Thursday, November 12, 2009

Not so long ago.

This past weekend I was in Yerevan. What else is new? Back during training every week we had the opportunity to earn Lee Bucks (our directors name is Lee) and with them at the end of training we could use them to bid on things at an auction. Well, I bid on a dinner at one of the staff members houses. So this weekend I and my buddy Dave had the dinner that we bought. We ate pizza and played games and I had a brownie for the first time since leaving the states back in May. It was delicious, in fact all of the food was really good. Our hosts were former Peace Corps Volunteers in Benin, Africa just under a decade ago. Over dinner we all talked about our experiences in Peace Corps and them having been in Africa just ten years ago is completely different then my being in Armenia now. For one thing they were in Africa a completely different continent but what I thought was interesting was the differences in communication. For example I call my family once a week and spend about $1.50 doing it. They on the other hand had to first make a reservation to make a phone call then hope that the people they were calling would be home to answer. After what was probably a fuzzy line with a multiple second delay they were given a steep bill. Obviously it couldn’t have been done on a very regular basis. My friend Roni who’s mom was in Peace Corps told me that when her mom did her service she only got to call once a year on Christmas and that was it! I also can go to the internet everyday if I wanted to and I could even get internet put in my room. But I choose to be a little withdrawn from the modern world so I try to go only once or twice a week.

Today at my school the kids put on a play about the fall season and all its bounty. To dress up the stage they had a large fruit basket with a bottle of wine poking out. Can you imagine a play at elementary school with the set decorations consisting of wine bottles? Different cultures different ways of thinking I guess. Also today I was making myself a cup of coffee when I realized that the warmer I usually use was missing so I took it to the cafeteria to warm up. While there I met the cafeteria ladies for the first time and they were nice. Tomorrow I’m helping make lunch for the kids. Also while I was there one of the ladies read my fortune through cards they weren’t tarot cards I don’t know what they were but I had a good fortune for the most part. I even tried my hand at reading theirs. The funniest part came when one of the ladies said through a heavy but still understandable accent f**k you! A little taken aback I asked what she had said, she explained that she hears it on TV all the time but what does it mean she asked. I said it isn’t nice. I guess if you don’t know what it means then there is no reason to edit it on the TV. In fact in a lot of my travels I’ve heard such head wrenching words. What came to my mind was when I was in Russia on a mission trip and we put together a dance for the kids. As a Methodist missions group I’m not sure how the words would have been taken had they been translated into Russian, but that event still to this day makes me laugh.

Thursday, November 5, 2009

A Game of Chicken

This past weekend was Halloween and though Halloween is a mostly American holiday we still celebrated it here in Armenia that is the Americans celebrated it. I went via taxi with three others from the capital city. The ride was supposed to be four hours but the weather was bad. First off Armenia is a mountains country after all it’s in the geographical region called the Caucuses as in the Caucus Mountains. Anyways the region we were going to was particularly mountainous and the weather system caused for this past weekend at least the clouds to rest in the areas and valleys between the mountains, so it made for some beautiful if not surreal scenery. As we continued to climb up one side and down the other the clouds turned into fog and laid a heavy layer over the road so much so that we were at times only crawling. Then the clocks turned back recently so it got dark quick and my friend Meghan who actually lives in the region we were headed to has told me more then one scary story about the treacherousness of these mountainous roads so I was constantly leaning into the mountain as if that would keep our car on the road better. It worked because lots of places along the road have little shrines set up marking the dead who didn’t lean into the mountain far enough and consequently went over the edge. So after five hours (remember this was supposed to take four) we got to Berd expecting to have only forty-five minutes left, but our taxi driver decided he was tired and told us to find another taxi. Luckily we were persistent and said if your gonna kick us out of your taxi then you have to find us a new one and pay for it with the amount we agreed on from Yerevan to Artsvaberd. He agreed and after a while we were on our way again. The whole time the fog, mountains and forest are making a better and better Halloween spooky scene then after climbing this dirt road with a lot of slamming the gas pedal to get the necessary momentum to get up the hills we stop. Now this is particularly scary because these cars before going forward again usually roll backwards a little bit which freaks me out! We get out to see that we have a flat tire. Luckily in the middle of no where after not seeing another car for a long time a car pulls up and the taxi driver and them seem to be friends. But this is sort of weird and random and it is Halloween and who’s gonna know what happened to us if we were to disappear out there in the middle of no where. Luckily only us passengers thought up that scheme and soon the tire was fixed and we were on our way again. Finally, after about six hours we get to our destination and find that the dirt roads are now mud but that’s okay because we’re just glad to be there. And we had a great Halloween party we even carved pumpkins. I carved a Texas flag and from where we were we could even see the Azeri border. On Sunday we had to return to Yerevan. We all loaded into a marchutni this time and after about an hour we found ourselves broke down on the side of the road. Luckily another marchutni came through and towed us up the hill and when we rolled down the other side we had enough momentum to get the bus started again. And our final feat was when we were driving down the highway about an hour out of Yerevan this car comes barreling out of no where and without paying any attention and with about a foot to spare nearly side swipes us. Thanks to Sarah in the back of the bus for screaming we all made it back safely. This last part of the story is where I get me title for this week from.

