Thursday, May 27, 2010
Mother Yerevan and an eternal flame.
Field Trip chaperones (+1 student). 7am-11pm field trip with 8th graders. I have a new appreciation for our East Coast trip chaperones from 8th grade...
The usual suspects.
Geghard from our recent field trip.
Geghard from our recent field trip.
Most of the field trip group at Garni.
1st Annual Martuni Poetry Competition
Me and the host family.
Վերջին զանգ, or Last Bell. 2010 Graduation Ceremony.
Tuesday, April 13, 2010
Monday, March 1, 2010
Then, we all headed back to site. Where there's no Mexican food. Where the weather corresponds with the elevation, prompting a fresh bout of snow (Martuni is a little bit higher than Timberline Lodge, for all you Oregon folk). Where there's no Rosa and Dave and Megan to make brownie sundaes. Plugged back into my routine, I went to school and conducted my clubs, tucking my chin and pumping my fists to make it past this last bend to spring. Four days later, it was my birthday (and Brian's, too!), though I wasn't expecting much of a celebration as the PCV shindig had already happened.
It was in this state of mind that I walked to school with my host mom (who works as a nurse at the school). I should have known I was in for a surprise when the first students I saw uttered an excited "Happy birthday, Mr. Kyle!" (yes, in English). My host mom smirked a little bit, knowing what was in store for me.
I walked up to the teacher's room, where I usually meet my counterpart before class. She wasn't there, so I picked up the attendance book and walked to our first tenth form class, slightly ticked off that she was late. Then, as I opened the door to the classroom, a chorus of "HAPPY BIRTHDAY!" met me. My counterpart and the tenth form students were lighting the last candle on a stellar birthday cake for me. 24 (!) candles were punctuated by several renditions of "Happy Birthday to You" and students blowing up balloons and finishing the decorations in the classroom.
Given the scope of the celebration, I figured that the rest of my birthday would be celebrated outside of school. Lo and behold, four students in my next class came in with a painting that the class had pooled money together to buy for me. A student signed the back for the class, and I promised to put it up in my new house just as soon as I move out. At this point, I figured the last class of the day might have something in store for me. Sure enough, my counterpart and I walked in to find cookies, soda, and a bottle of cognac for me. I couldn't help but chuckle at the cultural differences present in students deciding to buy alcohol for their teacher's birthday.
I tried to take pictures with my cell phone camera of my classes and their presents. As soon as I can figure the technology out, I'll get them posted.
Later that day, my host family made my favorite Armenian dish for me--dolma--and we had a nice, quiet night. What a ride.
I like to think of the romantic version of Peace Corps Service being one where the PCV is a celebrity in his or her village, adored by all and taken care of by the village community. For the most part, I've realized that this truly is a romantic idea of service. Every day brings its own hardships and homesicknesses, making my presence in Armenia difficult, monotonous, invigorating, uplifting, frustrating, transcendent, and ethereal all at once. Notice that 'romantic' didn't quite make the list. Last Thursday, though, proved that the stars can align. My students, colleagues, family, and community came together to celebrate my birthday. I felt appreciated, valuable, and at home. Best of all, it renewed my motivation for these two years of mine.
I'll close with quoting an email I received from a friend of mine down in Martuni:
"Dear Kyle, today you are not in your home with your parents, with friends,
It's stuff like that that makes me want to help back.
p.s. Thanks for all the birthday wishes from back home!
Monday, January 25, 2010
PSA #2--This is a longish post; make yourself comfortable. Brian, you might want to allot yourself a couple of days.
After Nor Dari and still full (see previous post), Megan, Nick, Rosa, and I (all PCVs) headed up to Tbilisi via overnight rail. That's right, on the midnight train to Georgia. Woo, woo. Unfortunately, the pun was lost on customs officials as they stopped the train for three hours to check out everyone's passport. Apparently, midnight is a busy time at the border. 14 hours after departing Yerevan, though, we found ourselves in Tbilisi, the most European of the Caucasus capitals, at least according to Lonely Planet.
