Volume I Number 5: Welcome to Alaverdi

Volume I Number 5: August 22, 2004

Barev Family and Friends,

Armenia has been treating us very well! Everyday, we have a new experience that allows us to gain a better understanding of Armenia, its people, and culture. The month has been filled with such experiences that have left us laughing, thinking, reevaluating, or just plain wondering “Why?” as a smile rolls across our face. Overall, our spirits have been revived since the last correspondence and we are looking forward to more experiences.

We realize that the emails are taking longer to write but it’s not because we have nothing to write about. It’s quite the contrary. There has been a lot going in our lives in the last month. We have finally completed our Pre-Service Training (PST) and have made our move to Alaverdi. I had the opportunity to become ill like I have never felt before. I’ll fill you in on the details a little later.

First things first, we have moved to Alaverdi and have our new address to give you. Here it is:

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Mail will now be delivered directly to our apartment. With our new home being a few hours farther from Yerevan it may add a few days or weeks to the mail delivery time. We will let you people know as mail arrives.

We are living in a 3 bedroom apartment with our host family. We occupy two of the rooms while the family (mom, dad, and 4 year old daughter) occupy the third room. Now, you may think that it’s not fair for the family. Well, we don’t have a say in it. Married couples either get one large room or two small rooms. We get the two small rooms. It’s the agreement that Peace Corps has with host families if they choose to host a Peace Corps married couple. The host family is also compensated very well if they take us. Let’s just say that each month the family makes at least 4 times more a month than the monthly salary of a local teacher. And it’s very, very cheap compared to American standards. One of our rooms is our bed and free standing closet (free standing closets are the norm in Armenia; they don’t do built in closets). We don’t spend much time in this room for a good reason: there ís no room. The other room is our study. We have a desk and chair, table with two chairs, two hanging bookshelves, desk lamp, and a plant. We have taken the time to make it as comfortable as possible. Our world map hangs on one wall long with many photos of home taped onto it. Another wall has a map of Armenia that we bought in Yerevan. The desk has our laptop, iPod, and small decorating items from home such as candles, crystal sphere (Europe, 1984), and Laura’s jewelry basket. The table is two tiered. We keep our games (UNO, Skipbo, Sequence, Settlers, couple decks of cards, Cribbage), practice drum pad, drumsticks, and Frisbee underneath while our magazines and candy dish with Jolly Ranchers complete the spread on top. Our bulky, but comforting, water filter sits next to it filled to the brim with clean, nutritious, refreshing carbon purified water. I love that thing. Yeah! And our bookshelves houses a small mirror, a small tablet with the Armenian alphabet (gift from Laura’s language instructor), a statue of a Grizzly Bear, a Hawaiian god statue, all of our paper to reuse, and our small library of books. We brought about 40 books with us and have been given another 10 or so while in country. We chose to leave clothes and other things behind so that we could get the books. We have read plenty of them and enjoy sharing them with others.

I just finished reading The Wildest Dream by Peter Gillman. It’s a book about George Mallory, one of the early pioneers in the exploration of Mt. Everest. It’s an insightful and wonderful book to read if you are interested in early 1900 mountaineering explorations attempts and what motivated these people to explore these unknown, mysterious mountains. Yes, Mallory did die, as some of you may know, but was he the first person to reach the summit of the highest peak in the world in 1924? Go read it and find out.

The family has treated us very well and allowed us to have our independence and privacy while still including us in family functions. It’s a balance that I think we will continue to prefect during the six months that we will live with them. Every so often they talk to us as if we will be living with them for the two years while in site, but we just keep reminding that it’s a 6 month contract. Those silly Armenians.

{img: sirosha.gif} Yesterday, there was a football (soccer!) game at the neighborhood asphalt football field and we decided to join in on the viewing. It was a great opportunity to meet the children that we would be teaching and working with the next two years. We had quite the crowd gather around us to find who we are were and why we were here. We were able to speak broken Armenian and English to the children and they were able to understand both languages. A few of the kids were 16 years old and would be leaving next week to attend college in Yerevan (16 years old is the normal kids to attend college). One was an Armenian wrestling champion for his age and weight class. A set of twins girls would be leaving next week to go to Russia. Their father is moving the family to Moscow so that he can find work. This is a very common thing in Armenia. Of course, many of the guys were interested in Laura and wanted to know how old she was and if we were married. We were invited to join a few of them for an evening walk
around the town. We happily joined them later in the evening for a 45 minute walk town. We enjoyed their company and had a great time conversing.

