Monday, January 23, 2012

A life without...

The challenge should you choose to accept it: to live 2 weeks with only 3,000 dram. Ok now before you jump over to google and look up the currency exchange rate let me give you a few examples of how much things cost in Armenia. My rent for example is 25,000 dram. A bus ride to the city is 1,000 dram one way. A kilogram of apples is about 600 dram. A half kilo of cheese is about 1,500 dram. A small bottle of juice is about 600 dram. And chicken breasts are about 3,000 dram for 4. Internet is 10,000 dram. So now you should have an accurate understanding of the general costs of some of the necessities in Armenia so I can tell you that 3,000 dram equals roughly $7.75. Is it possible to live on such a small amount? Well the short answer to that question is absolutely not. But what does a Peace Corps Volunteer do when that is all the money they have to last them for 2 weeks? This mission was not a choice for me to choose to accept, this month I had to accept the mission because for the past two weeks that is all the money I have had to my name. Before you get so worried, it was an abnormal month for me, and Peace Corps does give us a decent amount of money to live on for the month, though arguably not enough to live very well on. In fact many of our senior citizens dip well into their pension money just to be able to live a comfortable life and eat the food that they want to eat, or use their heating as much as they want to use it. The major thing that Peace Corps doesn’t consider is that different places in Armenia cost different amounts to live. I for example happen to live in a very cold region, and it stays cold for months and months, whereas a friend of mine lives a half hour from Yerevan and has only in the past month needed to begin to use her heating system, whereas Spitak had snow in October. So obviously my heating bill is exponentially higher than her bill is. And when in March she has spring, it will still be a very cold winter in Spitak. Also things cost different amounts of money depending if you live in a town or a village, for example a taxi is three hundred dram anywhere you go in Spitak but in most villages it’s about 200 or even only 100. When I lived in a village I even paid less for grains and vegetables. There is also the fact that volunteers who live in a village often have their own home, which costs more for heating, but that home also usually comes with a garden or at least tons of neighbors who have gardens, so it amounts to free food. This simply isn’t the case in Spitak. This is why when you ask volunteers if they are given enough of a monthly stipend to survive some would say yes, and some would say no, and most would say they have used up some of their savings. Anyways, I digress. The fact is this month Sophie had her operation, which even though my brother and sister gave me money to cover the costs of it, (thanks Alyson and Scott) ended up costing me a lot of my monthly stipend. Sophie got an infection and ended up needing a lot of anti biotic shots, which at 5,000 dram a piece, cost me almost the same amount as the original operation. She also had to be given pain medicine when she got her stitches out which cost another 5,000 dram. Then there was the living in Yerevan for a week part of the costs. Its common sense that living in a city is a lot more expensive than living in a village, and Yerevan is no exception. When you are not at home you have to pay more money for food and transportation. Every day to get to the vet’s office I theoretically had to pay 600 dram each way, however twice I got ripped off and was made to give 1,500 dram or even worse 3,000 dram! Armenian taxi drivers are mostly jerks! They see that you are American or even Russian and they try to steal from you. At the end of the week I got so fed up with it that when a guy tried to charge me 2,000 dram to go about 3 kilometers I told him that I know the cost is only 200 dram per kilometer and when he argued I threw a five hundred dram piece and him and left. He began to scream after me but I was so fed up that I didn’t care. This however is not something I would recommend, usually you are better off negotiating a price before you even get into the cab, explaining to them that you know the fair, or even better taking a metered cab, but when you are travelling with an animal you have little choice in the matter. So it is best to just get ripped off with a smile on your face. So back to the question at hand, can you live for two weeks with only 7 dollars and .75 cents? The question was brought up one day a week ago while I was at school. Teachers, while not making a whole lot of money, love to spend every cent they make on cloths and makeup and things for their homes, just as Americans do. So a few times a month they bring in catalogs or sometimes even new cloths that someone has sent to them from America or Russia to sell. On this particular day I walked into the teacher’s lounge and saw sweaters and tights and dresses lined up on the sofa. Five or six women were picking at the cloths as chickens peck at their food, intensively inspecting each item for damage, asking how much it costs and then conversing about the item in whispers, careful not to offend the seller. My counterpart comes over to me. “Don’t you want to buy” she asks me. I laugh as I have never bought cloths from them because quite honestly I don’t have the money to buy them. “What’s the matter? Don’t you think they are lovely?” She asks again laughing. “Well, I have only 3,000 dram to last for the next two weeks” I tell her. She gasps, causing the others to look up from the cloths and ask her to translate. She explains to them that I only have 3,000 dram for two weeks, and they all begin to laugh. One says now you live like a true Armenian, while another is more honest and tells me that I will live off of bread only for two weeks and maybe by the end of the week I won’t even have enough for bread! The other tells me that I need to do as an Armenian does and buy now and pay later, though not being a Spitakian no store has ever allowed me to do that, though it is very common. Another teacher tells me it is simply not possible to do and that I must use other money. You see I am an American which to them means that I have money. They simply cannot believe that I have none. 3,000 dram they puff, not possible. So today is Monday and I have yet to make it till Thursday, payday. So far I have spent 340 drams on cabbage twice, last week and this week, so about 680. I bought milk for 360 dram. So 1040 drams. I had to buy toilet paper so I bought the littlest one I could at 280 dram as well as 10 eggs for 600 dram. That brought me to 1,920 dram. Where I have stayed until just a day ago I have a very strong craving for chocolate and bought a chocolate bar for 400 dram! I know, what was I thinking?!?!? 2, 320 drams I have spent in a week and a half and have 4 days to go with only 680 dram. Knowing that I had nothing this morning, I still managed to get out of the house late, meaning that I would have to take a taxi, which if you remember is three hundred drams. I began a frantic search through all of my bags to find loose change, but came up with nothing other than American quarters and dimes. Then I remembered a jar that I had stored away during the summer containing 10 dram pieces. 10 dram coins are the bane of Armenian money, they are like pennies in America. Yes by law you can use them as they are currency, but many times people will simply refuse to take them, and often, no make that all the time you will get major attitude for using them. I dug out the jar and counted out 300 drams worth. As I got into the cab, I felt so guilty, knowing that I was going to piss the driver off. Just waiting for that embarrassing moment where I would hand him a fist full of huge silver 10 dram coins. The whole 10 minute ride to my school, I felt my face burning red, hoping the driver wouldn’t talk to me, it would be much worse if he was friendly. I mean can you imagine paying for something in pennies? When we pulled up to my school, I apologized as I handed him a fist full of change. I waited for the scolding, eyebrows raised, a sweet smile on my face but instead I got a laugh and a problem chka. I was so relieved! So with four more days I have about 700 dram and a jar full of ten dram coins. I am pretty sure that as long as I don’t get a sudden unbearable craving for chocolate, or the need to go absolutely anywhere, I should be fine! So mission 3,000 dram in 2 weeks, not only accepted but dominated! This is of course my second winter here and I am well used to living off of nothing but cabbage, potatoes and eggs!! Could you do the same? Could you survive with say only 25 dollars for two weeks?? Or how about 50?? I challenge you to give it a try ;)


