Rendahl: The Armenian Affair

If it’s true that opposites attract, then Armenia and I were a match made in heaven. Our grand love affair is not simply a series of experiences and events. For me, it has been a process of learning and growing, of becoming more human. I can’t imagine myself without her influence.

Food played a central role during my time in Armenia. I don’t know another language with a verb for hosting that carries such widely understood implications as 'seghan anel' (to do a table).

Sure, there’s a laundry list of superficial things I learned while living in Armenia. Believe it or not, I didn’t eat tomatoes, onions, peppers, fish, yogurt, tea, and more before I moved there. Not because my parents wouldn’t provide them—in fact, we grew many vegetables in our garden, mom made homemade yogurt, and dad and I went fishing year-round. I was simply convinced that I did not and would not like them, because my dad didn’t like those things. And if my dad didn’t like them, then neither would I. (Incidentally, my father now eats all of the above, too, but never lived in Armenia. I don’t know how that happened.)

It’s apt then that food played a central role during my time in Armenia. I don’t know another language with a verb for hosting that carries such widely understood implications as “seghan anel (to do a table). My dinner parties are over-the-top by American standards, and my food contributions to work meetings unexpected, but they could never compete with the extensive and militant nature of hospitality bestowed upon guests by peoples like the Armenians, Persians, and Arabs.

There is also the culture’s affinity for leisurely walks and dressing well. Most Americans don’t understand why anyone walks anywhere or why someone would dress up if doing so were not absolutely required. The meticulous dress is often for show, but I believe it’s about pride in a way that’s mostly helpful. Over time, some of these acquired habits have begun to conflict with one another. If you’d walked a mile in some of my teeteez (silly, impractical) shoes, you’d understand what I mean.

Other lessons have gone deeper. I was recently in court for a trivial lawsuit against an organization of which I serve on the board. A fairly sheltered Scandinavian girl from the Great Plains, conflict of any kind, let alone face-to-face, is not something I was born to embrace—there are times when just unrestrained speech takes my breath away—but I wanted to be a reasonable presence amid the insanity.

It’s no secret to the readers of this newspaper that conflict is something Armenians understand entirely too well. While I seek closure in every conversation, Armenia has a host of unresolved issues with which to contend from year to year, decade to decade. Living among people who exist in a fairly constant state of anxiety and concern has given me a heightened ability to deal with the inevitable tension that exists in our lives. Even if it still makes me sweat.

Something you can’t avoid in Armenia is emotion. It’s effusive, it’s overbearing, it’s heart rending, and it follows you. One moment you may be talking with a homeless woman and her children selling flowers in the street, and the next moment you are sitting in a high-end restaurant that the prime minister frequents. On the way, the taxi driver will have told you how he tries to feed his family, and you’ll have run into an old friend who has earned a highly respected university degree but can’t find an appropriate job in the country. If you are like me and talk with anyone within shouting distance, you’ll also have heard several self-deprecating jokes about Armenia’s people and culture, just after everyone raised their glasses to her enviable history. You absorb it all, because trying to escape it is futile. And you always feel alive.

This pervasive connection to emotions is what shapes so many wonderful parts of the culture. Take, for example, the courtship that occurs when people first meet. They have coffee, they have dinner, they perform music and recite poetry for each other, they drive into the countryside for a picnic. I speak not of love-struck madness, but relationships that develop between mere friends, colleagues, neighbors. Oh, were my own compatriots to appreciate these nuanced rituals!

At its core, the nation is filled with passion. I wish for everyone to know a people or even just a person with as much passion. People who eat with abandon, who sing away their angst, and who survive because they must. There are many who avoid what is different, unconventional, and unnerving. I believe that we would be better off if we walked directly into the abyss of the unknown to see what we might learn. In such a short life, it seems likely that our knowledge and maturity will quickly plateau if we are not willing to take some of these perceived risks. Worse yet, we will never become all we really are.

