Friday, October 29, 2010

A hike, a chicken sacrafice and a candy picnic

A few weeks ago I taught my students a lesson on forming questions. It was one of the best lessons I ever gave. For practice the next lesson was an interview session and each student had to ask me ten questions about America. It went so well, and I was so surprised when the last question asked was “Miss Alyssa, will you come on a trip with our class?” Of Course I had to say yes!!! My students informed me that they would come to my house at 9 am on Saturday morning and pick me up! I asked if I could bring a friend along and they all shouted yes with delight in their voices. It’s funny because I can’t imagine a single teacher that I would have wanted to invite to hang out with me and my friends on a Saturday morning, and I had some pretty awesome teachers. I guess this is just one of those cultural differences!

So Saturday morning me and Ashley got ready for an excursion and at about 9:15 three girls from my 9th grade class, obviously representatives, came to my door with huge smiles on their faces. We walked to the end of my road, where the rest of the class was waiting for us. After a few greetings and this picture a marshootni picked us up. Oh crap I thought, I didn’t bring any money with me. I whispered to Ashley to see if she had any, as it turns out she didn’t bring hers either. This is going to be awkward I thought. When we arrived at our destination a few miles up from my house, in a small village, we got off the marshootni and I was pleasantly surprised to see that my students had made arrangements for us to ride for free!

The boys walked down to a local hanoot while us girls began to search for the path that would lead us to the church.

We walked for about 20 minutes before we came to this river where the boys met up with us. All my kids are picture crazy and wanted to take all kinds of nature pictures. It was so cute how they tried to use their English to talk to Ashley and I but how it ended up being a mixture of English and Armenian that we all feel into

We walked a little bit further and reached our destination. A very small church.

While we had been walking we had seen a car drive up to the church. Once we arrived there was a father and his two sons at the church. How cute I thought. And then he pulled a chicken out of a big bag…. Humm I thought, maybe he is going to set it free up here? Well no not exactly. The next thing I knew, he chopped of the chickens head and dipped his hands in it. Then with his bloody finger tips he made a cross on one of his sons heads. They said a prayer and then he made the same cross on his and his other sons head. Then they threw the chicken head on top of the church.

My students and I walked around the church three times, why I don’t know other than that is the tradition. Once inside the church, my students gave me candles to light for prayer. And they explained to me that when someone has a sick child they make a sacrifice to God to heal that child, so that little boy must be pretty sick.

This is a prayer tree, my students explained to me, you must take off something that you are wearing when you come here and tie it to the tree if you want to have a prayer come true.

I forgot to mention that my lil host brother vahagen came with us, he use to go to my school but dropped out last year. He would have been in the 9th form with his friends.

After we said our prayers my students unpacked their bags of candy, cookies, bread, pretzels and soda. We had a little mini snack feast and sat around talking and laughing. It was such a good day!

It began to rain, so we hurridly took a picture and began to pack up.

But the boys felt left out and wanted their own picture! How cute.

I can honestly say, I am so lucky because I have such good students, and live in the best community!

Thursday, October 21, 2010

Monster Mash

Today I decided to celebrate Halloween in my classes. Monday, Tuesday and Wednesday they took their first test and next week we have vacation so I figured now is the perfect time.
So Last night when I was thinking what to do, I came up with a game to play for my little kids. I would make flash cards with body parts on them and place them face down. Then Id devide the class into two sides, and each group would take turns rolling the dice and choosing a flash card. So if a student rolled a 1 and then chose a flash card that had an eye on it, they would have to make a monster with one eye. Then the next student on that team would roll the dice and choose another body party. Say it was 3 and feet, team 1s monster would have 1 eye and three feet. This was a fun way to celebrate Halloween and review body parts for the little kids. I played Halloween music and they drew their pictures and at the end of class they had to tell about their monster and do the monster mash! We had so much fun, I couldn’t believe it!
When it came time to teach my 9th grade class, I told them that since they did so well on their test I’d let them chose what they wanted to do today. I gave them a few options. They told me that they had heard about the 3rd and 4th grade parties and they wanted to play the Monster game too! I couldn’t believe it but since they are my favorite class I let them. We had so much fun. Even the kids that never participate did, and they laughed as if they were 9 again!
It was an amazing day!

Wednesday, October 20, 2010

Any excuse to have a party!

