Annie Akkam, Artsakh
Why should locals leave this village to find opportunities elsewhere, when we should be creating opportunities right here?

We’re more than halfway through 2020 and most of us have spent the year indoors. The global pandemic influenced everyone’s lifestyle, including mine. Living in Yerevan became too overwhelming, so I decided to move to a remote village in Artsakh where there are no cases registered (yet?). For a person who lived in a city all her life, this was (still is) a great challenge for me. Whether it’s bugs, lack of roads, farm animals, or the village lifestyle in general, I mentally prepared myself to the fact that I won’t be liking anything here, but I will suck it up and stay for the whole summer. Yes, 3 whole months in a village. What could go wrong?

Well, for starters, it was almost a 6-hour drive to Kashatagh province, which meant hell for someone (me) who gets carsick almost instantly. Half of the bus was empty, passengers wore masks, and the driver used rubbing alcohol to clean the handles. The first 4 hours were tolerable, but the last 2 felt like an eternity. One lady immediately figured out where we were heading. I assumed my friends in Yeritsvank village stood out as the only repats in the area. She had even memorized my friend’s mother’s name. I later found out she was the village headman’s wife. Made sense.

Adjusting to Yeritsvank was an intense cultural shock for the first 2 weeks. There was only one store in the village, which was the size of an average living room, meaning they don’t have everything you want. You have to walk to the only spring in the village to get drinking water. Blackouts are regular. Bugs are basically your family. As for roads, Doc Brown from Back to the Future describes it best: “Roads? Where we're going, we don't need roads.” I was lucky enough to be staying at a house where there’s air conditioning, which was the only thing that reminded me of Yerevan.

I complained. I complained and complained and complained. The more I complained, the more I found things to complain about. If it’s not the mosquitoes, it’s the cockroaches. If it’s not that, then it’s the scorpion. If it’s not that, then it’s the dog that barks every night. If it’s not that, then it’s the alarm that goes off at 4:00 AM. I could keep on complaining and never run out. But what was the point? Complaining wasn’t going to stop the dog from barking, it wasn’t going to stop the mosquitoes from biting, and it certainly wasn’t going to turn Yeritsvank into Yerevan. I thought I was mentally prepared for the move, but I wasn’t even close. Other than my friends, I never saw locals my age here. Everyone was either 35 and older or younger than 15. There were no millennials here, and I knew why. There wasn't a cafe, a bar, or even a cultural center for anyone to spend their time. There was one school, one store, and everyone else worked in the field of agriculture. So, you either do what everyone else does or relocate to a city where there are more opportunities. The closest medical clinic was in Kovsakan. No, I wasn’t surprised that there wasn’t anyone my age here, and I don’t blame them. 

Soon, I made my first friend in Yeritsvank, Arpi. The 15-year-old was a hot-blooded sarcastic girl (as teenagers are), who was also kind, hardworking, and clearly wanted something new. The first time I met her, she asked me to style her hair. The second time, she asked me to cut it and teach her English. Every time she got a call when we hung out, she gave a different answer and made it seem like she was with different people. “I’m with my hairstylist, I can’t talk” or “I’m out with my friend” or “I’m having a conversation with my English tutor”. I thought it was funny. Since I was going to be staying here for 3 months, I made it my mission to get her to speak proper English until it was time for me to return. Finally, a purpose.

The more I found things to do, the less I started complaining. Instead of screaming at insects, I either killed or co-existed with them. I was pretty sure I accidentally ate some bugs at some point, but I didn’t seem to mind. It’s protein, I thought, and moved on. In no time, I stopped seeing Yeritsvank as the middle of nowhere and started viewing it as a place with vast room for development. Why should locals leave this village to find opportunities elsewhere, when we should be creating opportunities right here? Food for thought.  

Annie Akkam

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