Letter from Armenia – No 3 Peter Gay

On Fat Cats, Soviet architecture and the challenge ahead

I was quietly asked if I would like one of the UNICEF office staff’s female relations to show me around Yereven on Saturday afternoon to give her a chance to improve her spoken English.

We duly met and agreed a time and place. When we met, it became clear that her English was not so good and heavily accented – Russian.

Nonetheless, off we went to see the sights. The first question was, ‘How do you like Yerevan?’ Old hands will know that there is only one answer to this and that is to say how much you like it; otherwise the relationship is in a tail spin from the start. So I duly answered and got the usual smiley response.

Actually it was true this time. We went to see the Opera House and then to a huge Soviet style monument on the skyline. It looked like a gold spear on a huge pole on a plinth. It was approached through a garden curiously with statues of fat people and finally a fat cat.

My guide explained that ‘many rich people live here’ so I began to understand why the sculptor might have chosen a fat cat to go with the fat naked lady lying down smoking a cigarette, and the fat naked soldier as well.

Looking up from the fat cat there are 4 huge sets of steps and between each concrete Soviet style art work, swirls and circles. I suppose it has some meaning but I think the main meaning is to impress the individual that you’re are a small cog in a big wheel and you should know your place.

Off we went in a different direction and there was another one, very similar but this time a huge woman with a sword – Mother Armenia she is.

Our tour took us past the Moscow theatre and also brand new shops, including Emporio Armani. I was told with a chuckle that this brand is not permitted in Turkey because it translates as Armenian Empire in their language, and they can’t have that!

Above the shops were lots of new apartments, I was told these are a popular buy with rich Iranians.

Over the weekend I gave some thought to the transformation plan that we must prepare and made a first draft of a plan outline and a risk analysis. Its very important to get this right as UNICEF have agreed with the government that it will be the test bed for the whole country.

While I know that there are many children in special schools with little or no disability (the reason being that special needs children attract 4.6 times as much funding to a school as a child without disabilities so there is an incentive to ‘find’ a disability and attract the child), I also know there will be children with real needs and no family to go to.

Its how we handle those that will be the acid test of our work.

Peter Gay Yerevan January 2013

You can send your comments to Peter here – Peter Gay, Yerevan, February 2013

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