Today was my host dad’s birthday. I was informed that I shouldn’t make any after school plans because we were gonna have a huge party and eat fish. Now what’s wrong with this picture?
Let me just tell you; the man is in Ukraine!!! Haha yep today we had a birthday party for someone who was not there!!! I thought, hum maybe he will make a surprise appearance, since we have all this food and wine and treats. But no he did not, it was all for us!!
Alyssa Jan, drink some wine! You have to
Me: But why?
Because it’s Vahans birthday and he wants you to, we must toast to his health!
Umm ok sure!

After the weirdest birthday party I have ever been to, we went over to a neighbor’s house to skype with the birthday boy himself. I have to say I haven’t even skyped my own parents!!! I was a little hesitant to go because it was late and I was tired, but my host mom guilted me into by telling me that my host dad would want to talk to his only daughter on his birthday!! Haha Armenian women really know how to sweet talk you.
So I walk over to the neighbors house with my host family. I sit in a small trailer home, with only two rooms, a kitchen and a bedroom. The hostess my neighbor, apologizes for not having any sweets to offer me, she didn’t know the American was coming to her house that night. I smile and tell her not to worry, I have already eaten. And yes I said I have eaten because I can’t say I ate, I suck at past tense! I can tell she feels bad, embarrassed even for her lack of preparation, which in turn makes me feel bad. Maybe I should have stayed home.
A loud voice interrupts my guilt, as I can clearly hear my host dads voice, but where it is coming from, I have no idea. I look around and everyone laughs at me. They show the small nook beside the bed, which I thought was only a night stand, but it holds a modern computer with a camera attached to it.
Ari, Alyssa Jan, Nesti. – Come Alyssa dear, sit. My host mom says.
No, no, no, let vahagen sit, I will just listen I tell her.
Alyssa, my agchicka, let me see your face! My host dad joyfully yells into the computer, actually putting his face directly into the camera, as if he is looking through it into our tiny room to see me.
Znonde shnorhavor, happy birthday I tell him!
Ay, aprez agchick Jan! You speak Armenian so well now!
Ha, not so well, but I understand so much more now!
Malodaiz, good for you. How are my animals?
Jack baby and manook baby are shat lav, very good, I tell him. Forgetting he has a soft spot for the cat, not the dogs.
And my Amoora? He asks.
She is good too! She cries a lot! I tell him
Next thing I know I see a big fat cat on the screen.
This is my Amoora, agchick jan, he tells me.
He named both of his cats the same name. One in Armenia and one in Ukraine!
The screen becomes pixilated with movement again. A new face shows up on the screen. Hello americatzi Jan. I am your uncle! (haha oh really?)
Hello I say. How are you? It is nice to meet you.
Good good, he answers. You speak Armenian so well! ( yes I can say hello and ask how people are doing very well, I think to myself).
More shuffling; another new face.
Alyssa Jan, hello.
Hello I say.
My father’s voice in the background in English “this is my broderas wifea”.
Aprez, I tell him.
Next their son and daughter, same story but with different people.
My host father comes back on.
Alyssa Jan, I will bring you a (word I had never heard before) from Ukraine.
Me: No no no, I don’t want to get married I say.
The room: laughter, a lot of it.
Me: red in the face once again. Inch?
My host mom explains to me that he said a present… it was in Russian! Aye Kez ban.
My host father: No you do not need a Ukrainian husband, you will marry an Armenian.
The room on his side: applause and shouts of Aprez.
My host mom: No, No, No, she always tells you she wants to marry an American.
My host dad: No, will come back and introduce you to so and so and you will get married. You cannot stay here for only 2 years, it’s not enough. We will miss you too much!
Me: But my parents miss me. They do not want me to stay here forever.
My host dad: You can go on vacation to California in the summers when there is no school. American boys are bad. They break your heart. (hum this is true).
My host dad’s brother: Armenian boys are so much better, you will be happy here.

And so it went on for about 30minutes. Yes 30 minutes!!! I changed seats with my host brother so that his dad could see him. He yelled to me, as if because he could no longer see me, It meant that I was far away, to ask how my brother is. I told him he is ok, but I am your best child. I am good and he is bad! Everyone laughed. He told me I can hit my brother when he is bad, I playfully hit him in the head and we all laughed again. You are my good daughter my host dad said. I miss you father, I say to him, and we say goodbye.

It’s always good to talk to family far away! Armenian and American alike.

