Monday, June 27, 2011

Sophie's got a friend!

This is by far my favorite neighbor in Spitak maybe even my favorite neighbor ever! Every day around 5 I go and sit outside and read while Sophie runs around causing problems and having adventures. My neighbor always comes and sits right by me. We don’t talk so much, but I think she feels that I am alone and should have company. She doesn’t ask me nosey questions about my life and when I am going to get married. She doesn’t complain about me, or come knock on the door to tell me I am doing my laundry the wrong way. She simply sits by me and relaxes.
She also happens to be Sophie’s favorite person in Spitak!!! Sophie loves her so much, every time she sees her she comes sprinting down the hill and jumps all over her. Most Armenians would probably kick Sophie if she jumped on them, but not this neighbor, she simply says Sophie incha, incha. Mernem kez. Sophie what, what, I die for you!! It’s so cute to watch them together!! She always brings bread for Sophie to eat and even comes to tell me when she thinks Sophie is thirsty and needs some water!
When other neighbors get angry at Sophie or scared of her, she defends her. She even told a group of kids who would come to sit with me but were afraid of Sophie not to come anymore. She told them that 5 is Sophie’s time to be outside and if they are scared and are going to cause problems they need to go play somewhere else!!
I am very lucky to have such a kind person in my building, because mostly I feel that my neighbors hate having me here.

Monday, June 20, 2011

The Top Ten Things I Miss about America

So I have been in Armenia for over a year now and in this time my life has completely changed as is to be expected. For the most part I am used to the changes and hardly think about what life was like before. However there are things that about America and being back home that I do miss more than anything. And I am not talking about my family. Obviously I miss my family and my dog more than anything else. I am talking about the little, taken for granted things here.

