Monday, May 19, 2008

Waiting in Line

There are two main places we find ourselves waiting in line, the
grocery store and stoplights. The funny thing is that lines or
queue's don't really exist in Armenia, it is more of mob scene every
time. From what I have been told it is a repercussion of Soviet time
food lines, people weren't sure what line they were standing in so
they would just crowd towards the front to find out. On my first
trips to Armenia I was welcomed by this mob mentality in the airport,
and although with good position originally I found myself one of the
last to go through. Thanks to the terminal at the airport things are
much better now.
Driving here has introduced some other line waiting issues. The
winter snow and sand just about erase the painted lines leaving lanes
up to the drivers imagination. This is particularly intensified at
traffic lights due to several reasons. Left and right turn lanes are
often combined with the option to go straight, and cars waiting to
turn back up the cars trying to go straight. So extra lanes are
usually assumed as drivers pole for unhindered positions, the other
problem is the furthest right lane is often filled with parked cars
and sometimes double parked cars. Probably the worst and most
unpredictable are the mashutkas (public transportation vans), that
pull over and back into traffic so randomly, and are often stacked two
or even three deep into the road. The next problem is the impatient
drivers, usually new black BMW's and Mercedes with black windows, that
will pull out into on coming traffic to cut in front of all of the
cars waiting at the light. Let me just throw in the frequent
accidents, stalled cars, erratic police driving, and lets not forget
road construction and all of the potholes.
In grocery stores from small neighborhood shops to large chain
supermarkets, the "express lane" is missing, this is because every
lane is an express lane. If you want a pack of cigarets you can cut
in line, if you have just one item you can cut in line, if you act
like you are in a big hurry you can cut in line, if you are too cool
to wait in line, you can cut in line. After months of this behavior,
our sweet patient Jonelle had just about enough, and she snapped. We
had just filled our kiddy sized shopping cart with about thirty items
from the cramped downtown supermarket chain, and had them all loaded
on the checkout belt. Just before the checker started an older man
stepped in front of Jonelle and handed his item to the cashier.
Jonelle gave a hard look of frustration and rage that translated very
well into Armenian, and the man said in Armenian "I'm going ahead, if
your not getting too angry." The frustrated Jonelle, started out in
Armenian just let him have it in English. "I'm not ANGRY!" "I'm just
tiered of everyone always cutting in line!" By this time he had
already paid and was walking out the door, with nothing left to say.
I had a good laugh about the multilingual exchange and enjoyed seeing
my wife hold her own.
There was another time I tried to pick up a package at the post
office, and I learned that mail and packages are only about 1% of what
they did. This was the place where people received their social
security, pensions, and other governmental benefits, and it was also
the place where they paid their electricity, gas, and water bills.
The lady giving out the money was backed up about 10 deep (this is
really ten wide as everyone was crowding the counter), and in walks an
old grandmother, straight to the counter and even pushed a few of us
out of the way to get right in the face of the lady with the money.
There is no comment from anyone about the crowding, it is just
accepted. When I saw that I had lost my place as second in line and
was now something like 11th I decided to leave and come back later,
but before I did I saw most, if not all, of the government money get
recycled back through the other lady to pay utility bills. When I did
come back later they didn't even have the package there it was at a
central office, where there was more waiting for a special tag (kept
in a safe) to be filled out with my passport information, stamped and
signed twice, before the package was released!
All this to say three months in and there are still many things we
are still getting used to, and some that we might never understand...


Curious George said...

I would like my comment to be first in line! :-)

Keidi said...

Arggg! I feel the frustration. It's not just Armenia, it's the non-Western world, I think. In Romania, even, it was a mad dash with pushing and shoving to go up and get COMMUNION!! People! And to survive you have to join them. I became quite a pusher, otherwise I'd still be somewhere in Asia, waiting in line. Keidi

P.S. Kalem, do you read these? where's your email? Sorry- check out earthships. Google them. Alternative housing with recycled materials. Might fit in Armenia? I thought of you when I saw them. You don't need much wood.

Grant said...

Hey- your commentary is hysterical!!! I always look forward to seeing your viewpoints of the culture/country.
We are going to be over in your neck of the woods late June-mid July, so maybe we will see you in the Motherland!!

Angela said...

Jonelle and Kalem,

My name is Angela and I live in Tampa, Florida. My husband Jarred and I will be moving to Armenia this August to work as teachers at a private school in Yerevan. We have a 9-month-old son, Nathan.

I discovered your blog today and am enjoying it tremendously. I admire the work you are doing there and appreciate your detailed stories and insight into life in Armenia. My family has no Armenian heritage whatsoever so we are doing as much reading and research as we can before we go. I have to say it's really refreshing to see the blog of a family living there -- just about all the other American blogs we've seen belong to individuals working in the medical field, Peace Corps or other organizations, and while they are interesting to read, they do not much help me envision life there with my husband and young son.

I hope you don't mind if I continue reading your blog and asking occasional questions. Keep on posting!