Armenia 2008

My first expat job


The majority of my working time had been in Australia on the Gold mines, underground and on the surface.


My first expat position was working in an Armenian town called Kapan, about 80km from the Iranian border, where I worked for 8 months until the 2008 financial crisis affected the mineral prices then our jobs.


Getting to Kapan from its capital Yerevan, where I stayed the night before heading out first thing in the morning, was pretty much an uninteresting trip except for the last couple of hours of the six hour trip. Just before we start our approach through the high mountain pass, we would usually stop off for a coffee break which usually involved super strong black coffee and greasy food that looked like something that would give you an instant detox purge. I quickly became aware that Armenia’s loved their coffee, cigarettes and not to forget the traditional vodka.  Driving the last couple of hours provided great views of orchards, hydroelectric power plant and magnificent views of the country side. It was pointed out to me a couple of times of “skull and crossbones” signs to indicate mined areas of land where the main road come close to the boarder of Azerbaijan.


I remember my first couple of days in Kapan where I was put up in a hotel where I was bed ridden with the worst flu I’ve had for such a long time, this wasn’t the impression I wanted to give to my employers on my first day at work.  The hotel and the town itself were very grey and run down which was probably the result of the conflict with its neighbour some years ago.  As the months passed by, I starting to see the other side of Kapan that I started to take a liking to, with its fast flowing rivers that pass through the center of the town, its leafy parks and the cafes that came alive and when the evening air required you not to wear so many layers of clothing. For the first time ever, I had to cook for myself while working on a mine site; this came as a shock to me as I automatically assume that this would have been catered for.  Fortunately, the accommodation that they gave me had all that is required in the kitchen but shopping on the other had been a bit of a challenge. Frozen food, cans and packets was what was being offered in the colder months but when the season changed, then the abundant of stone fruits and vegetables was available.


The mine site itself was just about half an hour walking distance from town center that mined gold, copper, silver and zinc, all from underground.  First couple of days was getting to know where everything was and to know the various departments.  One thing that stood out was the empty bottles in various unused areas in the underground mine; this was night shift bringing homemade vodka to work which was commonly known but management turned a blind eye to it.

While there I had a couple of near misses while working underground with large rocks falling from the ceiling only missing me by inches,  not to mention the lack of good air to breath while underground. Lucky for me I had a mask but the Armenian surveyors were happy to work without a mask and smoke cigarettes at the same time, a true death wish.

When I first started on the site, an old expat gave me a word of advice, “don’t change too much in one go and when you do introduce changes, make sure you start on your first week back on site so you have five weeks to make the change work before disappearing for three weeks for your break”.   My job was to introduce better working practices into the mine that still hand drew their maps and used very basic survey methods underground.  I remember when I first started, that one of the Armenian senior surveyors told me, I first needed to prove that the changes worked before he would consider adopting them.   Each change was a battle, when talking with Armenians felt like a full-on argument with fists about to fly.


A couple of months into my stay there, we as expats had to renew our visas and part of the process was a visit the local hospital for a medical checkup, this would be interesting I thought.  We had translators helping us out and the actual checkup was really basic and I’d think if you had two feet and a heart beat you would pass.  The hospital was really run down and had no likeness to what I’m familiar with in Australia.  Strip down to my undies, tap on the knee caps to test reflex and then out came the tongue depressor and before I knew it, it was in my mouth and I was saying Arrrr.  The worrying thought was that I knew after the fact that the same tongue depressor was used for everyone with no sterilizing involved, and I wasn’t first in line. Thank goodness no blood was required.


I did get some positive feedback from other expats that relied on the services from the survey department about the improvements I had made, which was a good feeling as I had thought I was just wasting my time there.  I don’t want to sound too negative about the place, my time there wasn’t all that bad and at times I had great moments.  Evenings when the weather became warmer, life outside working hours came alive with dinner parties, restaurants, cafes and even a mini fair with rides that made an otherwise boring little town more interesting.


Kapan town centre

Kapan’s town centre

Kapan River in the summer



Andranik Avagyan and Arthur Alaverdyan

1900’s french underground working, now filled with bats

The view when exiting underground entrance 

Underground train

Survey team

Survey assistant with underground bogger in background

Just one of the many bats we found in the old underground workings

Underground rail