At a houseplant shop in downtown Yerevan Dana greets us with a smile. At first glance, everything is usual, until we start asking questions about the plants and the young woman answers in English with a slight Spanish accent. During a short conversation, she explains that she and her husband moved to Armenia from Cuba.
“We came as tourists and stayed for permanent residence,” Danaes Ramos smiles.
I promise to come back and talk more about their Havana-Yerevan trip, the decision to move to Armenia and open a plant shop in Yerevan.
Love toward plants from a gift
I am from Pinar del Río city in Cuba. I moved to the capital Havana to study. I am an architect by profession. After studying, I decided to stay in the capital because it opens more opportunities. I found a good job and met my future husband.
As an architect I had many projects and loved my job. We were planning to get married, but everything, including our offices closed due to the coronavirus outbreak. After losing our jobs, we did not know what we were going to do, and because we both love plants at some point it occurred to us to open a houseplant shop in Havana.
The love toward plants, caring for them, was initially a hobby for me that started from a gift. My future husband gave me a plant that I cared for so much that I started buying more and more plants.
During that period we visited a small plant shop, the owner of which offered us to invest and become partners. This was like a dream coming true. Working in this shop, we started to learn what a business is, to specialize in plant care. Interestingly, during the pandemic and in conditions of lockdown people were buying plants more. They were locked in the house all day long and wanted to make it more beautiful.
“We are happier now”
We were planning to get married in January 2021, but everything was still closed. We could not even go and register our marriage with just closest relatives, not to speak of a party. Only two people, the bride and groom, could be present at the wedding (laughs-auth.). We decided not to wait any longer and just got married.
The honeymoon time came and again we faced closed borders, non-functioning hotels. We decided to wait until the coronavirus situation calmed down a bit and leave for a trip. We waited for several months but nothing changed.
It was a very stressful time, we were always at home, it was even difficult to buy food because the shops were closed. We began to think, “we had gathered money for a wedding party, which did not take place, we have money for a honeymoon, which we would hardly have, what can we do with this money?” We started looking for options. The only “open” part of the planet was this region. We could go to Russia from Cuba, but we knew that we would not want to stay there in the future. We were looking for a small country with an interesting history and a warm one. Our birthdays are in September, so we decided to make us a present and come to Armenia for three months.
We chose that period because one or two weeks is not enough to really cut off from everyday life, relax and start a new life. When we decided to come, we did not know anything about Armenia. We started to read about the country, clarify the documentation issues. As a result, we realized that Armenia is the small, beautiful and historical country we were looking for.
The country captivated us from the very first days of our arrival. We were here for just two weeks when we realized that we did not want to leave in three months. People here are very calm and peaceful. In other countries, everyone is always in a rush, tense, restless, and here people do not run they just walk calmly. City parks are full of people at all hours of the day. We needed a big change after a difficult time in Cuba. Moving to Yerevan was just that necessary change. I can say we are happier now.
Plant shop in Yerevan
In order to change our residence status and move to Armenia permanently, we had to rent an apartment and find a job. We found the apartment quite easily, the owners are wonderful people and now we are good friends. The only issue that remained unresolved was finding a job.
My husband works in IT sector, so he could work remotely from here. My situation was more complicated. I could not find a job as an architect, because I do not know Armenian, and my English is only at a level of communication.
I thought, what can I do? I am good only in architecture and plants. It was this idea that prompted us to try to become an individual entrepreneur and open a houseplant shop in Yerevan. We rented the area, studied the market and started learning how to do business in Armenia.
People’s reactions and a lot of LADA Nivas in Yerevan
I have noticed that people in Armenia like flowers more than houseplants. At first, customers do not understand why we do not speak Armenian. Then, when we tell them that we moved from Cuba, they get surprised and start asking a lot of questions: “Why aren’t you black, can you dance?” We answer that not everyone in Cuba dances, we are Cubans who cannot dance (laughs – auth.).
As Armenia is a post-Soviet country, I notice a lot of things here that were in Cuba as well. Like in Cuba here in the streets I see many LADA Niva cars.
We have been here since September, but we have not gone anywhere outside of Yerevan yet. We work in a shop together and we have to leave it for a while to travel in the country. But this summer we definitely plan to see Dilijan, Lori and other regions. We heard it is very beautiful there. I also have to go to Cuba in the near future, because I left my dog with my family there. I miss him a lot, I want to bring him to Armenia too.
“Jur” “Arev” “Tats”
We mostly do not face any problems while communicating with customers. It is very impressive that most people here speak English or Russian. We do not know Russian, but the fact that people know two languages in addition to their native language is gratifying. If there are customers who do not know English at all, somehow, by signs, we understand each other. I am trying to learn Armenian, I already know a few words: “jur” (water), “arev” (sun), “barev dzez” (hello). We use an app that teaches a new word every day. Today’s word, for example, was “tats” (wet.)
I am very happy to see familiar faces entering the shop. We have a lot of customers who after visiting us once come back.
About getting lost in Avan and the help of strangers
We have told all our relatives so much how peaceful it is here, we have also told them about the openness of the people and their readiness to help and now they all want to come and see this country. My husband’s mother has already come and she liked it very much. She is from Miami and was surprised that you can go out in the late hours without worrying and walk alone.
I remember we had just opened the shop and were to go to Avan for the first time to buy plants. The taxi dropped us off in the wrong place, and we were left alone out of town on an empty road. We walked a lot until we noticed a house. We approached, knocked on the door, and an old man opened it. He did not understand English at all, and we showed him the address on the and explained that we got lost.
He did not know the address, but instead of just closing the door, he signed us to get in his car. Remarkably, it was a LADA (laughs – auth.). We drove to another place where people were gathered, the man showed them the address, then took my phone, called the man we were going to meet, asked how to get to him and took us there by car. We were complete strangers to him, he will never see us again, but instead of closing the door he decided to help us. This is what impresses in this country.
Photos: Emin Aristakesyan