Editor’s note: This article was published before the coronavirus pandemic, and may not reflect the current situation on the ground.

While riding an Armenian marshrutka bus bound for the country’s north, Steve Madgwick chances on an intense, miniature lesson in Caucasus culture—and learns to never, ever mess with an Armenian nonna.

I can’t see her gaze. Didn’t even get a good look at her face as she hopped in. But from the seat behind, I sense that she yo-yos on the cusp of Full Beast Mode. Come what may, I must finish this—for all our sakes. My fellow passenger’s eyes furtively egg me on.

I drag the window open again, inhale theatrically, desperate for air not recycled through a dozen sets of lungs. She bangs it shut. I open it. She grunts; shuts it again. I strike back …

Suddenly, my dressed-for-church octogenarian nemesis—who guards the sole openable window on this marshrutka—makes a definitive last stand. She cocks her formidable elbow and swings at my vulnerable chops. I flinch backwards, wince for impact, but it is a mere baulk; her cannon remains unfired. She slams the window shut, leans on it with her full weight, gurgles a low triumphant laugh. My eggers-on recognize the defeat and shun me.