Friday, March 25, 2016

Fulfill Your Obligations or Leave

Any government worth its salt is measured by how it cares, attends to the needs of and implements policies for the most vulnerable in society. Regardless of how credible its members are and regardless of how they got their positions, they must fulfill the obligations of their esteemed offices or get out. Simple as that.

When a report by the World Food Programme and UNICEF comes out stating that 19 percent of children under the age of five in rural Armenia are stunted, while 15 percent are overweight because of the lack or ignorance of proper nutritional habits, you begin to wonder.


The Armenia Comprehensive Food Security, Vulnerability and Nutrition Analysis states, "Child stunting was significantly linked with household poverty, poor consumption, poor care and feeding practices, and lower education of mothers. The prevalence of overweight was the same across poor and rich households, indicating the need for greater awareness on healthy eating and lifestyle across the entire population."

For a nation that prides itself on its attitude and care toward children, these numbers are disheartening and point to a whole other trend. According to the analysis, we are resistant to change and prone to both internal and external economic shocks. One third of the population is living in poverty, unemployment continues to soar (official numbers place it at 18 percent), and hope has been ebbing away if not lost completely for many.

Children need to be protected, they need proper nutrition and care and most of all they need to have the right to have a fighting chance.

Monday, March 14, 2016

Days Like This

Verjine and Gohar, Derian Restuarant
Some days are good, others not so much, but days like this are pretty incredible, maybe even a little epic.

A few years ago, unable to come to a consensus about where to go for dinner, my husband resolved our dilemma by suggesting we go to a newly opened Middle Eastern restaurant. He said it was owned by Syrian-Armenians and warned us that it was a very small place, nothing fancy, but with really good food. We were all game, so off we went.

When we arrived at this 'very small place' it was a bit disappointing even for our standards (clearly we're not fancy). The 'restaurant' wasn't small, it was more like a sorry excuse for a hole in the wall, and to be honest, I was annoyed. It was located in a courtyard that had been converted into a parking lot with a number of loitering stray dogs. There was even a car wash to boot. Not a good first impression.

Inside the dimly-lit restaurant there were two rickety tables, a couple of fridges with drinks and a small flight of steps that led right into the kitchen. I tried to keep my irritation in check and thought to myself that the food better be damn good

After settling in and glancing at the sparse menu of familiar dishes, we placed our order surveying our surroundings. I asked my husband about the owners and he said they were two families, in-laws who had come to Armenia to flee the war raging in Syria.

It was at that exact moment that Gohar appeared. She came down the steps from the kitchen and said that our order would be out shortly. Hearing our Western Armenian, she asked where we were from and the conversation blossomed from there. She told us that they had come to Yerevan for the summer with the intention of returning to Aleppo but the situation had deteriorated and they had become 'stuck' as it were.

Gohar was a gracious host, at times almost apologetic about the place. She was trying her best to make us comfortable explaining that this venture was completely new to them. They had never run a restaurant before but sitting at home and doing nothing was driving them all over the edge. She said that her son's mother-in-law was also in Yerevan and since they were good cooks, they decided to try their hand at running a restaurant with the help of their husbands. That was when she introduced us to Verjine, her khnami, who was in the kitchen preparing our meal.

Long story short - Derian Kebab expanded their operations, began creating a solid clientele, built a patio, provided live music and their business like our initial conversation blossomed. We became regulars and enjoyed the delicious flavors of the dishes we had grown up on.

In many ways, I feel like I've become part of their family. Gohar and Verjine symbolize the tenacity and creativity of so many Armenian women that I have been blessed to know. I love their spirit and unfaltering hopefulness and although I'm not much younger than they are, I have come to love them because they remind me of my Haleptsi mother.

Gohar and Verjine with their children.
Tonight, these two lovely women, along with their husbands and children (who moved from Dubai to Yerevan to help their parents run the business!) opened a second location. No small feat in a country with high rates of poverty and unemployment and an unstable economy.

When I arrived, the new Derian Restaurant was packed with well-wishers. There was barely any room to move. I stood there awkwardly because the vast majority were Syrian-Armenians, none of whom I knew. Just then I heard my name and saw Gohar and Verjine walking toward me. As we embraced, they introduced me to their children, tried to get me to drink and eat some food. We got our pictures taken, we hugged some more and for no other reason than because we're Armenian, expressed our love for each other.

Later on, as we were reminiscing about their humble beginnings in what I lovingly referred to as their 'hole in the wall,' Verjine's husband said, "If we hadn't started out there, we wouldn't be here tonight."