Two nights ago, Laura and I cooked our first meal in Armenia, alone, with no one to intrude or look over shoulders and tell us what we are doing wrong. It was so nice. We cooked one of our favorite meals: pasta and tomato sauce. Pasta never tasted so good. While we live with this host family the family is only required to cook one meal a day for us while we take care of our other two meals. This has been a huge relief for us. The meals in Dilijan were not always the most nourishing for our bodies and left us with stomach aches and other problems. Since we have been here, we have indulged ourselves in healthier foods and ones that we enjoy. This morning we had the opportunity to enjoy a bowl of Cocoa Pebbles. Our first bowl of cereal since the states. We were able to locate some dried milk powder to allow us this treat. The milk in stores is not heat pasteurized and not recommended to drink. For breakfasts we also enjoy sliced fruit, bread with Nutella or Apricot jam, and some vanilla/hazelnut tea. If we can get some fresh orange juice then we’d really be set. Meat intake has been diminishing and other forms of protein sources are taking priority. A volunteer who just completed her two year service left us a large cache of spices that we look forward to using. Those oregano and basil spices we used for the tomato sauce the other night were wonderful.

Just a quick side note (not like I do a ton of these in the emails anyways) but as I am sitting here typing this email and Laura is reading a book in the chair next to me, we are listening to the 3 CD collection All Songs Considered. It is wonderful blend of relaxing, inspirational, world, instrumental music that has been featured on National Public Radio’s (NPR) program All Things Considered. I highly recommend that you check it out. It’s truly a great CD set.

One of my final projects was to complete an environmental lesson in Armenian. It had to be 15 minutes or so, but when you are speaking Armenian it seems a lot longer. I was able to have most of my lesson pre-typed in Armenian so I wasn’t fumbling over words. I, along with two other volunteers, presented the lessons on our street to 15 children. I had the children participate in a Natural Objects Scavenger Hunt. The idea of the lesson was to describe what natural objects are and to gain an understanding of what they viewed as natural or human made. Examples of things to find were something furry, something soft, an oak leaf, something sharp, etc. The idea came from a book by Joseph Cornell titled Sharing Nature with Children. They had a total of 20 items to find. The children were very excited about the opportunity to do this and their competitive side definitely was revealed. All in all the children did a wonderful job in locating everything and I think learned a few things. I think I learned a lot about how they view natural things. Many objects found were definitely human made which I’d try to explain to them and they’d get this sour look on their face. The most interesting thing I learned was when the children had to locate 5 pieces of garbage. Though there was plenty of trash on the ground in the area we were having the game the children chose to walk across the street to the garbage bins and pick trash out of the bin. I stood there in awe, and of course let them do it, and realized they didn’t recognize the trash, which they put there over time, under their feet. It was one of the most important messages I have learned and will try to incorporate into my future lessons.

