Thursday, November 25, 2010
Happy Thanksgiving to everyone from my little Indians, i.e. my reading club!
Aye Kez Ban! I can’t believe that I have been here in Armenia for 6 months already!!! And that it is thanksgiving today! It doesn’t even feel like a holiday! It is so strange to be away from my family on my favorite holiday of all time! But as I have been reflecting about the importance of Thanksgiving, I realized this year more than any, I have so much to be thankful for! This morning I was looking through pictures and pondering over my time in Armenia when I came to this picture…
This picture strangely represents everything I have to be thankful for this year. I took this picture early one morning after my marshootni dropped me off about 2 miles from my house. I had been in Stepanavan and hopped on a marshootni that was on its way to Yerevan. I had no idea where the marshootni would drive through so I was on the lookout for the best place to ask the driver to stop. We drove through my town and I asked the driver to stop… He didn’t stop. I asked him again to stop as we began to pass through my town and he said he couldn’t stop on this street. As we drove past my street, I felt a bit scared; I had no idea when he would let me off and how far I’d have to walk. From town to my house is already a 30 minute walk… I asked again if he would stop, and though he was annoyed he finally stopped, I was about two miles from my house.
Now pretty much at any other point of my life this would have pissed me off, and ruined my day. But the thing is, this is the Peace Corps, this is my every day now. I began my two mile walk fully knowing that there was no way that I could get to school on time. I called my counterpart and she didn’t answer. I mean in America this would be reason enough to panic and worry about getting in trouble. But the thing is, I am in Armenia. I work for an amazing school where I not only have the support of the Peace Corps but the whole teaching staff and the students as well. No one gets angry at me if I am late, I don’t have to walk in and have an excuse ready. Its life, sometimes people are late and best of all, sometimes they are sick, and if they are sick they should stay home and rest… I mean I can’t count all the times in America where I was sick and still had to go to work because I didn’t have any sick days left.
As I was walking home my mind was in the clouds and I was giddy with happiness. I was thinking about what an amazing night I had had, my lesson plans and club ideas and all the stuff that I needed to get done this day. Then I saw this scene, and I couldn’t help but to think about how lucky I am, how blessed I am to be in Armenia. I live in a place where as you are walking you have to dodge cows and cow poop. I live in a place where the electricity is really as simple as a box with a fire sign on it, where if it rains I know the power will be out for at least an hour, where telephone lines snap off if the wind is too strong, where lil old men and lil old women walk everywhere because most people in my town don’t have cars. I live in a developing country, in a town where no one speaks English and yet somehow we manage to communicate every day, in a place where I am an outsider and yet they manage to make me feel like I am the most important person in the town. I live in a place where as I walk down the street people I don’t know beg me to take fruit or candy or cake from them, and where lil old ladies chase me down to ask why on earth I would chose to move to Spitak when I am from L.A. I live in a place I never could have dreamed of living, far from my home and those I love, and yet I am as happy and content as I have ever been in my life.
This year I am thankful for life. This year I am thankful for strangers who love me as one of their own. For students who make every day worth getting out of bed and braving the cold weather. For my third graders who always have a hug to share with me. For finding a passion I didn’t know I had in teaching. For the absolute thrill of the realization that my student that didn’t know a single letter only three months ago now reads! For little girls that ask their moms to do their hair like Miss Alyssa and run down the street to catch up with me, hold my hand and walk me home. For the United States government who recognized the good in me when I wasn’t sure I had any skills worth sharing with the world. For the faith the Peace Corps has in me to make a difference in the world no matter how little I feel that I am doing. For the miracle of being able to see the good in every single day, and finally being able to be the optimistic one.
After many years of being lost and discontent, I can finally say I live a life truly worth living. I am so thankful for this wonderful opportunity that the United States has given me. I hope that if you are a reader of my blog you can see how much you have to be thankful for just by living in the United States. I wish you all the happiest of thanksgivings and hope that you will take a few moments today to realize all the things you have to be thankful for! I also hope that you will eat some delicious turkey and stuffing for me!!! Boy do I miss turkey!!
Tuesday, November 23, 2010
But in the Peace Corps they always remind us we must be flexible, and we must think outside the box. So this is now the way I blow dry my hair! I thought I had given up hair appliances for the next two years and three months but if the PC has taught me nothing else it has taught me to expect the unexpected! Now if only I could make the thing work for more than ten minutes without blowing out all the power in our house!
