Saturday, December 11, 2004

Letter 20: Hazarapet the Thyme Entrepreneur - draft needs editing

December 2004
Hazarapet Nazaryan is Mosso Nazaryan’s elder brother and the family’s patriarch.
I met Mosso in 2003 when I had given-up on getting proper water pressure in the castle. Arsen from Vayk said he’d take me to the water authority’s boss and we took a taxi there. The boss was not there, but his brother Mosso was there. After hearing my plea, he said come with me, let’s go see what we can do. We rode in his 4x4 russian vehicle and drove up to the castle. On the way he stopped in some employees’ houses, the much feared water baron for my part of town and told him he was going to get me water. Sure enough, he opened a few water holes, opened and shut a few large taps and when we got to the castle, I had water. Mosso was simply concerned that a diasporan ‘guest’ in Yeghegnadzoe had no water.
He accepted no gift, hardly a drink for celebration. Samson later confirmed that he had been in a heated discussion with his brother (Hazarapet, the boss) and that got him nowhere.
This time Mosso came to see me with a cousin. He wanted me to try a new natural, wild mountain thyme tea. He had an attractive box of tea bags and Sheila boiled some water and served the tea. It had a powerful aroma that filled our house. We were very pleased to learn that they had recently started packaging and commercializing this tea for sale in Armenia and they wanted to ask for our help to market it abroad.
Needless to say we were delighted that such a high quality product was produced in our mountains, how could we turn down such a suggestion? We asked to see the ‘factory’.
Mosso said he would arrange a meeting with his brother to visit the factory. A week later we were driven to the Water authority’s office and Sheila and I were introduced to Hazarapet. He was sitting in his office and received us with his wide gold covered teeth smile. He was so kind to us, yet so authoritarian towards others, including his own younger brother, Mosso. We spent a good half hour in his office where we learned of the family’s involvement in Thyme tea production in Soviet times. This was the story of entrepreneurial people, doers, risk-takers who organized people into collecting the wild thyme, devised their own tea-bag making machine and managed to package it and market it, during Perestroika.
We learned that The tea is made from wild thyme which grows in the mountains of Armenia at an altitude of 1000 TO 2500 meters. They call their tea "Noravanqui Shountch" which translates as Breath of Noravank -- Noravank is an ancient monastery located in the mountains in the surrounding area. Noravanqui Shountch is collected at altitudes above 1600 meters in areas where there is no conventional agriculture, just some small scale beekeeping.

What further makes the difference in aroma between BC thyme and Armenia's thyme is the wild species native to the high mountains of Armenia, sunshine, pluviometry, soil and air-purity. This region of Armenia receives less than 300 millimeters of rain annually, sun intensity reaches its paroxysm immediately after the snow melts till almost just before the summer solstice when the thyme is harvested. The location is far from any human habitat or polluting industries.

The thyme is harvested in late spring by cutting the stems (not by uprooting them, thus preserving the soils as well as ensuring there will always be a harvest). The harvest is then sun-dried in glass houses which are also high up in the mountains, 1400 meters altitude, for a period of four weeks. Leaves are individually separated by hand, then, the dry leaves (not the stems) are pulverized and the tea is packaged in a small building which is next to the drying houses, using specialized porous paper to make double pouches and then packed into packages of 30 tea bags in a small and elegant cardboard box which is wrapped in cellophane to preserve freshness. The drying and packing operation is located about two kilometers from a paved road which is about two hours from Yerevan where an international airport is located.

The aroma is distinct, and because of the concentration of leaves vs. stems, is overwhelming.

Thursday, November 11, 2004

Letter 19: Haikouhi’s mother’s plea - draft needs editing

We are now in November, the days are getting shorter and less hot, very pleasant if you ask me, but cooler for local Armenians. Two years ago, Makour Yerevan, the project originally sponsored by the Tufenkian Foundation had chosen to move the volunteer street cleaning time from the usual 10:30 am to a more reasonable 1:30 p.m. starting time, thus avoiding cool weather for the volunteers (many of whom are school children). The usual get-together following the street cleaning effort was also moved to an indoor location (the Youth Center in downtown Yerevan – a decrepit building in downtown Yerevan, whose elaborate façade and sculptures prove that it had seen better days in Soviet times). That Saturday afternoon, Haro Setian, an energetic young volunteer from South Carolina, had brought a large group of orphans from the Zatik orphanage (the kids who make the Christmas cards I sold in Ottawa). The Zatik orphans performed a song & dance show for us while we were offered the usual glass of soft-drink and a piece of brioche. We stayed a bit later than usual that afternoon in the Youth Center, chatting and dancing

Paid for Marshutka… this is when I discovered there were marshutkas that only charged 50 drams for the ride (instead of the usual 100 drams. I never figured why).

Bread kiosk, accounts, boss, errors

Used to work for American couple, who offered to take her to the US when their posting finished, but she would not abandon her family. When I told her about Haikouhi paying for my marshutka fare, she said: well, I taught them to work and earn their own pocket money, so they could survive on their own when I died.

Taxi to their home, prepaid by boss,
Mother, Mrs. Osmanyan off a bit earlier (she said she had an errand). When we got home, Handicapped father, twin brother and 16 year-old older brother all working on their homework in a small living/bedroom while a soviet TV entertained the unemployed / handicapped father. Mrs. Osmanyan arrives with some pastries to “hyurasirel” (literally to love the guest).

Monday, October 11, 2004

Letter 18: Vayots Dzor's & Syunik's Abraham Srbazan – Draft needs editing

Octobre 2004

I was so surprised to find a brand new building in downtown Yeghegnadzor when I returned from Ottawa this October. It is a beautiful building

From Rind (pronounced rrind, as in ring) a small village some 20 kms from our place, off the Silk Road to Lake Sevan (now known as the “Lincy” road because Kirk Krikorian’s Lincy Foundation has paid for its reconstruction).

Architecture inspired from Tamanian’s Yerevan and Venice’s Palazzo Docale.

I was told it was the new Yeghegnadzor University, which had been build by the Primate of the diocese for the Provinces of Vayots Dazor and Syunik, Abraham Srpazan.

There was nothing in that spot last December when I left, and the building was now in use for the school year. Although cranes were still there and construction was continuing. Judging by the length of time it was taking us to “renovate” our B&B / House, I was impressed by this building’s realization and was eager to meet Abraham Srpazan, brief him on our activities and offer him our collaboration and any services we could perform.