19 August 2013

Why we're still in Armenia... (Part 3)

This post is the third in a series that attempts to answer the question, "What is it we love about Armenia?"  To read the previous post, click here. To read the first post, click here.

The kindness of strangers

In the U.S., parents and teachers drill into their children the knowledge of “stranger danger,” and one of the maxims that falls into this category of wisdom is “never take candy from strangers.”  But back in our early days in Yerevan, exploring the city with a small child, we learned quickly that there is no such adage in this country.  In fact, if at any time we do not allow Nathan to accept a piece of candy from the kindly old gentleman we meet on the sidewalk, the friendly taxi driver or shopkeeper, or even the accountant at our school, aside from being completely baffled, the candy-giver would probably find us rude snobs, not to mention cruel parents.

Equally surprising were the times we would go to a store and the employees would insist on holding and entertaining the baby while we shopped!  And, no, this was not a babysitting service being offered to attract customers -- these people just wanted to do it!

Something else that takes some getting used to is the idea that it’s ok to hitch a ride with strangers.  According to the Stone Garden Guide to Armenia and Karabagh, “Hitchhiking is generally safe, and it’s common among all groups, including…the elderly…soldiers and police…In the villages and towns, it is customary for drivers to offer rides to just about anyone, and pedestrians seem to expect that cars will stop for them.”  Our old Peace Corps buddy Ben frequently got from place to place (in Armenia and Georgia) by hitchhiking and never had any problems.  Another acquaintance is currently in the process of documenting on his blog his experience of hitchhiking the historical Silk Road: http://harebeat.com/2013/01/22/the-silk-road-trip-2012-prologue/ -- a fascinating read!  Though we haven’t been in a situation where we needed to do any hitchhiking ourselves, it’s reassuring to know that if our car ever broke down in some remote part of the country, we could easily hitch a ride to safety.

Now that we’ve been here a while, we’ve overcome our American fears of stranger danger and have become real human beings like the rest of the Armenian population.  Recently, on a particularly sweltering day at the park, Jarred saw a thirsty toddler who couldn’t reach the water fountain, so he simply picked the kid up and helped him get a drink.  A few minutes later, while I was sitting on a park bench, two children, probably three and four years old, approached me from the playground, greedily eyeing Nathan’s thermos.  I asked Nathan if he didn’t mind sharing his water, and he said it was ok.  They gulped down most of it, poor things!  A minute later, their mother came after them and thanked us.  A simple act of kindness makes us more than just strangers!

I know there are such human beings in the United States, too, but it sometimes seems they are hiding somewhere, waiting to emerge only in times of crisis to make themselves known.  Here in Armenia, the goodness of humanity is visible every day.

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