Tuesday, December 14, 2010

Monday, December 13, 2010

1. Thanksgiving at my school. The cooks, some staff, me and the students who had a birthday in November. I did not supply the volcano candle.
2. Danny and I carving up the turkey.
3. My wood burning stove warming up my house. That fire was created with just two tries down from one hundred last week.
4. Me in front of the Armenian letter for M.
5. Me at a really old church from the 8th century.
6. The 8th century church and some very green grass for November.
7. A medieval head stone.
8. A box of kittens I got from America just kidding their Lisa’s.
9. The slide as part of the new playground.
10. The play house full of kids and my counterpart in the background.
11. The swings in full swing.
12. Picture of Mount Aragats taken on a clear day from Gyumri. Mt. Aragats is the tallest mountain in Armenia and I live at the base of it. A one hour train ride from where this picture was taken.
13. A sweet view from the Selin pass. I sat in the backseat to take this picture a machine gun occupied the front seat.
14. The oldest Holiday Inn in the world.

Stranger on the outside

Winter is finally beginning here. This time last year we had already had snow for a number of weeks but this year we’ve only had snow stick for a day and that was back in October. But its definitely cold enough now for the snow to stick and from the looks of it outside that snow will be here soon. And just in time. I’m finally getting the hang of my wood burner. The first time I tried it took one entire box of matches today it took maybe only five.
In the many months since I last wrote many things have happened. I finally got my grant all sorted out and a brand new playground now stands at the school. The students seem to enjoy it a lot and the weather has been great for the kids to get to use it. We have a swing set, play house, foot ball field and picnic area. Myself and seven other Peace Corps Volunteers cooked a Thanksgiving dinner for 80 people at my school and the American style Thanksgiving dinner was a big hit. Which I was really happy about and surprised by because when I got to the school Thanksgiving morning I found three uncooked turkeys sitting in a pot to be cooked within five hours. When I returned to help set up the three birds were as nice as anyone I had seen at my grandmother’s house.
We had a conference two weeks ago in Yerevan, the capital, where I learned a few new ideas to bring into the field. I also bought a blender so I’m making peanut butter, hummus, pesto and anything else I can think of to chop. I also taught my landlord how to make egg rolls. She really likes them and plans to have them on offer at her New Year’s celebration which is the biggest celebration of the year. And yesterday she took me to an army party where I was served sheep’s brain soup, yum, and about five shots of vodka within about an hour. So after dancing and listening to speeches I made my way home to await the snow which as of right now I’m still waiting for.

Saturday, October 16, 2010

Jean Claude Van Dam

For some reason Jean Claude Van Dam is huge in Armenia. My students love him and so do a lot of other people around the country. Last year when I began working at my school in Artik kids would ask me all the time if I knew Jean Claude Van Dam. I don’t know why of all celebrities they chose him or why they thought I would know him after all I think he’s Austrian. But after about the one hundredth kid asked if I knew him I said yeah he’s my neighbor. Jean Claude Van Dam is not my neighbor and I thought that they would understand this because it would just be absurd if he was but it turns out that they did believe it and now I’m lying to 80 kids. Lying to your students does not make you a good teacher and it does not make me a good Peace Corps Volunteer. I am now trying to rectify my mischievousness. The other day I did a Goggle search for Jean Claude in trying to find his mailing address. I was determined to find it no matter how long I had to search. But the first hit I got his fan club. I hope that whoever receives those emails is moved by my “touching” note and sends a head shot to this part of the world. I will frame it and put it next to the presidents picture that greats students as they walk in the door.
Yesterday, I and another volunteer, Sam, taught a lesson on teeth brushing and the importance of doing so. I passed out tooth brushes that my dentist had given me back in the states (thanks Dr. Smith) to each of my students then taught them how to make homemade toothpaste and together we all brushed our teeth. The lesson went well and I felt good that the kids each got a tooth brush. Now I just hope they use them!
The weather here has gotten cold and rainy. Everyday it rains here and every morning I apprehensively look out my window to see if the first snow has come yet. So far it hasn’t but that doesn’t mean I’m not bundled in my house sometimes literally hugging my heather for warmth.
And lastly, next month I hope to be brining the Turkey to Armenia. Not its neighboring country but the bird…for Thanksgiving. I am in the process now of writing a small grant and once that’s approved you or anyone you know can help provide a special and memorable Thanksgiving feast for the first time in Artik, Armenia and your donation can also help buy a pair of warm winter boots for the students who will be needing them as it gets colder. And if you happen to have an autographed head shot of Jean Claude Van dam that you don’t need anymore we at the Artik Special School would love to have that too!

Monday, September 27, 2010

going home

For the last two weeks I was home in America. Being home was great not only because I was there to celebrate the marriage of my sister and her new husband Matt, but also because after 15 months away it was time to go home even if just for a week and a half. I had forgotten in the last year how great America is. The comforts of being home were great. I have this new habit of drinking coffee pored over ice and I really like it. But here in Armenia we don’t have ice and when I was done drinking the coffee I put the dirty cup in the dish-washer and again in Armenia we don’t have those. Washing machines, dryers, cable TV, high speed Internet, hot water, cars, restaurants with a variety of choices America has it all and now that I’m back in Armenia I miss it a lot.
But it’s important that I’m back for a few reasons which I’ll detail later. When I flew to America I was on nearly all empty planes but on the way back I was on completely full planes. I saw a giant, literally a giant, 7 feet tall writs the size of my head on my plane. And it was my first 747. Finally I got back to Armenia. I showed the teachers at my school the pictures from the wedding and brought them some candy which they loved. They all liked the dress a lot and were certain that Matt must be Armenian because he looks Armenian (he doesn’t look Armenian) but then they think everybody is Armenian.
Today I had breakfast with my new land lord and the medical advice she shared with me is the reason its important for me to be back. Remember I’m a healthy lifestyles teacher so I try to spread nutritional advice whenever I can. So this morning as I’m eating eggs and hot-dogs combined in a pan full of grease she says she had a family member who lived to be 86. He got that old because of his diet which consisted of lots of grease, butter, sour cream and milk none of which we were all told in fifth grade is healthy for you except for milk but still not a whole lot. Sure he lived to be old but he must have been a freak of nature because if you eat grease you’re not eating healthy. The reason this got brought up was because the pan that the eggs were cooked in had leftover grease in it and they wanted me to sop it up with bread I refused and they didn’t know why I wasn’t taking advantage of all those great vitamins and minerals not to mention how tasty it would have been…

Check out the photos I’ve posted from my experience in Armenia and also my two previous vacations by clicking the photos under this post.


