Volume I Number 3: Site Announcement

Volume I Number 3: July 7, 2004

Dear Family and Friends,

As our iPod plays Baby Got Back from our Wedding Reception album, we are hurting a bit. We ate something today that has left us a bit sore and not feeling too hot. If Laura doesn’t move too much she should be okay. Brett just takes comfort in knowing that he has a toilet to sit on rather then have to assume the squat position and aim for some hole in the ground. For now we are okay We will keep you posted!

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We have quite a bit to talk about since our last email. We realize that it’s only been 5 days but we’ve been busy. The first thing is that we received our site announcements. Basically, we were told where we will spend the next two years and what our specific assignments will be. We are going to be living about 2 hours north of Dilijan in the town of Alaverdi (population 10,000 to 15,000). We have not had a chance to visit the site but the Armenians and volunteers that we have talked to say that it is extremely beautiful and a wonderful area to spend the two years. This was very encouraging to us. Located in the area are two World Heritage Sites. We aren’t that familiar with World Heritage Sites but we do know that it does make the area very significant. We are going to live with another family for 6 months. It is a family of three. The father is 33 years old and an engineer, the mother is 27 years old and a teacher, and they have a 4 year old daughter. We will live in their apartment with them. From what we are told they are very excited to have an American couple stay with them.

Our specific assignments are exactly what we were hoping for when we signed up for the Peace Corps. Laura is going to be helping the school develop the students communicative competence. She is going to assist in developing new methods in teaching. The school sounds very excited to be getting Laura and is ready to implement any pilot program that she is interested in. The school she is teaching at is a secondary school which means she will be working with students ages 8 to 16 years old.

Brett is going to be teaching environmental education at a secondary school. This is a different school then Laura but within walking distance from each other. He is going to be helping out the Biology teacher organize and facilitate clubs, weekly clean-ups, tree planting, hikes, and environmental camps. The age group that he is going to be teaching
will be the same as Laura. This year the school is going to celebrate its 1000th anniversary. Currently, 175 students are enrolled.

Alaverdi is located on the bank of the river Debed, 191 km away from Yerevan and roughly an hour to the Georgia border. The climate is mild (summer and winter). The altitude is 750-1400m (roughly 2475-4620ft.). The town is the lowest point in Armenia. The river Debed runs through the entire town. The forests are nearby as well as many water springs.

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The town has been populated since II B.C. In the past the town has been named Manic, Manes and Manasgomeri. It is still unclear where the name Alaverdi comes from. Some specialists say that it is a Turkish or Persian name which is not likely to be true. The town was ruined after the Turkish-Persian war in XIV-XVIII centuries and rebuilt
afterward.

Alaverdi is an industrial town. It has a long history of copper mining exploration. Light and food industries as well as the construction industry are very successful. The food industry includes bread, milk, and meat factories. The area offers regular transportation service to Yerevan or into Georgia. Varieties of food are available in the town and sometimes cheaper than other areas of Armenia because of its location to Georgia.

Our Peace Corps Program Managers have had the chance to visit the site, our counterparts (our English speaking contacts for each school), the host family and the apartment that we will share with them. The Program Managers gave it rave reviews. There are currently two volunteers in the site now. One will leave in a month and the
other still has a year left. In 3 weeks we will get a chance to visit the site and our family for a couple days before we permanently move there on August 20. We will live with our second host family for 6 months at the site before moving out on our own sometime in February 2005.

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Last Monday, we celebrated 4th of July as well as Constitution Day on July 5th. Constitution Day is the day that Armenia gained independence from Russia in 1991. It is celebrated enthusiastically. Peace Corps organized a BBQ for the volunteers and their host families. There were about 230 people at the picnic. The picnic site was located in the mountains above Dilijan. Each village brought their own food and entertainment. While there was a lot of socializing between villages, each village ate by themselves. We were served cheese, bread, roasted potatoes, lavash (flat bread like a tortilla but about 4 times larger), BBQ chicken and pork, tomatoes, cucumbers, roasted squash, cookies, candy, and we drank coke, vodka, and wine. We took lots of pictures and video, played a ton of Frisbee (the kids love it), danced to traditional Armenian music, and socialized. It was a great day for everyone.

Laundry day has come and gone. We get to do laundry once every two weeks. Doing laundry is not a painless job like in America. We wait but I don’t mean we, Laura spends about 3 hours doing the laundry. There are specific gender roles in Armenia and laundry is very female specific. The clothes are first put into an agitator. The agitator only holds a few items at a time and runs about 6 minutes a cycle. After the cycle ends the clothes are rinsed by hand in a basin of water, dipped in bleach (whites), rung out and set aside until all the clothes are done. After this is complete they are hung outside on the line. On one occasion our clothes received a second rinse when a storm surprised us. The detergent being used is from Iran. Technically, Americans can’t purchase products from Iran but, hey, it’s the Peace Corps, and, well, everyone uses this detergent. Some day Brett will get his chance to do laundry.

