The first time I ever visited Armenia was in 2009, for my older brother’s wedding. That wet September day, I left Vancouver, undertook a roughly 450-hour journey, traveled through various central airport hubs, and eventually landed in Yerevan — all for my brother, Tom, who was getting married to an Armenian woman in the country’s capital.
A couple years earlier, as one often does in their early 20s, Tom had woken up one day and decided to pack some camping gear and an inflatable globe into some bags, and ride a bicycle in a not-so-neat circle around the world for a few years. Unfortunately, this test of extreme machismo was quickly undone by — you guessed it — a beautiful woman.
You see, Tom only got from England to Armenia before things went pear-shaped. After that, well, let’s just say that now he’s got a second passport and speaks passable Eastern Armenian. But back to my story.
So there I was, stepping off the plane at Zvartnots late one night with little to go on about Armenia, apart from having vaguely heard of a professional tennis player named David Nal-something-or-another, who happened to be part-Armenian. That was the extent of my Armenian knowledge as I stepped foot in the country’s capital for the first time.
But it was the following morning, when I went out in search of coffee and some tourist attractions, that I experienced my first cultural awakening. I soon realized that I was the attraction. Me.
Full disclosure: I live on the west coast of Canada and, yes, it rains a lot there. But despite the drizzle, I’m generally found in an old plaid shirt, camouflage shorts and flip flops on all but the wettest days of the year. So, with Armenia’s balmy summer still upon us, I left the apartment we were renting dressed in my usual “West Coast” non-style — tousled hair, flip flops, and all. Suddenly, life around me ground to a halt.
As I sauntered past the Brusov University, a place of many dangerous female distractions, I single-handedly caused a pedestrian pile-up coming the other way. One girl in a group of three spotted me, almost choked, and frantically grabbed her friend’s sleeve to point at the alien coming down the street. A second group bumped into the backs of the stricken female figures, grocery bags were dropped, and street traffic stopped altogether. It was very dramatic.
It soon dawned on me that, back in 2009, I hardly saw a single person on the street not wearing the uniform black top, tight jeans, and pointy shoe combo (high heels for the ladies, of course.) If anyone looked a little bit different, they’d be treated with great intrigue. So there I was — bright orange shirt, big hair, casual shorts, and BLOODY FLIP FLOPS — taking a stroll down Moskovyan Street. How dare I!
Since then, things have changed. I returned to Armenia again in 2012, initially to visit my brother and his wife, but was promptly lured into that dangerous Armenian net myself. Now, I’m also on my way to Armenian citizenship and am currently living in Yerevan with my Syrian-Armenian wife. And while my camouflage shorts and brightly colored shirt still draws a certain degree of attention, the dropped groceries, loose jaws, and general astonishment has lessened. It still happens, but thankfully, it’s not as frequent as before. I have yet to purchase my own pointy shoes, though.