India and Dubai

Sunday, September 19, 2010

Wednesday, September 8, 2010

1 taxi, 2 taxi, 3 taxi's

I know its been a long time since the last time I wrote a blog entry. For the first few weeks I was busy but recently I’ve just been putting it off. The last time I wrote was before I left on my vacation to the Balkans and Greece, which was a lot of fun. I met my friend Danny along the way and together we met some pretty cool people and had just one major miss hap where we got on a train we thought was going to Skopje, Macedonia but was actually going to Sofia, Bulgaria. We didn’t end up in Bulgaria just one stop down the track with two suitcases and a ton of food we bought for the long ride which we then had to lug back to the town before catching a bus and finally going on to Skopje.
When I got back to Armenia my friend Ian who I met when I studied in DC came to visit. He stayed for nearly two weeks and in that time we went from the north of the country to the south seeing some great sites along the way. We even got to go to a wedding between a former volunteer and his new Armenian wife. Ian got food poisoning from a beer filled with dead bugs but those bugs didn’t show up until the last sip and then you know the damage wass already done.
After Ian left I packed up my old apartment and moved to a new house on the other side of town. I now rent the bottom floor of a house while my land lord lives above. She has three sons but she keeps telling me she now has four because I am her son also. I always appreciate hearing people welcoming me into their lives like that. The other day her youngest son called her on the phone and she made me talk to him which was weird but she had a big smile on her face while I did it. She also has 8 chickens, 20 chicks, one cow, and six rabbits, which she said we will kill in November and eat during the winter. I hope I am not around for that. Especially the cow because I think she knows what’s in store for her and often she looks at me with a look in her eye that can only mean one thing: “save me”.
When I first moved to Artik over a year ago I came alone in one taxi with just my stuff. When I moved out of my host family’s house back in December I went to my new house making two taxi trips and when I came to the house where I live now it took three taxi trips. I’ve accumulated a lot of things in one year. But Friday I leave to go home for my sisters wedding and with two suitcases in hand I will bring back many of the things I have bought to remind me of Armenia as well as many gifts people have asked me to bring to my sister and her fiancĂ©e Matt for their wedding. Of course these people have never met any member of my family so it means a lot to me that they want to share with them what they have.

While I’m home I hope to upload lots of pictures to my blog so check for those soon. And it would be great to meet up with you so give me a call!

Saturday, July 24, 2010

Water Filters

The picture I put up is of my water filter after one year and the new one I just put in the other day. That water looks good right? Actually it doesn’t taste bad or anything it just doesn’t look all that refreshing but by the time it has been filtered its clear and not too bad. It can be hard to come by though. I am one of the few people I know in the whole country including the capital, Yerevan, that has twenty-four hour running water everyday. It’s a nice thing to have but the other day it was turned off for a week while the city put in new pipes. It would have been easy to store water had I known that the water would be turned off. I would have filled my bathtub and buckets but I didn’t realize it would be turned off until the tap ran dry. So instead I woke up one morning with a pile of dishes and no water to clean them with. I had to walk to the neighboring apartment building where they have a community water spicket that everybody was collecting water from. It took a lot of trips but finally I got my bathtub filled. The week the water was turned off was also a really hot week so I had all of the windows open to let the air blow through but with the pipes being dug out and reburied there was a lot of dust in the air which means I now have a apartment nicely coated in dust.
The water filter is also a reminder that I’ve been here for a year. We had our mid-service conference in Tsakadzor. It was a fun time and the hotel we stayed at was really nice by anybodies standards. It was called the Sports Complex and as the name would envision where were a lot of athletes there. So here were us scrawny Peace Corps Volunteers on one half of the cafeteria and on the other half were body builders from all over the former USSR. It was a funny contradiction to see. We played the new group of volunteers in country at kick ball and we won and I got to go swimming in a pool for the second time this year. I even had a couple of races and judging from my shortness of breath I guess I’m pretty out of shape.
I’m now back at site trying to stay busy for the next week before I leave for my vacation on Friday and trying not to get washed away by the tremendous down pour of rain we are getting everyday. Send me an email soon!

Saturday, July 17, 2010

Water Day

This past Sunday was water day in Armenia which is a day marked by the Armenian Church where random strangers throw water on everybody including strangers. As I walked through the streets I found many buckets thrown in my direction even if I told them not to. I even tried to walk close to a women and her baby in hopes that this would keep me dry but it also did not work. Neither did sitting with a bunch of old men while I waited for a number of rowdy kids to pass by with their buckets. Instead three old women from the balcony above pored water down on all of us. Not cool Ladies.
Danny also visited this past week, which was fun. We went up to a nearby village with a nice view of the surrounding mountains. I tried to take him and Liz on a short cut but it ended up being the long way around an abandoned building. My water was also turned off for the last week as new pipes were put in outside. Its funny because every time someone visits it seems that the first question they ask is do you have running water which since I do have running water I say yes, but for some reason this statement seems to be a jinx’s that causes my water to be turned off without fail. So in the mornings I had clean water while in the evenings I had muddy water and during the day I had no water.
Today I met an old professor of mine from Baylor. He is an Armenian from Gyumri and never when I sat in his class could I have imagined myself living in Armenia just a few short months later but here I am. It was cool to eat dinner with a professor who I studied under but now can find common ground with.
This coming week I have a conference with Peace Corps to attend which I am looking forward to! I’ll let you know how that goes next week. And Ian is coming to visit in less then a month. Awesome Ian!

