Now that doesn’t sound like a very interesting topic for a blog post, does it?
A few years ago, while working for the Norwegian Refugee Council, three of my staff and I made a field trip up to Tavoush, taking the route through Vanadzor. This was before the tunnel from Lake Sevan up towards Dilijan was reopened, cutting out eight of the 16 bends in the road as you climb up this side and down that side of the mountains. The tunnel today makes that route a faster way to get up to Tavoush and the Georgian border. (As a side note, I would still recommend taking the old road over the mountains from Lake Sevan and not the tunnel, as you will experience some gorgeous landscape, and also drive through a Molokan(the True Believers) village, with its incredibly nice old wooden houses with wide balconies stretched around at least two sides of the house).
So, we were on our long way back down to Yerevan after having made an all day project visit up in the village of Ptghavan, right on the Georgian border. (I am today a proud citizen of the village of Ptghavan, thanks to that project, and have a diploma with stamp to prove it!) Alaverdi, Vanadzor, Spitak, Aparan and home…
Driving through Vanadzor, the four of us in the car decided that we would stop and get a cola after a long day of work. We chose a tired little ‘bootka’- a small, green shoebox of a candy and cigarettes shop standing along the road, just before ‘Tim’s hole’. Yes, I once nearly destroyed a Landcruiser by running the front right tire into a large, gaping hole in the road with a very loud bang. Thus, it was forever called ‘Tim’s hole’ until it was filled in about four years later. I still lament this to this day, commenting ‘They have filled in my hole’ every time I drove past.
So we stopped at the bootka and I ran in to get colas for us all. In the murkiness of the shoebox I could see a pleasant looking woman tidying up rows of cigarettes on shelves on the near wall, while a rack of chocolates stretched across the opposite(well, it kind of inched across. It was a very small shop). A fridge stood tucked away in the corner.
Me: Is your refrigerator working? Do you have electricity? (Having a fridge in a bootka does not indicate that a) it works, or b) that it has electricity, I have learned the hard way. Thus these two opening questions)
She: Yes Yes
Me: Do you have cola?
Me: Please give me four colas
She: I can’t
Me: Why not?
She: I have only four colas
Me: That’s how many I want. Can I have them, please?
She: No. If you take all four, what will I sell to the next customer?
Literally. Let me repeat the gist of this. ‘If I sell you all the colas I have, I will have nothing to sell to the next customer’.
Now, I am a man of self-perceived extreme rationality, so this fascinated me.
This was not logical.
Not having either the language skills or the patience to enter into a discussion of the weakness of her argument with the woman in the bootka, I got cola-lessly back in the car and drove on. I asked my staff members what the logic behind her argument could possibly be, thinking they as local Armenians would better understand the situation. It did not make sense.
But no, they had no idea what she was thinking. So, we worked out some possible theories:
- She was bewildered by this big very white foreigner coming into her bootka and just wanted to get rid of me. This does happen sometimes if they feel flustered and not in control, but generally Armenians are very curious about foreigners. So, not a likely explanation.
- She knew there was something wrong with the quality of the cola, and didn’t want to sell them to me, a foreigner. This could be true, as Armenians really do care what foreigners think about their country. It would be shameful to sell a bad cola to a foreigner. Still, how many bad batches of cola have you ever heard of?
- She had regular customers who came every evening to buy cola, and preferred to make sure that they got their regular colas, rather selling them to some stranger. Now that would make sense, but somehow I am still not at all convinced.
We, a combination of a foreigner and three locals could really not figure out what the real reason for refusing to sell us her four colas could be. But the lack of logic did not seem to bother my staff nearly as much as it bothered me. Me, I need to know why something is. Armenians don’t seem to need to know. It just is. That’s a good quality in Armenians, the ability to just let it go. Wish I could do that.
We found four bottles of Fanta a bit further down the road in a red bootka just past my hole.
But why in the world wouldn’t she sell us those four bottles of cola?