Gavar, Workshops, and New Year’s Prep

It’s that magical time between Christmas and New Year’s. There’re leftovers in the fridge, bowl games on TV, new gifts to be tinkered with, and New Year’s Eve to look forward to. But in Armenia, people are just now gearing up for the biggest time of the year. Upon my return from Gavar, I was surprised to find that it felt more like Christmas, even though my Christmas was over.

First, Gavar. I stayed 2 nights in my friend Chris’s apartment, with 6 other volunteers. It was quite a sight to see – all 8 of us sprawled in his bedroom/living room, sleeping bags everywhere. I was the youngest at 24. The oldest were in their early 60s. You are never too old for Peace Corps! It wasn’t just the 8 of us though. There were about 25 total, spread out over 4 apartments. We came together on Christmas Eve and Christmas Day to share meals together. The hosts did an excellent job. All the guests really had to do was help pay for food. It was nice to not worry about making something and then trying to transport it.

Most of our time was spent just sitting around, listening to Christmas music, chatting, and enjoying the company. It was a good opportunity to get to know some of the volunteers better, especially from the A-17 group. There really are only a handful (or less) of chances left to see them, as weird as that sounds. We did a gift exchange too. I brought a set of silverware. I received a handwoven soap holder and tooth brush cup. But then it got stolen, because we were playing “Dirty Santa”. I hate the stealing gift exchange games. I grabbed another present and it was a cheese grater, potato masher, and a funnel. So I got some useful stuff in the end.

Mom, Dad, Kelsey, Daisy!

Christmas morning we went to the church in Gavar. It was the most beautiful church I’ve seen in Armenia so far (I think the churches I saw in Vienna on the way over here ruined everything I could possibly see in Armenia). We lit some candles, explained to the candle selling lady why we weren’t all married, and headed back to the apartment. Overall it was a great time, a great distraction from being away from where you really want to be on Christmas. Did it feel like Christmas? Honestly, no, not at all.

The day I returned to Vardenis, my family was decorating the Christmas tree. It was such an odd feeling to decorate a tree the day after Christmas. It was also pretty funny. My host dad, who is usually pretty stoic and manly, was really into the decorating. He was leading the charge as far as ornament placement, tinsel stringing, and putting stuffed animals into the tree. Yes, since next year is the year of the rabbit, he felt it was necessary to place 3 stuffed rabbits onto the tree branches. His pleasure bubbled over when he looked at me and said, “They’re watching us!” But it didn’t stop there. Next, he found a stuffed rooster and artistically placed it on a low hanging branch. The rooster crows 3 times if its motion detector goes off. That has led to some funny scenes when one of the family members is stomping through the house, and then the rooster starts crowing randomly. But besides the tree, I didn’t have much time to think about the holiday, as I was busy helping with a workshop.

The EVS (European Volunteer Service) volunteers put on a photo workshop for the youth in Vardenis and Stepanavan the last couple weeks. First, kids from Vardenis went to Stepanavan for a weekend. On Monday and Tuesday, the Stepanavan kids visited Vardenis. Since it was at the Y, and I’m friends with all the EVS people, I was happy to help out. The kids were between 10-17, and there were 20 of them. They wrote a story that they would then create using photographs. Even though they were crazy, it was fun to work with them and help them make something creative. It reminded me of my days at MacArthur where we would have so much fun making stuff for video production class. Kids here don’t have those same opportunities, so it was great to see them make something fun and use their imaginations. My group’s theme was freedom, and they made a story about getting arrested and then breaking out of prison. They really had fun with it. They even got the local police force in on it, using an officer in some photos to help tell the story. Besides the actual workshop, there were meals to prepare for the kids, cleaning up after the meals, and other random tasks to do. Plus, the Y didn’t have water for those days, so we also took turns making trips to this random outdoor bathtub that had constantly flowing water nearby. All in all, it was fun to help out, and even better to see the kids’ perspectives broadened a bit between the traveling and the new ideas of using photography as a medium.

Thus, yesterday was my first day off duty for Christmas break. We’re shut down until the 17th I think. I really felt the upcoming holiday celebration’s imminence as the family bustled about preparing food and buying things. My host dad said once that they spend $1500 on New Year’s. It’s especially ridiculous when you consider how little they make in one year. I saw that money at work the last couple days. 30 kilos of meat, a mountain of lavash, and the ingredients for 5 large cakes, among other items, have flowed in lately. I wasn’t surprised when my host mom asked for next month’s money a couple days early. I said no problem, but also explained that if I move out, they have to pay me back. I wonder how smoothly that will work…

So now I am excited for the upcoming days. I am a bit apprehensive because I envision a lot of craziness and no down time to recover. Plus, they tend to want me to be a camera man at all times during celebrations. But the amount of food and drink to be had is enticing. And just to see the way they do everything. I have heard that it is a competition for guests. People will stay home and wait for others to come to their house. So it becomes a cat and mouse game, where everyone is waiting on everyone else. They also don’t formally invite you over, you’re just supposed to barge in (so I’ve heard). That is a bit uncomfortable for me, but I have to get over it. One of the girls at work explained that to us, and said, “I hope you will come to our house.” And I’m also not sure if you’re supposed to bring gifts with you when you visit or not. Observation will guide me. Besides my family, I will definitely go to my language teacher’s house, and the girl from work’s house. Other than that, I have no idea what will happen. Of course, a full debriefing will follow.

Okay, until tomorrow, when I will post my year in review.


One Response to “Gavar, Workshops, and New Year’s Prep”

  1. Kelsey Says:

    Love the candles kev 🙂

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