Friday, October 28, 2011

By the Hair of Their Chinny Chinchin

I thought we had it all planned out- arrival at 11, meet Arev- the newly designated leader of the knitting women in Chinchin- at the school.  There was quality to control, there was knitting needles and yarn to distribute.  A phone call to Arev the day before was not entirely understood by her or me, but the assumption was that that was the plan.  It's like that in Armenia.  You think it is all planned, but it never turns out that way.

We arrived on time.  The school was open, but empty.  We were puzzled, and couldn't figure out who to meet or where- what had gone wrong?  An umbrella in the corner of the entryway told us somebody was in the school building.  We went from door to door until we heard a voice in a room at the end of the hallway upstairs.  Two ladies are in the room, huddled around a wood stove.  'School holiday today' we were told, the occasion not quite clear.  And where is Arev, I ask?  'She is in Idjevan'- no further explanation to be had.  Clearly, my phone call to her had gone all wrong.  I explain that I am here to collect Armenian fruit coasters, as if that was supposed to make any sense.  But indeed, one of them puts on her coat and goes out.  Ten minutes later, after we have been served freshly sliced apples by the woman who stayed behind, the woman who went out comes back.  Not a word of explanation.  We ask 'and?'.  'Klini' is the answer, 'shall be'.

In the next 10 or so minutes, a parade of women excitedly arrive.  The first one with six pomegranate coasters, the next with six cherries, then another with six apples, then six orange-looking peaches, then the watermelons and pears.  The strawberries are not quite ready, I am told.  They eagerly show their work, and wait for my response- the 'shat lav's shower down on them.  One young woman seems upset.  She shows me a half-finished apricot coaster, and unhappily explains that they only have three pairs of knitting needles in Chinchin, and that she only got a hold of one of those pairs yesterday.  No problem, I say,  no stress. She shows me an orange apricot with a black line down it.  I say sorry, I would like an apricot that is two thirds yellow and one third orange, with no black line please.  She firmly disagrees- apricots should be two thirds orange and one third yellow.  I choose not to disagree with a determined Chinchin woman.

I pull out the new five sets of knitting needles from my bag of goodies and they distribute them immediately to those that need them.  I strikes me that a pair of knitting needles costs 300 drams- 80 US cents - but in Chinchin, every dram counts as we enter the long hard winter, so they have not invested in any extras, and sent the three pairs they had around the village, taking turns.  Chinchin hangs on by the hair on their chinny Chinchin you might say.

When I pull out the 25 skeins of yarn in a rainbow of different colors to make the snowflake coaster that we already have orders for nearly 150 of, the excitement grows.  I explain how many of each background color are to be made of the snowflake, and they are off... cackling between themselves on who will make which color, they almost forgot I am there.  I try to say goodbye a couple of times, but flush with the excitement of new knitting needles, new orders for coasters, and the very idea that some hub-bub is happening in Chinchin in late October, they are too absorbed in who will make the navy blue and who will make the burgundy to notice that I was leaving.

As we make our way to the car in the burrrrr cold of the Chinchin frost, the strawberry knitter comes running, rosy cheeked and worried that she had missed us.  Her strawberries were beautifully done.  She is happy, and heads into the school to get her slice of the snowflake order.

All is good in Chinchin.  A small start has been made.  But it is the positive energy I will remember, their excitement about being offered work.  I am not sure if it is the money they will earn, or the feeling of having something to do during the long winter season.  But these women do want to work.  They are eager to work.  I will do my very best to give them work.   Because work is not just about food on the table during a long, hard winter.  It is about pride, about allowing them to provide for themselves in a hilly village where the only source of income is potatoes.  It is about the future of their village.  The future of Chinchin.

One coaster at a time.

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