7/13/10 9:30 PM
It is good to be back in Solak. My site visit was kind of a rollercoaster that made me miss my current host family and village.
Friday night I met my next host dad. He was a nice guy and I could actually understand him fairly easily, which is a rarity with me and Armenians. The next morning we met back up with the host families in Aghveran, which is where we stayed our first few days in country. We took a charter bus to Yerevan where we then took marshrutkas to the villages.
Side note – The marshrutka phenomenon is insanity. A marshrutka is like a Ford delivery van with dualies on the back. They normally have like 14 passenger seats inside. There are normally 30 people waiting to get in one. At least 20 people cram into one when it arrives. Of course there is no line system or advanced ticketing, so it is a mad rush to try to get on and get a seat. It’s like when you feed fish at the zoo, those little pellets, how they all rush up to the surface and go crazy. That’s what Armenia is like when a marshrutka arrives. In short, I hate it. The other factor is I’m 6’2”. I am above average by American standards but definitely nothing special. But in Armenia I am a giant. I have not seen an Armenian taller than me yet. They are a tiny people, perhaps bred specifically with that result in mind so that they themselves can fit into the marshrutkas.
Anyway, my new dad finagled us a seat up front, which was cool, but still not comfortable at all. The funny thing was they couldn’t get the thing started, so all the men hopped out and started pushing with random guys who are waiting around outside the marshrutka. They told me to sit inside while this was happening. So here I am, the American, sitting in the front seat by myself while 20 Armenian men heave-ho on the hood of this god-awful construct. Meanwhile a few PCTs were all dying laughing as they watched while waiting for their marshrutkas nearby.
Enough of that…my new city is Vardenis, and it is okay. It reminds me a bit of Phoenix with the mild mountainous background with no trees. It is very dry and dusty. The city has a few nice roads, but the road my family lives off of is in terrible shape. The city is very spread out. There are old soviet block apartment buildings off in the distance as well as a soccer stadium that is literally falling apart. My family’s house is nice though; it has a toilet and a shower, which is always a bonus.
The new host family is fine, but it is impossible not to compare host families. I like my PST family right now a lot more. Specifically, my current mom takes extremely good care of me. She always asks if I’m hungry or if I’ve eaten enough. She wakes up early just to cook me breakfast.
My new family has a much different way of eating. Breakfast seems to be non existent or at least quite light. One morning there was no breakfast. The other mornings breakfast was a bit of bread and a hard boiled egg or two. Lunches were late in the afternoon and the main meal of the day. Then dinner was at like 11 and was like breakfast except lighter: a bit of bread and cheese. I constantly felt like I could eat more, so I’m a bit concerned about how that will work out. I think I’ve already lost weight here despite eating a lot in Solak and not exercising at all. Also, my new host dad is great, but my mom isn’t as great. She is ok, but not sweet or as accommodating as my current mom. She likes to lay down a lot and doesn’t seem that happy. Since the dad will always be at work and he doesn’t cook or anything, having him as my champion is less useful.
After discussing my concerns with the A-16 volunteer who will be leaving in August, he said he experienced the same thing. The main reason he moved out was because he felt like he was paying them all this money every month and they weren’t using it on him. He said he lost weight while he was there while the mom had new clothes all the time. I had the same feeling this weekend. We were told to give them 10,000 dram for the 3.5 days we were there. There is no way I ate even half that much worth of food. In the US I could easily survive 7 days on 10,000 dram worth of food. So if that is par for the course, I will be moving out on December 6th into my own apartment.
Saturday I got to see the other volunteer’s apartment. He lives in a soviet block apartment building. His place was fine but very basic. To me, after living here over a month, the apartment seemed kind of nice. To anyone in the states it would seem pretty bad. There is a tiny kitchen and stove, no refrigerator, no laundry facilities, no TV, no internet, a non-flushing toilet, etc. But I liked his apartment and I think that way of life will suit me. It would be a lonely existence though.
Walking home from his apartment Saturday I began to get down on the situation. The town was a dump as far as I could tell, my family wasn’t as good as my first family, I was frustrated with the food situation, and to top everything off, the A-16 said that Vardenis has had 8 previous volunteers and only 3 have made it the full 2 years. Blegh. Two years suddenly felt like a lot longer than it sounded when I applied. Plus I would basically be there alone without any other Americans. I wasn’t thrilled.
I was hoping my visit to the YMCA on Monday would be the life preserver I needed in my sea of pity. Thankfully, it was. First of all, it’s in the down townish area, and there are actually a couple paved, decent streets with some stores. The YMCA was a nice facility, a renovated old building. The staff and my counterpart were great. They almost all speak English and are mostly women. That means barely any smoking! I was excited about the prospect of working there. I identified a couple areas I could possibly start tackling.
The same day I had 2 positive khnoot (store) experiences and drank a couple beers with Wayne. The day turned out to be a good one and it drastically improved my outlook for this town and for my future there. After all, this is my life and 2 years is a good chunk of that. I still think it will be a tough and challenging placement, but I also think I can handle it.
To give you a small insight into one of the store experiences:
Time: 7:00PM
Scene: Little white shack on the corner of two dusty ass pothole ass roads, 3 old men standing outside
<>
Me: Barev dzez (muttered) = Hello
Old Armenian Men: Brmrmr…something = ?
<>
Me: Hazar mek kilo? = 1000 1 kilo (What I was trying to say: 1000 for 1 kilo?)
Old Man: Ha = Yes
Me: Inch…vor ne konfet aveli hamov e? = What (oops)…which candy is more delicious?
<>
Me: Inch arzhi? = How much?
Old Man: Hazar haryur = 1,100/kg
Me: Uzum em mek kilo = I want 1 kilo
Old Man: Mek kilo??? <>
Old Man: something something tun? = ….house? <>
Me: Ha, yes aprum em Garineh u Nariki het = Yes, I live with Garineh and Narik
Old Man: Amerika eets?? = Are you from America?
Me: Yes Amerikatsi em. Hima yes aprum em Solakum bites heto yes aprelu em Vardenisum. = I am American. Now I live in Solak but later I am going to live in Vardenis.
Old Man: Kani dzamanak? = How much time?
Me: Yes aprelu em Vardenisum yerku tari. = I am going to live in Vardenis 2 years.
Old Man: Yerku tari… <>

So just like that, it felt like I went from being a complete stranger to a valued customer. That is the very cool part about this experience. Sometimes the lack of control over my time, schedule, and food intake can be annoying, but the tradeoff is you get these really cool little mini experiences that mean a lot more to you than any transaction in the states.

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