The Best Laid Plans

Jirair Garabedian
(Surrey, Canada)

“Never plan ahead. Ever.”

There are things in life that take sneak up on you, things that kick down the door with guns blazing and things that happen so slowly, so subtly, that you don’t even notice it until after the fact. Kind of like how your foot falls asleep. My experience in Armenia has been like my foot falling asleep.

I came to Yerevan at the end of December 2009. My intent was just to visit my grandparents for Christmas, I’d never been to Armenia in the winter and I’d been told that they were brutal and very cold (coming from Canada, when someone mentions “cold”, you expect no more than -15). Fresh out of college, travelling alone for the first time, I was nothing short of eager to go!

My uncle and cousin picked me up at the airport in the early AM’s. On the way home, I noticed how the stars were bright and the light of the low moon was accentuated by the lack of light pollution in the city.

While in Armenia, I met a woman who worked at the art and history museum at Republic Square. We started talking, and through the course of our conversation I told her that I was an animator. She mentioned, very vaguely, that she knows somebody in Yerevan who also animates and she said that she would introduce me to him.  A few days later I get a call from a stranger, who tells me that the woman from the gallery gave him my number. This man asks me if I’d like to meet and chat, naturally I agree. Before he hangs up, he tells me to bring my demo reel with me.

Now, I’ve never been good with directions, so my grandpa said he would come with me in case I got lost. Driving through unfamiliar streets and winding roads, we eventually get to an off-yellow building on a hill. I call the number in my phone, and the man directs me to his studio.

The door that led to the studio was a dark shiny color. On it, a poster, “ReAnimania International Animation Film Festival”. There were three rooms, a kitchen and a bathroom. I got the impression that this studio used to be someone’s home, or still is. As soon as I entered, the first thing that caught my eye was the paintings, every square inch of the first few walls there were paintings. Caricatures, some faces I recognized as Armenian actors, activists, artists, political figures, others I did not. Inside, I met the man whom I’d spoken on the phone with. Vrej Kassouny, the director of the ReAnimania festival. I showed him my reel and we spoke about the festival for a little while. He said that there weren’t many animators in Armenia, that it was an unexplored art in the country. Vrej told me about Birthright Armenia, how they hosted volunteers to come to Armenia and volunteer at different jobsites. He offered for me to come work at his studio through Birthright. Trying to not get too excited, I politely told him that I would think about it, thanked him, and left.

New Year’s came and went and with it, I went back to Vancouver and spent some time researching Birthright Armenia and AVC. The website smelled of patriotism and national pride. Frankly, I consider myself to be somewhat of an Anarchist, so I was a bit turned off. Still, I thought it would be some good work experience; I could network, make some contacts and basically get my foot in the door. Deciding that I would do it, I applied, was accepted, packed some summer clothes and left. I remember when I boarded the plane, I was thinking to myself that I would go volunteer for a few months, do a bit of networking, expand my portfolio and come back to Vancouver. Nothing more, nothing less…

It’s almost been a year since I came to Armenia, I’ve got my dream job helping push social change at the Tumo Center for Creative Technology, I’ve got a messed up right hand, a wonderful girlfriend, a cold and no plans to leave anytime soon.

There’s a lot of room to create here in Yerevan, lots of things that are yet to be said and done, new ideas to explore and develop. This city needs fresh minds.

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