Monday, October 18, 2010

Halloween in Armenia

October has never been one of my favorite months; the only thing notable about it for me is that it is the month before my birthday. As I stated in an earlier blog, I never cared too much for Fall, didn’t see anything special about it. And I can’t think of the last Halloween that I actually enjoyed. For so many years now Halloween has just been an excuse for American girls to dress provocatively for boy’s admiration. I grew out of that after my senior year of college and have never given Halloween a second thought. I don’t care for scary movies, nor do I like candy corn. I don’t decorate my apartment because apartments in Long Beach don’t get trick-or-treaters. It just really isn’t my thing.
So this year when my counterpart asked me what we are going to do for Halloween, I was a little taken aback. I really hadn’t given it any thought whatsoever. So I told her I had no idea what to do but that I’d think about it. At first I couldn’t think of anything, and I really didn’t want to be burdened with it. But after some time searching the internet for ideas, I began to remember how fun Halloween was as a child. I remembered going trick-or-treating at ROP with my grandmother and dressing up at school and doing Halloween crosswords and games. I remembered how fun it was going to school during Halloween week, and how all your lessons involved something Halloween.
After remembering what Halloween was all about to a child, I was inspired and excited to plan something for my kids. I found an internet short story about Jack-O-Lanterns and printed them out for my reading club. I asked my students to bring their own pumpkins from their garden if they could, and I collected cloths pens and construction paper to make pumpkin and bat pins to wear.
The kids had so much fun learning about what children in the States do and why. They loved the story about the Jack-O-Lantern and absolutely loved being told that they can draw on the Pumpkin. I never thought about it before but how strange it must be to draw on a vegetable that you usually just eat!! The pumpkins were so strange looking. Some were normal Orange ones but other were yellow and looked more like squash! We really did have so much fun together, and none of them found out that I didn’t really draw my bat, but switched it with one that I had pre-made for me. I could never let them discover that I have no art talents. They already have seen my horrible writing, I don’t want to have two strikes against me.

Friday, October 8, 2010

Autumn? Whats Autumn?

California is my home; I love it, and cherish it. If anyone says anything about California I get so defensive. It’s my home, I grew up there and I hate when people who have never even been there criticize it and defame the people there. I even simply hate the idea that Californians have an accent, which some PCV’s here swear we do… Which we don’t by the way, I may talk like a valley girl, but I don’t have an accent.
Anyways, being a Californian I am use to perfect weather pretty much year round. I mean thinking back, even when it was cold, it was never really cold. I walked Lucca around in the winter in a tank top and jeans. I slept in shorts, pretty much always, and my apartment’s heater didn’t even work and I never complained because in the 4 years I lived there, there were only a handful of times I needed it.
That being said, I have now come to realize that there is something that California lacks. I have heard this before but never really understood what it meant or why it mattered. California doesn’t really have changing seasons. I mean sure the temperature changes a bit, but thinking back, the scenery doesn’t so much. I mean there are times when its green, and times when it’s less green.
I never realized this before I saw an Armenian Autumn. On the Marshootni ride home last week, as I was lost in thoughts of what it takes to be a good volunteer and who it is I want to be here, I stared out the window. Somewhere in between being lost in though and half falling asleep my eyes focused on a tree whose leaves were entirely red. I snapped out of my Marshootni coma, the aforementioned state of being sleepy and lost in thought, and began to look out the window, to really look. I couldn’t believe the almost aromatic colors I was seeing. My eyes were filled with stimulus as my nose would be filled with scents, or my mouth with taste. The reds, greens, yellows, oranges, golden purples, and browns blended together with the grey rain clouds and made the most beautiful picture. As we drove on I was no longer sleepy, I mean how can you be sleepy when your eyes are filled with a delicious cinnamon roll of flavors? More than anything I wanted to get out and take pictures. I wanted to share with my family how beautiful October could be. How the sage green cabbage patches contrast so amazingly with the red apple trees and golden hay. But the truth is that my crappy camera wouldn’t have been able to capture just how beautiful that drive really was. As I sat on that marshootni filled with 18 other sleeping passengers, a feeling of gratitude washed over me. I am living the life I always wanted to, seeing things I’ve never seen before. I closed my eyes and said a prayer of thanks, and when I opened my eyes a new fall sight filled my eyes, the most beautiful zietsan I have ever seen…. A rainbow! So thankful for all the blessings God has given me, and I hope I can continue to see them even when times get tough and the weather gets colder…

