The thing about culture shock is I thought it would be over it by now. It’s been almost five months, that seems like enough time to completely get used to my home country. It hasn’t been.
And maybe part of that is because I left Armenia so quickly and suddenly and I know I haven’t taken the time to completely process what that meant, but part of it is also that pandemic America is a hard version of reality to adjust to— for anyone, not just me. Which is probably why you see so many people sort of opting for a completely different reality.
Working as a sea kayak guide this year has been different than when I did it two years ago. Our trips are smaller, we take extra time to sanitize gear, we wear masks for all of set up, and clean up, and honestly some of the time on the water too, if I feel like it is making people more comfortable.
While I don’t personally feel like I am at much of a risk here— it’s pretty rare that I’m interacting within 6 feet of someone, and we’re outside the whole time—trips into the actual town of Bayfield tell a different story.
A lot of people come up here to “escape the pandemic”, but that is almost certainly not what is happening. Bayfield isn’t very big, so on the weekends it gets cozy. A lot of the restaurants and bars in town have indoor seating, with no one wearing masks. Every weekend probably sees well upwards of 2000 new people, at my most conservative estimate. And while a lot of people are wearing masks, and taking precautions, getting take out and staying outside, just a walk downtown shows a lot of people are not.
And people who are tourists can spread the virus, or catch the virus and leave, then go back to their hometown with a well-staffed hospital, and with population turnover like you get up here it’d be hard to trace transmission back to a tiny summer tourist town.
It’s a little harder for the people who live here year round. Note that there is literally not a hospital in all of Bayfield County. Many of the people working in restaurants in downtown Bayfield, and summer tourist towns through America, are doing it because they have to, not because they want to or feel safe. Or rather if you need work bad enough, you decide it must be safe enough — what alternative do you have?
Staying home is a privilege, and having a job that allows for social distancing even moreso.
Meanwhile, back in Armenia, Azerbaijan has violated the ceasefire over Nagorno Karabakh, and 16 people have died. As I understand it, the conflict over Nagorno Karabakh (or simply Artsakh in Armenian) lies in that this region is ethnically and historically Armenian. They speak Armenian, share Armenian culture, and identify as Armenian. The flag of the region is the Armenian flag with a zig zag white stripe through it. The region is technically an autonomous republic, with it’s own self-determining government.
Karabakh is functionally so much Armenian that you could go there on a quick day trip from Armenia with public transport, speak Armenian there and experience similar culture and food.
Most countries recognize Karabakh as part of Azerbaijan, which after living in Armenia seems ridiculous. Like if Canada claimed that New York State was theirs, the whole world recognized it, but within America nothing changed, and New York was still New York, and still American.
I’m oversimplifying, and I am about to oversimplify more. In 1920, after the first world war, the Paris Peace Conference designated the region as belonging to Azerbaijan, despite most Armenians in the area opposing this and fighting against it. The Soviet Union moved in, Armenia, Azerbaijan, and Karabakh all fell under Soviet regime.
When the Soviet Union fell, the Armenian majority in Karabakh pushed for unification with Armenia. Fighting broke out in earnest, and by 1994 a ceasefire agreement was reached.
The fighting in Armenia now isn’t in Karabakh, it’s in Tavush Marz to the North. It’s a large power grab, inflammatory, and very dangerous. And Turkey, the country responsible for genocide against Armenians only a little over 100 years ago, is backing Azerbaijan, using alarming rhetoric like Armenians will “crushed down”, and “will pay”.
I know people who live in Tavush Marz today. This isn’t an abstract international conflict.
No international conflicts should really be abstract conflicts, just a blip in the news cycle. But the world is really big, and our line of sight is really small.
Line of sight.
When you’re guiding, you keep a line of sight between you and the person you are guiding with. You know how many people (boats) you have with you, and either you or your person can see them all, and you can see each other. Between the two of you, everyone is accounted for.
I guess what I’m saying is the things you can’t personally see, someone else can help you see. International conflicts, or hazards on the water, or different important lifestyles.
Below is the link to educate yourself on the Armenia -Azerbaijan conflict, and how you can help.
And wear a mask please.