Sunday, November 21, 2010
So my birthday dinner in Yerevan was just the beginning of my birthday celebrations. As it turns out the Armenians in Spitak had quite the plans for my aging. I came home Sunday night to a busy kitchen, my host mom running around with different baking sheets of torts and cookies. The house smelled like an Armenian bakery. I blushed a little when I said hello, it’s a little embarrassing when people make such a big fuss for you… At about 11:30 Sunday night my host mom called me into the kitchen for tea. I helped her frost the last of the napoleons, and then she let me lick the blending spoons, something my own mom use to do when I was lil. It’s amazing sometimes how much this place can feel like home. At 12 she allowed me to eat a birthday gata, my favorite Armenian pastry. They are flaky cookies with sugar embedded into the flakes. I love them! She also showed me the two cakes they made for me and my Tatik who happens to share the November 15th birthday with me. Besides the cakes, and the gata, there were napoleons and éclairs; seriously we could have made a profit selling the buffet of sweets!
On my birthday morning I woke up to my mom and my brother walking into my room, without knocking of course, and yelling Tsnonde Shnorhavor! My brother rushed over to me before I could even let out a yawn, my eyes barely open and handed me a purple bottle of perfume. It was adorable. He had been telling me for weeks that he had a small present for me that he saved his money to buy and the funny thing is my favorite gift in the world to get is perfume!!! It was the perfect start to my birthday! My host mom even brought in a big cup of coffee for me with a pinch of cinnamon, the way I make it when she isn’t looking! You see Armenians drink tiny little cups of coffee, and they think it’s really strange when they see me with a big cup; my host mom usually scolds me and tells me it’s bad to drink that much coffee. But on this day I had the feeling I could do any of my weird American things that she detests and she would just smile at me. After I skyped my family, including my dog Lucca, I got a phone call from my counterpart asking if I could come in to school about 45 minutes early. Sure I said, knowing something was up. In my head they were going to give me a big cake, give me a present and sing to me. Boy did I underestimate them!
As I walked up the street to my school I noticed the kids were out on the playground (a loosely used word since it’s just a bunch of dirt in front of the school). I knew full well that these kids were suppose to be in class. Then out of nowhere one of my favorite students was in my face with a video camera, ten girls following behind her.
“Hello Miss Alyssa, Happy Birthday”
“Thanks Sherri Jan, where did you get a camera?”
No response, just a bunch of giggles from the girls. I quickly tried to get by them, feeling shy for some reason. As I walked down the three steps, past the gate to my school, all 190 students came running at me. Happy Birthday Miss Alyssa!!! Tsnonde shnorhavor! Miss Alyssa, Miss Alyssa… followed by hugs and kisses on the cheeks. It was like a receiving line to a wedding where everyone rushes to congratulate the bride. I had the biggest smile on my face; I love my students so much! Yet I felt strange because plenty of teachers at our school have had birthdays and they receive nothing of the sort. Sometimes I am afraid that at some point they are going to get sick of the attention the students shower me with, so I try not to encourage it too much.
After the roulette of hugs and kisses from my students, one of my third grade students grabs my hand and leads me into the school building, the rest of the students follow. I walk into the teacher’s room with my student and am surprised that as soon as I open the door the whole school starts singing happy birthday in English!! The teachers rush at me with flowers and a cake with a huge American flag on it and a firecracker for a candle. I am absolutely overwhelmed. I barely have the opportunity to look around, all the teachers are grabbing me and hugging and kissing me; everyone yelling my name and wanting my attention. I don’t even have time to put my bag down! And then I see it, the rainbow of curly colors cascading down onto a wardrobe of confetti colored silk, and the plastic face that brings nightmares to any American child who has seen it. Yup a clown!! I mean they seriously got me a clown!! Someone explains that in American movies there are always clowns at birthday parties! I laugh, not even daring to tell them that I have never had a single birthday with a clown at it, unless Ronald McDonald counts, but he isn’t scary! The radio is turned on and birthday music blares as the teachers begin to dance and sing. They close the students out and rush at me with presents. A beautiful onyx bracelet from my student, who said she knew it would match my ring. I couldn’t even believe it, this would have been an amazing gift in America, I didn’t expect this here. And from the teachers, a silver eternity ring and a silver necklace with Mother Mary for protection they explained.
