Archive for April, 2011

Genocide Memorial Day

April 24, 2011

Every April 24th is a day where Armenians take time to remember, grieve, and honor those massacred in the genocides of the 20th century. This particular day is chosen because April 24th, 1915 was a day when many of the intelligently/culturally elite Armenians were executed.

In Vardenis the only thing you’ll notice is a wreath and some flowers in the quaint memorial park near the only 4 way intersection in town. But in Yerevan it’s another story, as nearly 1 million people flow in and out of the Genocide Memorial monument. Each drops a flower around the eternal flame, creating a floral wall that is as breathtaking as it is depressing.

Every year they hold their breath to see what the United States says on this day of mourning. I think we don’t realize, as a nation, just how much the rest of the world watches us, observes us, and thinks about us. It was alarming for me to see today on my favorite Armenian news site that there were 2 separate headlines about the disappointment of Obama’s words (check it out here: http://www.armenianow.com/).

To mark this day on the same day the Christian world celebrates the resurrection of Jesus Christ is a bit interesting to say the least. Regardless, the Armenians will carry on, hoping that some day the U.S. calls it what it truly is, a genocide (and almost every U.S. state already recognizes the genocide). For Armenians, the genocide is a weight that burdens their souls in a way I will never understand.

Tsitsernakaberd

On a lighter note, I ate “marijuana” dolma at work on Friday. For Easter a traditional dish is dolma (rice/meat wrapped in grape or cabbage leaves) with an interesting twist: a sauce made from ground hemp seeds. It was pretty good but odd all the same. Also, at the post office I walked in to an animated discussion between my main man Sako and a couple of young Armenian dudes. I couldn’t understand what was going on, but one of the young guys was grabbing his friend’s arm (just like the way you would see a woman grabbing a man’s arm as they romantically walk down the street after a nice dinner and movie) per usual. What struck me was that he then moved from the arm to the face. He began stroking his buddy’s earlobe as the discussion raged onward. I couldn’t contain a smile and almost burst into laughter. And these people think I’M weird!

Nuclear Power in Armenia: The Threat that Keeps the Lights On

April 22, 2011

Just really quick, here is a wonderful article about the Metsamor nuclear power plant in Armenia. With the Japan tragedy unfolding, the whole world is turning its attention to Metsamor. The article also does a nice job of painting the picture of what the plant means to Armenians and why they continue to use it.

http://news.nationalgeographic.com/news/energy/2011/04/110412-most-dangerous-nuclear-plant-armenia/

The $160 Vacation Abroad

April 18, 2011

The amazing thing I didn’t hit on in my last post was the ridiculously small amount of money I spent on this trip. It was a good thing too, as I was able to just use cash that I brought with me from the States.

Transportation
Train to Tbilisi: 7000 AMD (~$20)
Marshrutka TBS to ERE: 30 GEL (~$20)
Roundtrip Marshrutka from Vardenis to ERE: 3000 AMD (~$8)

Food
Typical meal: 8 GEL (~$5)

Lodging
Couchsurfing: Free
Hostel (1 night): 25 GEL (~$18)

Drinks
Georgian Beer: 1.80 GEL ($1)
Imported Beer: 8 GEL (~$5)
2 Liters of amazing Homemade Wine: 6 GEL (~$3.50)

That gives you an idea. But the most mind-blowing for me was the taxi driver/guide we hired in Gori. He drove us around for several hours to at least 3 different places, gave us information we never would have known in pretty good English, and basically made life worry-free for a whole afternoon. Then, we paid him in the old capital city, thinking he and the Brit would go to a museum we weren’t interested in and that we would take a marshrutka back to town. The museum was closed, so we tagged along with them to a church, spent at least 30 minutes there, and then he drove us back into Tbilisi and dropped us off right where we requested – all at no extra charge. Total damage: a meager 40 GEL, split amongst 3 of us, which meant about 13 GEL or roughly $8!! If you are traveling in Georgia, please Google Tariel Tabashidze. This guy is the real deal. Cell: +99599648928

So I spent 5 days/4 nights in a fairly developed capital city and spent less than some people spend in a bar on a given night. I don’t expect the same from the Poland trip, but man is it cool to take such an inexpensive vacation to a foreign country! Especially since I’m not making any money now! 😛

Funny moment in English club today: We were practicing asking for and saying our phone numbers. I said mine and all the girls wrote it down (save for 1 who somehow already had it, WTF?!). I think that’s the first time that’s happened in my life! Hah!