In Armenia it seems that if you have a car you are entitled to whatever you want to do on the road. If you want to smash the gas and fly down the road at a hundred miles an hour down the main road in the city center then do it, if an old lady with her toddler grandson are in the middle of crossing the street even in the rain and your light turns green and their still in your way then lay on the horn because you have a car and all they got is a cane. If someone is walking down the street and it just quit raining and the pot holes are filled with water don’t slow down to keep them from getting splashed in fact its more fun to hit the pot holes full speed (that’s good for the car) and soak the person who has the audacity to walk down the side of the street. So if you have a car apprese because you also hold the world in your very hands.

And the other day I had to turn a form into the Peace Corps office. Well I wasn’t in Yerevan so I had to use a fax machine and of course the one commercial fax isn’t working on the day I needed it. So after going a few places in search of a fax machine it was recommended that I go to the city hall office. I was a little hesitant considering I had never been there, I was going to have to explain my desire in broken Armenian and what person in their right mind actually goes to a office building they aren’t affiliated with and ask to use their fax machine? Well it paid off I got to use the fax and it was free plus the people there were really nice. So when in doubt just do what you got to do.

Shnorhavor Matt and Michelle. (If you don’t know what I’m talking about ask one of them.) And I guess I’ll be seeing everybody next year.

That’s all for this week, oh ya, its gotten really really cold here but I’m told this is nothing to what its gonna be. At least I have warm cloths I can tell they’re going to get a lot of use. Hadjo.

The Hermonie File

I’ve decided to start a new post that I will try to update every month. I’ve made a friend here in Artik who I think is rather remarkable. Her name is Hermonie and just about anytime she tells me a story about how times were during the Soviet days and especially the 1990’s Armenia I’m amazed that anybody can do it! Hermonie has befriended just about all of the former Peace Corps Volunteers who have come through the region where I live. And I figure that they would agree with me when I said that Hermonie isn’t your average woman. First of all Hermonie taught herself English by reading translated books and comparing them to the Armenian and English texts. So the other day she told me about the time when she was attending university in Yerevan and because times were hard she couldn’t afford to ride the bus, but still needing to get places she would grab onto the open doors when the bus took off and holding onto the open bus door she would get to her destination by dropping off the door right before the bus would stop. One time she even fell flat on her face trying to hop a free ride. She wasn’t the only person doing this during those days she told me. And these days I don’t see anybody doing that, but the 1990’s were a very tough time for Armenia and the whole Caucus region as well as all of the former USSR. So I can’t blame her for any of it I just find it interesting to listen to the tales of how she and so many others made it through that very difficult time.