The Outsider's Insider

A Guide to Living in Yerevan

Do Not Pee in the Circle – by Tim Straight July 13, 2010

Filed under: Tim Straight,Uncategorized — outsidersinsider @ 10:41 am
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I perhaps risk rebuke by taking up what is rather a childish subject?
There we were… Adrine, Nyree, me and our faithful driver Shiraz. We had left Yerevan an hour and a half late for our trip to Syunik to visit handicraft producers for our Homeland Handicrafts project. Hilary Clinton had managed to muck up our schedule by visiting the Cascade to have a look at Botero’s black cat statue at precisely the same time that Shiraz was to pick us up at the same black cat.

Botero's Black Cat

She could have at least called and let us know.

We successfully visited craft-producing ladies in first Goris, then Kapan, then over the magical mountains to Meghri. A fantastic journey. We met so many women who do so much wonderful work with their two hands, but don’t have a market for their products. That is our challenge, and worth a whole other blog post.
The last of our five product development workshops in three days took place in Sissian, on the way back to Yerevan. As the white fruits plopped down onto the table in the garden under a mulberry tree, we sat and had an incredibly dynamic discussion about painting on glass, straw murals, ceramics, embroidery, needlework, woodwork, about combining materials, about working together, about sharing… accompanied by generous portions of fresh fruit and homemade cherry juice. This was to be fateful.
After three hours of discussion and lots of warm goodbyes, we piled into the car and headed out of Sissian, but decided to stop by Karahunge, Armenia’s Stonehenge (‘Kar’ in Armenian means ‘stone’. Nobody knows what ‘hunge’ or ‘henge’ mean, but allow me to point out the extreme similarity… spooky). Karahunge is very near the turn off from the main road to Sissian.

Circle of Stones at Karahunge

We parked at the souvenir shop at Karahunge, I noticed that nature was calling after lots of that yummy cherry juice. I dashed ahead of the ladies out past the stones, and back around a small mound that stands at the far end of the formation. Having done the necessary, I relievedly wandered around the other side of the mound in order to head back to where the ladies were inspecting a Braille language sign explaining the site (I do wonder how many blind people actually come to Karahunge).
To my horror, I discovered that I had inadvertently peed inside the Karahunge circle of stones.
Visions of the sky falling down, lightning striking, UFOs zapping, something, raced through my head. I was distraught. One does not pee in the circle. That surely is to test the right of the stars to sparkle, the planets to spin around the sun and the Big Dipper to point at the North Star. Maybe Orion would loosen his belt and whack me with it.
I marched over to Adrine and pronounced ‘I peed in the circle’. She was unimpressed, perhaps slightly taken aback about how a man of my age can be so silly. Nyree had the same reaction, though with a bit of a snicker.
I was still uneasy. I was sure this was not a good sign.
About ten kilometers up the road towards Yerevan; Shiraz wanted to fill natural gas in the tank (not gasoline, natural gas. An amazing number of cars in Armenia use natural gas, making it one of the cleaner burning car parks in the world). I notice his furtive glance as we drive past a natural gas filling station (automekenaneri gazalicqavorman janaparhordayin kayan in it!) that is closed.
Another five kilometers or so, the car stalls.
I hear ‘You had to pee in the circle, didn’t you?’ from the back seat. We chuckle.
Shiraz manages to get the car started, and we roll down a hill, where it dies again, right in front of a group of beehives along the road (It is one of the great joys of summer in Armenia to buy jars of raw honey along the road, almost in any direction you drive from Yerevan). But as we sat there, out of natural gas, four hours behind schedule for arriving home already and tired after working flat out for three full days, the honey jars lined up on a rusty barrel along the road did not look so tempting.


‘Sorry for peeing in the circle’ I say. We chuckle again.
Shiraz convinces the honey salesman to drive him back to town to pick up a bubbly water bottle of gasoline to put in the car. Twenty minutes later we are happily back on the road, arriving in Yerevan some time after midnight rather than the 8 PM we planned on. We were exhausted, but happy.
Definitely visit Syunik. Definitely ride the cable car at Tatev once it’s finished. Definitely visit Sissian to see how Zara and Vahagn make their ceramics. Definitely visit the artisans who work inside the hollow stalagmites in Goris. Definitely make the effort to go all the way down to Meghri.
Do not pee in the circle at Karahunge.



4 Responses to “Do Not Pee in the Circle – by Tim Straight”

  1. Adrineh Says:

    ha ha, Tim, good one 😉 I’ve been wanting to go to Sissian and Meghri ever since I arrived in Yerevan, but getting out of the city seems harder than I thought it would be. You get into a routine and before you know it, you’ve lived a year in a place and haven’t travelled much outside of the capital ;( I hope to head south one of these days, not to mention getting a chance to go to Karabakh too ! 🙂

  2. Gideon Dewhirst Says:


    • Ani Says:

      A great read 🙂 Thanks Tim – hope everything is wonderful, it’s been quite a while since we chatted over milkshakes in the Zvartnots Square One!

  3. Hey Tim,

    Nice story and as a reminder of who I am: we were walking up the Cascade when the cat wasn’t even there…remember my friend Aram from New York and me Yervand the medical student with interest in Mad Cow Disease?

    Anyhow I am glad you are still in Armenia. I’ve been in Florida for the last couple years finally doing research on Mad Cow diease.

    Will be in yerevan in January. Would be nice to see you again.

    Honestly, the reason I tried to find you right now was my concerns regarding Nikol Pahinyan, who you might know id the editor of Haykakn Zhamanak daily and is now in jail and is a political prisoner. There we re recent attckes on him in the jail his life is in serious danger now. Consider my pledge to you as a desparate measure in a hope to find someone in Armenia who can bring attention of International Society to this issue.

    I would appreciate if you can be of help in this matter in any way.

    Many thanks and warm regards,


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