i should live on two sides of the world

I took took my language proficiency index exam in Armenian last week. I scored Advanced-Low, which I feel great about. Still, today is exactly one month until I leave my life in Stepanavan behind, and moments ago I was eating dinner with my co-workers, unable to follow the conversation. I might have, I bet, if I listened very closely. But I instead nodded, I smiled at appropriate times, and as I have done almost daily for two years, I let my mind drift. This drifting is familiar to anyone living around an unfamiliar language, and even after learning to speak a new tongue, the habit of drifting is hard to break.

Usually, my mind wanders among go-to drifting topics, pulls them out like worn folders from a file drawer. I think about relationships. I dream about my future life in the US. I wonder about the lives of my friends and family. I worry about work.

This time however, I kept my mind at the table and thought about my office friends. I thought about Davit’s charm, how he sets the table at ease with deep-voiced interjections and warm laugh. I watched the sibling like bickering between Alvart the Clooker and Arman who argued over the location of the tea break’s remaining snacks. As usual Hasmik jumped into the lunch time conversations with questions and prompts that seem to keep the conversation moving. Armen made sure everyone has good food on their plate before piling a big-boy sized portion onto his. And after another one of Edgar’s room-raising anecdotes set everyone chuckling, I realized that here is a family. Every single one of them has a beat in the rhythm of this place, and because I work here I do, too. They would have to tell you what  part I play, but I know I play it because as soon as I walk in from being away I fit directly into the flow as if I never left.

As soon as I hear my name mentioned at the table I start listening again, and it’s Davit asking me something. I have no idea what he said, so I nod and say, “Mmhmm,” and see if the conversation will end or keep on and clue me in. But this time he knows.

“Inke chi haskanum,” he says. (“He doesn’t understand.”)

Somehow I am touched that he knows me well enough to know the difference between my understanding and my merely wanting to. Despite my trying to hide it, he knows the cues that say I haven’t followed a word.

“Asel em, ko oratsuitsi vra es jinjum orere minchev gnalu?” (“I said, ‘Are you marking off the days on your calendar until you leave?'”)

“Che, che.” I tell him I can’t do that because I don’t want to think about how soon the leaving starts.

“You don’t want to go?”

“I want to be home. I don’t want to leave. I want to live in both places at once.”

“Apres,” (“You should live”) he says, and with that common affirmation he leaves me to drift into a dream of a life on two sides of the world.


  1. It’s hard as hell to leave a place you love so much and where you have made such deep friendships. It’s even harder to return to “home” (the US) to a place where most people will have no idea what you’re talking about when you share these feelings.

    I feel this way about Paris where I spent a life-changing 8 months on a journalism fellowship when I was 25. I try to return as often as possible and hope to live there in retirement, even part-time.

    Enjoy this final month!

    1. Thank you! And I need to keep in mind that maybe, like you, I’ll be able to return one of these days! And I hope you’re dream of Paris living comes true!

  2. The place you have in the family of Stepanavan is going to be empty once you leave. No other parson can fill it in Brent jan. Your table is going to be called Brent’s table/ office and the bookshelf is going to look empty without your family’s photos and the chicken toys. We are going to miss your hard efforts to say something in Armenian when you are really concentrated to do so, and the amazing Armenian speech flow, when you do not think that you speak Armenian, but you just do! I personally am going to miss talking to you, especially a bit under the drink and miss your new languages of mix Armenian-English.

    The family will not only remember you when preparing the lunch with tacos, but daily, watching the photos of Halloween party, and popok and the cross-stone and the student councils messing around with a pile of papers and balloons, and so many other things…

    Going from Armenia your are leaving your particle here in Stepanavan, and thus falling apart all over the world :-)

    1. Lian jan, you know how to make me cry. You are such a good friend, and while I leave my particle behind, I’m taking one from you, dear friend, and keeping it in my heart.

  3. katieleigh

    This entry made me well up – but Liana’s comment put me over the edge. So poignant and so heartbreaking. I know how this feels, the leaving, and the missing.

  4. What a moving piece you have written. You chose the perfect words to describe the feelings before leaving. The tears in the corners of my eyes are the proof of that.

    And don’t be mistaken, it’s true what you said: the habit of drifting is hard to break. I noticed that I kept on doing it for a very long time when I was back home and people were actually speaking in my native language and not in Armenian.

    1. I’ve noticed that I start doing the drifting already, too! Thanks for the compliment, European friend! ;)

  5. Adrineh Macaan

    Brent jan, I stumbled upon your blog (and this old entry) when I saw the most recent entry you shared on Facebook (I’m glad we are still Facebook friends!). It’s exciting to see where your life has taken you and though we’ve had different experiences, I can relate. Being back in Canada after several years in Armenia is a bit of a “reverse culture shock”… I wonder if you still experience this, perhaps from time to time? In any case, I wanted to comment on this entry because the “Apres” in the final response is not “You should live” but “Good,” which of course is also an affirmation of your statement :) Right now, I am very much feeling your sentiment of wanting to be in both places at once. I’m not sure that I’ll ever stop feeling that…

Leave a Reply