Wednesday, February 23, 2011

Just a Normal Aftobus ride and marriage proposal.

I’ve been spending a lot of time in Spitak now that I have my own apartment. It’s nice to live alone and to be able to eat what you want and sleep when you want and be social when you want. I do have to admit it does get a little lonely sometimes, but mostly I solve that problem by watching movies, cooking fantastically yummy meals, which take all day because I have to adapt everything to the Armenian lifestyle. When I get really lonely I just bundle up and take Sophie for a walk to the supermarket. Everyone at the supermarket is so nice is me and they just adore Sophie! They walk with me as I shop and read the labels to me or translate the Russian products for me. They play with Sophie a bit and ask me questions. Strange but I feel the most comfortable at the little grocery store.
Even though I am loving my new apartment, and new found freedom, it was really nice to be able to take a day trip to Gyumri this weekend. Gyumri is my favorite city in Armenia, there is just something about it that feels so authentic and almost grimy. I love the little street vendors and all of the cute cafes and I hadn’t been there since August so I decided to meet my best friend Ashley there to spend a few hours.
The one downside to Gyumri is that the only way to get there from Spitak is by bus. Usually I travel everywhere in Armenia by Marshootni. Marshootnis are similar to mini vans that seat about 15 people to 20 if you are really unlucky. They aren’t exactly race cars, but riding on a bus makes them seem that way. They are so slow!! While a trip to Gyumri by cab would take me about thirty minutes, by bus it takes up to an hour and twenty minutes!!!
When I got on the bus I took my usual seat by the front door. I like to sit there because not many people like to sit by the door as it can be pretty cold, this means normally that I won’t be squashed. Plus I have a Sophie dog to sit on my lap and keep me warm!
As I got comfortable in my seat, the bus was getting ready to leave. Thankfully no one was sitting by me! Just as we began to pull out from the station a group of men came toward the bus. The door opened slowly to let in a big, huge fat man with stains on his shirt and a very distinctive smell. As he passed by me I thanked god and began to make room for one of the three boys who followed behind him. One took a seat by me and I was glad to be on our way… but as luck would have it, just as the wheels began to move again, the fat man decided that he would change seats with the young boy.
I tried to make myself seem unavailable. I put my head phones on as loud as they reached and turned to look out the window. I was aware that the man was staring at me, but I tried to avoid letting him know that I knew. His friends sat directly across from us, on the backwards facing seat in the bus, which meant they too were staring directly at me. I couldn’t help but to catch the eye of a young man. He happened to be very good looking and when our eyes met we both blushed and turned away. As time passed I became aware that my seat mate was trying to get my attention to talk to me. I tried to ignore him, but as Sophie reached over and sniffed his face, I could no longer pretend he didn’t exist
Your dog likes me, he said. I smiled politely and nodded. Do you speak Armenian? Yes I speak a little I replied. He began asking me the usual questions, where I am from, why I am here and if I am married…
If only people would not ask me that question!! Of course I said no because it’s a small town, if I said yes he would most likely know that I was lying. I tried to look away because I knew we were about to get into a huge discussion about why I wasn’t married. I was aware that everyone on the bus was listening to our conversation and laughing at parts that they found amusing. No such Luck, I was already sucked in and there was no way out…
But instead of drilling me on the specifics of why I was not married, he pointed to the very attractive boy across from him. This is my nephew he told me. He will make a great husband for you. I looked up, face filled with embarrassment and saw that my proposed fiancé was staring at his shoes, presumably just as embarrassed as I was. No, no I tried to explain, I don’t want to get married.
Everyone wants to get married he told me. He is a good boy, he has a good job and has money. You will not find anyone better. I begin to giggle a little, as I sometimes do when I am in extreme awkward situations. He began to tell me about the kid’s job, and what a good husband he would make. Then he began to whisper something. Now I am not going to pretend to know what he said, because I couldn’t understand a word of it… but I do know tone and body expression, I feel I read people extremely well, and I am pretty sure he was talking about something inappropriate. I told him I didn’t understand and he repeated it with a huge grin on his face followed by a wink… yeah you get the picture.
I pretended to be completely clueless and claimed that my Armenian was really poor. I looked back to the cute boy, he was still staring at his shoes, filled with embarrassment. He is a good looking boy isn’t he, the man asked me. I began to giggle again. No I said followed by giggles. Well yes, but I mean no, I don’t know. Then more giggles to the point that tears were coming from my eyes. Marry him; he will be a good husband. Come with us, we shall make a khorovots to celebrate. I giggled some more and said I couldn’t, that I was meeting a friend. I deliberately left off the suffix that means girl friend. A few minutes later as the man was still trying to sell me on his nephew his stop came up. He told me once more that I should come with him, but I declined. We will find you the next time we come to town. You live in Luscines building don’t you?.... Great!