Our time frame for the vacation aligned with what we thought was the end of New Year's, and, accordingly, the passing of Orthodox Christmas on January 6. At this point, we expected shops to be open again and people to be returning to everyday life. As such, on the morning of Jan. 7 we found our way to the homestay (thanks, Lonely Planet!), and headed downtown to get our bearings. You can look at the pictures from two posts ago to find your own adjectives, but Tbilisi had a completely different architectural theme than Yerevan. It was at once stately, wooden, and... used. I am fond of describing Brussels as being similar to Paris culturally and architecturally (from my expert opinion derived from two cumulative days in the city), but with a bit more dirt and blue-collar feel. If one accepts that, then Tbilisi has a similar relationship to Brussels. Gorgeous in their state of dissaray, some buildings give the feel that this is, in fact, a country a mere year and a half removed from war. Disclaimer: I am a neophyte when it comes to politics/economics in the Caucasus, so the previous sentence shouldn't necessarily be construed as presenting a cause-and-effect relationship.
Walking through Tbilisi's streets, we eventually came upon downtown to find people assembling for what looked to be a parade of sorts. We decided to grab a khachapuri (the first of dozens over the five-day trip) and make our way back to see what would transpire. It turns out that the Georgian Orthodox Church was holding a parade/procession throughout the entire city to a massive cathedral on the other side of town. What are four Peace Corps Volunteers to do but join in?
The best word to describe the procession is probably 'ethereal'. There was an ethereal (ha) calm about the crowd of people wading through incense and making their way to mass. Pictures, again, are in the Jan. 12 post. Flags were drifting in the slight breeze, animals adorned with Christmas decorations seemed to understand the significance of January 7, and sublime Georgian chanting wafted its way through this gentle group of celebrants. The weather also leant itself to the processional: light, high clouds barely obscured the sun and my coat would have made me hot but for the breeze making its way through Tbilisi's valley.
Outside the cathedral, a group of men spontaneously began singing in traditional Georgian religious fashion. Some of you are aware of my obsession with a certain YouTube video highlighting a spontaneous performance. I was living this YouTube video, but in a Georgian context. Again, ethereal.
Needless to say, I'm glad we're not up to speed on the intricacies of the Georgian Orthodox Church calendar. Exhausted by a day of walking and motioning obscure hand signals in an attempt to communicate, we headed back to our decent homestay with khachapuri in our stomachs and Georgian chanting in our minds.
The next few days found us exploring the city on foot, climbing to various high points and random theme parks. The weather stayed immaculate (side note: the low in my village tonight is -8 Fahrenheit) throughout, allowing for both leisurely strolls and rugged, hardcore hill climbing. On the third day, we found our way to some fort ruins overlooking the city. Impressive in and of themselves, the ruins encircle a newly-built church adorned with incredible paintings on every visible surface inside. Entering the church, we found ourselves amid a service. Lo and behold, a few members of the singing group we had seen a few days earlier were gracing the presence of this congregation. It was one of those points where you wish it was culturally acceptable to climb up on a table and film everything. Given my intense fascination with the singing, I made eye contact with one of the basses a few times. I think he thought I was clergy in training because of my beard. Our eyes kept locking, with me trying to urge a message of "your music defines spirituality". Maybe a little awkward, but a moment you can certainly chalk up to "only in Tbilisi".
