My friend and I had just hitchhiked into Gyumri in Armenia, from Georgia. Night had fallen but the streetlights were off. The city, if you could call it that, was in darkness. We had the address of Luis, a Portuguese Couchsurfer who had said he would put us up for a couple of nights. Finding his place, though, was proving difficult. After wandering around following vague and contradicting directions from various men we asked on the street, we found ourselves walking just behind a bloke in his early twenties who told us that he would lead us to where we wanted to go. This seemed a bit strange, but it didn’t stop us from following him. He looked exactly like the two lads that had driven us in to the city: Short black hair, thick dark eyebrows, large brown eyes, and dressed completely in black. He didn’t speak at all, just kept walking ahead of us, turning around every so often to check that we were still in tow. Eventually we entered a large unlit block. The man knocked on the door of one of the ground-floor flats and a little old lady answered. The man spoke to her in Armenian, and just like when we had crossed the border earlier we clearly picked out the word ‘American,’ despite neither of us nor our host being American. As soon as this word was put out there, though, the lady sprang into life; she knew exactly what we wanted. We wanted the American who lived upstairs. Our guide led us up to the second floor and knocked loudly on a door. It was answered by a man who looked Portuguese.
“Yes. Welcome. Come in.”
We thanked our guide and entered the flat, to be met by a group of ten or so energetic young things in their late teens, all drinking from a large punch bowl and speaking to each other in second-language English. We introduced ourselves to everyone. There were girls from Austria, Germany, Poland and Romania; and guys from Denmark, France and Portugal. All had been placed here in Gyumri by the European Voluntary Service, a European Commision project that gives young people the opportunity to volunteer in a developing country for anything up to twelve months.
“We’re about to go out to a club,” one of the group told us, “You’re coming with us.”
“I’ll just jump under the shower quickly before we go, if that’s alright?” I said.
My words were met with laughter from everyone.
“One of the wonders of this city is that we only have water for a couple of hours each morning, and then for an hour in the late afternoon,” Luis told me.
“The water’s only heated in the morning? That’s no problem, I don’t mind taking a cold shower. I feel pretty dirty. It’s been a long day on the road.”
“No, that’s not what I meant. We have no running water of any kind for most of the day. You can’t even flush the toilet here. If you use the toilet, you pour water into it from this,” Luis pointed to a bucket full of water as he spoke. “We fill it up in the morning when the water is on.”
“Oh. Right. And does the same apply to the club we’re going to?”
“No. They are allowed running water.”
I was quite desperate for a shit, so was pleased with this answer.
“Okay, well let’s go then!” I said, perhaps a bit too enthusiastically.