Wednesday, May 4, 2011

A charming Easter in Armenia

Everyone has been talking about Easter for a few months now, so I was expecting some huge ordeal. A month before Easter time I was practically begging my counterpart to invite me to her Easter dinner =) And by begging I mean dropping hints that possibly only Americans would understand. Finally one day she was talking about her Tatik making the trip from Gyumri to Spitak for Easter and I told her I would love to meet her Tatik, because I had heard so much about her. Finally my counterpart either caught on, or the idea just came to her but she told me I should spend Easter with her. Mission accomplished!
A week before Easter I began to think of different dishes I could make to bring to my counterparts for the dinner party. Every day I would come to school with a new idea, but when I would run the idea by my counterpart she didn’t seem too excited. One day I finally asked her if it was appropriate to bring a dish, she explained to me that it is not so common for Armenians to do, so I explained to her that it’s something we usually do in America. I think once I told her this, her hospitality didn’t feel threatened and so she was more excited about the idea. I decided to bring Lemmon bars! I have never made them before but I had a craving for them, plus I have never tasted anything like them here in Armenia.
So the day of the event, I wore my most colorful dress, and nicest shoes, which isn’t saying much as I didn’t really bring nice cloths to Armenia. I Also tied a cute little pink bow on Sophie’s neck. I cannot tell you how many compliments Sophie got as we were walking through the city center to my counterparts house. We were quite the Easter parade!! When I got to my counterpart’s house I left Sophie with her dog and walked in. My counterpart was nowhere to be seen and there were 5 women sitting on the couch who I had never met. I didn’t really know what to do so I said hello and sat down. No one really talked to me, I think they were very confused as to who I was. Finally my counterpart walked out and exclaimed to her grandmother “tat this is the American I told you about”. The tatik looked so surprised, turns out she had no clue and assumed I was just a different looking Armenian, score one point for me! She immediately demanded that I come over to her so she could kiss me. She told me her name is Hayastan… which means Armenia. A pretty cool name I think. We talked a bit and they introduced me to a little boy named Hyke. I believe he was five years old. They told him I was learning Armenian and he came over and brought me his text book. He isn’t even in kindergarten yet but he was reviewing all the letters with me. We became fast best friends.
Soon it was time for our meal. We all sat down to eat but there was no room for our hostess. Not surprisingly she refused to sit, the whole time she walked around serving people and making sure everyone had what they needed. As I have learned this is pretty common in Armenia, and the hostess never seems to mind. Just another way Armenians show great hospitality to their guests. The first order of business was to play the egg game, I am not sure if it has a name. Basically everyone gets a bolied egg that is dyed, just like in America. You then hold your egg while someone else crashed their egg into it. You want your egg to be the egg that comes out not cracked. I have to say I was feeling pretty confident when I got a green Jesus sticker egg. I was pretty sure that even though I had never played the game and didn’t know if there was a strategy to it, that Jesus was on my side =) And as it turns out he was… for awhile anyways. I went four of five rounds without a single crack in my egg. I was so excited, as tradition has it that whoever is the last man standing with an un-cracked egg, is the person who will receive the most luck in the following year. Then cute little adorable Hyke came to me and wanted to play. The truth is I had already seen him crack an egg or two, so I knew he was a little cheater, but I thought there was no way he was going to beat me. And then he did! My precious egg was cracked. I guess if you had to lose, it’s best to lose to someone whose whole face lights up when they beat you. Soon it was only Hyke and tatik left. Tatik crashed her egg into Hykes and sent cracks all throughout. I have to admit that a little part of me laughed, I mean the kid did cheat, and who better to beat a little kid than a little old lady? And so came an end to our egg wars and the eating began.
