What a strange feeling it is to wake up one day and suddenly find yourself immersed in another culture, in a foreign country. I woke up this morning amazed that I would get up, bucket bathe and explain to my new host mother what foods I like and do not like. It was only two months ago that I was sitting at the same desk every day, doing the same ole work and never once using a single brain wave. Now before I leave my room in the morning my brain is exhausted trying to script a semi intelligible conversation so that I am not taken by surprise and left stuttering and murmuring chi gitems (I don’t know). God has given me the opportunity to live a dream that I dreamt long ago as a small girl who sat closed in her room reading books about faraway lands. For so long I thought those dreams were wasted, something that got me by as a child but that had no room in my adult brain. Now I see, dreams can only be wasted if they are forgotten.
I was so nervous to be shipped off to Spitak all alone with a women and her son who I had only known for an hour. Now I see that adventures involve a little bit of risk and a lot of trust. I am so lucky that my family turned out to be amazing.
Yesterday when I arrived in Spitak my mom stopped by the local store to buy all the food we would need for the next few days. She was like a little bee, who buzzed about, weaving in and out of a dense Armenian grocery store (if you could call them that) traffic. She snuck in and around people grabbing a bag to stuff tomatoes, cucumbers, onions, eggplants and peppers in. I stood by watching half in wonderment and half horrified. I can just imagine shopping in America and running in to her, I’d probably try to trip her for cutting in front of me and pestering about. After a few minutes the crowed was too much for me, and it was plain to see that I was just in the way. So I went outside where I stood with my new little brother, one of the Vagh somethings. As I stood and people watched I couldn't help but smile at my luck. My town is so modern and new, the people dress relatively the same as they would anywhere else in the world. They bustle about as people often have a way of doing in bigger cities, far different from the leisurely pace of the Villages here. Soon my momma number 2 was out of the store with three bags in her hand which my brother ran up and grabbed from her. I picked up my bag thinking that we were going to be on our way, but was told not yet, a few more minutes. My mother darted back into the store and in five minutes returned with a few more bags, this time of meat that my brother again rushed to grab. Once again I was told to wait, as she went back in. This happened a few more times as my mother made her rounds to each section of the store. There are no carts in the store, you grab what you want and pay for it at each counter, one for meat, one for candy, one for fruit, one for vegetables and so on.
I can’t help but to be constantly amazed by Armenian women. They are the backbone of this society, doing everything that needs to be done. I thought that there was a possibility that my new host mother would be a little bit different because she is so young, but the truth is I think she works even harder than my village host mother. I’ve only been here two days but I’ve never seen her stop moving. Even though today is her birthday she barely sat as we had people over for dinner. Always up and down, getting whatever anyone needs. Even though she has this hard thin face, and piercing cold blue eyes, she is sweet and kind and when she smiles she looks five years younger. She has two sons and a husband, which as an Armenian women means she gets no help with the domestic chores. She cooks, cleans, gardens, and mends cloths all by herself. Men and boys here leave the table as soon as they are done eating, not even clearing their plate. I can’t even imagine the pressure on her. My new host father told me yesterday that it was a hard day because Rozana was not there and he had to milk the cow himself!
My host Tatik, is probably my favorite Armenian that I have met here. She is so animated, talking to her guarantees a fit of giggles. When first meeting my Tatik I couldn’t help but notice the mop of grey hair on her head, her gold teeth and rugged face, but now all I can see is her huge smile and the flash of light in her eyes before she makes a joke. To be honest she is the only Armenian that has made a joke that I understand! She constantly focuses her attention on me, telling me what a good girl I am, and what a pretty girl I am. If she has nothing else to say she will look at me and say Alisa Jan, lave agchica. Yes Sirum em Alisa Jan. Shat Kiratzi, which means Alyssa dear, you’re a good girl. I love you Alyssa dear, you are very pretty. I just sit there with red cheeks and laugh. It’s funny because I don’t understand much they say and as she talks along and I sit there pretending to understand, she sometimes throws in random English words that she learned during her childhood in the Soviet era. Yesterday she was blabbering along and all of a sudden mustered out a happy birthday out of nowhere. It was so funny, we just sat there and laughed! She also knows the words for mother, sister, brother, dad and boy and girl, which is helpful because the way they say those words in my family is completely different then I have been taught. This morning I decided to take a walk around my town to take a few pictures, as I was walking down the main road I saw my tatik walking toward me, she sees me and gets a huge smile on her face. Alyssa Jan, why are you out here, she asks. I am walking I say. Where to Alyssa Jan? I don’t know, just walking, I respond. Alyssa Jan did you eat yet? No not yet tatik, I like to walk and later eat. No no Alyssa Jan, you shouldn’t walk out here alone; I am scared you will get scared. No tatik I am not afraid. Yes Alyssa Jan you are afraid come back with me. Ok tatik I will walk back with you… I hope sooner or later I learn to say no… but she is just so cute, I don’t want her not to love me anymore!
One difference here than in Alapars is that I have a host father and I met him right away. My host father has grey hair, but a black beard and kind brown eyes. He is neither young nor old, but years of hard work in Ukraine have taken a toll on him. His stature is large and tough yet his face is kind and gentle. He is the complete juxtaposition to my host father in Alapars, who is neither kind, nor young. Interestingly enough, my host father is the person in my family I understand best. The very first thing he said to me after meeting me was that he has two sons and is happy to now have a daughter. It was really sweet. Last night we actually had about an hour conversation in which he told me that he was born in Russia and moved to Yerevan to become a Veterinarian. For years that was his occupation but because of the economy for the past few years he spends 7 months in Ukraine doing manual labor and the rest here selling milk from his cow, and fruit from his garden. He explained to me that Armenian is not his first language either, and he finds it very difficult, which may be why I understand him. He told me about the Spitak earthquake, and I told him about earthquakes in California. I hate to say it but I am so glad he is here, and am very sad that he will leave in August just as I am ready to move in here. I told the Peace Corps I wanted to be in a family without a host dad, but now I see that having a host dad can be nice.
I also have two brothers at home, but as of yet, I don’t have much to say about them. They are 16 and 17 and for the most part they just sit and stare at me. They don’t say much but I always feel their little eyes watching me. It’s pretty funny actually.