Friday, July 12, 2013

Travelling in armenia: how do we fit in?

Travelling with Nata and Poly is very different than travelling with Ilona. When travelling with Ilona I take the main flow of the conversation. Armenian society being mostly patriarchal and let's say it, downright machist, the driver (who is a man) will not talk to the woman who is kind of inferior but he will talk to me as the representative of the group. Besides, I am sitting in front and Ilona in the back so it makes much more sense to talk to me. If something goes wrong, I am the representative part and I can play an important role in negociating. I can apply more psychological pressure than Ilona because I am a man and my word can be respected as much (if I negociate well) as any other man present.
Our way of functioning with Ilona is also very effective in detecting weirdos.
In Armenia, there is a rule in communication: you do not involve a woman into a conversation between men. More specifically, a woman does not interrupt a conversation between men, it's more than impolite, it is a downright lack of respect and most Armenians will not tolerate this behaviour not only from local women but sometimes also not from tourists.
If we happen to see a man talking directly to Ilona and systematically cutting me out of the conversation then this guy is probably a weirdo and we should exit the car as soon as possible.

With Nata and Poly, it is another story. The girls speak fluent Russian, see, so they quickly take over the conversation. With my feeble russian, I just cannot compete. Therefore a couple of things happen simultaneously. First the driver is confused. In this patriarchal society he expects me to be the voice and leadership of the group. Instead, he sees Nata as the leader. And rightfully so, she knows how to act, react, get the situation under control. She talks a lot, she smiles a lot. She is the main connection.
In a few minutes I lose face and all respect from the driver: shame on men who follow a woman. There is no point in discussing that in fact we form a leaderless group, there is no such thing in the drivers mind because Armenian society does not work like that.

Therefore I appear like a powerless puppet and all the psychological leverage I could have over the driver vanishes. Nata appears as an independent woman which she is. Unfortunately in Armenia, independent is closely connected to available and sometimes even easy to get. Nata has amazing resources in debunking the myths of her sexual availibility but unfortunately her actions are limited by the fact that whatever she does, in Armenia, she is and will remain, only a woman. She will never convince the driver as well as her husband would, had he retained the drivers respect, which I have not.

So the situation is left at the hands of Nata and besides physical confrontation (if it comes to that), there is little I can do to solve the situation. And fortunately for us, I could not imagine a person in her place with better decision making that she has. Our personal Donald McGillavry, russian instead of scottish, female instead of male, teacher instead of general.

One advantage of having a man in a group is relieving the girls of hard and tiring negociation, the man can easily acquire a credible authority. But does that mean that two russian native speakers should be deprived of their language? Does that mean we should lose all the cultural exchange that is made possible only by Nata and Poly? Does that mean that a fierce and proud personality as the one the girls have should be reduced to silence all for the sake of safety?
And even if we played by Armenian rules, would it be enough? How could a frustrated Armenian guy forgive me for travelling with two stunningly beautiful girls?
A woman isn't as precious of a person as she would be in western europe. I have two, why wouldn't I share? Why wouldn't any good man share? Sharing and hospitality is a part of Armenian culture and that is also what defines a good man here.
Of course I could be a muslim and have two wives but then I would be Azerbaidjani and this is one step closer to catching a bullet.

This few paragraphs just to say that travelling with two beautiful girls in Armenia is a wonderful experience but not as easy as one would think.