Tuesday, February 8, 2011

Aye Kez ban

This is my first blog in a few weeks because there has been so much going on. First of all I moved into a new apartment. Things didn’t end very well with my host family after they found out I was going to move. They basically stopped talking to me and barley fed me in the last few weeks. It was a really stressful time for me, but now I am in my new apartment with Sophie dog and I am so excited about how it is turning out.
The other major thing that happened that has caused me to pause my blog is that I had a week long seminar in a local ski resort so I didn’t have time to blog. Also the end of the seminar has caused me to question my service here in Armenia. I won’t go too much into detail because thinking about the incident and what could have happened really upsets me.
So on our last night in Tsakghadzor Ashley and I decided to go into town while the boys played basketball. The seminar was very long and boring, starting each day at 9:30 and ending around 6 or 7. So we really needed to get out and get some fresh air. We walked from the Sports Complex hotel to the nearest store in town, which was probably about a 20 minute walk. We talked with the hanoot owners who were very friendly and nice to us, and even gave us a mini Armenian lesson. After making our purchases we walked around the main street in the town and took a few pictures. After some time we began to walk back up to our hotel. We walked for about ten minutes when we noticed a black car following us. We made the first left into the nearest hotel parking lot, trying to make them think that it was our hotel so they would leave us alone. The door of the hotel was around the back side so we walked around the building to toward the door. The car followed us. At the dead end one man got out of the car on foot and pursued us. We immediately went into the hotel to wait it out. To be honest I was nervous but it is not unusual for us to be followed here. Usually it is just guys trying to hit on us, nothing sinister. We waited for five minutes and figured they would be gone. When we walked out the door the man was still there so we sped up to get to the main street and he followed. As we went toward that side the car was waiting for us blocking the exit, parked horizontally with the car door open. We were trapped. We slid by the side of the door that was not open. We picked up our pace to get to the main street. The other guy following on foot got in the car and the car started again and followed. We stopped in a lighted area not wanting to walk further away from the town. The car circled us about 4 times. Finally they asked if we would come with them. I said no. The guy got a little big angry and asked me why not. I just said no over and over again and continued to walk away. At this point I was pretty scared, I partly felt safe because I was with Ash, but there were two of them, and it became clear they had no intentions of leaving us alone.
The car then pulled up out of sight at the next turn ahead of us towards our hotel. We debated what our next move should be, thinking maybe they drove off but half frozen with fright we just stood therel knowing they were waiting for us ahead out of town where there are no lights or traffic. I told her to wait to make sure they were gone. Then we heard a car door shut. I knew they had not in fact left but were up at the next cross street waiting for us. Essentially they had trapped us again. We had no where to go. If we went forward we would walk straight to them. If we turned around we would be going into the dark, possibly making things worse. So we waited a bit and then tried to walk the other way. As soon as we took a few steps The car engine started again and began to follow. At this point I called the Peace Corps, I knew these guys were going to try to take us. As I was on the phone the car was circling around us again, this time much closer. Thank God that as they got closer to us I spotted a taxi coming and I jumped out in front of it. Ash and I practically jumped in it, scared out of our minds. I have to admit I was at the point of hysterically yelling at her, sorry ash. As we drove toward our hotel I couldn’t help but to look back, scared that they were following, but they did not, I think they knew they lost their chance.
I have to say this is the second time someone has tried to hurt me here. There is no doubt in my mind that these men were planning to take one of us, and were making plans on the best way to do it. The fact that they were in a car, made it much scarier because they could get one of us and we would never been seen again. At first I thought everything was fine, it was just a close call, but now as the days pass I am really questioning my safety here. If this man had got us, what could we do? We are both short, little people, and I am not saying we don’t have fight, but there were two of them. I mean we are targeted here because we are foreign women. We were both dressed appropriately in huge snow jackets and hats and gloves. We were in no way acting out of Armenian character or drawing attention to ourselves. The thing is we don’t look like Armenians and no matter what we do, we won’t fit in and that scares me. I don’t want to have to carry a switchblade in my purse to feel safe, but what can I do?