Armenia likes to think it straddles the east and west. Almost every descriptive text introducing the country makes some reference to the mix of western and eastern traditions, culture, food, and other things. My experience at the Vivacell store painted this picture perfectly.
Well-appointed and sleek, the store was like any other you might expect to find in the west. Even more to the point, there was a kiosk where you punched in the reason for your visit and you were given an automatically generated number and waited your turn until called. Things are changing!
The east is too deeply ingrained to so easily disappear. After all, why wait until your number is called if, well, you don’t have to? Example 1: group of impatient, slightly angry-looking young men. Knowing that they were supposed to come after me and seeing that they were hovering near one of the help desks, I watched to see what they would do. After a customer got up and walked away from an agent’s desk, the pack leader brazenly and nonchalantly pulled up a chair without waiting for the number to be called. It looked like the agent was going to help him, too, were it not for a young lady in our group who pointed out that he had not waited his turn. He looked irritated that he had to wait for his number to be called but moved away.
My turn (Example 2)!
My agent was pleasant enough. She was very helpful, patient, and professional. She was signing me up and going through the terms when a woman whom she apparently knew came up to her in a hurry. Without paying much attention to the fact that I was sitting there being helped by her friend, she shot off some questions about how much she had outstanding on her account. The agent helping me seemed a bit uncomfortable that her session with me was being interrupted by her friend but she wasn’t able to manage much except to tell her to wait a moment before she could look up her balance while she was helping me, which she eventually did. The interrupting woman (hereafter, “the yazva woman”), ever neglecting that her friend was helping a customer and that there were several other people in the store waiting to be served, continued yapping away until she got her answer about how much she owed, shelled out a few thousand dram, told her friend, my agent, to apply it to her account, and sped out of the store. Helpless, the agent did as she was asked, took care of the payment, and then finished up on my account.
Thus the Vivacell store became an 18th century bazaar. Or maybe that’s what it already was and I was fooled by the luster of the sleek design. But I can’t be entirely disappointed.
Armenians love each other. However much they express superficial disdain for each other, they love each other. It’s something I haven’t seen with any other people. They want to help one another, especially if one of them swallows their pride and asks. You may want to say no because you’re tired or sick or angry but you do it anyway because you share some inexplicable thing with that other person. It’s magical.
Then there are the bastards who abuse this magic. Those who appeal to the craving of the potential helpers but at the expense of their other brethren. Order is an opportunity to abuse the orderly for them. My agent wanted to help – I don’t blame her. But the yazva woman cared not that she was wasting my time and that she was wasting the time of the people waiting behind me. That she was abusing the belief of the people there who were also seeking help by way of order and that they were equally worthy.
And if not that day, one day, a person in that line behind me will see another yazva unconcerned with the community and will learn that so that he may not have his time or money wasted, he must be the yazva. He must disrupt the order. He must cut in line. He must break the rules. He must trick and deceive before the other yazvas do it first. Until we become a nation of yazvas.
I should have asked the people in the line behind me, on behalf of the yazva, if they wanted to allow her to go ahead. I should have asked the yazva, courteously, whether my or the other peoples’ business was less important than hers. And I imagine if she was asked the next time and every time she tried to violate the order, even if she never changed, the community would grow stronger. And the community would have the power to reject the yazva and to refuse her and her self-interest. The community would recognize the agreement that to experience its magic, order must prevail and it would deem that the disorderly must not expect to reap the fruits of a system they are intent on violating.
And the potential yazvas would relish their newfound compatriots, feeling solace in choosing the good over the bad.
Our fight is within. Between the people concerned with putting themselves first and those concerned with putting their nation first; the people they love so. We choose every day which person we are through our actions. We can be the yazva or we can be the nation.
I choose to be the nation and I want you to join me.
By: William Bairamian