Tuesday, September 4, 2007

A Smallhold Farmer

One day in July I met a farmer, Valedic, a neighbor of ours in Gyulagarak, and a great guy. He was really excited to talk, and invited me into his home.

We meet outside a little before dark on the rutted track, his sheep fat with wool crowd through the gate. They're fat, I say. He will sheer them tomorrow. I have my notebook out, questions transcribed in dark characters, pen in blue-striped shirt pocket. I am tired after many hours of partying and playing frisbee with kids all day and starring in the annual July 4th Armenia/USA football match which took place in the narrow walled-in back driveway of the restaurant. I have also now walked the streets of Gyulagarak for a couple of hours, talking with people and having them read the neatly written, closed-ended questions in my book, then respond. Data collection has been on my mind, but at this late hour, fifty yards from my doorstep, my interest lies more in meeting a neighbor.

He seems interested in the same thing. We begin to talk. The first question of the survey is: Which of the following are garbage? There is a list in Armenian following, but he is unsatisfied. Is manure garbage? No, he says, unless it's on the road. Do you use it as fertilizer? No, he says, and brings me into the yard. This, he says, holding up the corner of a heavy white plastic bag. This is fertilizer. We spread it in the garden. Is metal trash? He brings me onto the porch, to the pile of rusted metal pieces, explains, mimes building a fence. A million household uses! This is not trash.

He brings me into the house, his wife and two daughters listening, watching, serving coffee. His son is twenty and now in Karabagh in the army for his two years. The father talks, he gestures, he explains somehow before his daughter can look up the words. How do you dispose of your garbage? He piles it, but not in the street where the cows eat it and where it stinks in the summer, he keeps it on his own property. Gas is too expensive: he heats his house with dead branches and dried manure. What do you do with your free time? He has none. He pulls out his Agrivo booklet, shows me the fact cards with large pictures of tan or golden potatoes on the back side. We talk about my family and what I am doing in Armenia , he invites me back sometime soon for Vodka.

I went back to visit towards the end of the summer. We discussed our families, our work, the village, governments. He talked about Soviet times, when people were guaranteed work and a good price for their crops. Today half the land that used to be cultivated has gone to pasture. There is no work in the village, he says. His daughter is studying to be a teacher, but there is no work for her here. We ate meat and potatoes, peppers and tomatos, drank wine and let evening fall.

Center of town water fountain

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