Tuesday, July 6, 2010


I know it’s been a while since I last wrote, but this has turned out to be a busy summer. Last month I worked a camp for 13 to 15 year olds in the small village of Yaghdan. The village was filled with people who in the last one hundred years had immigrated to Armenia from Greece. The Greek presence was obvious on a lot of the cloths the kids wore because there relatives in Greece sent them t-shirts with Greek writing and a few people even spoke Greek. The camp was a lot of fun and lasted ten days, which was a lot of time but a good way to start off the summer.
During the time I was at camp my friend Ashley left back for the states. Ashley was a Fulbright student in Armenia who also attended Baylor at the same time I did but we had to go half a world away before meeting. She always let me stay at her apartment when I was in Yerevan and in doing so she saved me a lot of Dram, but it isn’t the free housing that I will remember her by. She will be missed but I think I’ll see her hosting 20/20 one day.
The forth of July also came and went and I spent that time at Lake Sevan with my fellow Peace Corps friends. It was a lot of fun because not only is a large body of water the place to spend the Forth of July but I also went to a water park and for the first time in over a year I got in clear clean pool water which was great. I also ate some good food and made a fruit dip that everybody liked so much they didn’t believe I made it, but that’s okay because I just won’t give them the recipe. In other happenings I will be getting a site mate for the coming year and another soon to be volunteer is moving just a short thirty-minute walk from my town. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton also visited the country. I didn’t get to see her but it was exciting that she came. Also, the tittle of this blog represents that this past month I passed the half way mark. I've been here for 13 months and have only 13 more to go! Time can pass really fast. Lets just hope it doesn't slow down anytime soon.

Saturday, June 5, 2010

You want me to WORK…really?

School for us in Armenia ended about two weeks ago and I thought that with the graduation ceremony we were done until September first. I guess that was a little ridicules of me since school in back in America doesn’t end for teachers until after a few days of meetings and stuff. So anyways, I went off to my old host village without asking permission from my school director to go. My director and I don’t see eye to eye on many things and he always wants me to tell him when I’m leaving the community. I feel like as an adult who lives in a foreign country on his own I don’t need to ask his permission for anything. So this past Monday I come to school to finish up a SPA application, more on that later, and find that he is pissed at me for about the one hundredth time this year. His question to me was “who told you you could go to Charantsevan” and I thought to myself nobody told me I could go because I didn’t think I needed your permission to do what I want to do. But this is one of the places where American and Armenian minds differ big time! For example in the United States if the principle walked into your classroom you would quickly act like you were diligently working on school work but here if the school director walks in everybody stands. I always get confused by the commotion that goes into this and I look around for the president or dignitary who must have just entered. But every time its only the school director and me having forgotten to stand in the first place is caught the only person still sitting in the entire classroom trying to figure out why everybody is making such a big deal out of this guy walking into the room. He is the type of guy who wants to be in charge and wants everybody in the room to know it. For example what have I done in the week since he has made me come to school? Well, I’ve caught up on my gossip, learned who is selling what vegetables at outrageous prices, inspected the hems of many skirts (the teachers I guess forget that I’m in the room because they hike up those skirts and compare linings and hems like nobodies business) and that’s been about it. A week well spent? I can think of more fun things to be doing. I did however finish my SPA project which is a way for me as a Peace Corps Volunteer to help out my school by writing a small grant that will hopefully provide a nice playground and football field for the kids. Lets hope it gets approved. My school director said he’s going to fire me if it doesn’t and while he thinks it’s a threat I secretly feel relief every time I hear him say that. If he fires me then I can go somewhere else where they don’t make you sit in the teachers lounge for three hours everyday during the summer.
On a different note this week was the 77th birthday of this lady in my town. I have been to her and her sisters house many times. Both ladies are very nice but I think a bit eccentric and senile. For example, at the birthday we are sitting at the table and one of the sisters decides to pour herself a glass of water. The entire time she is completely missing her glass and pouring the water onto a plate of tomatoes next to the glass. Another time I was over there she picked up a box of chocolates upside down and spilled them all over the field. Its funny to watch but sad at the same time because they can’t take care of themselves.
The next two weeks I will be a camp counselor and after that I’ll be teaching English in Artik. Thanks Jake and Melissa for the package. The students will be able to use that stuff for a long