Feeling Safe
I miss the sense of security that I always had in America. I lived in Long Beach which a lot of people consider to be a little bit or a lot (depending on who you talk to) ghetto. Yet I always felt safe there. I could sit in my living room with my door wide open and never once had a worry about it. I could wear whatever I wanted to wear and not be afraid that it would draw negative attention to me. And most importantly I could be outside after dark and not worry about it. I would run at 10 pm with no problems and walk Lucca at 2 in the morning without a single fear in my mind. I miss that feeling.
Drug Stores
Most of you have no idea what it is like to be sick and not be able to get the medicine you need when you need it. Something as simple as cough drops you take for granted. Here if I get sick I pray to God that what I need is in my medical kit, because if it is not I will have to make a 2 hour trip to the Doctor’s office in the Capital. 2 hours on a public mini bus is not exactly how you want to be spending your time when you are sick, especially not if you are nauseas. There are ways to have medicine sent to your town or village but it involves a lot of work and coordination and a long walk to get to the meet up point where you look for a random stranger carrying a brown bag of your medicine, which is often awkward. So yes I miss the convenience of Longs and Walgreens very much when I am sick.
Window Screens
In the summer it gets very hot here. As you may have guessed there are no air conditioners so we make due by opening our windows and praying for a nice breeze. In Spitak we get nightly rain storms which help cool things down, but only for awhile. Besides the fact that sometimes keeping your windows open does nothing in the middle of the day, the other major problem is that by leaving your window open you are sending out an invitation to all the flies, mosquitoes and moths in the area to come on in. I really hate bugs, especially mosquitoes so most of the time I am inclined to keep my window closed and deal with the heat, but sometimes it’s just too much and I have to open it. Inevitably it means that I spend much of my time in the summer chasing down flies that get into my apartment and then cleaning up their guts… I know gross!
I miss going out on dates. Yup I said it. Tommy and I always had the best date nights to look forward to back home. He always thought of amazing places to take me to and romantic things to do. Whether it was teaching me how to surf or taking me to a basketball game, or setting up a romantic fondue dessert station in my living room, we had so much fun! Here dating is nonexistent unless you are in Yerevan. I live in Spitak, people don’t date in Spitak at least not in the sense that Americans do. First of all I am not quite sure what the cultural implications of dating are in my town. Second even if I knew it was 100 percent fine, there is still nothing to do. There are no cafes, no restaurants, no coffee shops, no theaters, no concerts… nothing. Not unless you want to go into Yerevan, which with the last bus leaving from Yerevan to Spitak means you would have to plan an afternoon date, which is kind of weird. You can’t even do dinner nights at your house. My neighbors would never stop talking if a man showed up at my door with flowers in his hands for a dinner date. It’s a very very very conservative culture and it makes being in a relationship very difficult and frustrating and sneaky.
The Ocean and everything that comes with it
I have not been in the ocean for over a year. I use to live a mile from the beach, a mile. Now I live in a land locked country. Armenia is a beautiful country, but my heart can never fully belong to a place that is Ocean less. There is something very soothing about the ocean, and in long beach I use to walk to the beach just to sit near the waves and write in my journal. I miss that serenity. I miss swimming, being emerged in warm clean water and having waves move your body. I miss floating and being weightless, and sun bathing and the smell of the sea.
I also really really really really miss seafood. Seafood has to be my favorite food in the world, especially in the form of Sushi and crab legs. When you grow up in California you are use to some of the best Sushi you can get in the states, because the fish is so fresh! I miss it and crave it and can’t wait to go home in November if for no other reason than cheap delicious sushi and crab legs.
Happy Hour
I miss happy hour, not because I miss drinking and getting cheap drinks, but because I miss getting together with friends at the close of a stressful work day and sharing your stories and bitching and relaxing and laughing together. I miss sipping on a margarita and watching the Laker game as the whole bar cheers and goes crazy together. I miss that part of American culture where friends are just as important in your life as family, and getting together with them outside of work is normal. Here people stick to their families. They don’t really have dinner nights with their friends, or girls nights or any of the cute little nights we have in the US. None of my Armenian friends have ever come over to my apartment for dinner, though I have invited them many times. Dinner is a time spent with their family here. Also women don’t really have friends outside of their family and co-workers so maybe they don’t feel a need to spend time outside of work with their friends. It’s a hard adjustment to get use to, especially when I don’t have the choice of eating dinner with my family, as I don’t have a family here.
I have always been something of a shopper. I had my first job at 16, and really had nothing to do with my money other than buy cloths. My friends in highschool would tease me because my closet was impossible to sort through, even though it was color and season coded, because there was so much stuff in it. Even in college when I worked 2 jobs at least, and was always broke, I would find time to go shopping. I know most people would consider it bad, but it has always been comforting to me to wander around in a store and carefully select the things you want and need. I even enjoy the process of choosing between two things that you really want, when you can only afford one. Everything about shopping is comforting to me. I have always been one who believes that when you have a really bad day, or you break up with a boyfriend or when you have a great day and accomplish big goals, that there is nothing better than going and buying yourself something nice. I’ll be honest, I still get the urge here and find myself shopping online, but nothing is as rewarding as being in the store itself.
Being Anonymous
I have always wanted to be the center of attention, maybe it has to do with me being a middle child, so you would think I would love that everyone here always is paying attention to me. I guess this is a lesson in being careful what you wish for. While it’s nice to walk down the street and have people want to help you and talk to you, and invite you into their homes, it’s not so great when they talk about what you are wearing, how you look, how strange you are, or how you hang up your laundry. It’s also not cool that you can get in a small argument with the water lady and how everyone in the whole town will know about it. It has come to the point that now as I walk down the street I simply keep my head down. I don’t want to have to see everyone staring at me. I especially hate it on days when I don’t wear make-up. People always feel the need to tell me that I look sick, or even worse talk to others around them about me looking sick… Yes I miss the days of running to the store in a baseball cap and pj pants and no one caring whatsoever!
I now fully realize just how amazing California is. There is so much diversity there, that no one really ever stands out for being different because we are all so different. I never have a problem back home remembering names or faces or how I know people. Here in Armenia, people that I have met often come up and talk to me, and for the life of me I can’t figure out how I know them, because they all start to blend together. There really are no ethnicity differences here and it’s strange to me. The lack of cultural diversity means a lack of food diversity. Diversity brings about amazing food combinations and varieties. There was always something new for me to eat in Long Beach. I didn’t even have to go to a restaurant to benefit from the variety of food because the grocery stores always featured new ethnic foods to try. I never got into food slumps in America, never. Here I feel like everything is always the same. No matter who it is that invites me over for dinner or to a party, I know what the dishes will be. I’ve been here a year and I think that by November or December I had tasted all that Armenia has to offer. I am not saying that the food is not delicious, because it is. I love dolma, spas and khorovots, but when you eat those things all the time, they lose their appeal.
Being treated like an Adult-
I don’t think I have been treated like an adult from the moment I have stepped foot into this country. Not by the Peace Corps, and not by host country nationals. Wherever I go I get scolded and reprimanded as if I am a little child. My least favorite words to hear in Armenian are Chi Karali which means you are not allowed. I cannot imagine telling an adult that in America!! However among my neighbors it is their favorite phrase to say to me. Sometimes it’s not even that people are doing anything mean or disrespectful, such as at my school, it’s just that they see me as a little girl. I often have to remind them that I am 27 years old and no matter how many times I tell them that, it shocks them. I think mostly it is because I am not married and do not have children which is unusual here. They don’t know quite how to deal with me because I am not exactly a woman yet to them because I have no family or husband. I think they equate this with me needing to be taken care of. Also the guest culture in Armenia is very prominent, and even though I have been here for a year they still feel as if I am a guest and need to be taken care of. Even when I go to the grocery store I have people follow me around trying to help me because they think that I cannot shop on my own. It’s funny when I tell them back in America I lived on my own, and drove a car and had a job. They honestly find it strange.

