This is my last letter from Armenia. I am in the last week of the project and return home at the weekend. I am writing it on the terrace of my apartment in the centre of Yerevan. As I look up I can see Mount Ararat, it looks so close even though it is more that 60 kilometres away across the border in Turkey. Even though it is so close I cannot go there directly because the border is closed. Who knows, maybe one day I will see in from the Turkish side.
I can also see the huge statue of Mother Armenia and the other monument with the 139 steps to the top where the fat cat sculptures are at the base as I described in an earlier letter. And the air is full of the sound of swifts screeching as they hunt the harvest of insects in the evening sun.
Its 29° here at 7.00 pm but my colleague Bill MacNeill tells me its 23 at home.
I have just finished the first day of a 2 day workshop with Ministry, local government and NGO people who want to learn about our transformation methodology.
I have spent 2 days with UNICEF colleagues and my consultant partner Kristine in hammering out the design and content of the workshop. However it was all worthwhile for me when a lady approached me at the end of the day to thank me for making the transformation method so clear and simple to her. I reckon if I can do that, my work has not been in vain.
Tomorrow is another day but I anticipate a successful outcome and the right to enjoy another chilled glass of Armenia’s best on my terrace.
As it turned out the second day was very successful with a lot of nice feedback so it was worthwhile.
Then its complete the paper work, fly home and get paid, all consultant’s objective!
So now’s a good time to reflect. A lovely memory will be my driver Vassily’s face when I gave him a wine bottle corking tool. Vassily is a keen winemaker but can’t find the tool for corking his bottles. Up to now he has been using old Coke plastic bottles, not really the thing for a fine Armenian red. He was delighted and I reckon I get the chance to drink his best.
Then there’s my consultant partner Kristine. She works for World Vision, a charity some of you may support. She was just back from Bolivia. It sounds exciting and I’m sure it was but it took 3 days of travelling each way with long layovers of 14 & 20 hours in Rome and Miami. Sounds good but remember that Armenians need a visa to enter any country outside the Commonwealth of Independent States (CIS) which means Russia and its surrounding countries. 14 hours overnight in Rome airport transit lounge isn’t my idea of fun.
Next up is Eduard, my client, a jovial, intense man, a real enthusiast for what he is doing. A breath of fresh air to work with, but like all UNCEF clients, very demanding. He walks the corridors of power in the Ministries with ease and is able to get access at the highest levels and is hugely influential. He was the first person I met at UNICEF and he is also the last as I enjoy Beef Stroganoff Armenian style (with chips not rice) with him and his wife and daughter.
Then there is Hasmik a young lady with big ambitions, excited about a visit to Dublin for an international conference, full of questions about what to see, where to go in Dublin.
Then, the dark side of Armenia, the oligarchs. I flew out beside a rude young man who behaved as if he owned the plane, trying to take part of my space (unsuccessfully) and using his phone when its forbidden. When we arrived, he walks off to a hero’s welcome and is whisked away through the VIP entry point and straight down to a limo awaiting him.
One tip for anyone working in this region. If you want to cross the road and you see a fancy 4×4 with smoked windows bearing down on you, get out of the way as it is driven by an oligarch who cares little for you or any0ne else. Why should he (and it is usually a he) when his family have enriched themselves by appropriating State resources and feel that they are the masters now.
But we mustn’t let the dark side blind us to the good nature of the typical Armenian who is warm and generous and great company.
So, how do I feel about leaving, not to return? I won’t miss the arduous travel (which is nothing compared to Kristine’s), but I will miss the company, the fun, the sense of being part of something that matters and makes a difference.
I know that UNCEF will attract major funding to carry out de-institutionalisation country wide. But my job is done; they have the methodology and they have the people to do the work. I wish them well and look forward to the next challenge.