Tuesday, October 5, 2010

Different Country Same ole Me

I have always been afraid of cars. I am scared to drive, scared to be a passenger, and in Armenia I am scared just to cross the street. In California when it rains people drive slowly and carefully. They take extra time, there is oil on the road and no one wants to hydro plane. Everyone jokes about Californians not being able to drive in the rain, and for the most part its true, the exception being that most Californians were born somewhere other than California, so is it really our fault?
Anyways for the most part I haven’t really been to afraid to get into a car here in Armenia. Sure the drivers here are crazy and there doesn’t seem to be any one set of traffic laws other than cars always have the right away and people must look out for them when walking. Even though sometimes I do miss getting in my car and taking a nice long drive to clear my mind, or to listen to a book on cd, it has been really nice not to have to worry about transportation. Everywhere I go someone drives me. I either take taxi when I can afford one, take a marshootni or bus, or am driven in someone else’s car. All I have to worry about is finding a comfortable seat where I won’t be sat on top of. For the most part I just listen to my Ipod and try not to look at what is happening on the road. It’s better to not see your marshootni going 60mph and swerving around a herd of cows that happen to cross the road. It’s better not to see your driver attempt to pass a slower vehicle going up a blind hill. It’s better not to see his reaction when he sees a car driving straight for us in a game of chicken.
This Friday I took a marshootni up to Yerevan to see the PC Doctors and go to the dentist. Once I arrived at the office a PC driver drove us around to our appointments in Yerevan. When we were done he dropped us back off at the PC office. I called my sister in Alapars to figure out where she was so that I could meet up with her and take a bus back to Alapars to visit my first Armenian host family. I told her I was at the office and she said she would come find it and meet me there. Half an hour later she called and told me she could not find it. I asked her where I should meet her and she described a hospital that I had never heard of. I set out walking in the direction I figured was right but just ended up walking around for 30 minutes no closer to my destination. Finally I broke down and took a taxi. I told him the name of the street I wanted to go to and we took off for our destination.
As we drove through Yerevan he spoke with me, asking me where I was from, why I was in Armenia, and how did I learn Armenian. As we spoke I got a bad feeling that this guy was taking me to the wrong place. I don’t know how I knew, since I had no idea where the place we were going to was, but I knew something wasn’t right. I called my host sister and handed the phone to the taxi driver, telling him I didn’t think we were going the right way. Turns out we weren’t the street that I told him to go to also happens to be a city and he was taking me to the city not the street. So we turn around and begin to head back into Yerevan. As he merges back onto the highway, I am thinking about how crazy everyone drives in California when it rains. I am thinking how I never like to hit the brakes as hard as he just did in the rain because you might hydroplane. I am thinking that all these cars merging over into us are driving way to fast. I am thinking… and then boom, I hear that noise. If you have been in an accident you know what noise I am talking about, the noise of glass breaking and metal crunching. I fly forward into the back of the front seat and end up half way on the floor and half on my seat as our car slides deeper into the intersection.
The cab driver looks back at me and says mi roppa, meaning he needs a minute. He gets out of the car and goes to the other driver. He doesn’t ask if I am ok, he doesn’t ask if I need help or anything. I watch him walk back to the other car a little groggily. The two men shake hands, smiles on their face. Wait I must be out of it right? I keep watching as they talk no anger on either of their faces at all. I assume they are exchanging information? Do they even do that here in Armenia? I don’t know. I look to either side of me out of the windows and notice I am in the middle of a highway. If I open the door it would cut off. There is no way out. I begin to feel a little panicked as 15 minutes or so goes by. Finally the driver comes back picking up his back bumper and tail lights to put them in the car. He tries to open the back door. It won’t open; the metal has scrunched too much over it for it to be able to open. So he opens his door and puts the bumper near the seat. I will be right back, maybe 5 minutes he tells me. Ok I say, not really knowing what else I can say. Another 15 minutes have gone by and I am getting panicked. I look back behind me and see that a car has drove up with 3 other men in it. They step out with a thermos in hand. Then five little plastic cups are disbursed and the men all have coffee together… are you kidding me? Finally the cab driver comes back. He tells me to get out of the car. With the back doors not opening I have to climb up through the front window to the driver’s door to get out of the car. He explains to me that his car won’t start anymore and he flags me down another taxi. My hands are shaking, I don’t know if it’s because I am so angry or because I was so scared. I hop into the back of another taxi and the driver wishes me good luck….
Another day, another mini disaster survived, besides I think my neck brace elongates my neck and makes me look thinner =)

Monday, October 4, 2010

What's a book? Everything or nothing. The eye that sees it all

"There is no substitute for books in the life of a child"
"There is more treasure in books than
in all the pirate's loot on Treasure Island" - Walt Disney