Champagne was opened up and toasts were made, over and over again, as is the Armenian fashion! Everyone smiling and having the best time and then the vice principal, who I consider my mother here, husband comes in with a bowl of horovots. Now one day when I was visiting their house for dinner he had told me a story about the neighbor having a whole flock of ducks that he sells and eats. He explained to me that every year for the past 15 years he has wanted to try one but his wife and daughter wouldn’t let him, they liked ducks too much. He asked if we eat ducks in America. I told him we do, but I have never had one, though I had always wanted to try… So cue the bowl of horovots duck!!! It must have cost him so much money! I couldn’t believe that he would even remember that conversation, but also that he would go through all that trouble for me. The duck was not surprisingly delicious!! The cake was even more delicious; it had a banana crème filling! We ate, drank and then of course we had to dance. If you know me, you know I don’t dance! I mean I do but only when I am being silly, or have had too much wine. It’s just never been something that I liked to do too much. So you can imagine my horror when the teachers grabbed me and made me dance, all laughing because I of course can’t even Armenian dance right! When I saw the opportunity I ducked out and thanked the teachers for such an amazing party.
“Alyssa Jan we know you are so far from home. We can’t imagine being away from home and how your parents must worry, we want them to know we love you very much and thanks God you are here. We want them not to worry or be sad and know you have family here to”.
I couldn’t help it, I begin to cry just a bit because I could honestly say this was the nicest party anyone had ever thrown for me, and I honestly never would have guessed that this is what they were planning. I cried because I feel that they are my family though we can barely communicate. I cried because it was my first birthday away from home and I wasn’t sad!
As the bell rang I got ready to go to class, thinking the party was over. Little did I know that when I walked into my fifth grade class they had their own surprise for me! Balloons, flowers, singing and presents too! They were all so excited, it was next to impossible to teach class! After fifth grade I went to my ninth grade class, my favorite kids, and they surprised me with a puppy as you know.
The amazing thing is the whole day was covered on camera and I have a cd of it. It is a day I will never forget in all my life. I love Spitak so much and know how blessed I am to be here and to know I will always have family here!
Saturday, November 20, 2010
My family is everything to me, and the thought of being away from them was the only thing that prevented me from joining the Peace Corps a few years earlier than I did. So the thought of spending holidays, which my birthday defiantly is, without them had me depressed since the first of November. Sometimes the Peace Corps can be so lonely, sure you have friends, but to me friends no matter how amazing they are, are never the same as your family. I completely dreaded my birthday this year, I just knew it was going to be horrible and that I would spend the day crying and missing them so much.
I planned a small excursion to Yerevan for my birthday, knowing that I would need my friends more than ever the week before my birthday. The first night we had a girl’s night with Mexican food, mango margaritas and gossip! It was so amazing to spend a night in Armenia as we would have spent it in America. Honestly tis the season when a lot of volunteers feel a little bit blue, I mean the holidays are coming up and we will be far from our homes. It was so good to have the most perfect night out with my girlfriends. The next night I planned a dinner in Yerevan, inviting only a few people to my favorite restaurant, Bejing. We ate the most delicious Chinese food, and when I say ate, I mean feasted like kings!!! We all knew it was way beyond our budget to eat like this, but the food was so amazing, we couldn’t help it! The night just got better and better from there, everything that happened was magic! I really did have the best birthday party with my friends. It was so low-key and small and yet it was exactly what everyone needed after a few stressful weeks at sight. I can honestly say that I have some of the best friends a girl can have here and had one of the best birthdays I’ve ever had this year. The funny thing is, that this was just a small beginning to what turned out to be days of birthday surprises and celebrations! Dear friends that came to dinner for my birthday or just stopped by to say hi, thank you so much for making it such a memorable evening!!
Family I still miss you guys so much!!
Thursday, November 18, 2010
So you may remember Manook from a few posts back, the cutest little baby dog in the world who died a few weeks ago. At the time I told everyone in my town that under no circumstances did I want a new dog. No matter how small and cute it may be, I just don’t want one, or so I said.
Well it just so happens that my students knew and loved Manook, and were also really sad when she died. She was the only dog in Spitak that was allowed into people’s homes, because I carried her everywhere.
A week before my birthday something strange was happening. Everytime I entered a room, people stopped talking. I knew that this wasn’t the kind of cold shoulder you get in America where if you walk into a room and silence ensues you can bet your money that they are gossiping about you. No this was definitely different.
Now there are multiple facets to this story but for the most part, at least as far as my 9th grade class goes, the talking was about a birthday surprise. That surprise happens to be a new puppy, who I have decided to call Sophie Jan. She is a month old! Still drinks only milk, and supposedly was abandoned by her momma. So even though I really didn’t want a puppy, what do you say when your kids go through the trouble to surprise you with one? I mean they even tied a bow on her!
So now I am Sophie Jans new momma. Having a puppy this little is so hard. I am so scared she will die like Manook did, so every night I sneak her into my room to sleep and sneak her back out early in the morning before my host mom wakes up. Turns out I have a confidant in my brother, who is now in on the plan. He distracts my host mom and I take the dog to my room! I love this lil dog, I hope she will make it!