  1. As a Mommy of 5, I can say yep....I've been known to do a pretty good job at stretching them pennies, Lol! Love ya & hope all is well besides the money being so tight. But remember always, God provides!

  2. For the sake of your "baby" you had -and will have- to endure hardship Alyssa jan, specially when its time for you to have real babies and real grandchildren. Life is not always roses, vine, boyfriends, pets and chocolate.

    Hardship, fasting and praying make you stronger both in body and in spirit. Remember you are not alone and never will be. Angels are watching over you, you just have to acknowledge them and ask for help. 'Ask and you will receive' the Word of God says. Show your faith because a heart full of faith will be rewarded. Give thanks and bless the Lord always even if left alone and abandoned and you feel helpless and you feel that you are being treated unfairly and unjustly -with an attitude like that everyone will take their hats off for you. (This is Papik wishing you the best)

    When we live under the rule of God in spirit and truth, then all of the written blessings become yes and amen. 2 Corinthians 1:20 For all the promises of God in Him are Yes, and in Him Amen, to the glory of God through us.

    God’s promise for 2012 is found in the 12th verse of Psalm 5. For You, O LORD, will bless the righteous; With favor You will surround him as with a shield.

    The blessings identified by the number 12 include provision, spiritual empowerment, healing, and miracles. Please allow the Holy Spirit to bring you into a position of faith so that you can receive the promises that you desire.

    Provision and Empowerment:
    Mark 6:41-43 And when He had taken the five loaves and the two fish, He looked up to heaven, blessed and broke the loaves, and gave them to His disciples to set before them; and the two fish He divided among them all. So they all ate and were filled. And they took up twelve baskets full of fragments and of the fish.
    Mark 6:7-8 And He marveled because of their unbelief. Then He went about the villages in a circuit, teaching. And He called the twelve to Himself, and began to send them out two by two, and gave them power over unclean spirits.

  3. I have such a hardcore, tough sister. Let's face it I would have died by now. I am very proud of you.