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June 28, 2017 / catherinebwrites

LOCAL HERO

Mount Ararat from Yerevan

Mount Ararat is, they say the place where Noah’s Ark came to rest after the flood.   You can even see a piece of wood which,  they say, is part of the ark in a museum in Yerevan.   Yerevan is the capital of Armenia and Mount Ararat the national symbol.  You can see the mountain from all over the city.  But, after a genocide in 1915, the border shifted and now the mountain is in Turkey. This is a great sorrow to all Armenians.

Noah’s Ark setting out.

I was there recently, observing the election.   The area I had to cover included eleven  villages between Yerevan and the border.   The villages are poor with houses built out of rough concrete blocks and, from time to time, in this impoverished community, you will see a pillared mansion with a high fence around it.   The contrast between the few “haves” and the many “have-nots” could not be starker.

On our first day we had to visit all the polling stations to check that they were properly set up.  Most of them were in schools.   The schools were bleak, concrete buildings with crumbling steps, uneven floors and caretakers doing their best to keep them clean and functional.

Waiting to vote

In one village, the caretaker greeted us at the door.   She was a solid, dark-haired woman, middle-aged and exuding an air of formidable competence.   She showed us the polling station and then insisted that we view the classrooms.   “Her” classrooms.   As she was not  the kind of woman to brook disobedience, we followed her into a classroom.   It was, like the building, pretty bleak, with worn tables and chairs and an obvious lack of equipment.   But, it was spotless, there was a vase of plastic flowers, some hand-painted pictures on the walls and lace curtains on the windows.  We remarked on this.

“I like to make the classroom pretty,” the woman said, “because I believe that children learn better when the classroom is nice.”

Then she offered us coffee and brought us to a kitchen and a refectory.

“I am the best cook in the village, ” she announced, “Everyone in our village knows this is true, so I cook a good meal for the children every day.   Because children cannot learn when they’re hungry and some of our pupils come from very poor families and they are hungry.”

Checking the register

As she was making the coffee she drew our attention to the pictures decorating the walls throughout the school.   They  had clearly been painted by an amateur artist and ranged from cartoon figures to vases of flowers and village scenes.

“My daughter-in-law is a very good artist,” our friend announced, “so I told her to make pictures for the school so that the children have something nice to look at.”

Got the ballot papers

As we drank our coffee, my partner asked what the exam success rate for the school was.

“Last year,” she announced, “Only two children in my school failed the State examination.”

“You must have very good teachers.” I suggested.

“Of course,” she replied, “I will never allow bad teachers in my school!”

Counting the vote

Next day when we returned to observe the voting in that polling station our friend was standing in at the school door, all dickied up in her Sunday best, surrounded by neighbours and friends.   She greeted me like a long-lost friend, hugged me and kissed me on both cheeks.   Her neighbours were astonished.   How could this ordinary village woman know these exotic foreigners who’d come from afar to view the elections?  Then she took me by the hand to meet the Chairman of the election committee.

It was only when I got home that it struck me that, this ordinary village woman was affecting the lives of every pupil who passed through that school and every teacher and thus, every one in that village.   I just hope that they recognise what a treasure they have in their midst.

 

 

 

 

 

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