Getting a new stove in the villages of Armenia is a very big deal. My family just got a new stove. It was a very big deal. At first it didn’t function correctly so the inevitable gaggle of male neighbors came by to watch as the one person, who apparently was an oven repairman during soviet times, worked his magic. While watching him work, constantly asking for random tools to aid him like a darning needle or some butter, I concluded that it was more likely that he worked at a factory fashioning quality door hinges. I’ve seen it many times already, but after close to an hour of tinkering and consultation with the group, they huddled up one last time and turned to me. Swallowing their pride, and more so any nationalist sentiment gained within the last few years of independence since the fall of the Soviet Union, my host father turned and handed me the directions, written only in English.
I never realized how absurd and counterintuitive most child proofing measures are until I began rubbing the West’s cold war victory, and concurrently the victory of the English language in the faces of innocent Armenians. After quickly scouring the table of contents and flipping to the appropriate page, I held down a button on the front of the oven pushed down the knob with the oven door open and finally was able to outsmart the childproofing, loosing the natural gas from its previously straining state at the intake of the oven. Finally finding its purpose, its home, the flames of the burners jumped to life. Feeling quite satisfied, I turned to greet the seemingly impressed intake of air, only to hear numerous comments about the complications with Western appliances and how if they had gotten a stove from the Ukraine we would have been eating dinner by now. Holding back my indignant urge to expound the positives of capitalism and other such Western ideals, I swallowed my tongue and made space for my host mother and sister to begin cooking the aforementioned meal, retiring to the table to drink Vodka and discuss the quality of Russian beer as opposed to that “poor and tasteless American stuff.”
The mood was festive and the word was spread that the party, celebrating this new oven was afoot. Sending out the children to various corners of the village to collect certain specialty items found only in that corner of the village, the women of the family began producing various tables and chairs I had no idea existed. The phone bank was set ablaze and the attendance of all the extended family was secured. As the children returned exhausted from their various missions, special cheeses and/or mulberry vodka in toe, they were put to work connecting all the flat surfaces available into one large table. Less than an hour later the guests began arriving. I gathered that the obligation in this sort of situation is to look at the new stove, gasp, inspect it closely (lightly commenting if desired) and step back and discuss with the new owner for a minimum of 3-4 minutes. As one might imagine, the line to partake in the formalities began stacking up rapidly.
With the backlog of new guests lining up to see the new stove and the table being covered beautifully with all types of fare, the excitement for the party began rising. As I pulled out my chair to sit down to eat with the 20 some-odd guests I was able to appreciate the beauty and excessiveness of an Armenian dinner. Having such a great spread of food and drink and sharing it with the whole family is really quite a cool cultural trait of the Armenian people. Being the only non-blood relative at the meal, I couldn’t help but feel honored and blessed to have been included.