Georgia

April 16, 2011

I’m sick, I’m tired, there is no electricity, and there is no water, but I’m happy! Why? It feels so great to be at home after my first vacation out of the country.

Here is the overview of the trip. If you are not a fan of reading, just see this part, look at the photos, and move on to the next website of the day. I will give the detail below.

Sunday, April 10th – 8:30 a.m. Marshrutka to Yerevan. Get out and walk to Solak. Visit. Solak to Charentsavan via 1:00 Marshrutka. Charentsavan to Yerevan via Marshrutka. Arrive in Yerevan at 2 something. Depart Yerevan via train at 9:00 p.m.
Monday, April 11th – 7:30 a.m. arrive in Tbilisi. Visit.
Tuesday, April 12th – More visit.
Wednesday, April 13th – 9:00 a.m. marshrutka to Gori. Hire a taxi/guide to take us to other sites around noon. Return to Tbilisi in the evening.
Thursday, April 14th – More Tbilisi.
Friday, April 15th – Depart for Yerevan via 8:30 a.m. marshrutka. 5:30 p.m. Vardenis marshrutka. Return to site at 8:30 p.m.

Sunday
From the outset, I was more excited about visiting Solak than I was about visiting Georgia. This time I would visit with Aga which was pretty fun. Since the grandma is half Russian, she really enjoyed speaking Russian with Aga. I felt bad because we had to walk through some serious mud after getting out of the marshrutka on the highway. It was also raining and windy, pretty much the worst possible weather for walking into the village. But we made it! We had coffee, chatted, and then ate some delicious homemade cheese, lavash, and potatoes before going. There were a couple funny moments for me. One was having a Russian conversation translated for me into Armenian and actually understanding it. The other was our discussion of languages, where the grandma said something like, “English: th, th, th! French: gh, gh, gh! Armenian: kh, kh, kh! But Russian? It’s nice!” They went on to explain that Georgian, which we would soon discover, is a language that requires a potato to be stuck in your throat. We also made fun of the Georgian alphabet together, which Armenians love to do, because Mesrop Mashtots created the Georgian alphabet after the Armenian alphabet.

After the Solak rendezvous, we went to Charentsavan in order to get to Yerevan. In Yerevan it was raining of course. First we had to buy our train tickets at the station. Then we went to a place called Jazzve (a coffee house) to meet an Armenian friend. Then we walked around a bit more before coming back to the station for the train.

This was my first overnight train ride. The first thing we noticed was the Armenian music blaring from all the speakers, and then we noticed the heat wasn’t working. Hmmm. We were in a four person open compartment with sleepers. The train seemed pretty empty, but then some Anglo guy came up and asked if we spoke Russian in Russian. His gray hair said he was in his 40s, but his face said late 20s. It turns out that he was a German living in Swansea, Whales (and he was in his early 30s). It was cool because when he spoke there wasn’t a hint of a German accent. I really would have believed he was British if he told me. Only when he said a view words in German did I believe his heritage. The guy was on his way to Iraq. It was nice to meet a fellow traveler and also to have someone cool in our compartment as opposed to the Armenian man who snored all night in the next compartment.

The train ride was 12 hours long. There was no food service. We brought some food and wine and enjoyed that along the way. Unfortunately, most of the ride was in the dark so there was no scenery. We went to bed around 12 only to be woken up a few hours later by the Armenian border authorities. Then a couple hours later it was the Georgians’ turn. That equated to a pretty shitty night’s sleep to begin the travels, but oh well.

Monday
We arrived in Tbilisi pretty early. In fact, we took the metro to the center and it was devoid of people. Feeling pretty tired, greasy, hungry, and needing a nice bathroom, we found a restaurant for breakfast. My first food in Georgia was a pizza-like khachapuri with cheese and egg, slightly reminiscent of French toast without syrup. It was pretty good, but I didn’t know how much better it could be. After breakfast we headed to meet our couch surfer and drop off our bags.

Her house was a bit of a walk, but the place itself was pretty sweet. 2 stories, 2 bathrooms, and much nicer than anything I’ve seen in Armenia. She was a former EVS volunteer from Romania. Her roommate was a dude from Kansas doing freelance journalism. So, it was an interesting duo. As my first couch surfing experience, it was really cool. I felt a little weird just coming into these peoples’ home, but they really welcomed us nicely. Plus I brought them some 5 year Ararat cognac as a gift, which doesn’t hurt! Couch Surfing was a great way to really feel like you are living in the city, meet some cool new people, and also save some dough on lodging.

