A lot has happened since I wrote my last post slightly over a year ago. I cried many more tears over Dibar’s death and had other personal issues to deal with as well. Meanwhile, I continued to teach Dutch and had more students than I ever had before. There were weeks when I was exhausted from teaching 36 hours of classes, but I also immensely enjoyed my students’ successes when they passed their language exams. I taught some great young women who have become not only my friends but also each other’s. And I decided that teaching Dutch 36 hours a week was not what I wanted to do even in the near future. So about six months ago I took up again a plan I had been playing with off and on for almost two years. Shortly before Dibar’s death I started turning it into reality, but I put it on hold when Dibar passed away. As a result, several months ago I left Yerevan and moved to Tbilisi to make room for new things.
Ever since I moved, people both in Georgia and Armenia keep asking me which city I prefer, Yerevan or Tbilisi. The point of this post is not to compare both cities. I am merely trying to sort out my own thoughts. Both cities are very different, but more than that, my relationship with both cities is so different. I lived in Yerevan for almost eight years, I’ve been in Tbilisi barely four months and I got off to a rocky start to boot.
I am still learning to navigate Tbilisi. I am learning to navigate the Georgian language. I am navigating meeting new people and making new friends (which doesn’t always come easily for an introvert like me who doesn’t like crowds and for whom any group over two or three is a crowd). I am trying to get unstuck. I am trying to find work that is more up my alley than teaching Dutch as a fulltime job. I am trying to start writing again. I am trying to make my little corner in Tbilisi.
I didn’t fall head over heals in love with Tbilisi like so many other foreigners did. Maybe it’s because I am not a city girl. I enjoy living in the city, but I’m not a city girl. Never have been, never will be. I don’t take to cities the way I do to the countryside and nature (and yes, I am falling head over heals for the Georgian countryside).
Maybe I just don’t get attached to cities or places where I live. Home isn’t the town I live in now, nor is it the village in Holland I spent the first eighteen years of my live in. Home is my current apartment, the place where my things are and where my two cats greet me when I open the door.
Maybe it is because Tbilisi wasn’t some new and exotic place for me the way it might be for others and because living and working somewhere is different from visiting a place as a tourist. I moved to Tbilisi with almost thirteen years in the region under my belt. I am used to the chaos, dysfunctionality and unexpectedness that is the Caucasus.
I can see why people prefer Tbilisi over Yerevan, though. For one, Yerevan’s center isn’t nearly as visually attractive as Tbilisi’s is. Tbilisi feels more European than Yerevan. Georgians seem to have a somewhat more joyful and upbeat outlook on life than Armenians have. Yerevan (and Armenia) feels like it is looking inward, Tbilisi feels more open to the outside world. Armenia feels so much more isolated than Georgia is. Tbilisi seems more easily navigable if you don’t speak the language (though both Georgian and Armenian use a script that looks completely unlike Latin or Cyrillic script), probably because English is more widely spoken.
Since I moved to Tbilisi, I’ve been back in Yerevan a few times. I don’t regret leaving Armenia as I was stuck in many ways and I needed a change. On the other hand, being back in Yerevan feels like slipping back into old, comfy clothes, where Tbilisi still feels like new clothes. You know when you buy a new pair of jeans or shoes and you need to wear them a few times before they start taking the shape of your body or feet and feel comfortable? That is how Tbilisi still feels to me: I need to wear it a bit longer for it to feel comfortable.
There are things I like better about Tbilisi because they function better there, there are things that work better in Armenia. I don’t think I ever liked Yerevan as a city, but something I do like about Yerevan is that it’s more compact than Tbilisi is. And I definitely miss my apartment in Yerevan.
In Tbilisi I feel like I am hovering on the outside of things, while in Yerevan I had my own little corner where I was not on the outside. In Tbilisi almost all the people I spend time with are foreigners, while in Armenia, especially in the last few years, I didn’t really have any friends who weren’t Armenian, most of them local Armenians plus a few Diasporan-Armenians. I notice I have to get used to the different dynamics in both environments.
In the end, for me, Yerevan is so much more, still.
Yerevan is where my Armenian colleagues were amazed that I knew the minibus routes much better than they did. Yerevan is where the woman I buy my vegetables from tells me: “I missed your smile,” and where another vegetable seller once tried to hook me up with her son who was more than ten years my junior. Yerevan is where, when I run into the mail delivery woman three streets away from where I live, she tells me to wait a second, grabs into her plastic bag filled with mail and takes out a postcard my parents sent me. In Yerevan I spent countless chatting and laughing with kids at a dialysis ward in one of the hospitals and being amazed at their resilience. In Yerevan I took care of a friend after he’d been in a car accident. Yerevan is where I’d go to my regular bar on my own, knowing that sooner rather than later a friend would show up to hang out with. Yerevan is where a good friend fought and won a ten month long battle for me over a closed down water pipe (a long story of arrogant neighbors, uncooperative civil servants, a hole in the law, and no one willing to take any responsibility).
I have a history with Yerevan that I don’t have with Tbilisi (yet). In Yerevan I loved, I made a fool of myself, I laughed, I cried, I danced, I argued, I made mistakes, I found myself in situations (both good and bad) I’d never thought I’d find myself in, I made friends, I lost friends, I changed a few people’s lives, I grieved over the death of my best friend.
I don’t have that history with Tbilisi yet. Give me time and I am sure I will. Then I can give you a more honest answer as to which city I prefer.