At the end of August, my time in Gyumri wrapped up for good, and I got ready to move to Yerevan. Lucky for me, a bunch of my friends were moving at the same time, but it was still kind of a bittersweet feeling.
Back when I got my location assignment pre-Armenia and found out that I was going to be outside of Yerevan for two months, I was a little disappointed. I hadn’t heard much about the other cities in Armenia, but I knew that compared to Yerevan, they were very small. I had no idea what to expect, but whatever expectations I did have were far exceeded by what I found in Gyumri. The people were nice. The city was definitely big enough to be called a city, but it was small enough for me to quickly feel comfortable there. The marshrutkas would stop anywhere to pick you up and anywhere to drop you off (apparently you actually need to go to a bus stop in Yerevan… what’s up with that??). It felt like a city you could really live in. Sometimes, Yerevan feels too busy and too big and too chaotic. Gyumri feels like home.
At the same time though, being in Gyumri for an extended period of time could start to feel a little claustrophobic. I was excited to move to Yerevan to experience something new, but I was sad to leave behind all of the things that had become familiar. I knew my way around. I saw familiar faces along my normal route. I knew what to expect from people.
My first couple of days in Yerevan were overwhelming. I felt like small town girl in the big city. It was like the classic “country girl moves to New York and her head almost explodes because it’s so different from what she knew back at home in Nowheresville” movie storyline. Yeah, that one. Meanwhile though, the country girl was ME, despite the fact that I’ve lived in a city that’s bigger than Yerevan.
For at least a week, anytime someone asked me how I was liking Yerevan, my first response was always, “there are just so many people! And so many cars!” And picture me saying that with disgust in my voice.
I’ve also found that I’ll go to the ends of the earth to defend Gyumri. People who aren’t from Armenia but think they know lots of things about the country love to say ridiculous things about what they think Gyumri is like. (Maybe people from Armenia do this too, but I wouldn’t know because I haven’t heard it.) Here are some examples:
Person who has probably never left Yerevan (usually another volunteer or other foreigner): Isn’t Gyumri just like one street?
Me: Umm… no. It’s like an actual city. With multiple streets. And something like 120,000 people.
Person: There’s like nothing to do in Gyumri, right?
Me: What are you talking about? You’ll probably have trouble if you’re trying to hit the clubs at 4AM, but people live there, so there are things to do.
Person: Wait, there’s a ________ in GYUMRI? (Fill in the blank with anything that people wouldn’t expect to see in a five-person village because apparently that’s what people think is happening in Gyumri. This question is almost always asked about something so basic that you want to smack yourself in the face.)
Me: Yes… it IS a city, after all.
Person: Everyone just moves to Yerevan because there aren’t any good jobs in Gyumri.
Me (first let me just say… this one really annoys me because yes, a lot of people move to Yerevan because there are more opportunities, but there are also a lot of talented and capable people in Gyumri who are working hard to build up Armenia and Gyumri): Actually, did you know that there’s a technology center in Gyumri where a bunch of different technology startups have offices? (<– this is a thing that no one ever knows)
Just to make things clear, I lived in an apartment that had walls and a roof and running water and everything. And electricity! And internet! And furniture! We didn’t all live in straw huts along a dirt road. The roads are paved (sometimes poorly, but hey, gotta start somewhere). I’m not going to say that Gyumri is perfect or even close, but it has plenty of good mixed in with the bad.
Anyway, now I’m in Yerevan for the rest of my time here. I’m sure I’ll adjust to the icky big-city air and the tons of people everywhere and the higher prices and the cars driving like they’re trying to kill you as you cross the street. It’ll be great.