Monday, May 31, 2010

Second birthday in Peace Corps, first in country and the new volunteers arrive

The last few days have been busy for a number of reasons. First of all on May 28th I went back to visit my family for the first time since September and it happened to be my birthday which they remembered without me telling them. They made grape leaf dolma, which is my favorite hykakon josh (Armenian meal). It’s always good to visit them because the way I see it they are my Armenian family. I don’t know if it’s because they were the first ones I met or what it is but they’re a great family and I really enjoy them. They also have a great home set on the side of a big canyon and a large hill in the backyard that is perfect for looking at the stars and Armenia has got some beautiful nights. Danny asked that I give him a special shout out for what he did so here it goes: last week I went to visit him on his birthday and ended up taking a taxi which wasn’t exactly in my budget. He had a teachers retreat planned for this weekend so he was going to miss being around for mine which I gave him a hard time about, but early that morning he called me to say that though he had just made a fool of himself he was going to come to Solak and skip the teachers retreat. That was exciting news and as a whole spending my birthday in Solak was a pretty good time. My host family gave my a stick of deodorant for my birthday which I hope isn’t them trying to give me a hint…but I’ll use it rigorously. I also made my first toast in Armenia I said “a year ago I left my home and my family in America and I came to Armenia and now y’all (my old host family) are my Armenian family”. I think they liked it because they said aprese. The next day we, the A-17 class, met the A-18 class for the first time. They had flown in early that morning and by the time we met them that afternoon they looked pretty exhausted. I couldn’t help but think of how I felt a year ago in the same situation, it was exciting, over whelming, I was clueless, and exhausted I think they felt a lot of the same things. They are starting a long summer of language learning, cultural emersion, sector training and a lot of other stuff. Someone described PST (pre-service training) to me as being like a baby taken home from the hospital for the first time. You don’t know any language so you can’t communicate and your family has to take complete care of you. I guess that is a pretty good description. Anyways they’ve got a lot of work to do but they’ll enjoy doing it. I did.
Well that’s all I can think of to say for now. Keep well.

Thursday, May 27, 2010

One year and still trucking...

Its hard to believe that in little less then twenty four hours I will have been gone from my home for an entire year. I remember the night before having a hard time sleeping dreading the moments when I would have to say goodbye to my home, my town and most importantly my family. Then the early hour came and we loaded my two suitcases and two carry-ons into my dad’s truck and headed to the airport. Both my bags were over by a few pounds and the desk attendant not wanting to bend the rules made me take some stuff out. Then it was time to say goodbye. A year ago August 2011 seemed like such a long way away and in May 2010 it doesn’t exactly seem close but then neither did this day a year ago and yet now I can’t believe how fast time flew by! I got on that plane not knowing what to expect. I couldn’t speak, read or even guess what an Armenian word meant. I didn’t know a single person I was about to meet, live with, work with, travel with all I knew that I was crazy enough to keep walking towards the steps to the airplane. Now looking back on the 365 days that have since passed its remarkable that a room of 47 strangers in Philadelphia, while a little smaller now, aren’t strangers at all now. Armenian isn’t an indecipherable code of letters and sounds but a real communicate-able language; teaching no longer comes from behind the desk but in front of the classroom. Stranger’s houses where I kept a room aren’t strangers anymore but “family” whom I can share a cup of coffee and a conversation with. In a year a lot has happened. I’ve learned a lot about what I can do and myself. How I can get past adversities that seem like they’ll never get surpassed. I took a community head-on by myself and still people stare and want to know what I’m doing here but that’s okay. I’m happy to be a part of this community.
I’ve gotten to travel all over Armenia, I got to go to India and Dubai with a guy who became my best friend I think on the second day in Peace Corps. And I’m just really glad that I have the chance to do this. Peace Corps has been quite an experience. It isn’t what I expected and it hasn’t been easy, but I will always appreciate the experience and everyday I’m learning what I can do to help out my school, my community and myself.
I don’t know what the next year will hold in store or what to expect but if it goes as fast as the first then I’ll be seeing y’all in no time at all. And I’ll have a lot of stories to tell. So thanks for the support. Getting encouraging notes and the occasional package, phone call, message and what ever else has meant a lot. And it goes with out saying I love my family…and my friends too.
And for those I spent my birthday with last year Jill, Katie, and Ian and the surprise phone call from Jinsun that was awesome. I’ll be thinking of y’all this year at my birthday horavots.

Wednesday, May 26, 2010

The Last Bell

This past Saturday was the graduation ceremony at my school. Here they call it the “last bell” and it is a very big deal although I guess graduation is a big deal anywhere. So across the country girls put on their white blouses and black skirts while boys put on their black suits and gigantic bootanears and prepared for the long awaited last day of school. In most schools across the country it is the eleventh form that graduates, kids around the age of 16. However, next year they are implementing a twelfth form to be more like schools of the west so for many volunteers it was their first and last bell. For me though it was the first of two because my students, for a reason I don’t understand, graduate from the ninth form and range in age from 13 to 18. It was a small group of kids that I have grown close to in the last year. They were the first group I worked with and I really enjoyed getting to know them. For their last bell ceremony all 11 stood on stage and sang songs, acted out skits, gave flowers to their teachers and danced. It was a little cheesy for my taste but the ceremony was still nice and I know meaningful to the students and the few mothers who attended. Two of the students in my class and coincidentally the oldest and brother and sister even talked on stage for the first time. I’ve talked to them before one on one but they never talk in class and certainly not on a stage with a big audience. But this time they did and the whole audience erupted in laughter, applause and said aprese which means good job in Armenian and is said a lot. In the west we would silently applaud these kids for overcoming their shyness and learning difficulties but definitely not laugh out loud, but here where you call a person out for being crazy to their face it is no big deal to laugh at the middle of their ceremony. Their mother too is a character. She sells candles at the local church and often greats me as a rich American who came to Artik to “make it rain” like you’ve seen in the average rap video. She gets up in the middle of the ceremony with her film camera (which always take me by surprise because when was the last time in America you saw a film camera) and stands in front of everybody to snap a picture first of the stage then of the school director sitting behind a table smoking a cigarette applauding his students. This got a lot of laughter from the audience, which while it was kinda humorous probably wasn’t the best response for this formal ceremony. After the ceremony I got a picture with the two kids I mentioned above. Varton the boy held a gigantic stuffed blue rabbit, his graduation gift and the typical graduation gift at that, and his sister with a huge bouquet of roses sprinkled with glitter. It was nice to be considered important by these two kids. Then I headed to the cafeteria for the graduation luncheon which only the graduating students and teachers are invited to so the parents wait outside. Now this is where it takes a turn from different to out right unlike anything you would experience in America unless you wanted to be CNN’s next big story for the day. And my friend Will will particularly appreciate this because I was jut talking about this sort of thing to him the other day (I call Will to voice my complaints and disgruntlements about things and share my experiences and good times too, he’s a good listener. Thanks Will). We sit down at the table and the corks start popping but not just for the teachers but for the students too who it becomes quickly obvious are pretty drunk judging from the way they poured those glasses (usually missing the cup but saturating the table cloth). Probably reading this from home it seems absolutely unacceptable and irresponsible but this is a very different society where alcohol isn’t drunk for its relaxing effect but for its role as the proper toasting mechanism and graduation certainly deserves a toast. After a long meal and many congratulatory toasts I headed for Verin Getashen for my friend Danny’s birthday.
Danny has become a great friend to me over the last year so I felt that it was important to spend his birthday with him. I was hoping to take the bus to Yerevan and then onto his village but for some reason no bus came and I ended up taking a taxi. Which for dollar to Kilometer amounts is pretty cheap but Peace Corps salary amounts is a luxury that I probably won’t do it again but it was worth getting out there to spend his birthday with him. The taxi driver wasn’t quite certain where it was and it ended up being quite a bit further then he was expecting which I don’t think he was too happy about but we made it and then the neighbors insisted he stay for dinner. Also while I was in Verin Getashen we made American style pizza with a lot of cheese and tomato sauce that Danny and I liked but his neighbors and host grandma didn’t seem to care for, but like any good friend they said it was good they would just rather save it for breakfast.
I went to Yerevan on Monday where I got to dub a cartoon into English. It was a cool experience but way harder then I expected and I now know that I’m not a very good actor so aprese Tom Cruise. The studio was neat though, I stood in a booth with headphones on and a microphone to my face and watched my character on the screen and I spoke when his mouth moved. I’ll even get my name in the credits. Funny enough I was actually the main role of David of Sasun and for much of the cartoon I am a naked little boy with correct anatomy. My speaking parts though are of an older David properly dressed and my friend Danny plays David’s uncle.
Now I’m back in Artik where the weather is beautiful and warm. I met a bunch of my neighbors sitting outside yesterday for the first time. They were all very nice and invited me over for dinner whenever and said that they would help me out however they could. Its always nice to have people help you out.
I also bought my plane ticket home. I don’t yet have an invitation hopefully I’ll be invited or else I’ve made an expensive error. Happy Birthday Michelle and Becky Duncan and Happy Memorial Day. I hope everybody is well.

