· What is your name?
· Where are you from?
· Is that near Glendale, California, because you know there are a lot of Armenians there?
· How much money do you make?
· What is a volunteer…? No really… How much do you get paid?
· Why in the hell would someone work for nothing?
· Are you married? Why not? You are old, you know that you’re quite old to be single right? Do you want to marry my daughter? She’s very nice and speaks wonderful English…
It’s at this point that things usually get dicey. There’s no telling what will come next. Sometimes you’re saved by some sort of nationalist ranting about the “old country” or a rehashing of the laundry list of Armenian poets and playwrights who, “you absolutely must read.” These interrogators can be easily sated with a few knowing nods of the head and a mention of “the damn Turks” or “William Saroyan” respectively. But even though these situations are “more common” than the others, they are in no way “common” or can be anticipated. Usually the questions come out of nowhere and follow no train of thought whatsoever. This peculiarity became glaringly clear with a recent experience of mine.
I was recently invited to be interviewed on a radio talk/music show. The show was to be about American folk/popular music, and how it has changed over the years. I was told I would play a few songs and take a few calls from listeners. I had prepared myself with a stock of American songs that I felt would give the audience a real feeling of what American music was like, from some basic blues standards on through some John Cougar Melloncamp, and ending with some of those tunes that “the kids are listening to these days”. I also asked two other volunteers to join me, one from the south (Alabama) and well versed in the blues, and the other a man who lived through the 1960s and 70s (a subject that I was sure would come up). The fact that he only “remembers parts” of the aforementioned decades seems to add more credence to his insight and knowledge of the time period. The show was only in Russian so I, knowing only rudimentary Armenian, also brought along a friend as a translator.
When we arrived and the studio the DJ was pretty excited to see us. She is this strange Armenian anomaly. She dresses in bright colored clothes, is outgoing and gregarious and could only be compared to a burnt out hippy that is still holding on to the early 70s. I had met with her once previously and she had told me in the most certain terms that I must go to the mountains (pointing to a specific range in the distance) before the show, because there is “good energy” in those mountains, and that I must take this energy from the mountains and bring it to the show with me. Obviously I had not done this, but of course lied when she inquired about it. She was ecstatic that such “good energy” would be present in the studio.
I should know better than to go into any situation in Armenia with expectations of how things will go… because they never pan out, but I was expecting to introduce myself, the Peace Corps (I’m all about PR) and then talk a bit about the growth of American Folk/popular music while supplementing some points by performing some songs acoustically as examples. Maybe even take a few questions from callers. As the show got underway I did get a chance to introduce myself, as did Brian and Bob (the other PC volunteers) and Brian was able to tell the story about selling one’s soul at “the crossroads” in Mississippi to become a better blues guitarist. But after one quick rendition of a blues standard, the DJ had had enough. She wanted to know about us. She had Questions…
The DJ would speak (in Russian) to our translator, who would then turn to us and relay the question in English. My knowledge of Russian is non-existent, save for a few colloquial words used in our regional Armenian dialect, so I had no way to follow the conversation before our translator turned to our unsuspecting group and spluttered forth possibly the most disjointed and unexpected questions ever strung together. There was no way to anticipate these questions. How could we. We were in Armenia...
Translator: Bob, she wants to know if you believe in Angels?
Bob: I’m sorry, I didn’t quite catch that, “angels”? Well I am not quite sure.
Translator: How about God Bob. Do you believe in God? Do you have faith in God Bob?
Bob: Well I suppose I do, I just hope that he doesn’t loose faith in me. (Bob’s a witty guy)
Translator: Brian, She wants to know why do you think people in America are fat? For instance Tom Cruise married Katie Holmes.
Brian: I’m not quite sure how Tom Cruise and Katie Holmes factor into this, but I think that maybe in America the food has more preservatives and we don’t walk as much, because it is more common for people to drive cars. America is very spread out, so we need to use cars. But I’m no expert in this area.
Translator: Brian she’s asking if you believe in… oh I don’t know the word… those things that fly and have lights and are shaped like a plate, or maybe a bowl…?
Brian: You mean UFOs?
Translator: Yes! That’s it. She wants to know if you believe in UFOs and how many you have seen?
Brian: Well I think that… Actually I really don’t know. I mean… there are people who believe that they’ve seen them, but I really don’t know about it… ummm… I can’t say really…. I suppose there’s no real reason that there couldn’t be other life out there in the Universe.
Translator: She wants to ask, if you had to choose one single word as “the sweetest word” in the whole entire world what it would be.
Brian: Wow, well there are so many words out there… That’s a tough one… I think that Dominic would be best equipped to handle this one… (Passing the mic to me)
I would hope that my humble readership gets the idea. This went on for 2 hours with minimal commercial interruptions. Other highlights included;
- Me admitting that yes, I would die for true love
- A lengthy discussion on the differences of people on opposite sides of the Iron Curtain, where I ended up (in a desperate attempt to get the show back on track) selling out and using platitudes like, “I think that things like music and love are examples of how we’re all just people, no matter if you were in Armenia or California during the Cold War. Really we’re all just people, no matter where we live, we all love our families, we all want the best for our children.”
- Brian eventually realizing that “love” was the correct answer to the “sweetest word” question, and randomly blurting it out during some conversation about Yoga or some other nonsense.
All in all it was a mess, but pretty cool nonetheless. The feedback from the show was overwhelmingly positive. I suppose people really are more concerned with whether or not I would die for true love, than the intricacies of American folk music.