Tuesday, November 16, 2010
You see I forgot to mention that the reason people go to Jurmuk is to drink the water. Armenians have claimed for centuries that Jurmuk water heals whatever may ail them. People from all over Armenia come here to drink the water. I have to say, they just might be on to something here. Not only does Jurmuk have the only water source that us PCV’s can drink straight without a filter, but I do have to say that the day after I returned I did feel a lot better. Maybe time had taken its course and healed me or maybe there is a little bit of magic in Jurmuk, it’s hard to say!
Although I do have to say, the water did not taste as I expected it to. As we walked up to tasting center we met three ladies who instructed us to drink and keep drinking because we will be healthy when we leave. They even offered to let us use their cup! They watched as we stood around not really sure what to do and instructed us to drink. So I stuck my hand in the basin and let the water fall into it, shocked to find it hot. Hot water poured out through the spouts. It almost burned my hand to touch it. After the initial shock I let my hand get use to the temperature and scoped some into my mouth. The taste was metallic. We tried water from all the basins, supposedly they each have a different healing purpose and a different temperature, though all hot.
Now one of the reasons that my group of friends and I decided to go on a vacation, besides the fact that we are all teachers and there was no school for a week, was to visit Jurmuk. Jurmuk is known to the Armenians as a healing resort town. People go there when they are sick to sit in the hot springs and be cured. Jurmuk was known to us Americans as a place where you can get a cheap massage! A spa resort, were words that were actually used. So my number one goal of vacation was to go to this resort town and have a massage, it’s been a stressful six months, I deserve it, I told myself.
So after about three days of being sick and stuck in Malishka, we woke up early one morning and headed out to the main street where we could catch the marshootni that would take us to Vyke so we could then catch the marshootni to Jurmuk. I know nothing is ever simple here. The five of us grumpily lined up on the side of the road, waiting to hop onto the marshootni. There was silence between us, none of us awake enough to talk. As we stood there and waited, and waited and waited, we got a phone call from our friend. “ Hey guys I forgot the marshootni goes into the village, not along the main road”. Crap! This meant no marshootni for us! Vyke wasn’t too far away so it wasn’t a big deal to take a taxi but, our problem was we had waited over 30 minutes, and were sure that the jurmuk marshootni would be gone by the time we got a cab. Sure enough we hitched a ride to Vyke but our marshootni was long gone. This meant forking out a lot of money we didn’t have to take a cab, but we had no choice, and there was no way I was going to go another day without my massage.
Once we got to Jurmuk we immediately realized it was well worth the money spent, as we walked along a path of golden, auburn, green, yellow and red trees. I was once again experiencing my fall envy all over again. The difference is this time I Got photos! The colors were unlike anything I had ever seen before. We walked in a pensive silence up to the hotel where the best massages were rumored to take place. Once there I learned it would be 4,000 dram for a full body massage, how could anyone say no to that?!? The hotel was beautiful and modern, it could have easily been a hotel from the U.S. The hostess walked us down to the bottom floor of hotel where the spa was. All of a sudden it felt as though we were in a soviet hospital… if you have read my blog since the beginning you know that I have expertise in this area, as a soviet hospital was the very first place I went to as soon as I got off the plane in Armenia with a dislocated jaw. The halls were lined with sick people coughing, dabbing their noses with tissues and making pathetic sick faces. Ok, ok I thought, this doesn’t mean anything, don’t judge a book by its cover.
As it happened, I was the first one to be called in for a massage. The Doctor, as they called him was a semi tall, stout, crossed eyed man. I’m not going to lie, the guy looked like a serial killer. Now I have been to a few spas in my life, some nice and expensive, some cheap and a lil dirty, but never in my life did I expect this place. With it’s hospital beds and hospital curtains, it creeped me out . Needless to say the so called massage I received was horrible! I can’t even describe it because I was too preoccupied with being weirded out.
Once that horrifying experience was over, us girls had a good laugh and went for a hike with the boys. We saw some beautiful sights in the woods and hiked down to the waterfall. It was stunning, something about the semi chilly weather, the leaves all over the ground and our hilarious massage experience turned us five grumps into young children again. We played in the leaves, talked to people, and even found a playground to take over. All in all in was a magical day! It’s must have been something in the water!
Sunday, November 14, 2010
Tuesday, November 9, 2010
While we were at the river, swimming, talking, and staring up into our surroundings for minutes at a time, a car drove up with two men in it. They began to walk toward us, carrying some huge pile of junk. Great we said, another person coming to dump trash in this beautiful river. I don’t know why, but Armenians see rivers and streams and lakes as places to throw their trash. It is absolutely horrible! The trash problem here is huge. They do not have trash collections as we do in the U.S. For the most part, with a few exceptions, you are responsible for disposing of your trash however you see fit. This means people do one of two things: they either burn their trash, or they fine some place to dump it. On countless hikes I have taken here, I have run into old abandon cars in the middle of meadows and fields.