As it turns out Easter in Armenia isn’t so different from Easter in America. We ate some pretty good salads and what is called Easter Pilaf which is sweet rice with raisins in it. I actually think the pilaf was the highlight of the meal, though there were many other delicious foods. Soon the meal was done and coffee was brought out. At this point my counterpart brought over four different cakes. She didn’t bring out my lemon bars, but I didn’t want to say anything in case there was a reason. Everyone wanted me to try each type of cake and even though I was stuffed I didn’t want to hurt anyone’s feelings. After coffee we sat around talking for a bit. Mostly I just listened, but when I laughed a joke they realized I understood more than I spoke so they began to ask me questions. Soon my counterpart came out of the kitchen where she was washing dishes and asked me if I would like to take a walk to the church with her cousin. As it turns out her cousin who was to my best guess about 24, understood a little bit of English and had overheard me tell her earlier that I had really wanted to go to the church service in the morning but was too nervous to go alone. Although it was very sweet, it made me too nervous to go and my stomach was honestly killing me, so I declined. I looked up and saw him waiting in the kitchen and felt horrible. But this guy had more than one trick up his sleeve. About fifteen minutes later little adorable Hyke came to me and asked if I would like to go with him and his uncle to the church. It was usually just the kind of suckering that would get to me. I am helpless when it comes to telling adorable kids no. But at this point I was feeling pretty sick, so they went to the church without me. As they left a tray of fish was brought out. Turns out dinner wasn’t over yet! I sat for awhile and declined to eat. Soon another round of coffee came out and this time my lemon bars were brought out. Everyone who tried them said they loved them, but I’m not so convinced.
I excused myself and told them I wasn’t feeling well and had to get home. I thanked everyone for an excellent Easter and left taking Sophie with me. As I walked through the city center the church was playing beautiful Easter music. As I approached the road of the church, which also happens to be the road to my house, I saw Mkirtich walking with little Hyke. He approached me and asked where I was going in English. I could tell he was really shy. I told him I wasn’t feeling well and was walking home so he asked if he could walk me. I honestly have to say it was the sweetest thing ever. I can’t recall an American boy ever asking to walk me home. So we began to walk and I could tell he was searching his brain for his unpracticed English to come back to him. I decided to let him off the hook and asked him where he was from in Armenian. He was so relieved! He began speaking to me in Armenian asking all about me. He honestly was such a sweetheart. Soon Hyke aware that he wasn’t the center of attention put himself in between us and held both our hands. It was adorable! I thought that he would walk me only up the road but he insisted on walking me all the way to my building. As we were walking a girl he knew approached us. She looked shocked to see him, and they began to have a very awkward conversation. It was painful to see how shy he was, or embarrassed, I’m not really sure. I could tell she was thinking why the hell are you all the way in Spitak from Gyumri with this American girl. He quickly said goodbye. When we got to my building he told me it wasn’t good that I lived alone, and that I must get sad. I told him I had Sophie so I didn’t get so sad. He laughed a little and invited me to come visit him in Gyumri. I told him I would and he made me promise. It was all very sweet, and I have to say it was nice for once not to be the one with a red face.
The one thing I will say that Armenian men have that American men don’t have, is their love for children. Armenian men are so affectionate with kids! It’s the sweetest thing to watch them dote on them! It was adorable to watch my counterpart’s cousin take care of his nephew. I even had a lesson once in my 10th form where I taught them the phrase to look forward to and then asked them what they are looking forward to. The worst behaved student of mine stood up and said that he looked forward to being a dad one day soon. I didn’t really believe what I was hearing so I asked if he was telling me the truth, and he said yes. I looked at the class for help and they all said that yes, he really did talk about how he wanted to be a father one day and all the boys agreed that they took couldn’t wait to be fathers one day. I just cannot imagine American boys saying that, and I think it was actually really charming to hear. I have to say, I now have a soft spot for that student even though he is one of the worse behaved students at our school!!


  1. Charming Alyssa! You take a dull subject and present it in a charming way and oblige me to read your tale to the end. I hope you will get one of those days the children-books I send to your school for you care, notify me when safely delivered! Papik

  2. Alyssa,
    Armenia is very lucky to have you. You obviously love your job and take your work very seriously. I am proud to know that our government chose you as a representative of the United States. Just one question, are you sure you're not going to marry an Armenian boy?