Sunday, November 21, 2010

Banana cream cake and Duck Khorovots

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!


  1. The wonderful way you put the whole thing, now everyone in United States is going to jump on the Peace Corps wagons heading to Armenia, the only country in this world who still loves Americans.

  2. baby you tell all of them thank you from your father, I am so glad that they love as much as we do and I was so worried about you not having familey on your brithday, so you tell them thank you from the bottem of father heart.

    love you

  3. Hey Sweetie, I am trying to catch up on your blogs. I don't think I was ready for this one, because of course it made me cry. I am so happy that they love you so much, and that they are showing you that love. They are an amazing group of people. We all worried that you would be sad, I see that our worry wasn't necessary. But just as you cried because you weren't sad, I have to say I cried a little too because you weren't sad, but I am so happy that you weren't. Please tell your school and your host family just how grateful we are that they are treating you like the special person you are. I knew they would see the beauty that resides within you, and having seen it, how could they help but love you too! Love you, your mom P.S. to the person who said Armenia is the only place the loves Americans, Ouch

  4. shoot I need to go to Armenia on my birthday. They would shower me with gifts and probably marry me off. I am glad you had an awesome birthday even without my package getting there on time