Apricots, Vodka, and Videotape: My introduction to Armenian hospitality

By Ward Lassoe / KF-18 / Armenia

I’d read about Armenian hospitality. I’d heard about it. But last week, I got a chance to experience it.

My first assignment as a Kiva Fellow was to videotape interviews with current and past borrowers in Armenia. I’m lucky because these interactions with local borrowers are always a highlight of a Kiva Fellowship.

But as I headed out the first day with some staff members from SEF International (one of Kiva’s micro-finance partners in Armenia), I wasn’t sure how the experience would go. How would the borrowers react to being videotaped? Would the whole process be awkward and uncomfortable? 

Our first stop was a woman who ran a local fruit stand in the town of Arteshat. We found the stand, but she’s nowhere to be seen. I’m thinking that this is not a good start.

A neighbor tells us that she’s home giving her grandson a bath, but she’ll be back soon. Here she comes with her freshly scrubbed grandson.

Once I turned on the camera, she was a natural. She explained how much she appreciated the Kiva loan and how it helped build her business.

Before we left, she insisted I take some apricots with me. Apricots from Armenia are said to be the best in world, and they’re just coming into season. This turned out to be just the start of the my apricot bounty as well as my introduction to Armenian hospitality. Our next stops were two families who operated small farms behind their houses. They were eager to welcome me into their homes and show me their farms.

Despite a total language barrier and a two-foot height differential, I seemed to be a big hit with one grandmother in particular.

Everywhere I went, no one would let me leave empty-handed. As I wrapped up the day with the local SEF loan officers, I was loaded down with about 15 pounds of apricots.

A few days later, we went out again to videotape more borrowers. It was a great opportunity to see and hear firsthand about the impact of Kiva loans on individual businesses. The first few borrowers were in the capital of Yerevan. We met with a hairdresser, and then a local furniture maker.

Then we were off to see the owner of a snack stand, and then a shoe store owner.

And in case you’re wondering where Elvis left his blue suede shoes, I found them at this market.

Then it was time for a quick lunch break with Anahit (the Kiva coordinator) and David (the loan officer). If we knew what was coming, though, we probably would have skipped lunch.

Our last stop of the day was in the village of Marmarashen, visiting a borrower who was taking a Kiva loan to expand her small bakery.

Hermine and her husband Gnel run the bakery by themselves, and it’s located just behind their house. After I finished taping the brief interview, Hermine came around the corner with a plate of fruit, including, of course, some apricots.

And when she insisted we also sit down for some coffee, I couldn’t say “no.”

The next thing I know, she’s putting some candies and cookies on the table.

Then out comes the wine. Uh-oh.

Then the vodka. Double uh-oh.

I think we’re going to be here awhile.

Then there were some baked apricots.

In the meantime, I keep hearing more rustling in the kitchen, and I realize this has all been just a warm-up. The next thing I know, Hermine comes out with the main course, a platter of beef kabobs baked in dough.

And of course, there was some Armenian cheese to go with it.

Every time there was some space in my glass or on my plate, it was quickly refilled.

David (the loan officer) joked that if we had given them more advance notice we were coming, Hermine and Gnel would have prepared beds and made us spend the night.

When I finally convinced them I couldn’t eat or drink any more, we said our goodbyes. Now I want to offer a big “shnorhakalutjun” (thank you) to Hermine and Gnel for showing me what Armenian hospitality is all about.

Of course before I left, she insisted that I take home a bag of – guess what?

Ward Lassoe is Kiva Fellow working in Armenia this summer with two Kiva partners, Nor Horizon and SEF International. Join the leading team for Armenia on Kiva.org.

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