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The statue of Mother Armenia, a female personification of the country, in Victory Park, overlooking the capital city of Yerevan. “Our Mother, who can be seen from almost anywhere in Yerevan, symbolizes peace, strength, family, and the debt we owe to the strong females of Armenia’s past,” writes Fran Lynggaard Hansen. “I especially love a country that affords its female population honor. How many countries have a statue of honor that includes females? I can think of precious few.”

Voices / Dispatch

Kindness, compassion, and commitment to change: They work wonders

Americans have a lot to learn from Armenia’s example

Fran Lynggaard Hansen is a longtime contributor to The Commons and remains beloved in her hometown of Brattleboro. She now works in Armenia at CIS Armenia International School, a British school where she is teaching 11 second- and third-graders. Since leaving the United States in 2013, she has also taught in China, Egypt, and Kuwait.

Yerevan, Armenia

Recently, I cracked a tooth in half and needed to see my dentist.

I was able to get an appointment right away. She took a careful look at my recent X-rays and inside my mouth and decided she didn’t want me to go through having a crown made.

Instead, she made a careful repair, hoping that it will last. I’m rolling the dice. But even better than her obvious dental abilities, she treated me with respect and she said that if the patch didn’t hold, she would try again.

“Crowns are expensive,” she said, “and your favorite place is not in my dental chair. It would take several appointments to complete a crown. If I can avoid it, I don’t want to put you through that.”

Then she smiled.

I asked her how much a crown would be so that I could start saving money just in case. She said that it would be several appointments and cost about $100.

A hundred dollars! I’ve paid many thousands of dollars in the United States for one crown. I have at least four of them already. Don’t tell me that the care is better in the United States so that it costs more: This Armenian dentist has up-to-date equipment that is just as good as the technology in the U.S.A.

I tried to pay her for her time, but she’d have none of that. “No, no, no,” she said, “I just hope it lasts. I want to help you.”

* * *

This is what health care in other countries is like, my fellow Americans, and this is the sixth country I’ve lived in full time. I’ve had this experience in every single one of the places where I’ve lived.

When the system doesn’t need to make money from your hardship, there’s room to be human, and everyone can afford to have decent teeth.

Why are we not looking at single-payer or universal health care, or even Medicare for all, in the USA? One reason only, in my view: money.

Insurance companies. Big pharma. Members of our government on the take, being lobbied against these ideas with payments for their votes.

Is this fair? Is it what you want?

* * *

There is one other factor in my recent experience. I live in Armenia, the kindest culture I’ve ever encountered. I have these types of experiences almost every single day.

It’s not a perfect place — no country can be perfect. But there is a pervasive thought culturally that we should treat one another with dignity and respect.

People still hold doors open for one another here. They look you in the eye when they speak. They help the elderly on and off the bus even when they don’t know one another. They take excellent care of their children, and they believe in strong families. They hug. They say “I love you.” Often.

When people have a culture of caring, crime is low and citizens are responsible for one another, but that rarely happens unless governments take care of people enough so that basic needs are met.

Does the government take good care of you? This, in my opinion, happens only when the focus isn’t oriented toward money, unlike what’s happening in the United States.

Just look at our president. Look at our young people burdened by student loans. Look at the numbers of people drowning in medical debt. Look at our elderly, too poor to retire without the pensions our parents relied upon.

Look at our government leaders suggesting that large class sizes in school are actually good for our children while they take away Special Olympics and free hot lunch for needy, hungry children.

Watch as Congress raids the cookie jar called Social Security — again — while they give themselves and major corporations bonuses at our expense.

* * *

The people of Armenia have known a great deal of hardship, genocide, invasion, being under the rule of the Soviet Union for almost 100 years, devastating earthquakes, and recent border wars.

These hardships have only made the Armenian people more determined than ever to live their lives the way they wish. They are dedicated to their new government after last spring’s Velvet Revolution, when they threw out a corrupt government and created the country and government they desired.

Americans have a lot to learn from Armenia’s example. Do you have the courage to hold the U.S. government accountable for their actions? Do you even vote?

Kindness, compassion, and commitment to change: They work wonders.

As for me, my tooth feels great, and I’m ever so grateful. I’ll be delivering a tulip bouquet to my dentist tomorrow.

I think it’s the Armenian thing to do.

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Originally published in The Commons issue #505 (Wednesday, April 10, 2019). This story appeared on page D1.

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