Monday, May 17, 2010

One More Week

The weather here is getting nicer everyday. Last week I broke a sweat for the first time in seven months. Granted I was climbing a mountain but after parts of that winter I wasn’t sure I’d ever be hot again and that winter was considered very mild, not by my standards. As I sit here writing this I can look out the window and see the expanse of blue sky and my laundry drying on the line. One of my worst habits is not staying up to date on washing laundry. Pants I will wear for a week and shirts usually only one day before retiring them to the bottom of the stack without ever actually washing them so to be honest I might wear a shirt ten or more times before I actually wash it and yeah I know that’s gross but you would do the same if washing meant two hours of scrubbing, ringing and rinsing only for the cloths to come back stiff and really wrinkled. But like I said I’m getting caught up so no more dirty cloths at least until I let them pile up again. In fact a lot of the ease and comfort has been taken out of everyday things I would have done in the US. For example, this morning I woke up and remembered I had to take a shower and I almost just got back into bed. But why would having to take a shower seem like such a hassle to me? Because my bathroom is probably the dampest coldest room possible to build and the hot water heater only warms the water so the average morning shower isn’t that invigorating feeling that prepares you for the day but instead something to be dreaded. Then again compared to many volunteers I have it pretty good at least I have a water heater even if it just warms the water at best. And when I first came to country I took bucket baths, which was fine for the summer, but never would I even venture to do it in the winter.
As my title illustrates I only have one more week of something, school. It’s hard to believe that nine months ago I started working at this school. I remember how boring the first day was and how daunting it all seemed and after so many months I wouldn’t say it’s the most exciting place to be but the dauntingness of it is over. Nine months ago I could hardly follow along with the teachers much less the students and judging by their puzzled looks they weren’t getting much of what I was trying to say. There are still divisions but to no small degree I can talk and be a part of everyday activities within the school. The weather has also seemed to better attitudes for most of the faculty there. The director of the school a usually grouchy guy with a cigarette dangling from his lips as he mumbles has been unusually friendly. I’m not quit sure how to take it but its nice while it lasts. But the assistant principle has gotten extra crabby. Again I don’t know why but I suppose she has her reasons. When school is out on Saturday I will have three months to work camps, see the country and help train new volunteers coming in just a little over two weeks. I think the summer will actually turn out to be busier the then school year but I’m still excited!
This is all the news I have from this side of the world. Congratulations to all those recent graduates, to Sara on her new baby and anybody else I missed. Until next time everybody stay well.

Wednesday, May 12, 2010

Going South

This past week was a lot of fun. I traveled south of Yerevan for the first time and it was so pretty. Its incredible that in such a small country you can have such a variation of climates and scenery. Where I live its sort of like a tundra with shrubby bushes and small trees over rolling hills, but in the south its big mountains covered in forest and rivers. It is also the oldest part of the country where the Armenian civilization really holds its most interesting roots (in my opinion). Throughout this country you can find old things for example across the street from me is an eleventh century church but down south all you have to do is walk to find something old. Anyways, so I set off in a seven-passenger van with eight people (all other volunteers). And for the next week I saw old fortresses, churches, abandoned towns and even a burial ground. My travel buddy and sidekick Danny along with another friend Sean walked to the ruin of an old 16th century church that had been destroyed in a landslide shortly after its construction. Since that time not many people have visited but the church all though partly submerged still stands deep in the forest upside a mountain. The cool thing about it was that here was this rarely visited church that probably only a handful of foreigners have ever seen and I’m drinking Gatorade on the roof of it! The nature to was pretty spectacular with a winding river through the gorge below and a waterfall that you could actually stand under which I didn’t do because it was freezing but if I go back in summer then I’m definitely going to stand under it. After that we hiked to an abandoned town that had been lived in for the past 1000 years and only abandoned in the 1970’s which was probably a perfect example of a mid-evil community. That’s where we also saw an exposed burial ground from the Bronze Age where there was actually exposed bone, which might sound gross, but I was seeing the skeleton of a man who died thousands of years ago. After a week of seeing plenty of historical sites I caught a ride back with our PTO(Peace Corps training officer) in his white Toyota land cruiser which probably doesn’t excite y’all back at home but in Armenia White Toyota land cruisers are the cars that diplomats, foreign aid workers and UN officials ride in so you always get looks. Not since I was a kid have I really felt important sitting in the back seat of a car but when I ride in one of those cars I get that feeling once again.
One and a half weeks of school left and then its on to a busy summer but I know its going to be a lot of fun!

Sunday, May 2, 2010

Whats new

Today I made dirty rice from scratch and I think it was really good maybe a little too much pepper but still tasty.
Three times a week I go to my Armenian lesson and every time they make me dinner, so not wanting to feel like a mooch I always joke about washing the dishes or cooking dinner knowing I won’t ever actually have to do it. But I’ll be away from home this week and not wanting to waste the huge amount of dirty rice I’d made I brought it over to there house so they could taste Cajun food and prove that I a guy can actually cook. They all doloped a tiny amount on their plates and when each new person tried it I asked if they liked it. They all said yes but nobody went back for seconds and they all said it was too hot for them to handle, but I was still happy with my improving cooking skills and was glad that I’d have lunch and dinner for tomorrow. As I was getting ready to leave I went to get my pot of dirty rice excited to feel the weight of uneaten rice but to my surprise and disappointment I felt nothing. It was just a clean pot. Then they told me an Armenian proverb. Eat lunch by yourself, dinner with your friends and give your supper to the poor. Well, I would have loved another helping of the rice I had made but I was happy to have been able to share dinner with my friends and though they didn’t go back for seconds then I’m sure they will finish all of the rice I had made because this is a place where things don’t go to waste.
Since my writing a few weeks back about the teacher who stuck the pencil in the coil stove we’ve gotten a new “coffee maker” but I’ve noticed a few other things that might frighten a lawsuit conscious person. As days get warmer here in Armenia the need to trim trees becomes greater and this past week I noticed two boys scrambling up this tree to lop off dead branches with a pointed saw. They got to get out of class to do this but the way they teetered on thin branches and threw the saw to one another I wasn’t sure there would be another class in their future. Also, the other day on a bus ride we had a baby on board. Of course babies are cute anywhere but in Armenia everybody dotes on a little kid. So we’re driving down the road as fast as the old bus will take us around blind corners and big trucks carrying huge stones and the driver says pass the kid up here so here comes the baby crowd surfing the bus to the front where he sits next to the driver and the driver not wanting to seem rude, I guess, looks to the baby and starts talking not taking his eyes off of the kid but certainly taking his eyes off the road. Finally, on a last minute trip to Gyumri I had to take the early morning bus which would fit comfortably about 15 people, uncomfortably about 20 people and while I was on it there was at least 30 people, so bent in half with purses poking me in the face and the hood of my jacket getting caught in the sliding door more then once I endured the thirty minute ride to Gyumri but the good news is I found some fake Louis Vuitton socks on my trip and they look great with my fake Armani pants!

Monday, April 19, 2010

I don't think you should do that.

Coffee is a main stay of life here in Armenia. It is offered whenever you meet someone new and on a typical day you might drink five cups. My Balkans friends will know what I’m talking about when I say it is strong, one spoon full of coffee grounds for about a shots worth of water. In this area of the world from Bosnia to Iran and all in between you will find this thick dark brew. So with coffee being such a main stay its important to always have access. Sitting in the teachers’ lounge the other day I watched as a teacher prepared a cup. The heater is a set of electric coils that get hot set in a clay mold that eventually boils the water. This particular heater had had its electric cord spliced and re-taped in three different places before inserting itself into the bottom of the bulky heater. As it was heating the water sparks began to fly and the heater fizzled out. In America this means time for a new one (actually the electric cord breaking the first time means time for a new one) but when money is little and ingenuity is high you don’t throw it away. So she took out her ink pen with the heater still plugged in and spitting sparks she drove the sharp end of the pen into the hot coils and moved them around for a while. I watched in amazement wondering if when she was inevitably shocked if her hair would stand up on end and if she’d turn transparent so I could see her Skeleton like they portray in the movies. But she just kept fidgeting with the heater as I kept thinking to myself that I should really stop her before she kills herself. But persistence paid off and the coils shot back to life. A few minutes later she enjoyed that cup of coffee that I thought was going to cost her her life.
In other news Saturday I attended a hockey game in Yerevan where I saw North Korea beat the South African hockey team 4 to 2. The stadium was a beacon of Soviet architecture with its huge marble columns and bulky square hallways. We got to the game with twenty minutes to spare expecting to have to really search for seats in the 2,000 plus seat arena but amongst the 100 or so other spectators we managed to find some good seats right behind the two teams.
I also managed to lose my voice at some point and so when I got back to my site I wanted to buy some orange juice but I didn’t have quite enough money with me. So in my pitifully quite voice I asked if I could get the juice and bring the money tomorrow and in such a small community where you really do know your neighborhood grocer he gave me the juice and now I’m on my way to pay him back.

Sunday, March 21, 2010

Not the best customer service.

