6/27/10 4:00 PM
Right now I am tired, but relieved.
We successfully completed our community project this morning and afternoon. After a series of meetings with the mayor, we agreed to renovate a bus stop. The plan was to meet at the bus stop at 10 this morning. All the Americans showed up at 9:45 (we had a couple host children with us too). At 10:15 our teachers and the mayor still weren’t there. We started picking up litter with a couple makeshift bags, but without paint and tools we couldn’t do much. It turns out the mayor wanted us to renovate something else.
Quick sidenote: Wow, my host mom just brought in a glass of limonat (think warm banana flavored soda), 4 apricots, gata (that sweet bread I mentioned before) and cake. We just ate lunch like an hour ago. I really don’t spend much time at all in my room, but when I do, she always brings in snacks!
Anyway, the project turned out being completely different from what we were anticipating. Instead of painting a rickety bus stop, we were in another part of town weeding and painting curbs as well as the “bus stop” the mayor had in mind, which consisted of a couple benches near a building. It was all good, because when we showed up to the new location I was happy to see at least 10 other villagers, the mayor, and the priest scurrying around getting things done. The idea of the project was to involve the community, which is hard to do with the language and cultural barriers. But we cleaned the area up nicely with the assistance of the villagers as well as our teachers. It felt good to finally do something for the community, even if it is small in the grand scheme.
Project day was the cap of a busy week. Maybe all our weeks are busy, so I should instead say an interesting week. Wednesday we had central day in Charentsavan. I got a haircut at lunch from a guy with a shop in an alley. It was about 3 dollars, and it wasn’t too bad. My existence is easier with short hair here. That evening I managed to watch some of the US v. Algeria game, and was elated to see us score in the 90th minute. It was a funny moment between my host dad and me, where he was excited for me and didn’t really know what to do. I went over to him and we did an awkward handshake thing where one of my fingers was jammed into his wrist.
I think the day before was my Uncle’s bday. We went over to his house kind of late. It was 11 and I was about to get ready for bed when he stormed in and made the drinking gesture (flicking the middle finger against the upper throat). I was excited but a little nervous to have my first drinking experience with Armenians. That went pretty well – the vodka actually tastes just fine to me. Plus, it is very acceptable to just take a little bit. There was no pressure really and it was a nice thing to watch the sincere toasting that goes on before each drink. Drinking here might be a bit more meaningful than what we do in the states. As the night turned to morning, my uncle began telling me he was actually 17, not 48, that he was Christopher Columbus, and a myriad of other peculiar professions.
Friday was the 3 year anniversary of my host father’s mom’s death, so the whole family went to the cemetery. In our village, many of the graves have pictures of the deceased etched on the headstone. Some people think it’s weird, but I think it’s nice. Whenever I’m in a cemetery I want to know who all these people were…the picture at least gives an insight. I was standing in the back, giving the family space, but they wanted me to sprinkle some incense with them. They set flowers on the graves and then sprinkled incense granules into a bowl with smoldering chunks of wood.
On Saturday we went to Yerevan for a big PC outing. There were several museums to choose from. I chose the Genocide Memorial. I wanted to see the monument as well as get a better understanding of what happened. The monument was beautiful. The museum was intense, revealing, and a sobering experience. I couldn’t help but wonder why some people’s fate on earth is to be marched into a dessert to starve or experience some other gruesome death. I still don’t fully understand the Armenian mindset that their country expands much further than their borders, but visiting the museum put me a small step closer to being able to understand.

Genocide Memorial

The rest of the time in Yerevan was free time. I ate lunch at a restaurant with volunteers from different villages. Then I went through the open-air market, which is quite a trip. The beginning is like the minor leagues, just a bunch of guys with a blanket and a bunch of random shit they are selling. We’re talking Russian VHS tapes, to plumbing hardware, to American coinage. Yes, you can buy pennies and nickels. I should have asked how much they were. The major leaguers are more refined, offering jewelry, shirts, flags, and everything else you could imagine in a mini tent/canopy city. After that a couple other Solakites went with me to our teacher’s parents’ house. That was a great experience to meet her family and get to interact with them. Let me say that Yerevan is a different world from what I’ve been experiencing. It’s very modern and progressive, unlike the rest of the country. It was nice to visit there, but I am glad we get to live the village lifestyle right now. I know what it’s like to live in a city, but living amongst livestock is a whole new trip.
When I got home there was another party to go to. This one was for my uncle’s granddaughter, who turned 1. She is truly the pride of the family. We arrived around 6 or 7. To my surprise, 2 other volunteers were there. Their host families were related to the little girl too. It was nice to have a couple people to communicate with! There was a ridiculous amount of food present (and vodka). I gave my first Armenian toast at the request of the uncle. It was short, simple, and to the point: Arrogch, yerkar aprel, shat lav! (Health, long living, very good!) They enjoyed my toast despite the lack of a cohesive sentence.
The funny thing about living with another family without really speaking the language well is that I never know what the next 12 hours will entail. I have my own schedule, but when I get home, it might be a quiet night of studying and watching TV with the family, there might be a guest visiting, or I might be eating and toasting into the wee hours of the morning.
We are now a month into this journey. It’s cool to have a month behind me. It makes me feel like I can do 2 years. The next week is a big one: interviews, language assessments, central day with project presentations, and a 4th of July party to plan. Oh yeah, I get my permanent site announcement on Wednesday too.
Okay, like the US national team, I’m out.


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