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Pillows. They are HUGE compared to the states. Brett doesn’t even bother using his pillow because it’s a bit to firm and, since we have foot board on the bed and pillows are large, he can’t fully extend his body out when sleeping. He’s gone to using a flannel blanket that we brought as a pillow. The normal sleeping pillows here are comparable to what some people call a Euro, usually a decorative pillow in the states. Laura seems to do okay with them though some mornings she wakes up with a stiff neck and back. We really miss our pillows from the states.

It’s funny that when we were living in the states we were always checking our weight. It seemed to be a daily activity for us. So far, no one we have met in our area has a weighing scale. Weight just isn’t a big deal around here like it is in the states. Now this isn’t to say that the people are all in great shape. Yes, they are most likely more active then most people in the states, but the food can be very high in fat and the meals aren’t always well balanced. We keep track of our weight by how our clothes fit. Brett has been losing some weight while Laura is still the same. We hope she doesn’t lose weight since she doesn’t have much to lose. Our host mom keeps insisting to fattin’ Laura up. Laura’s new name is “me keech”. This means very little. Every time we eat Laura says “me keech” on the portions. Our host mom gets a kick out of it but keeps pushing food on Laura. She means well.

A couple of websites on environmental issues in Armenia are as follows:

vwww.visitsevan.am
This website is about Lake Sevan, the tourism in the area, and problems currently surrounding the Lake Sevan area.

Armenian Forests at www.armenianforests.am
This organization is trying to reduce the amount of trees being cut in Armenia. They are a young organization but seem to be doing very good work. The reason that the forest of Armenia are being cut is to provide fuel to heat homes during the winter. After the 1988 earthquake in the northern part of the country, there was a huge increase in wood being cut and it hasnít let off since. There are no affordable alternative energy sources and, until solar, wind, or water sources are brought to Armenia, the wood will continue to be cut.

Here are some quick facts that we have learned:

  • You are considered to be in the poverty class if you make less than 13,000 drams/month ($26)
  • Telephone use is around 82%
  • Television use is around 89%
  • Internet use is around 13%
  • Daily computer use is around 4%
  • Cell phone use is around 5%
  • The jewelry industry is one of the largest industries in Armenia. When determining the countries GDP, usually it will be determined with and without the jewelry industry because of its impact.
  • Our shoes are always taken off at the front door of our house and we wear slippers around the house. You usually keep your shoes on if you are a guest at someone’s house.
  • The goats that are tied up at the meat shop we walk by each morning to school are usually beheaded, skinned, and hanging in front of the store for sale when we walk by 4 hours later.

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EMAIL CHANGE ALERT! We are going to switch to one email account and we will be using Yahoo. The reason for the change is that, where we have internet access in Dilijan and our future site of Alaverdi, the computers do not support the Hotmail website, but Yahoo is easily accessible. Also, by having one email account we do not have to spend time switching between email accounts (not a very quick task with our slow internet connections) and we can send out one mass email rather then the two. Yahoo offers quite a bit of storage space so if you have pictures to email then please do. We will still keep our Hotmail accounts for a few more months so if you happen to email there it’s ok. We won’t be checking those email accounts nearly as often. We hope that everyone will make the changes in their email address book. The email address is one that Brett has been using so we decided to use it rather than make a new one. Here is our new email address: {Removed}

In an earlier email we mentioned that we were eating alone during our meals. Well, this has been straightened out. We are staying at bed and breakfast, well in Armenian terms we are. The family rents out rooms on a sporadic basis to guests traveling in the area. Basically, we are treated as guests in that we get a very nice spacious room, our own bathroom, and we are given a lot of privacy, including during our meals. Of course, unlike the guests, we have a lot more interacting and social time with the family. We have shared in a few family meals and everything is great.

This has been a great week so far. We were going to try to get this email last Thursday but in the trip to Vandazor (where we email you from) the internet cafe didn’t make it in the stop. There are some pictures included in the email. There are two files attached with pictures. One file has a house tour of our host families home and the other file are some flowers in the area, the BBQ last Monday, and other stuff. Thanks to everyone who has been sending mail and packages. We are always excited to read mail on Wednesday and Thursday and receive little goodies. Our most recent mail included some magazines and newspaper clippings that were widely read by many of the trainees. We really dont get any updates on the news except from what you email or mail us or if it’s really, really big news the Peace Corps training staff will mention something. We hope you enjoyed this email and look forward to hearing from you. Take care!

Love,

Laura and Brett

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