I walked out of my apartment on a recent Sunday morning and noticed three teenage girls approaching me. They were giggling and seemed to be sharing an inside joke. As we got closer, they suddenly veered toward me and splashed me with water from bottles they were carrying. Then, they started laughing like crazy and walked away.
What the hell???
Actually I knew exactly what was going on. Today was Vardavar, a big holiday in Armenia where kids (and adults) douse each other with water all day long.
I was looking for gangs of kids with buckets, so the girls caught me off guard with their non-descript water bottles. Luckily, I had wrapped my phone and wallet in a Ziploc bag before heading out that day just in case. This precaution seemed like overkill because I honestly didn’t think I’d be a target. I was wrong.
The Vardavar tradition goes back centuries to pagan times. It originally celebrated Astghik, the goddess of water. Now, it’s just a good excuse to throw water around on a hot summer day.
Coincidentally, I had planned to go visit the Temple of Garni this day. This ancient temple was built about 1,800 years ago. What I didn’t put together until we got there was that Vardavar is a pagan holiday, and we were heading to the most famous pagan temple in Armenia.
That made Garni a hotbed for Vardavar activity. This become clear as we walked down the only road leading to the Garni temple. We saw a gauntlet of kids with buckets. How to get through? As we stood contemplating our options, a shiny BMW came down the road. This target caused a frenzy among the kids, and provided a perfect distraction that allowed us to sneak by and stay dry.
When we got to the temple it was a free-for-all. A nearby stream provided a constant supply of muddy water. We took refuge on the steps of the temple and watched the action below.
Suddenly, though, we were shooed off the temple steps. It seemed like they were getting ready for some event. The next thing I see is a wheelbarrow carrying a sheep with its legs tied and a pretty red bow around its neck.
This doesn’t look good. Then a guy appears on the steps of the temple with a long robe, a big knife and some fire. I realize things are looking worse for the sheep.
Of course, this is a modern pagan ceremony, so there’s a guy with a camcorder getting all the action.
Then they head down to the sheep.
Eventually, the crowd blocked my view, and that was fine by me.
But I did see the knife come up with some blood on it.
Then, the blood was smeared on a girl’s cheek.
Then were was some chanting and more fire.
I have no idea what this ceremony was all about, but once it was over, I was no longer safe from the water warriors. I tried several strategies to minimize my chances of getting doused:
- First, I tried to follow behind another good target and let the kids exhaust their water supplies on them.
- The element of surprise seems to be a big part of the attack, so I tried to make eye contact as much as possible.
- If it looked like they were still heading for me, I offered a stern “che, che” (no, no)
But these tactics only worked part of the time. Being 6’4”, it seemed like I represented a target that was too big to ignore.
It was a wet bus ride home, but I eventually dried out. Of course, I got nailed a couple more times on the walk back to my apartment, including water from windows above.
After I got back to my apartment, I suddenly realized I had:
- A balcony that overlooked one of the busiest streets in Yerevan
- A tree that provided great cover
- And a big bucket
I hesitated for a minute. Am I that petty and immature that I need to get some revenge? Absolutely.
I only targeted kids who were already wet and armed with buckets. All innocent pedestrians were spared.
And I have to admit it was a blast. To be able to pour a bucket of water on unsuspecting people and have them just start laughing is a great experience… especially when they looked up and saw that it came from an American-looking “grown-up.”
That seemed to get them laughing even harder.
In case you don’t know, I’m in Armenia because I’m doing a fellowship with Kiva.org (a person-to-person lending website). If you’ve never made a loan before, there’s a great promotion going on. Thanks to an anonymous donor, you can make a $25 loan, and it’s totally free. Here’s the link: