Friday, August 3, 2007

I'm still alive!

Hi y'all.
I know it's been awhile and i'm sorry. My internet access will be pretty minimal for the remainder of my trip. But don't worry, I'll continue writing out my adventures even when I'm back at home!

I can't believe that I will boarding a plane dc bound on August 23. Time has flown by. I honestly feel that i'm finally finding my groove in Hayastan and now it's time to leave!

I'm really going to miss my host family. They have been so good to me, I hope somehow I will see them again. I don't know when i will be back, but I have to come back. Hopefully next time with more family, so we can share the experience together.

Not much time to write today, so I will leave you with some crazy superstitions/remedies..
1. If you sit at the corner of a table, you will stay at home for 7 years and never get married.
2.If you sit on a curb outside or on a piece of stone outside, your womanly organs will get sick from the cold and you will not have babies
4. If you hit a woman with a broom she will not get married
5. If you clean your house after dark, you will sweep all of your money out of your life
6. Madzun (yougurt)will cure everthing
7. If a loved one is sick with cancer, cut open their leg and stick a white bean in their muscle. It will eat the cancer and cure the person.

Off to teach!! Hopefully will write again soon :)

Tuesday, July 17, 2007


This past weekend the Gyumri group decided not to go on an excursion to Dilijan, but instead opted for some downtime in Yerevan. All of us are starting to miss little things from home: white toilet paper (or just tp that doesn't feel like sandpaper), vietnamese food, thai food, guacomole, starbucks... In general we just needed a break from all the Armenian-ness around us.

Friday night we had a wonderful night at a surprisingly good thai restaurant in Yerevan. We were expecting the worst, but really it was excellent. The golden apricot film festival was winding down this weekend.. We were able to catch an outdoor performance behind the Opera House. It was a beautiful night, everyone was out and about listening to the original score to some movie shown at the festival. Little kids were zipping around in toy electronic cars. That's one thing I think that is so great about armenia. Kids aren't a nuisance, they are a joy. All Armenians love kids. Yerevan has many places where you can rent a toy electronic corvette for your kid. They also have a ton of those claw machines that may or may not produce a cheap, ugly stuffed animal!

Saturday, things didn't start out so great. Lori and I wanted to get things situated for our trip to Greece before coming home at the end of August. We went to a British Airways office to inquire about changing her ticket so she could fly home from Athens rather than Yerevan. The attendant told us, it should be possible with a $200 penalty. But once she started tinkering on her computer for awhile she told us it was not calculating. What wasn't calculating? It's not caluculating, she said again. What should we do if it is not calculating? Its not caluculating. she said. I chuckled to myself in frustration. This is NOT funny!! She said. IT IS NOT CALCULATING!!! Somehow I had managed to offend this woman. Lori tried to explain what my chuckle meant, that is was nothing personal. The woman just eyed me suspciously.

Anyways, we finally learned that lori would have to switch 'classes' to make the change so on top of the $200, she would have to pay $700 more. That really did not calculate with us!

So instead we are going to Georgia. There is a nice beach town called Kobuleti, that is supposedly cheap and beautiful and very relaxing. It's not the Greek Islands but I think it will be a very interesting off the beaten path vacation.

Nonetheless, on Saturday we were bummed that Greece was no longer in the cards. We walked out of the office in a huff. Yerevan is so hot, much warmer than Gyumri. I had a sundress on and sweat was dripping down my legs at 12 noon. Then to make things just a bit worse, I opened my purse to find my camera case and cell phone swimming in a pool of diet coke. Whoops. Crap. Oh no, my camera. I dumped everthing on a stoop, while lori ran for napkins. THe camera, thank god was fine. The phone had little droplets of diet coke on the battery and sim card. Not such a good sign!

We walked around yerevan in a steamy haze. At one point, desperate for a bathroom and a chance to escape the heat we ducked into the Marriott. The bathrooms were gorgeous. Cold marble, flushing toilets and air conditioning. I didn't want to leave. Lori looked at me and I knew she had a brilliant idea. We raced downstairs and booked a room.

Yes, it was impulsive and expensive. But it was sooooo worth it. Clean, soft sheets, an actual mattress and a clean bathroom. AMAZING! It's not that things are horrible in Armenia, but when you are raised in a certain way after awhile you crave the familiar and comfortable. So we went with this theme. I was craving guacamole and lori wanted cheddar cheese so we dined at the only Mexican restaurant in Yerevan. It was actually pretty good. Not MY guacamole but guacamole nonetheless!

We bought some gummy bears at the store and couldn't back to the hotel fast enough. We watched bad russian tv and rolled around in our silky sheets while chewing on the gummies.

It's great when a bad day turns out to be a great one :)

Tuesday, July 10, 2007

Bittersweet Ani

Ani was the capital of Armenia during the Middle Ages. The city borders extended across the whole Ararat Valley. Unfortunately after World War 1, Armenia lost Ani and all of Western Armenia to Turkey. Today, Ani and all points west belong to Turkey.

We were lucky enough to get 'invited' to see Ani from the border with Turkey. This is not permitted very often, but our tour guide was a very well known Armenian professor and he apparently had some connections.

So last Saturday we piled into several marshutkas and headed down a long, windy very bumpy road to the border of Armenia and Turkey. The border is bascially an electric fence that dips through hills and valleys. There is also a resevoir that has a fence running through the water. Half Armenian, half turkish. Crazy!

Russian soldiers escorted us through no mans land up to a cliff. On the other side of the canyon, probably about 1,000 meters was the ruins of Ani. We could see tourists walking through Ani pretty clearly from the border. We could also see a turkish flag flapping in the wind. The tour guide told us Turks tell the tourists that come to visit that Ani contains very ancient Greek ruins! Since the border with Turkey is blockaded from Armenia, to get to the Ani side I would have to travel up through Georgia and enter Turkey that way. 1000 meters away but a 12 hour distance to travel.

Seeing Ani in person was a bittersweet emotional experience for me. A Russian soldier was barking at us to turn our cameras off, that pictures were not permitted.I secretly took a few, but it was disturbing to me that it had to be a secret. We perched on the cliff and looked out across the canyon to Ani. I tried to imagine the thriving capitol it once was, but mostly I thought about my grandfather. This was the closest I would get to his hometown of Kharpert, Turkey. I picked some flowers and put them in book to bring home with me.

This upcoming weekend a bunch of us have decided to skip the hiking excursion and instead spend the day at a water park in Yerevan. We also plan to check out the Genocide Memorial. There is a huge flea market that takes place every weekend in Yerevan, so I'm hoping to hit that up!

Tuesday, July 3, 2007

Mama Sveta and Papa Vahan

As my Armenian comprehension improves, I'm learning some interesting things about my Gyumri host parents.

Mama Sveta is warm, loving woman. She really likes the shirt she is wearing in this picture. I think this was the fourth day in a row she was wearing it. She is a pretty conservative woman, kind of odd she likes this shirt so much. Anyways, Mama Sveta was trained as nurse but has been out of work for seven months. The two hospitals in Gyumri have consolidated resources into one surgery hospital (with the help of U.S. funding). Good for that hospital, but not for the people at the other hospital like my mama. I can tell she is depressed. She doesn't know what to do with herself at home. She has a really hard time getting up in the morning. She made me breakfast the first couple of mornings, but she has started not waking up in time recently. It's actually fine with me, because I'd rather grab a coke lite and a muffin at a local bakery than gulp down last night's boiled chicken and fried potatoes.

I've asked her if she could work at another hospital or maybe do something else, but she says the other hospital is too far away and she is not trained to do anything else but be a nurse. I can tell they are having a hard time. There is always enough to eat, but our food is very simple and plain compared to some of the meals other volunteers are indulging in.

Mama Sveta is always telling me to "Ger, Ger Katie Jan" or "Eat Eat". I could have eaten them out of house and home and I don't think she would ever be satisfied. Before one excursion, she stuffed fistfuls of chocolates and candies into my bag to eat on my excursion. WHo can say no to sugar for lunch!

The shower situation has been interesting at the house. I took several bucket baths at first but now we have a semi working shower (thanks to the Birthright requirement). Papa Vahan installed the showerhead and pump but the shower is very tempermental. It usually is pleasant for 10 seconds and then get hotter and hotter until it is almost scolding. Then it turns freezing cold. I have razor burn on my legs and my hair feels gross from shampoo remnants! Mama Sveta is very concerned with my showering. Now that she is aware of the problems, having experienced them herself, she feels the need to pop into the bathroom while I'm showering to get the temperature update. I swear, one day she popped her head in three times. No shower curtain, by the way. I kept telling her it was fine, but she kept coming in! Sevana's mama insists on washing her hair for her. Luckily, it hasn't come to that.

Saturday, I washed all of my clothes by hand in the bathroom. It took about 2.5 hours! Mama Sveta enjoyed coming in periodically and asking if I was tired yet. Maybe they felt they had to prove to me that washing clothes was back breaking work. I really had no doubt that it was, but I guess it was good for me. After all of my clothes were out on the line, Julia pulled her friend out on the balcony to look at my clothes. I still wonder what they were snickering about. Were my clothes not bedazzled enough for them, were they laughing at my underwear with the monkies on them? Guess I'll never know.

Papa Vahan is not home much. He drives a truck for the Russian Army.He seems drunk a lot to me, but I never really see him drinking. He chuckles when i talk and he seems to make fun of his wife a lot for his own entertainment. I think it is harmless, but I think it annoys Mama Sveta. One day I came home and he was 'sleeping' on the living room floor. That was interesting. He finally woke up, laughed at me in his little stupor and waddled off to bed. At dinner, Vahan reminds me a little of my own armenian grandfather. He whines and talks like a baby to his wife...mama get me this, mama please get me that. I'm so hungry, it's so hot in here! The sun is in my eyes, mama! She puts up with a lot from him, but he is a good guy overall. Just a big kid in a mans body.

Julia is typical young adult. She is twenty. She just finished college and is going to a teaching university in the fall. She has more clothes than i do. Tons of bedazzled shirts, matching handbags and a cupboard full of lotions, cosmetics that she probably received as gifts over the years. She will not use them. I think it just makes her feel good to have them and smell them once in awhile. She does love her mousse though and her makeup. I'll have to post the picture of me after she did my hair of makeup. i'm a haystani beauty queen!

She texts on her phone a lot and dances to one horrible armenian song over and over again. She gossips a lot about her friends and neighbors. I think she wonders why I cut my hair short and why my clothes are so plain. I humored her on Saturday and went shopping with her after my laundry a thon. I bought some things to help me fit in. It was a fun day of haggling and exploring Gyumri on hot summer day. My new capri jeans say 'jeans' in little fake rhinestones on the left cuff. Shad Siroun.

Monday, June 25, 2007

The worst day ever


I woke feeling like a small armenian squirrel was slowly dying in my lower intestines. I had gotten about 4 hours of sleep after a day long excursion in Lori. The trip was great but exhausting after a long week. Anyways, there were about 10 of staying at the crack den. Sleeping in a room with a bunch of girls takes me back to my Americorps days! Not much sleep to be had.

Unlike most sundays, yesterday we had a training day with Anoush in Yerevan. We all sat around a table on a woman's back porch for 8 hours! The squirrel in my stomach was not pleased. It was hot and I was tired and in pain. I made many many trips throughout the day to the small outhouse in the backyard. I was hoping for a clean toilet with soft toilet paper and nice soft bathmat. Instead I got a turkish toilet, meaning you squat over a hole in the ground, a broken flusher, lots of flies and a leaky faucet. Awesome! What a great place to spend an afternoon!

I was miserable. I should have just walked back to the crack den to rest, but I didn't want to come back to Yerevan another day to listen to the talk again,so I suffered through it. While everyone ate salads, fresh cherries from the tree in the backyard, and homemade dolma, I stuck to bread and mint tea. I really have not had a stomachache this bad in my life. Nothing would relieve the pressure and cramping until I threw up. That was the climax of the day!

Finally we left Yerevan at 8pm. I walked down the muddy path to my house with a bottle of water in one hand and a big box of club crackers in the other. Of course along the way, a couple of dogs decided to bark at me. So i dropped the crackers to pick up a chunk of cement. I was in a foul mood and wasn't about to let some horrible dog attack me. I think they saw the look in my eye, and scattered as they approached.

Mama Sveta took pity on me as she saw me hobbling to the apartment. She made me some delicious mint tea and had me lay on the couch during Armenian Idol.

Today I feel a lot better, just kind of weak. I'm sticking to bread and water today. I'm not pushing it!

Trotting around Armenia all day everyday is starting to catch up with me. I think this weekend I'm going to pass on the excusion to a cave and stick around Gyumri. Brian, a peace corps volunteer here, says the best place to be in Gyumri on Saturday is Robinsons. Robinsons is a tree house restaurant with great beer and food. Sounds perfect.

Tuesday, June 19, 2007

Settling in..

It's week two for me in Armenia. Things are going great. I don't have time to write today, but I've uploaded all my pics so far!

Work is much busier here than I thought. I'm redesigning the GITC web site AND teaching a month long web design course (Translator provided of course!). I'm working on a new GITC logo now and trying to come up with a game plan for the course. Wish me luck!

Tuesday, June 12, 2007

Group Trip to Garni and Geghard

Bright and early saturday morning my host papa, Vahan, drove me out to one of the main drags, Tigran Metz st. My neighborhood is a maze of run down houses clumped together. Nothing is paved in the neighborhood and its a big pain for taxis to make it through the streets...very difficult for marshutkas (little vans that are the major source of transport in Gyumri.

So I jumped in the Green vada and Vahan,clad in his russian uniform, drove me out to the main drag avoiding all of the wild, homeless dogs and huge potholes along the way! Birthright rents a marshutka to pick us up in Gyumri and take us to Yerevan every saturday. The driver didn't see me on the street and passed me, so vahan motioned for me to get back in and zoomed off to follow the van. Finally, I was where i needed to be. Alyssa, another volunteer, was chased by dogs as she was running to catch the van. Thankfully that hasn't happened to me yet!

It was the start to a crazy day! During orientation a couple of days prior, Sevan (the Birthright director) told Ryan and I that we would be taking an quick, easy hike to a temple in garni and then have lunch together. well, let's just say the hike was NOT easy OR quick! I thought I was in pretty good shape. Running and biking a lot in dc. Not so much. This hike was like straight up a mountain. We got to the mountain at 11:30, just as it was starting to get hot. The scenery was beautfiful, huge lush mountains, wild orange poppies everywhere, the river rushing in the valley. Sevan told us the last time a group of volunteers had done this hike, one of the volunteers stopped midway through because it was just too much. So here i am walking up this mountain, still not really comprehending that i am in Armenia seeing all of this beautiful scenery. Then all of sudden i started thinking: damn this hike is getting tough, the incline is just getting steeper, wow I'm really hot.

Well, anyways what ended up happening was i threw up my yerevan "Yum Yum" donut at the base of a little tree. The same tree where a volunteer from last year declared that she would not go any further. As quickly as the feeling came to me, just as quickly it passed and i felt okay after some time in the shade. You all know, I am not the athletic type, but I was determined not to appear to be the weakest link, so i pressed on. About 20 minutes further down the path, two other volunteers dropped off complaining of stomach pain and exhaustion. I pressed on. It was well worth it. The view from the church ruins at the top was well worth the effort.

The day really did get better after that. We visited a pagan temple in Garni that was built in 66AD, went to a monasterie in Geghard that has really remained untouched since it was built because it was cleverly built within a cave. They we had a delicious lunch nearby. We sat on a back patio in the shade overlooking the mountains and river. It was amazing to be there!

Finally, we all went back to our birthright apartment which we affectionatley call the "Crack Den" in Yerevan. Not much in there except little pull-out beds and a half empty box of frosted flakes. I almost fell into the toilet on my first morning. the toilet seats here are so flimsy. or maybe my butt is just too big!

We all got showered and ready for a night on the town. The first stop was to meet up with some americans at an irish pub in downtown yerevan. We met some interesting folks and then made our way to a dance club called 'Relax'. That was an experience. A bunch of armenians trying to be westerners. It didn't really work too well! The techno music was horrible and the dancing was horrible (esp a peace corps volunteer who was doing the robot). This armerican guy was making a huge fool out of himself. I think he seriously thought he knew how to dance. It was painful to watch. But a pretty hilarious night. Ryan and I left at about 2:30 am and there were a bunch of cops (vostigan) outside breaking up a fight. We passed an armenian guys with tattoos up both arms answering his cell phone. "What's up homey?".

Alright, next time I'll tell you more about living with my host family. Hope you all are well! miss ya :)