Wednesday, January 4, 2012

Zorro in Vardenis

The new year started with a blast of cold air as I got into the car with Peace Corps volunteer Laura Maas, her friend Cal from the U.S., and Arshak from Yerevan.  We headed up to Lake Sevan and swung right to Vardenis, rather than my normal left to Berd.  Laura has been in Vardenis since August, and has encouraged me to bring Homeland Handicrafts there.  'It's needed' she said.  Little did I know.  We stopped off at Noradus on the way up, and it took us only about five minutes among the beautiful, snow dusted khachkars there before we lost the feeling in our fingers and toes.  Cold!

Back in the car, we head out to Vardenis, which lies out beyond the very end of Lake Sevan, a good two hour and ten minute drive from Yerevan in a fast car.  Vardenis is a lot farther away from Yerevan than I thought...and a lot windier and colder.   We wait at the roundabout in the middle of town to meet up with Melanya the head of Astghavank, and I film a 360 degree clip from the middle of it.  Cold, bitter wind, and not a lot happening in Vardenis an early January day.  But Zorro smiles nicely from a mobile phone ad.

Astghavank is an organization working with the parents of disabled kids, and have experience with sewing clothing.  It is difficult, surprisingly enough, to find good sewing skills in Armenia.  Maybe here in Vardenis we can do something.  With a set of designs for potholders and table mats in hand, we visit the Astghavank center, an old kindergarten building that the mayor of Vardenis has given them the right to use for the next 50 years.  Because of the freezing temperatures in the building, we stay only a few minutes, but see that they are in need of new machinery.  They produce decent quality with what they have, but it is not good enough for export quality, which is our goal.

Off to seamstress Lena's house through icy bumps in the road that are bigger than ski slope moguls, we huddle around the wood stove in her living room, and discuss potholders... Mt. Ararat, 'hamov e', and other concepts are discussed, but we settle on a donkey and a test of many things:  quality, aesthetic understanding, willingness to try something new, attention to detail, communication, and all those other things that need to be in place to develop a successful line of products.

Done with the potholders, we are whisked off to the overloaded Christmas table, and toast, eat and discuss unemployment(very high among women), emigration(35% have left Vardenis since independence) and such before jumping in the car and heading back to Yerevan as the sun goes down, and a sudden snowstorm turns the road into a sheet of ice with swirling snow.

Also swirling are the thoughts in my head.  Vardenis is not what I expected.  It is colder.  It is windier. It is emptier.  It is sadder.  It is a perfect place for Homeland Handicrafts to try to make a small difference.

Boy, does Vardenis need Zorro.  But in the meantime, let's make potholders.

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  1. Found your blog through Evelyn Helminen in Vardenis. I want to wish you luck with your work at Astghavard Disabled Children's Center. I worked there as a Peace Corps Volunteer 2008-2010. Your description of the town is right on. They need your guidance. They are very hard working women and can certainly use the new equipment you are providing for them. Laura has kept me advised of this new endeavor and I know it will be great success. Shnorhavor!

  2. Hi, Wayne! Yes, Laura has told me a bit about you! I even saw you(I think it was you!) in some photos on the wall of the center, taken during the rehabilitation of it.. Things are shaping up OK so far. The first orders for potholders are coming in. Let's keep our fingers crossed(and warm!)

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