Back in the States I was a grade level coordinator of an organization
called Reading to Kids in my spare time. Once a month I would go to down town LA and read a book to a small group of 4th graders. The point was for them to hear a native speaker read so that they could catch on to the fluency. The thesis was that by simply reading to kids they would become better speakers of the language. After we would read the book would also work on some type of arts and crafts project, and the kids had so much fun with it. I loved volunteering for Reading to kids because I really felt that the kids enjoyed their time spent with us and I always went home with a smile on my face. I worked in Public Relations for almost 4 years, and I have to say it was the most unsatisfying career, I literally felt that I needed to volunteer just to balance out my life. I needed to feel that something I did was not just to make the fat cat richer, so working with Reading to Kids really began to balance out my life.
When I came to Armenia I knew that I would want to do a similar program here, I just didn’t know how. After a month of teaching I began to see that my 4th and 5th graders couldn’t really read in English that well and some of them couldn’t read at all. Worse yet, the other teachers explained to me that I shouldn’t be discouraged because they couldn’t even read in Russian. It made me sad not only because they should be reading by now, but also because it seemed that no one was ever really going to give them the opportunity to read.
So I began a reading to kidsesq club for the kids. We announced to the 4th and fifth graders that Thursdays after school if they wanted to, they could stay and Miss Alyssa would help teach them to read. I didn’t tell them that we would do crafts or that it would be fun. I wanted solely to see who would actually want to learn given the opportunity. When asked who was interested every single kid raised their hand, the good students and bad alike. Well I thought, we will see who will actually show up. I’ve heard dozen of stories of volunteers trying to get clubs going and having no one show up, so I wasn’t expecting much out of our first meeting.
When Thursday rolled around and the last bell rang I walked to my assigned club classroom and wasn’t too surprised to see only 3 children sitting in the room. Ok I thought, at least this will be easier. I had no idea how I was going to manage 20 little kids anyways. I looked at the older student who I had asked to volunteer to help me with the club, and was a bit embarrassed that I had told her I would need her help. I unpack the stuff for the class and begin to talk about the club, when my assistant looks at me, red in the face and clearly thinking about how she should say something to me. Finally she says, what about all the students in the other room? What I ask her, confused as the what room and who she is talking about. She goes into the next classroom over and comes back with pretty much every single one of my students. They all came to my club, minus one girl who they explained cried because her mother made her go to a Doctors appointment and she didn’t want to be the only one who missed the club.
The classroom was packed with students! I explained the rules of the club to them, and they sat through them silent. There was no other teacher in the room with me, and yet the kids were good. I explained to them that I really wanted them to learn to read and that I was going to teach them how to. I explained that I would read the book first and that they only needed to listen. Then I would pass the one book we had around and they would take turns reading. I introduced a few word families to them with an awesome visual aid that I had spent hours making the night before. Basically it was the word family written on paper and post it’s with different first letters that I just peeled off so that they saw how word families rhyme. I had them read the word families and each one of them was able to do it. I explained to them how important it is to sound words out, and that in my class they would have all the time they need to sound out letters and work through each word. Often times in Armenian classes when a student is reading the teacher doesn’t give them any time to work through words, they just shout the words at them.
After reading we began to work on a craft that I had made up the night before. I bought paper plates and colored paper and had the students make a fishbowl, since the book we read was about the aquarium. They loved it! They took their project so seriously! As they were working I walked around to help the younger ones make their cut outs, and as I did this I noticed that there were people standing outside the door. I wondered who they were so I walked over and opened the door. Some of the children’s parents were standing outside the door with some other teachers in the class. They asked if they could come in and look, so I allowed them too. They have never had their kids be invited to be in a club, one mother explained to me, so she had to come and see what was going on. Another explained to me that her little girl won’t stop talking about her English class and Miss Alyssa the American so she was wondering what the classes was like. The head of the teachers walked up to me and grabbed my arm, Thank God for sending you she told me. I laughed feeling uncomfortable, I hadn’t really done much I explained to her. You are creating for these kids something they have never known she told me, you are giving them hope that things can be different and you are doing it with a smile always on your face. You make us teachers want to be like you and this school will be better because of you she told me in English. I smiled at her, looked around at my students and the curious parents and younger siblings who had all gathered into that classroom and knew in a way that this was exactly what I was meant to be doing. Now if I can only get enough English books sent to me that I could keep this club up, I will be so happy!!!