You know you’re going somewhere when you find yourself in the back of a taxi bombing down an exceedingly bumpy two-lane highway at speeds exceeding 100 mph. And five years ago, we were in fact going somewhere important as we sped north on the road that connects Yerevan, Amenia to Gyumri. My husband and I were headed to meet the baby girl we hoped to adopt. Little did we know this would become the taxi ride we’d never forget.
We sat in the back of the taxi, watching the autumn scenery out our window. Hillsides in shades of gold, 13,419 foot Mount Aragats looming to the east, snow already coating its steep slopes, herds of sheep, cows and the occasional shepherd.
Our driver appeared to be in his forties, slim, dark haired with an aquiline nose and pleasant, unassuming face. I’m pretty sure he’d been driving a taxi since he was old enough for his legs to reach the pedals.
As the crow flies, the distance from Yerevan to Gyumri is roughly 75 miles, but because of the road conditions it can take up to two hours to go from one city to another.
Armenian taxi drivers know this route like the back of their hands. Ours swerved this way and that to avoid potholes. It’s very unusual to find seat belts in Armenian taxis, and ours did not have any. So that meant whenever we hit a bump or landed in a pothole we’d find ourselves airborne, like we were riding a mechanical bull at the rodeo, heads clonking hard against the ceiling of the taxi. By the end of the ride, my husband joked his spine was two inches shorter.
We’d been on the road about an hour when I heard a high pitched whine coming from the rear, followed by a thwakety-thwak as the car careened unevenly towards the median. Our translator asked the driver what was happening, and with an anxious look he pulled the car off to the side of the road. Cars flew by us as he stepped out. Flat tire.
So there we were, stuck on the side of the road, surrounded by an empty wind-swept valley. No villages. No gas stations. I silently crossed my fingers hoping the driver had a spare road-worthy enough to take us the rest of the way to our destination. We’d already missed the first day of visitation because the orphanage director was out of town.
Sure enough he did. Fiften minutes later, he had the spare on and we piled back into the taxi to continu on our journey. Another hour passed, uneventfully, until we reached the outskirts of Gyumri.
Gyumri is a city with roughly 122,000 residents, still reeling following a devastating earthquake in 1988. 25,000 people lost their lives in that disaster. Box cars provided as “temporary” housing nearly three decades ago are still being used today.
Our driver tell the translator he hasn’t been to Gyumri in years, which quickly becomes obvious to us that as he pulls the taxi over to ask first one and then two people for directions to the orphanage. We stop a third time to ask a police office who stares blankly when our translator tells him the name of the orphanage. So instead we drive in aimless circles, passing by the same statues, the same town square until we finally arrive at a corner the translator recognizes. Gingerly, our driver edges the taxi around several crater-sized potholes before pulling off the road beside a stone wall painted with faintly visible scenes of mountains and people, painted by children. A turquoise blue door opens to a driveway where a small scraggly brown and white dog greets us. We have arrived.
It’s all about the journey,