‘Exotic’ Armenia

By Liz Nagle, K10 Armenia

Alongside Lake Sevan, traditional breeding ground of Armenian ishkhan (or Sevan trout), runs a highway dotted with low-roofed, boxlike structures and, in front of them, thick-jacketed men, bundled up against the late-winter chill. Traveling this route with a few staff members from Kiva’s Field Partner “Nor Horizon,” I observed a sales tactic the likes of which I’d never seen before.

At our approach, each man would take a step or two toward the road and stretch wide his arms, holding them out until we had passed.

I must have had a puzzled look on my face after seeing this happen two or three times, because Nor Horizon’s Kiva Coordinator turned to me and asked, “Do you know what they’re doing?”

I had no idea, and said so.

“They’re showing you how big their fish are!” she explained. “But they exaggerate. None of the fish are that big.”

What a novel way of selling fish! How amusing and charming and just, well, different, I thought.

Apart from short visits to a couple of touristy sites, this was my first trip out of Yerevan, Armenia’s capital. I had acclimated to Yerevan almost instantly, barely adjusting my western lifestyle as I settled in to explore the city’s many restaurants, cafes, and lively nightlife. There was nothing I needed or wanted, from goods to services to culture, that I couldn’t find there. The language was a barrier, and the Soviet-style architecture took some getting used to, but on the whole Yerevan felt a lot like home.

Here on the banks of Lake Sevan, I realized I was relieved to finally see Armenians doing something I would not have seen in America.

After all, part of the draw of the Kiva Fellowship—and of Kiva itself, I would argue—is that it provides access and meaningful connection to people who live differently from ourselves. For most Kiva Fellows, meeting Kiva entrepreneurs is a window onto another world. Kiva lenders are themselves a diverse group, but as you can see from browsing through lenders’ portfolios, most lend across a wide variety of countries and cultures.

Let’s face it: differences are interesting! And the differences between Kiva lenders and borrowers give meaning and weight to Kiva’s core principle that “lending is connecting.”

As a firm believer in the value and noteworthiness of even minor cultural differences, I was excited about my new knowledge of Armenia fish-selling practices—but armeniapedia.org burst my bubble. As it turns out, the fish vendors’ methods are less exotic than pragmatic:

There are fish in the lake, however there has been a ban on commercial fishing (without authorization) in recent years. For this reason, it is not uncommon to see men standing along the main road signaling cars by hand the supposed length of the fish they sell. To put these fish on display would mean calling the attention of unwanted authorities.

Oh, well. I hasten to assure you that I’ve since met Armenian entrepreneurs whose lives are different from my own in equally interesting (and less illegal) ways.

More on that soon—or if you can’t wait to learn more about what microfinance looks (and smells) like in Armenia, check out these recent posts.

Support an Armenian entrepreneur today!

Liz Nagle is a member of the 10th class of Kiva Fellows and is working with Nor Horizon and two other soon-to-be-official Kiva Field Partners in Yerevan, Armenia.

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