Kristi Rendahl

Kristi Rendahl

Kristi Rendahl is associate professor and director of the nonprofit leadership program at Minnesota State University, Mankato. Prior to starting with MSU in 2017, she worked for over 20 years with nongovernmental organizations on several continents, including living in Armenia from 1997-2002. She speaks Armenian and Spanish.
Kristi Rendahl

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  1. Hye, Kristi, you have come to know Armenia and her people even better than some who are Armenian yet are scattered the world over since the Turkish Genocide of the Armenian nation – ongoing/unending.  My daughter led me to your words… You have understood the real nature of the Armenians and our advanced and ancient culture, adopting Christianity (301AD to 307AD the Romans)  Too, my husband’s favorite line is: Only when the rest of the civilized world recognizes a Turkey for that which it has been and is still today, only then will a Turkey be forced to face their own guilt for torturing, slaughtering and worse of innocents during the Turkish Genocide of the ancient Christian Armenian nation…too, the Greeks, Syrians, Assyrians and more. Today, our fledgling 20 year nation of today joins with the civilized nations of the world all their endeavors and advances in the Sciences and more. Too, history of Armenia, past into today, brings it to the fore as a people worthy of belonging to the civilized nations of the world.  A Turkey offers much that ‘glitters’- pursues endless PLOYS and too, sadly, now destruction of the Woodrow Wilson memorial site in Washington DC currently and it appears even Smithsonian Museum.  Thus a Turkey has invaded the USA capital, Washington DC.  Actions of/by their Ottoman mentality – unending since the 19th, 20th, and today – still into the 21st century the abuses by the Turk of the Armenians (others)  is agenda of Turk leaderships… Still, across the world Armenians are united in seeking justice for the Turkish Genocide of the Armenans… Persistently…  Manooshag

  2. Kristi.. I got goosebumps when I read your article… I emerged myself into the lifestyle I know very well and left behind 20 years ago.. your words brought the Armenian existance to life and showed the true meaning of what it means to be an ARmenian…

    It is people like you who devote their lives to appreciate finer things in life, aka learning about an ancient culture and sharing their thoughts and views in such a way that not only the Armenian would appreciate and understand but also a Non-Armenian.. I thank you for your dedication to Armenians/Armenia and looking forward to reading more of your articles…

    God Bless you


  3. Hi Kristi
    I like your words
    “A nation filled with passion”
    I like to add,
    “A nation filled with Art, Dignity, Passion…”
    This what my beloved feels and he is none-Armenian.
    Dear Kristi
    Did you forget our pomegranate?
    We are like that fruit…
    Full of love
    Full of care.
    If you lance our Hart* (Heart)
    You can see and feel our eternal passion…
    Bursts from every seed.
    I feel you are harty* and clever
    You knew how to lance our Harts…!
    Reaching our seeds
    To view the glare.
    Wishing you and every one
    Happy Healthy New Year
    *Hart: heart—Heart in one syllable in my glossary of terms (Lance my Hart at a Glance)

  4. Dear kristi,
    This is an excellent article. Sometimes we get tired of ourselves. You give us hope. God bless you.

    Shnorhavor Nor Dari yev sourp Dsenount!

  5. George,
    It gives me infinite pleasure to know that something I write or say or do might be useful to someone else. Thank you.

  6. kRISTI:  Your observations were not only accurate, you described them
    interestingly. Yes, should I meet you in the future (preferably in Yerevan),
    I too will raise my glass in “genats” to Kristi!

  7. Hello Kristi, as a second generation Armenian American who has never visited Armenia (but would love to), I enjoyed reading your lively descriptions of the current population and culture of Armenia. So many times, the only articles and books that are written are from the view of the genocide. We hardly ever get a glimpse of what life is like now in Armenia. Time cannot change what happened, and the heartache will always remain, but it is refreshing and encouraging to know that there is an Armenia out there with vibrant passionate people that have a future to live for, not only a past to weep over. Armenians must have hope and optimism for their future.

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