The other day I went to Yerevan, the capital, for a quick day trip. From my village there are hourly buses and from Yerevan there are hourly busses back to Artik. The last one from Yerevan to Artik leaves at 6:30 unless the bus driver decides he doesn’t want to go back which is what happened to me the other day. I was able to share a taxi back but the bus is much cheaper and I don’t know if it was because I was the foreigner or just too nice but I got to pay the most as the others only had enough to pay for the bus fare. Oh well, it wasn’t that much. On the way back to Artik the cab started jerking to the left or the right indiscriminately which is bad because we have some steep roads to climb and a sudden jerk the wrong way and we might be compost at the bottom of a gorge. So first we stopped to look under the car which didn’t work so the next time we stopped and kicked the tires, which also didn’t work, finally we put air in the tires, which also didn’t work but by this time it was dark and well too much trouble to worry about. So as we’re making this journey we’re listening to some different music which takes up the awkward silence unless the taxi drivers phone rings (which it did a lot) then the music gets turned off and he talks for as long as he wish’s and I think to myself “hey, I was listening to that”! This experience wasn’t the first in a long series of not so great customer service as far as the transportation service here in Armenia goes. For example, the driver of the bus always has to smoke at least three cigarettes and of course he’s in the front so we all breathe in his smoke. Passengers aren’t allowed to smoke on the moving buses but there’s a loophole. I said moving buses so when we are parked waiting for passengers anything goes. I also took a taxi once to a nearby town and right before we got to the town the driver stops without explaining and gets out and goes into a restaurant for about ten minutes. I’m still sitting in the back wondering what’s going on. After he emerges with a to-go bag I figure we must still have a ways to travel, but no ten minutes later we arrive. Same with bus drivers, on plenty of occasions the whole bus stops and we all wait while the driver runs some errand. But the mentality is different here I suppose. We’ll all get there eventually. I have had one good customer service experience involving transportation. Once I went by train to a village and didn’t get off in time. Frantically I tried to pry open the train doors but we had already started moving. This passenger called the conductor from a box in the back and he stopped the train. I got off and walked back so that was convenient. All the experiences are amusing and not completely irksome after all we’ll all get there sometime.

Sunday, March 7, 2010

Every kids worst nightmare!

For many students in the United States this week is spring break, and it should be spring break at my school but because of a forced three week vacation back in December where the government tried to stop the spread of the Swine Flu the break was canceled. And not only was the break canceled but they also added one hour to the school day! It reminds me of April Fools a long time ago. The day fell on a Saturday and I had gone into my parent’s bedroom. They asked me why I wasn’t ready for school yet. I said it was Saturday I didn’t have school. They insisted that I do and I remember getting so upset that I cried. I was a little kid and the thought of more school was a truly freighting idea. Today I am working the other end of the school spectrum and when I got back after vacation to see that we had added an hour to everyday and that my spring break plans were made in earnest I was not to happy. I didn’t cry this time, but I was bummed and seeing on everybody’s Facebook that their adventures have begun just adds fuel to the fire. But perhaps this is a good lesson in the real world where there is no spring break much less a summer break.
On the other hand I am now teaching four lessons every week. Which doesn’t sound like a ton but it is all done in Armenian and involves games, which are not so easy to explain here. I’m also completing my first grant proposal for the school so hopefully soon we will have some new playground equipment. We’ve also entered that weird seasonal warp where one day its sunny and warm while the next it is snowing and feels like the depths of winter. Our two-day snow storm is melting now, but clouds are on the horizon so who knows how long the sun will last.

Monday, February 22, 2010

Harsaneak Bells

I know it has been quite some time since I’ve written a post so to all my avid readers I’m sorry and I’ll try to do better. Winter has come and gone and come back again. Today I looked out the window and saw snow coming down hard, it was completely unexpected, but while the last few days had been warm I didn’t really think that old man winter had left me quite yet.
Last week I went to my first Armenian wedding. For some reason February seems to be the month of choice for weddings here and it has also been the coldest month so far, but I guess the brides don’t mind freezing their shoulders. They also tend to get married on weekdays here, which was the case with the wedding I attended. Last Thursday I arrived around eleven o’clock to the groom’s house where we sat around for a few hours before loading up and heading to the bride’s house where there was a table of food set up for the bride’s family and the grooms family. The bride came out escorted by her one brides maid and both families on either side of the table made the formal exchange while the guests looked on. Then it was on to the church for about a thirty-minute service. After that we went back to the grooms house where this time the bride and groom sat at a table and ate while everybody watched. And I forgot to mention that at each stop family members from each side dance around with the traditional wedding gifts in their hands, such as fruit, gata- a type of cake, candies, and the grooms side carries some of the brides wedding day cloths. For example, I noticed one lady dancing with a pair of panty hose, which I thought was funny since it seems to me like a weird thing to dance around with at a formal event. And I also forgot to say that the whole family and close friends arrive to the house of the side that they know (bride/groom) before any of the ceremony starts, so everybody watches as the groom gets dressed or at the brides house they watch her get dressed. Then the wedding party follows a guy who carries a large skewer with apples on it as he dances around. So after we got back to the grooms house a fire was built and all the guests jumped over it which no one I talked to could explain why they do this just that its tradition. Finally six hours in we headed to the reception for a traditional horovats (barbeque). The air quickly filled with cigarette smoke and the party began with lots of toasts, dancing and when the meal was served more dancing but this time with plates in hand. Finally, at ten o’clock…eleven hours later…we headed home. It was a good cultural experience, one that I was excited about, but it was long, so I think I’ve done the wedding thing and won’t jump quite so quickly at an invite next time, but we’ll see.
In other news I now teach four lessons a week. My Armenian has gotten to the point where I can take a proactive role in the classroom, and I seem to have become the it person in my community with lots of dinner invitations and people coming up to me on the street. I’ve also been out and about handing out applications for the next group of Peace Corps volunteers who arrive in May. Hopefully there will be a few more volunteers around this area by August. Well, that’s all for now, but I’ll do better writing more regularly, so keep checking and get your friends to read as well!--Michael

Tuesday, February 16, 2010

Tuesday, January 26, 2010

3 idiots

Disclaimer: I don’t actually consider myself an idiot it just happens to be the name of a very popular Bollywood film in theaters now which I saw while I was in India a week ago while I was on vacation with two other guys.

