We’d been driving for at least an hour in a bulletproof 4×4 heading south of Yerevan. Our driver, a surly man who proffered persimmons and sweets, was heading home to Armenia’s contested and highly militarised Karabach region in the south. Our village stop was on his way. An Orthodox cross swung on a string of beads from the rearview mirror. In it, a stream of sweeping vistas televised rocky mountains and snow-capped peaks, sun-soaked ochre fields and empty roadside villages.
It was October and hay bales were stacked on the outskirts of passing villages, fruit trees lined the highway, men stood around old Soviet cars, selling potatoes from large white sacks. A car overtook us, full to the brim with melons. The spare tyres strapped to the roof.
Fruit-filled cars. It was not the first time. More than once I came across mounds of loose fruit displayed for sale in an open boot, parked at the side of the road or in the middle of a grey, nondescript town.
He signalled for a toilet break, swinging into a lay-by lined with stalls selling pickles and eggs, honey and onions. Long, green peppers preserved in brine, stuffed intenstine-like into bottles that once carried mineral water: as good an indicator as any that these pickles were made, not in a factory, but likely by the man absently jingling drams in his pocket. Even the local wine was sold in reused containers. Unused plastic bottles had been cut up and fashioned into scoops for selling dried beans and rice. Single-use plastic didn’t seem to be a ‘thing’ here.
Our driver knew these men and women, selling their pickles and preserves, their homegrown produce. Probably because he sped through regularly on his route between the capital and his home in Karabach that we were told to avoid, not least for the regular shoot-outs between Armenia and Azerbaijan. He was a man with a kind face and little English, who dropped us on the turn-off to our village with a brisk nod of the head. Our journey continued.