I met him randomly. He was my taxi driver from some place to another. Oh, that’s right, it was from my friend’s place to Lover’s Park. No, I didn’t visit Lover’s Park withmy taxi driver; he just dropped me off there.
But it doesn’t take long to decide whether or not you like someone, whether you trust that person with your well-being. And so I asked him, he who shall remain nameless because I have somehow forgotten his name, if he would drive me to the south of Armenia the following week.
“Sure,” he said, “just call me the night before you want to go,” and he gave me a reasonable estimate. Wow, I thought, it’s that easy. Gawd, if everything were so straightforward.
It was August of 2012. Why, by the way, do I keep going to Armenia in August, the hottest month of the year? Because no matter how Type A I might think that I am, my planning skills fall apart at some level, maybe because of the heat, and I end up sweating in the middle of Republic Square just as the sun reaches its highest point.
The drive from Yerevan to Goris is only six hours or so, as far as I remember. En route, we stopped at Tatev to ride the tramway (or cable car, or furnicular, or whatever you call it) to the 9th-century monastery. Before we got our tickets, we sat down for lunch. I insisted that it was my treat.
This poor man, torn between his Armenian manhood and his practical role as a driver of a foreign tourist, couldn’t order a thing. “You order,” he said, pushing aside the menu. And so I did, trying to achieve a balance of salads that I actually wanted and meat that I knew he’d want. I still hope that he got enough to eat. We both left food on the plates, so that means he did, right?
I’ve no doubt that he was more nervous than I about the ride on the tramway, but I suspect he loved it that much more, since that’s how those things usually work. When we visited the monastery, I tried to buy him some candles to burn in the sanctuary, but he drew the line: “A person must always buy their own candles.” Enough said.
Once we’d finally gotten to my destination, the Hotel Mirhav in Goris, we’d reached that point of driver-passenger intimacy where it feels awkward to pass currency from one hand to another. This was just for fun, right? After all, he’d told a great story about trying to get a visa to celebrate his birthday–July 4–in the U.S., but was rejected. A monetary transaction seemed crass, but we made it happen. He didn’t look down at what I gave him; it was a matter of respect.
My time in Goris was nothing like it was intended to be. I’ve determined–at long last–that time is out of my control in Armenia, and that is for the best.
After I put my things in my room and freshened up, I went down to the restaurant and outdoor patio as many might do, laptop tucked under my arm and stories running through my head. The evening was unremarkable. I wrote a few sentences, drank a few glasses of wine, and then went to bed.
The next day, I had a plan of action. By that time, though, everyone in the place knew that I spoke Armenian. It’s my fault, of course, for talking to anyone and everyone. No longer could I hide under the guise of my MacBook and a pensive look on my face, if ever I had one.
My face, as it turns out, is an open invitation to conversation, and I am thankful for it, given the alternative of an angry, closed face.
I took part of that Saturday to visit Khndzoresk, a village where a local resident has constructed a high-quality swinging bridge across the gorge, linking tourists with history and nature. I’ve never before seen so many Armenian men with sweaty palms and nervous proclamations of adrenaline rushes.
The beauty, though, was so overwhelming that my voice had lowered by the time I left. I thought massage was the only thing that could do that.
Later that day, I returned to the dining area of the hotel with an intention to write or think or whatever my plan was. Instead, I met a lovely Armenian-Iranian family. And then an Armenian nationalist in her 60s. And then a tourist driver. And then a translator for two Spanish tourists.
And then a friend from Yerevan showed up with her family. My friend was irritated with me for not looking at my cell phone all day. And because they hadn’t eaten all day. It was 10:30 p.m., so we went out for dinner.
One by one, those people approached my table and asked, “I’m not disturbing you if I sit here for a moment, right?” They were already seated by the time they finished the question, and I’d already decided that I wanted to hear what they had to say or ask. Early in the trip, I’d made a promise to myself to talk to whoever wanted to talk, wherever I was. It’s a practice I’ve tried to apply in my life in the U.S. as well.
A friend of mine shared a quote with me yesterday. It was from Pasternak, the author of the novel Doctor Zhivago. He repeated it in a low voice, “When a great moment knocks on the door of your life, it is often no louder than the beating of your heart, and it is very easy to miss it.”
We all know that listening cannot be sustained without the aid of patience. And so I invite us all to wait patiently. For the story, for the lesson, and for the knock.