Note: all pictures courtesy of Thong Do. Check out his website here!
Water is a big deal here in Sarnaghbyur. The name means “cold spring”, there’s a cave filled with holy water, and we can fish in and frolic by a lake that I can only assume is the envy of all our neighbors. So it’s no surprise that Vardavar is an especially big deal here; read the background on Wikipedia here, to keep me from writing something redundant and surely no better researched. I’ve been told the town’s population doubles for the holiday, and we Americans did our part as Thong, Renata, and Sarah came up from Gyumri to experience the madness.
I decided to take the other PCVs up the main street to see our churches and holy spring, as we’d heard that that was where most of the action was. Things began calmly enough with the mischievous under-10 crowd on my street getting us with a couple of small buckets (including one especially smart little girl who hit us from behind an open gate she was hiding behind, so we didn’t even see her ‘til after impact). As we headed up the main street towards the spring, however, things got a bit harrier. It’s a nice balance of hilarious and slightly terrifying seeing a giant mob of young boys coming at you with full buckets of water, and really once they’ve spotted you and engaged all you can do is stand there and accept the attack. I should note that these splashes weren’t usually simple sneak-up-and-pour-water-down-your-back-affairs, but rather violent and epic soakings – with a large bucket and a teenage boy’s exuberance, you can get some pretty intense water velocity. Total blindings, water deep in both ears, this is what we tolerated for the sake of cultural enrichment and understanding.
Madness reigned outside the entrance to the holy spring – from what I can tell no one is safe except police officers and the tatiks, who would probably beat you senseless with a tatik broom if you soaked them. Tourists to the spring, often fancily dressed Yerevantsis, were hit as soon as they were out of their car, often with their doors still open for maximum property damage. Thong braved the water with his valuable camera to take the incredible pictures here, but as things got more intense we decided to retreat up the hill to an overlook to dry out on hot rocks and watch the melee from out of soak range. We took the long way home to avoid the main road mobs, in the course of which we still faced a few back-street ambushes, but they were amateur at best and no one got much wetter.
Naturally as soon as we dried off my host family invited everyone to sit down for a giant Armenian lunch, including lamb and shots of some delicious pine-infused liquor my host cousin brought up from Yerevan. After this the Gyumri crowd left, at which point I assumed the day’s soakings were over for me. Unfortunately, as their car pulled away, a young woman opened our gate, chased me around our yard, and drenched me with three separate buckets of water she’d somehow brought along before running off, yelling over her shoulder in thickly-accented English “nice to meet you!” Sitting on my bed writing this, my whole body feels sore, not from a day’s worth of walking, but rather from how many times I tensed my entire body in anticipation of a violent soaking.