On the Sunday of our visit, we went to the famed natural sulfur spring baths. Now, I've been to a natural sulfur springs up in Fairbanks--and it has its own, great ambiance--but the bath house was out of this world (or at least maybe out of National Geographic). With our foreigner status omnipresent, we were immediately ushered into the most expensive private room. It was fit for a king, and a king's wallet. After making various hand motions and trying to communicate in rudimentary English, it became apparent to the caretaker that we were just another group of poor Peace Corps Volunteers. "Less price you want," she confirmed, taking us to their most modestly-priced private room, to borrow from The Big Lebowski. Coming in, we had wanted to go to the big, communal rooms, but when we saw what we could get in a private room for not all that much money ($35/hr for all four of us), we were in. The domed rooms all had ceramic tiling and made you want to harmonize in their echoic grandeur. An hour later we mimicked Gumby, barely making it to the central waiting area before collapsing on the leather couches in sulfur spring-induced exhaustion. Feeling clean and relaxed, it was fun to contrast with our once-weekly (at best) bathing in Armenia.
The next day, we walked around the city a bit more, sneaking into the Marriot to use/admire their restrooms, and loaded up on khachapuri before getting back on that train. The ride back was fairly ineventful other than having Nurse Ratched as our cabin's staff liason. It took the complete 14 hours for her to actually listen to us communicate the fact that, despite our foreign appearance, no, we don't speak Russian. When she figured it out, she yelled at us for not being off the train already. I yelled back at her. I hope she was surprised.
Coming back from Georgia, relaxed from the sulfur baths and feeling like I could take on the world, I opened my email inbox and made a discovery: January is more aptly named "Holy Cow That's A Lot of Paperwork"uary. A perfect storm of trimesterly reporting, new residence notification (three forms alone just for this), and upcoming due dates for PR Initiative work I'm doing has reinforced that this is, in fact, a government agency. I'm just thankful that most of it's electronically submitted now. Save a few hundred trees.
I'll be undergoing the process of moving to a new house in my village over the next couple of weeks. I'm pretty sure my host family is still a bit confused as to why I would want to do so, as I like them and find their house comfortable. "It's just that, in America, it's normal to live alone," is the best answer I can give them. I'm sure they'll be more understanding when they see how often I visit.
Friday, January 22, 2010
I'm a huge fan of Nor Dari in Armenia. Lasting for a minimum of six days (Jan. 1-6, though if you decide to celebrate 'old new year' [said without chuckling, somehow] it can go until the 13th), it's a festival filled with visiting family/friends, eating, drinking, and resting. In November, I was told by my host family that people in Armenia "save all year round, then spend all the money on food and drink for Nor Dari". Commendable, if you ask me. Long, table clothed tables stand as the main feature in every living room, piled high with fruit, pastries, drinks, khorovats, and dolma. Oh, dolma. Guests come and go, with table settings quickly washed and replaced to facilitate the subsequent and inevitable binge, usually mere hours removed from its predecessor. It's in the title, but it bears repeating: I'm still full. I think I'll be full until next year.
I was lucky enough to experience Nor Dari in three different places in the country--the Martuni area with my host family, up north in the Berd area with Rosa's host family, and then in Karashamb with my PST host family. All were equal in their stubborn insistence on hospitality. Each party gave its own testimony to the veritable truth known as dolma. I know I say this all the time about Mexican food (RIP), but I'm confident I could eat dolma for the rest of my life and be happy.
Tuesday, January 12, 2010
Longer updates to come, just trying to use some bandwith at the Peace Corps office, where I don't have to pay per megabyte. The pictures below are of Tbilisi, Georgia, where three other volunteers and I just returned from a five-day vacation. On the first day, we stumbled upon the Georgian Orthodox Church's Christmas celebration/parade, which was conveniently and confusedly one day after the Armenian Orthodox Church's Jan. 6 celebration (don't quote me on the specifics; my investigative journalism is shabby at best when dealing with hand motions and charades for language).
American politics is always international. Shirt reads: "Axis of Taxes"
And, that’s all for now. I’m tired and about to catch a marshutni back to Martuni to go get some sleep: we are fresh off of the night train where there was a stewardess who could best be described as someone you would find leading chain-gangs. I’m pretty sure I duplicated some of the pictures in there and left others out. My bad.
Oh, and Maureen- ask and you shall receive.