So we watched as they came closer, thinking of what we could say to them to convince them not to throw their trash where we swim. But as they came closer we saw that they in fact did not have trash, but a huge net! They were going to fish! Seriously? I thought. I mean who fishes with a huge net like that and actually catches something?!?! We watched as the man stripped down to his boxers, preparing to go into the water.
Me: He is not about to go into the water is he?
Ashley: Looks like it, but isn’t he going to be cold?
Me: Yeah, Armenians don’t go into the cold, isn’t he afraid he is going to get sick?!?!
Chad: Oh wait, he is leaving his socks on, everything is going to be fine!!
Ok so the number one thing here that I get scolded for is not wearing my socks. Socks are the old faithful protectors of one’s immune system according to Armenians. If you even think about going outside without socks you are asking for tatiks to chase you around with a pair of their own socks to protect you from germs! Even in the middle of summer, I fell asleep on the top of my bed without my socks, my host mom came in to check on me, noticed that I wasn’t wearing any and got some out of my dresser and began to put them on me. Let’s just say I woke up pretty freaked out! The word noskies is enough to give me nightmares!
So don’t you fret reader, the man wore his socks as he made a splash into the river! There was no way he was going to be cold!
Me: He’s not going to catch anything….
Splash, Splash Splash, a lot of commotion as the net is thrown and the man dives to recover it.
Me: Oh My God! Is that a fish in his MOUTH??!!!
Ashley: No, you’re not serious?
Chad: The head is in his mouth!
Me: OMG, that is so hardcore!
Scott or Chad: That guy is Gollum!!!
Me: The fish is in his MOUTH! He caught the fish and it’s alive, in his mouth!
All of us: nervous laughter
Chad: We are watching the Discovery Channel but it’s like right in front of us!
Ok, so you might be thinking, why would he put the fish in his mouth? I know that is what I was thinking. I mean he had a bag for his catches! Well the truth is I have no idea. I mean maybe it was because he has to go through the huge net quickly before the rest of his catches get away… but I really don’t know.
So as the man repeated this process over and over again, his friend made his way over toward us. He popped an Armenian squat right next to Scott.
He asked what we’re doing here, where we are from, how we like Armenia and all the usual questions. He told us about the bridge and that it was built a long time ago, I wish I could remember what year he said. And then he asked the most important question. Would you like some vodka? Scott politely declined. Why not, he asked? In English Scott said under his breath, uhh because it’s like 1 in the afternoon. The man acted as though he understood Scott. Well would they like some vodka? It is very good Armenian vodka, my wife made it. No thank you I tell him, a little surprised that he would offer it to them women too.
Soon the other man was done fishing. He only caught the one fish, but he did bring us over a surprise. A crab! He tried to hand it to us; Scott was the only one who would take it!!! He tried to explain to us something about its exoskeleton, but we didn’t understand. Our new friends had to leave, so we bid them farewell, but not before asking them for a ride back into town (sorry mom), but the day was young, there were more fish to be caught, and vodka to be drunk! As they drove away we threw the crab back into the water, so it could live to tell it’s tale of the crazy Americans it met one warm autumn day.
Monday, November 8, 2010
So we ate lunch at a pretty cool outdoor café near the University. The place was dead. There was only one other table having drinks. But that did not stop our waitress from being super horrible! I don’t know why but service in Armenian is notably awful! We sat down and fifteen minutes later someone came to take our drink order. Then 10 minutes later she came back to get our food order but we didn’t have our drinks yet. We wait and wait and wait…. After 20 more minutes of waiting two of us get our food, but we still do not have drinks! It was horrible! The waiter didn’t even try to apologize, that is just the way it is here. You just cannot sit down to eat in Armenia if you are busy and only have a small amount of time.
After our lunch we decided to go for a hike down to the river. The hike was about 45 minutes long, and worth every minute of it! As I have said before, Fall in Armenia is spectacular. I cannot get over how beautiful it is!!! Ash and I sat on the rocks near the river talking as the boys attempted to go for a swim. Immediately Scott came right out of the water, it was far too cold, but Chad was stubborn and/or crazy and actually went for a swim!!! I can’t tell you how nice it was to have the sun on my face and a little bit of warm weather.
These are the pictures from that day, they are so beautiful! There is more to tell about my visit but for now I just want you to see the beauty that words cannot describe!