be in the future, one log a week (if that).

So what is Ara so busy with now that he has no time for logging.

Now that I have been here for 4 years as a student of economics, human nature and politics, I�m finally graduating.

My days of dabbling in small business ventures is coming to an end and I�m moving on to the next level of medium size business.

For the last year I�m been planning to open a fish-farm and this week I got it off the ground. Though I like fish and think it potentially could be a good business, this one is my experiment on seeing how people work together and how motivated they will be when they have a share in the business. Though everything is in my name, I�m running it like a collective. We are a total of 6 equal members. Everyone has voting powers, though in the event of a tie, everyone has agreed that I will have an additional vote.

The second business I fell into and I know is going to be a smashing success is the stone business.

For the last 3 or 4 months I�ve been working with one of the Armenian-Australian owners of the Narir Hotel in Stepanagert, Hagop, to find a source of granite floor and wall tile. Our efforts have come up with nothing, as the locals who run or own the stone processing factories in Stepanagert have told us that with their equipment they are not able to make what we want. Their big hang up is that we want the tiles to be � inch think and they are claiming that the thinnest they could make was 1 inch.

I had it in my head that what I wanted was possible to do, since the Italian�s make such granite tiles, but was convinced by the locals that we just didn�t have the technology in Artsakh to make such tiles.

Exactly nine days ago, the Mayor�s youngest daughter was craving corn. The Mayor gave me a call and asked me if I could drive him to a plantation on the outskirts of Martuni to buy fresh corn. I agreed, picked him up and drove to the plantation.

As the Mayor was talking to the owner of the plantation, I noticed a small factory on the edge of the plantation which had marble and granite stones littered around it. As the Mayor took care of his business, I walked over to the factory.

The owner was there that day working on making a grave-stone. As he worked, we talked stone. He was from Baku, escaped to Martuni and built this small factory. He has 30+ years experience and it turns out had worked on the statue of Monte Melkonian and also the spring near Spitagashen that was built in Monte�s memory.

I asked the master if it was possible to make granite tiles � inch thick and he said that during the days of the Soviet Union, they didn�t do such things since there was such a surplus of stone that there was no need. He said that it is a little more difficult to make such tiles but didn�t see why we could not try.

He went on to tell me that he had moved to Russia and was back in Martuni for the last time to sell his house and business, as he had left Artsakh due to a lack of economic opportunities for him and his children and has started a new life there. He told me that he had a buyer from Armenia for his factory and they were to call him in the next couple of days to finalizes the deal so the buyer could come a disassemble to factory and take the equipment to Armenia and from there, who knows where. He said that if I was interested in buying the factory from him, he would tell the buyer that he has already sold it.

I told him that if he could make me a sample and if my friend from Australia likes what he sees and gives me an order, I will buy his factory.

The next day we worked almost all day to come up with something that I was satisfied with.

The following day, we drove to Stepanagert to visit with Hagop and see if he was interested in what we could offer him. It would be an understatement to say that Hagop liked what we made, because he didn�t. He loved what we made and if it was not me, he would have thought that we went out and purchased Italian granite and claim it as our own. He looked it over and over, checked to see if the thickness what consistent and wanted to know our secret of how we were able to have perfectly smooth edges? To tell you the truth, I thought that all tiles had smooth edges, but Hagop said that every sample he has received from here has never had as smooth an edge as our tile did.

As we were talking, Hagop got a call on his cell phone from the President. �Yes Mr. President. I don�t remember why I called you and am in a meeting with Ara Manoogian, you know, the American-Armenian that lives in Martuni�� He went on to tell the President that we are working together to manufacture and export granite tiles to Australia.

Hagop gave me an order for 100 square meters of tile and when I finish that, he will give an order for all the bath, halls and other areas of the new wing of his hotel and then our first container order will follow that to be shipped to Australia.

I�m not even going to get into how many people will be working for us, but will say that this is a real income generating business that can pay real wages and potentially employ lots of people.

Well my late lunch break is over and I have to get back down to the factory to wait for our first truckload of granite to be delivered.

A quick note. I got an e-mail yesterday from someone who is going to be a sponsor of at least one person or family. My goal of 100 people is now up to 12 or more.