Two weeks ago I set off on a vacation for the first time in eight months. I made the same comment to my sister and she said “I haven’t had a vacation since June”. I said, “you get to live in America and that’s a vacation”. Plus didn’t you go to Africa? Anyways, so me and my buddy Danny set off early Friday morning two weeks ago for the airport where we hopped on a three hour flight to Dubai. We got to fly over Iran, which from the air is really beautiful. I’ll probably never forget our descent into the Dubai airport. Looking out the window I was what looked like any American city except a lot newer. There were western style cars, tall buildings, and a complex highway system, which you might think is an eyesore, but I think is an exotic concrete jungle. So, ten hours, one whopper, one Starbucks coffee, and a helping of McDonalds fries later we loaded our Emirates flight bound for Dubai. Now I was a skeptic about flying on Emirates after all its just another airplane, but Danny was supper excited and assured me it would be the best flight ever, and well I definitely agree that that is a nice airline! And we saw the new Airbus 380 out the window. So off we went bound for Delhi on a three-hour flight. The airport was completely fogged in, I mean really foggy, you couldn’t see the end of the airplane wings, but we landed fine got our bags and then stood outside for about an hour and a half in the cold waiting for Danny’s high school buddy to meet us. Finally, we got into a rickshaw and headed to our hotel. Our hotel was supper ghetto, enough so that I used my sweater as a pillow case and only got under the blankets when it proved to cold not to. But we did eat at one of Time Magazines top five restaurants in Asia and as a group spent well under ten dollars. The next morning we headed to the train station to get to Agra where the Taj Mahal is, but three minutes before our train was to arrive we learned that it had been canceled, so we took a bus instead. By the way an average of 18 million people ride the trains throughout India everyday, so that’s not a lot of legroom which we would experience later. Anyways, we took the six hour bus to the Taj Mahal, and what a site it was! A big beautiful white marble building that from far away looks flawless and up close is still flawless, with inlayed rubies and emeralds it’s a pretty spectacular building. So after looking at that for a while we headed to the train station via a horse drawn buggy (a cart balanced on two wheels that was kinda scary to ride in on a busy road). We boarded a six hour train ride to Jaipur and met a nice Austrian couple on the way, but let me tell you that train was packed. We sat on a bench with three guys facing three others so legroom wasn’t a lot. Finally we got to Jaipur where we spent four nights at Kamrens families house which was great and Jaipur was a really neat city. We saw forts and monkeys and even an elephant. After Jaipur we flew down to Mumbai where the weather was completely different, more of a tropical feel. Mumbai is where we saw the movie 3 idiots. A few days later we flew down to Goa which really was tropical. By this time Kamren had left so it was just Danny and I. We both decided we wanted to go to the beach so we asked the concierge the best way to get there. He sold us bus tickets which we thought would take us straight there, but actually we were taking an eight destination tour of Goa with a bus full of Indian people who looked at the two white guys some what apprehensively. We also ate at the same restaurant two nights in a row where we had the same waiter. We ordered crab one night but they didn’t bring anything to break the shell and then when they did the thing broke, but our waiter was nice enough to get the meat out for us which I’m sure made us look real cool. Then the next night we took what we thought would be a boat trip up the coast but was actually a party boat with really loud music and people dancing. Not what we signed up for, but funny to see. The next day we flew back to Goa, where we had a lousy airport experience which you can ask my dad for details. Next we were back to Dubai for a couple of days. Dubai was awesome I think because it was so what we were used to in the States but hadn’t had in so long. We had Pizza Hut two nights in a row, saw a movie (George Clooney no longer makes good movies) and saw the desert from the tallest building in the world. All of it was great, but now it’s back to reality…sort of. Today we got a few inches of snow and it is really cold!

Sunday, January 3, 2010

Shnorhavor Nor Tarie (Happy New Year)

Happy New Year everybody. As I’ve said a few times before, I think, New Years is a big deal here in Armenia. They don’t celebrate Christmas like we do in America they save it all for the big ball drop. The night of the 31st is spent with close family. I spent it in with some Peace Corps folk and after mid night me and my friend Beth went on the hunt for dolma (I’ll explain what that is later). So after standing on the street corner for a about an hour we finally got an invite from some young guys which seemed legit for about a minute. We followed them down the block where they were burning tires in front of the of the Armenian Republican party. I don’t think they were making a political statement but it seemed a little anarchist none the less. After warming up in the ash filled black soot that is burning tires we followed these teenagers to their house. We expected a family with dolma and other typical new years foods but they didn’t live with their families, which is highly unusual in Armenia. I think the best way to describe these guys is to say they were like the Newsies caps and all living in some run down shed with only cookies to eat. Anyways then we went to where the big Christmas tree was where we were treated like celebrities even being asked to be in pictures with perfect strangers. The next day I made the rounds to different peoples houses, which is how the Armenians celebrate. Everybody goes around to their friends houses and eats dolma, meat rapped in cabbage, meat wrapped in pancakes, vodka, cognac, chocolates, dried fruits, nuts, tropical fruits, gelitized pigs feet, chicken salad, and other stuff. The celebration is so big that people spend as much as a month’s salary on preparations. If you’re a grandparent or older then people come to your house and as you get younger the more you have to visit as opposed to people coming to your house. So above I’ve included a collection of pictures from the different houses I’ve been to this New Years.