Last Saturday, we came home from a community dinner for our host families. The Americans cooked up some dishes for the families so they can experience some of our favorite dishes and see that we can cook. The event was a success but throughout the evening my stomach was bothering me and my body was beginning to get a few aches and pains in the joints. We left quickly after the dinner and I jumped into bed to huddle in the fettle position and wish I was back in America. Around midnight I vomited like I’ve never done before. Oh it was bad. That went on for awhile as I hugged the toilet and took on a different view of our bathroom. From midnight until 6am I was visiting the restroom to take care other matters that arose after the vomiting. I was in there every half hour or so. At 6am Laura called the Peace Corps doctor. Now, we tried to make this a private matter without our family involved, but that didn’t quite happen. Our host mom was woken up by our host grandma when she saw Laura going to call. Our Mom’s initial reaction was “Why are you leaving the house Laura?” because Laura had on her fleece. When Laura told her that she wasn’t leaving the house and that I was sick our host mom showed a huge sign of relief that Laura wasn’t leaving anywhere and then looked at me with a nonchalant look and asked “What’s wrong with you?”. As I was bent over from stomach pain we explained I was having some stomach problems. Our host mom wanted to offer me some warm milk to drink and a nice hot brick to sit on to help take care of the diarrhea problem. What the? Warm milk and a hot brick? Later we were informed that this is a practice still used by some villagers. Laura was able to use the phone and the doctor gave us some advice and told our host mom about the advice. Our host mom kind of followed the advice. Though I wasn’t suppose to eat for 24 hours she kept offering some warm milk with rice with a nice heaping of butter on top. Laura declined for me as I chose to stay in our room all day and avoid the confrontations. The ice cubes to suck on did arrive in the early afternoon but our host mom insisted on putting some bitter lemon powder on top of it. Oh it was nasty and we wiped off as much as possible. At one point as I was relaxing in my boxers our host mom just popped in the room without knocking. Whoa!, let me get some clothes on before talking. The door was locked after that one. The next morning I did taste the milk and rice combo platter but after a heated argument with my host mom and grandma that heaping of butter was kept off the platter. Laura did take the butter and proved herself more worthy in our host mom’s eyes than I had. I did fully recover from the virus after about week and shed a few pounds in the process.

A note from Laura:

Things are coming together for us and slowly I am finding my place in this far side of the world. It has taken about three months for me to relax and appreciate the slow pace of life here. In the first weeks, when we were late for school I would urge us into a run in order for us to get to school on time. However, just last night we were nearly 10 minutes late for our night walk with the neighborhood kids and I didn’t bat an eye. For both Brett and me this idea of time is definitely taking some adjusting.

I have found that it is the little things that really make my day. An example of this occurred just yesterday. Brett and I went out to watch a soccer game and it turned into quite the social event. Let me give you a little background information. Our five story apartment building is surrounded by at least 12 other huge apartment buildings. Sitting here at our desk I can see six tall apartment buildings. They all look exactly the same from the outside. I am not sure students English in the second grade. After about 5 minutes of stares and whispering, one 16 year old boy asked what my name was and how old I was. At this point I was able to use my three months of language training to try and communicate with these kids. The group of children consisted of mostly boys and a few girls. I decided to huddle near girls and Brett walked over to the group of boys. Then the older boys gravitated to me. This is all happens very auspiciously!!! Brett was standing a short distance from me and yes, I got all the questions. After several smiles at one another, Brett finally came over to help me, and just in time for me to say this is my HUSBAND, Brett. It was a lot of fun talking with these kids. They know a little English and we know a little Armenian, together we were able to cover a wide variety of topics with a very short vocabulary.

I think you get the general idea. Brett and I know a little about a lot of different topics and because these kids are even more afraid to use their English than we are of using Armenian, Armenian was spoken. The kids invited us to walk with them later that night and we agreed that it would be a good idea. The walk went great and on Thursday Brett is going swimming with the guys. I will be drinking coffee or doing something more lady-like with the girls.

So, it is these small, random experiences that make my days here in Armenia worthwhile and makes me excited to be a part of this culture.

Here are some interesting facts that have come to mind recently: First, in three months time we have used Ω bottle of shampoo, 2 bars of soap, washed our towels only two times, and are apprehensive about using the soft toilet paper that has been sent to us. Secondly, combined we have read 6 books, watched 6 movies (2 of which we fell asleep during), eaten 2 pig ears and several sheep organs, visited 4 monasteries, and have about 100 high frequency Armenia words at our disposal. And lastly, we have learned that: the Armenians are extremely generous, having sex is not something to be embarrassed about according to Armenians, especially if you are a young married couple, (Our current host mom informs us every time she leaves the house that “we can have some alone time, wink, wink”.) I am not a woman until I have a child, and Brett and I have been separated no more than 3 hours in the last three months, and that was while I was teaching at a school. Is this healthy?

Thanks for reading another email of our experiences in Armenia. We hope that you have enjoyed the email. School starts on September 1 and that is when the real fun is going to begin as we initiate our projects. We’ll update you next time. We look forward to hearing from you and how things are going in your lives. Take care!

Sincerely,

Brett and Laura

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