Even though I have only had classes for two weeks now, I have noticed that quite a few boys had been missing my classes last week. I asked my counterpart about it, but she said she didn’t notice. In my ninth grade class one boy in particular missed all three of our classes last week. This is the boy that has waited for me after school on many occasions to walk me home and has brought me flowers, so I really noticed his absence. So I pointed this out to my counterpart and she told the boys class master. I didn’t understand the response that the class master made, but soon all the teachers were talking about it. The thing about my newly learned Armenian skills is that I don’t really understand conversations unless they are with me. When people talk to me, I can answer them and ask them questions and have a little chat with them, but when they talk amongst themselves, I can often pick up the general theme and some sentences, but not much. From what I understand they were talking about whether I would understand something and whatever it was they decided not to tell me. I asked my counterpart what was going on and she just brushed the question off and never gave me an answer about the kid.
So when I went home later that day I told my host mother about the boys being absent from my class. She explained to me that this particular student is a very good boy, but that he has 7 brothers and sisters and they are very poor. She explained to me that they get their school outfits every year from the church. She told me about the responsibilities that he has to the family to help take care of the other kids and the garden as well. Here your garden is your wealth in many cases. If you tend to your garden and have a good season you have food for the winter to eat and to trade with and if you do not, you will be hungry. She also explained that this little boy in particular helps take care of his grandparents and their house because they are too old to do most of the work by themselves. My heart broke for my poor student. It’s hard to be a teacher and know that no matter how hard you work, you’re not going to be able to help prevent these situations. The boy is already so behind in his classes, and has talked to me about dropping out of school on numerous occasions. I want to help him so badly, but any help I offer he refuses and explains to me that he doesn’t need English because he will never leave here.
When I asked my host mother why the other boys were gone as well, she explained to me that it is potato season in Spitak and that many of the boys stay home to help their families and neighbors pick the potatoes. She explained to me that it’s very important because when Winter comes, all we will have to eat are potatoes, so they must be picked in a timely manner. Sure enough the next day was a Saturday and I woke up to the sound of shovels hitting the dirt. I walk outside in my PJs to see what my family was up to and was surprised to see that my host mom and brother along with some of my students were outside digging up the potatoes. I rushed back in to get dressed and when I came back out my students called me over to them. As I walked into the garden I saw hundreds of potatoes that had been shoveled out of the ground, and this was just in one tiny patch!!! When the potatoes are ready they rise almost completely to the top of the soil and you can see them peak out from the dirt, so all you have to do is get them out and clean them. My host mother asked if we were hungry. The boys replied yes and my host brother asked if I would cook a potato and egg breakfast skillet that I had made for them once before. So as the boys picked potatoes I prepared a meal for ten!!! It was a lot of work. At the end of the afternoon we all ate breakfast and drank coffee. It was amazing to see how neighbors here help each other out. The boys who came over to help pick the potatoes didn’t have to come, they were not family. But they came and worked early in the morning for hours and the only reward they got was a meal made by me! I just can’t imagine boys from my parent’s neighborhood in Palmdale coming over to help my dad with the yard work. It’s amazing to see the cooperation and general concern for others here. It’s an amazing way to live, and I am so lucky to be to witness this every day, and can only hope that one day I will be able to teach others to live by this example.