And even though life has changed there are some things that are still the same. For example I still walk outside of my apartment in the middle of summer and wish that I could bring my sleeping bad outside to sleep in because it’s hotter in my apartment than it is outside. I am still car accident prone even though I don’t have a car to drive anymore. I still have a boyfriend that I fight with all the time because we don’t understand each other, only this time it’s due to language and not differences in personality, and still the number one fight we get in is over him being late… in fact sometimes life here feels exactly as it was at home. The key difference is I am happy here. I am happy with the work that I am doing and feel satisfied that I am making a difference. In fact I am happier at work now than I am when I am at home whereas in America I was only happy when I wasn’t at work.

Thursday, June 9, 2011

An Armenian Excursion.

Excursion: A short journey or trip, esp. one engaged in as a leisure activity. At least that is what the dictionary defines it as.
When my counterpart asked me if I wanted to go on an excursion (the Armenian word is the same as the English) to Desgh with our fifth form class, I was excited for the chance. Who wouldn’t want a Khorvots in a beautiful meadow with their favorite students? Great, she tells me, be at my place at 8:00 am we are leaving at 8:30. 8:30 am?!?! What have I gotten myself into, I wonder. You have to understand Armenians are not known for being morning people, like at all. Neither of the host families I lived with ever went to bed before 1 am and neither ever woke up in the morning before 10 am. They like to stay up late and get up late, it’s just the way they are. In fact when I get up at 7 to go running Spitak is a ghost town! I don’t see a single person which is in fact why I choose to go at that time. Even if I wake up late and go at 9, I don’t see very many people out. So I knew that a call time this early could only mean trouble. I mean Desegh is only about a 45 minute drive from Spitak, so I couldn’t see a single reason to leave that early.
Skip forward to the day of our little “Excursion”. I was told not to bring anything that I wouldn’t need a single thing. So I grab Sophie and go! When the Marshotka pulls up to my counterparts house I notice that she has a huge day bag packed full… that is strange I think to myself. We pile into the mini bus, and the children’s parents immediately start to complain that I brought Sophie. I just smile and pretend not to understand. She sits on my lap and behaves perfectly the whole car ride, until about minute 43 when she pukes everywhere… great! When we get to Desegh, we go to the Armenian poet’s museum. It was actually his family’s old house that they turned into a museum. It wasn’t very notable. We then get back in our van and an argument breaks out between my counterpart and the driver. Something about driving to a river, and him saying the car wouldn’t go that far. Soon enough we begin to drive up a rough dirt road. After about twenty minutes the van stops in what seems to be the middle of nowhere. Everyone heads out of the van and begins to unpack the bags and bags of food. We begin to hike to a place my counterpart says is perfect for a picnic. After ten minutes of hiking, I realized I should have brought sun screen, who would have known that we were actually going to have a sunny day?!!? After 30 minutes of hiking we arrived at a spot with trees. One in our party ran into the forrest to check it out. He came back after a few minutes to report that there was no lake there. So we went the opposite direction to another patch of trees. After about 15 more minutes of hiking we discovered there was not a river in that patch either. A few of us threw our stuff down and sat in the shade. I have to admit I was one of those few. I figured I might as well wait till they hiked to the next place because they would most likely be back in our direction soon. As it turned out I was right and the next place didn’t have a river either. So we hiked back down, a whole 45 minutes to where we began. At this point I will admit, I wanted to murder someone. As I have stated before in this blog, I am not so much of a hiker, especially in the heat when there are mosquitos everywhere!!!

