Story Behind The Picture #2: Sarahart, Armenia

Brett and Laura hiking in the mountains in Alaverdi, Armenia

September 2004 (Sarahart, Armenia): This is one of our favorite photos from our time in the Peace Corps. The location is high up in the mountains above Sarahart (Alaverdi), located in northern Armenia. The view of the photo is looking northeast along the Debed River valley toward Azerbaijan.

During this time in our Peace Corps service, we were living with our first host family in Sarahart. The apartment was small, but generally offered enough room for all five of us. On rainy days when it was difficult for anyone to spend quality time outside and our host father would decide to smoke inside the house rather than near a window, the apartment became unbareable and we needed to get out. This was one of those days.

Our host parents were taken back as they saw us putting on rain gear and loading our pack with food. They asked us, “Where are you going in this weather?” To their astonishment we stated that we were going for a hike in the mountains. They reminded us that it was raining and cold, but having done plenty of hiking in the cold and rain back in the states, we headed out.

alaverdi, armenia, peace corps, hikingWe followed a worn rutted road outside of town for a couple miles. Along the way we passed a home along the hillside with a ferocious dog. We cautiously approached the house with stones in hand in case we needed to throw them at the dog. The dog maintained his distance and stayed in the yard. We continued on and passed a tractor and truck with five men in the back heading back down the mountain. It was loaded with wood for the winter. The looks on their faces were of amazement, either at seeing us hiking, seeing us hiking in the weather, or seeing Laura out in the mountains. A little while later we peaked out on a beautfiul ridge that provide the view seen in this photo. The rain had stopped by now and the clouds lifted to provide a beautiful view down the valley. We ate our hatz (bread) and paneer (cheese), drank mango juice and water, and headed back home as the rain turned into hail.

Alaverdi, Armenia mountainsThe views of the debed river valley  provided us a reminder of the beauty found in the natural landscape of Armenia, sometimes not often seen when our daily views were that of deforestation, pollution, and erosion. From up on top of this ridge, everything seemed alright!

View the location of our photo spot in Sarahart, Armenia

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Returned Peace Corps Volunteers Celebrate Vardavar

Vodka and homemade Baklava

Last weekend, we hosted a Vardavar celebration at our home with fellow Returned Peace Corps Volunteers who served in Armenia. Our gathering included Laura and myself along with our future Peace Corps volunteers Ethan and Autumn, and RPCVs David and Eloise Barshes, and Dominic and Sarah Monley. While we didn’t all serve at the same time, we do have common ground in our love for the Armenian culture.

If you are not familiar with Vardavar, head on over to Wikipedia to learn more. In practice, Vardavar is “water day” where children and teens pour water on adults. When we lived in Armenia, we had to be especially careful because most people in our city lived in an apartment building and could easily target us from high above on Vardavar. While we didn’t pour water on each other’s head last Saturday, it was another wonderful rainy day in Seattle that left us plenty wet.

Backgammon! Game on!

For the occasion, all of us created a wonderful Armenian meal of horovatz (BBQ meat), salads, dolma, cucumber, pickles, tomatoes, fried potatoes, cheese, couscous, “lavash”, baklava, Grand Candy chocolate bars, vodka, and Russian beer. Toast after toast and bite after bite left no one with an empty stomach. Laura and I hadn’t had horovatz since we left Armenia. It tasted as good as ever.

The rest of the evening was filled with stories from Armenia and experiences in Seattle, sharing of photos, and playing Nardi (Backgammon).

We want to thank David for pulling this together because it allows Laura and me an opportunity to continue to share our Peace Corps experience with those who would understand it the most.

Laura prepared the baklava. Every bite was delicious and left me craving more. If you’re interested in making it yourself, here is the recipe she followed. It was actually easy, but took some time.

Bakalava by Nina Tashchian, Nina’s Bakery (Fresno, CA)

  • Cooking spray
  • 1 3/4 cups, pus 2 tablespoons, sugar, divided
  • 1 1/4 cups water
  • 1 tablespoon lemon juice
  • 1 teaspoon rose water (optional)
  • 1 1/2 cups finely chopped walnuts
  • 1 pound phyllo dough (about 2 40 9×14-inch sheets)
  • 3/4 cup clarified butter


  1. Preheat over to 350F. Lightly coat a large rimmed baking sheet with cooking spray.
  2. Dissolve 1 3/4 cups sugar in the water in a medium saucepan. Bring to boil over high heat, then reduce heat and simmer 10 minutes. Add lemon juice and bring to boil again. Remove from heat and set aside to cool. Add rose water if using.
  3. Combine walnuts and remaining 2 tablespoons sugar.
  4. Open phyllo dough and spread it out. Place 2 sheets of dough on baking sheet. Cover remaining phyllo with a damp cloth to keep from drying. Liberally brush the top of the two sheets with butter. Place 2 more sheets on top; brush with butter. Repeat until half the dough is used. Spread walnut mixture over dough.
  5. Place 2 sheets of dough over walnut mixture. Brush top with butter. Repeat until remaining dough sheets are used. Be sure to brush the top layer with butter. Cut baklava into 4 strips (2 1/4 inches wide x 14 inches long), dipping the knife into water between cuts. cut each strip into 4 rectangles (2 1/4 inches wide x 3 1/2 inches long). Cut each rectangle into halves diagonally.
  6. Bake 25-30 minutes, until golden brown. Cool 10 minutes. Drizzle sugar syrup over baklava and serve. Makes 32 pieces.

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