Noyemberyan Then and Now

Instead of writing up a day-by-day account of the rest of our trip, I thought I'd cover some specific stories and people we had a chance to reconnect with, since that's really what the Armenia leg of the trip was all about.

To start, I'm sure everyone's is wondering “what's changed in Armenia?” From a town perspective, the answer is not much. From a people perspective, quite a bit. I'll cover Notemberyan and Yerevan in this post and get into the people details down the road.

The town's still mostly the same - except they have billboards now!,

When we arrived last Tuesday, the first thing we did was take a stroll through the Noyemberyan town center. To be honest, it could have been a flash-back to four years ago. Almost all the businesses are the same, including the department store with the fat mannequin. Unfortunately the ponchikanoc (our Chucky Cheese's) has closed, but a new pizza place has opened up. The taxi drivers still meet in the same place, the grass is still overgrown in the city park, and the roads are still abysmal to walk on (especially after walking with several friends that are now pushing baby strollers).

Ohhh the variety!

Most of the items in the store were the same, including the mayo in a bag and 50 different kinds of candy and cigarettes. The most surprising thing was the wide selection of beer. When I was there we had a few dusty bottles of Kotayk and Kilikia, which are both not so tasty Armenian beers. Now, they have full shelves of national and international beers, including MGD, Heinekin, and a new (still not tasty) local beer, Ararat.

A rich Russian from Noyemberyan built us a new church

The only noticeable change related to my daily life there is that my NGO is now closed. Grant money has largely dried up, and the wireless Internet business is now dominated by the cell phone companies that can provide better service for cheaper. So, Sasha, the NGO's director, now runs the Internet cafe and an electronics shop. My counterpart, Karen, is now a school director, having taken over after his father passed away last year. I'm happy that everyone there has moved along, and I'm not really that upset. They did good work while I was there, and filled important technological void for the community. It's only natural that the Internet service they provided has been replaced by something bigger and better; I'm happy because it will only mean a more global Armenia in the future.

The school has had some improvements like the new roof and basketball courts. The wheelchair ramp and bathrooms look good!

Yerevan was largely the same as well. When the global economy crashed in 2008 (when I left), most construction also stopped in Yerevan. So, the Cascade still isn't completed, and 90% of the luxury apartments on Northern Avenue remain empty.

So, seeing the country stagnant from an infastructure perspective was kind of disappointing. Prices on most everything, especially food and public transportation, have increased by as much as 100%. It was a stark reminder that the current economic crisis affects everyone, not just our 401ks.

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