Wednesday, 26 September

An Émigré’s Journey

Where Do the Roads from Armenia Lead?

A year or two after she got married, our paths diverged for a year or two. One day, I got a letter from her through the internet. She had gone to Sweden with her husband. She was expecting a child.

Several days later she wrote that she had become an aunt. Despite the fact that I always felt a strange sense of sadness whenever I talked to her, I was comforted by the fact that my friend was doing well. After all, as she liked to say – we've finally made it to Sweden.

Before leaving for Sweden I faced many problems. I couldn't believe I had made the trip. Just before New Year's I landed in Stockholm, I was to be met by the friend of my girlfriend's husband. Since he too was Armenian, I was to recognize his external features.

Four years ago when I was sharing a 15,000AMD apartment with her, we used to laugh and play silly games. The winter was our favorite – throwing snowballs and making snowmen. It never occurred to us that one day, in the future, we would meet in faraway Sweden.

During my visit to Europe, I decided to look her up. We missed each other dearly. Levon was there to greet me at Stockholm's Skanska Airport. Amidst the crowds, we connected and made our way to his car parked outside,

In Armenia, people like Levon would never buckle their seatbelts. Here in Sweden, he did. It was the law. Levon drove like most do in Armenia – fast. The quick turns he made me nervous.

- Won't the police stop us? Why are you driving so fast?

- Who can stop us? Here, we drive the Armenian way.

- What kind of work do you do here?

- I'm unemployed. We get social assistance and make out great. (Levon puts his finger to his forehead to show just how well they live)

- What do you mean by social assistance?

- Well, we are considered refugees here. They give us money every month. I came here five years ago and brought my family later on. We've now received residency papers. None of us work. Sure, I can find work, but I'd lose my assistance. My wages would be less than the benefits they give. I get benefits for five people. My kids speak Swedish and go to school. They'll graduate and get jobs. What would I do in Armenia? We couldn't make it there. We'd starve.

In all the windows, people were burning Christmas candles. The heavy snowfall soon blocked the streets. Workers in their snow removal trucks were doing their best to clean the roadways.

- See these guys in their laborer's clothes working at night. Would you believe they each get 300 Euros per day? And what would they get paid in Armenia?

We parked the car and went inside. Levon's wife greeted us and handed me a pair of slippers.

- Make yourself at home; just like an Armenian home.

Levon's two daughters and a son came out of another room in the house. We had a chance to talk. One of the girls asked me about Armenia.

- You've just arrived from Armenia. Tell us, what is Yerevan like nowadays? Has it changed much? I really miss it. I was young when we came here.

- I miss my friends in Armenia and my grandma's house. Sure, I have friends her but it's different. We get along with the blacks; they're good kids. But everyone here thinks about their boyfriends

I answered her questions half-heartedly. Later, I just remained silent. There was a great deal of sadness in the eyes of this 15 year-old girl. She missed a part of herself; something belonging to another time.

I was waiting for a man who would take me the 600 kilometers to the town where my girlfriend Lili lived. In the interim, I had a chance to look over the apartment I was in. It was nicely renovated and well furnished. Armenian satellite programs flashed across the home theater screen.

An hour later, two guests arrived. One was a well-decked out woman of about 35; the other a young man of 25. They would take me to see Lili.

The woman said she was a refuge from the Ukraine and lived in Stockholm with her disabled child. She had met the young Armenian through the Odnoklasnik social network.

In the car, she made several marriage references to the young man. Turning to me she laughed and said, "You see, he just can't be swayed to marry me."

Artak, the young man, added in Armenian, "You know what kind of a dog she is?"

We dropped the woman off in Stockholm and continued on our way. It was way past midnight and I really was pooped. But I couldn't nod off in the car the whole way. I had to stay awake; to make small talk with Artak and keep him awake as well. The falling snow covered the windshield.

Artak started the conversation.

- Looky here. The traffic lights work on sensors. If I shine my beams on the, the light turns green. Is there a chance you might stay here and not go back? You'd be doing the right thing. This is a real country and you feel like a human being. What kind of life were we living back in Armenia?

- And what kind of life do you live here?

- Ani, this is a rich country but the people are worthless. They live on what they make; no more. But, I will say it's a very strong system where everyone id equal. Our Armenia has a long way to go before attaining this level.

On the way, Artak said he had to make a stop in a town for five minutes. There was something he had to drop off. Later, he told me there was a refugee camp in the town where Armenians were handed over. We stopped in front of a dark and rough building

- Ok bro; you can come out now, Artak said by phone.

A man of about 30 got in the car.

- So, what's up? Artak asked.

- Jeez, bro, this ain't no life. Like living in a jail. I can't talk by phone or make these people understand anything. I don't even know when they'll give me an address to stay at. I told them everything straight up at the interview. Let's see...

- You hang in there bro. I should think they'll give you a place to stay in a few days. I just hope the paperwork doesn't get kicked upstairs. (Artak then handed the guy four packs of cigarettes). This is from Artyom. (Artyom is my girlfriend's husband)

We saw the man go back into the building. We drive on.

- He was just handed over. He came with the wife but she isn't here. You'll see, in a few days they'll send him to some town and get him a place to stay and give him a monthly stipend until he gets citizenship.

I asked about the man's wife but Artak preferred not to go into the details.

Another 200 kilometers and we reached our destination; a murky part of town.

Artyom was waiting for us at the entrance to the building. We ascended a dirty winding staircase.

It was very late and I was exhausted. I hugged Lili and immediately fell asleep.

To be continued

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