So as we got back to our starting point we saw a man on a horse and we asked him where the lake was. It turns out it was about a 30 minute walk in the only direction we hadn’t tried, so off we were again!

Finally we got to the place my counterpart had meant for us to go all along, and as we laid our stuff out, we noticed a bus driving up a perfectly fine road… turns out our bus could have driven us there I the first place!!! So after about 3 hours of hiking and being in the sun I was already worn out. I had expected the trip to really only be 5 hours in all so I figured it was fine that we would eat and be home soon. I laid out my blanket and Sophie and I fell asleep. I think we slept for about an hour. When I woke up a fire was being built. Yess, lunch time I thought… only they were only preparing coffee. The moms sat around and drank coffee and the kids played. I kind of just sat on my blanket, the only thing that I did bring, and read.
After another hour or so, they began to BBQ. It was finally time to eat! At this point it was about 3pm, the time I had expected to be on our way back to Spitak. But we had an amazing meal and so I couldn’t complain. After lunch I played volleyball with my kids for awhile until the heat was too much for me. When I sat down, it was apparently time for dessert. Another round of plates were set out and everyone once again sat down to eat. After dessert a group of people made a walk to the water, but I was feeling a little bit sick so I went back to sleep. I woke up at around 6 thinking it must be time to go now, but to my surprise not a single thing was cleaned up. Everyone was just sitting around talking. I went over to my counterpart to ask her if we were leaving soon, she smiles at me and tells me know, thinking I would be glad. A little part of me screamed inside! When are we going to leave!! Aggggh. Basically we didn’t even begin to pack up our stuff to leave until 8pm.
Finally we were on our way home and all I could do was put on my IPOD and try to block the singing kids on the bus out. I thought they would be tuckered out, but somehow they had so much energy still! As we are driving I start to drift off to sleep. I don’t know how long I slept but I woke up when the car stopped. I look around expecting to be back in good ole Spitak, but no. We are at a park. I guess it was time to eat the remainder of the Khorovots and to play again. I don’t really know because I was done. Fed up. I felt as though I had been kidnapped and would never return home. I hate to admit it, but I sat in the car the whole time as the children ran around playing and the adults ate. I basically pouted. I know it’s not cool, and that grown ups shouldn’t throw fits, but like a child, I was tired and had a headache and had about 30 bug bites that were beginning to itch, and no water to drink. I was miserable.
Finally at about 10:30 we got home. I have never been so happy to be back in Spitak in my life. Though Desegh was a beautiful place, I have to say, I would have been good with 2 or 3 hours there, not 14!! I may never go on an Armenian excursion again!

Wednesday, June 1, 2011

If You Give a Little Girl a Camera!

Last Friday was my last day I had to be at school. The children don’t come to classes, but teachers spend the day grading. It was actually pretty boring for me, as you really only need one teacher to grade and though I helped make final decisions about students who were on the edge of a grade, I didn’t really do much. So I spent my day with Larissik! Larissik is the daughter of one of my favorite teachers at my school Manush. She is 5 years old and adorable! We spend most of our time coloring and drawing pictures, but after a few hours she got bored. That is when I took out my camera to show her the pictures from her Kindergarten party. After we looked through the pictures, she wanted me to take more pictures of her…. After I took more pictures of her, she wanted to take pictures of her herself…. After she took pictures of her herself, she wanted to take pictures of everyone and everything! If you give a girl a Camera this is what you will end up with!

A picture of my eyeball...
Me and the Director of my School.
This teacher begged Larissik not to take the picture, but of course the little imp did anyways
The director of my school and Larissik's mom
This by far was the picture that pleased her the most. She took about 20 of them and giggled about it forever afterward.

This is self portrait number 18...
I had one English club that day and during the middle of it Larissik walked in and began to take pictures!!

I actually really like this one she got of my counterpart grading

And this blury one of our P.E. and Army teacher
This one shows the chaos of the teacher's room

And lastly another self portrait of my little doll!

Overall, I think we just may have a little photographer on our hands!