After meeting our hostess, she took us to her University to show us around. It was pretty interesting to see this university, which resembled more of an office place inside than a university. We walked around amongst a swarm of young Georgians. The differences between them and Armenians were quickly apparent. They aren’t as homogeneous. Many of the girls have light colored eyes and lighter colored hair. The fashion is quite different. You don’t see stiletto heels and pointy black shoes everywhere. The boys love to have long hair. The girls don’t cake the makeup on quite as heavily. Both sexes seemed more attractive too. Most of all, there was little to no staring during our whole trip. Now that was a vacation.

After the university tour, I was feeling pretty tired. We took a bus up to the top of one of the hills where there is a huge broadcasting tower and ferris wheel. On the ride, we drove through Old Town, which is just as cool looking as everything said it would be. There was so much flavor and character in the architecture that you just don’t find in Yerevan. I was groggy on the bus ride, but quickly got my second wind when we got to the top of the hill and the sun came out. It was like an off-season amusement park. There were gardens to walk through and benches everywhere. We strolled through the park and found the ferris wheel. And yes, for the first time in my life, I rode the ferris wheel. I must admit that I wasn’t 100% comfortable, but it was easier than taking the man lift at ADM for the first time. The funniest thing, besides my fear of heights, was that the wheel was completely empty, but the operator’s booth had 4 workers inside. Classic post-Soviet efficiency right there!

Following the “Eye” of Tbilisi, we found a bench and had some wine in the park. It was great as the sun was shining and there were people out and about. We returned just in time to take the bus back to the center.

From there, we did what any American would do when faced with the Golden Arches for the first time in almost a year: we ate McDonald’s. Double cheeseburger, fries, and the first fountain drink since crossing the pond. It was delicious of course, but also left me kind of glad that I hadn’t eaten it in 10 months. After reading Fast Food Nation, I shouldn’t even want to come close to the place. But what can I say? I’m American and have already been indoctrinated in the WacArnold’s lifestyle. It was odd to see the Georgians enjoying it. I don’t know why. I could tell it was a destination for them, kind of a treat…just like it is for so many of us (especially when we are younger). I can’t help but wonder if it’s a good thing or a bad thing.

It is what it is

Post-McDonald’s we went in search of a place to have a beer. After a lengthy search, we found a place that had a pretty odd vibe. It was part night club, part restaurant. Big red booths were placed around a wide open area and an elevated section with a small stage and more booths. We weren’t feeling it, but then a band took the stage. They looked like a bunch of Georgians who just walked in off the street. There was a bass guitar, accordion, bongo, and a couple other guys messing around warming up. I thought nothing of it, but then when they played their first song I was amazed with the energy and emotion coming out of their music. It was noticeably more upbeat than Armenian music. There was no duduk, which despite its uniqueness, I often find annoying. Instead, there were two men belting out incredible vocals, often harmonizing together. That, mixed with accordion and a pounding beat made for a real special musical experience that I won’t soon forget. Something like this, but more energetic:
http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=EDckWEoVmns&feature=related

Finally, we returned near the uni to meet our hostess and some of her students for Georgian pizza. The restaurant was impressive, so we made a note to return the next day for breakfast. We headed home, had a bit of the cognac with the hosts, then went to bed exhausted.

Tuesday
The weather was not really cooperating with us at this point. Another rainy day ensued, and I was saved again by the Marmott jacket sent by Mr. Yorke. First up was an amazing khachapuri breakfast at the restaurant. I couldn’t believe how delicious it was. It’s basically bread that is outfitted into a boat-like shape. In the middle you can get a variety of things. The traditional one is with cheese, eggs, and butter. The size is pretty incredible. The large is big enough for 2 people easily. And at 8 lari, it’s pretty cheap (that’s about $5). On this day, we split one that had cheese, peppers, and tomatoes, making it a very pizza-like way to start the day, which is always okay by me. I am convinced that Americans would really take to khachapuri. So much so that I could see myself opening a Georgian-style restaurant someday just to share this amazing food with the people who would really know how to eat it!

Tell me you don't want to just dive in! OMG

Next up was seeing the city. We went to the old town and walked around a bit. We crossed the river and headed towards the biggest church in Georgia. I believe it is the 3rd biggest church in Europe. Of course, it can’t compete with our mega churches, even if those are sometimes converted office buildings/Wal*Marts. The church was impressive on the outside, but the inside was a little empty. You see, there are really no rooms inside. It’s one big area filled with relics and paintings and stuff. No pews like we have. So it’s really just a pretty big room with a massive ceiling. But it lacks the stained glass, frescoes, and other character you can find elsewhere.

Big enough to house Sally Struthers

We continued walking around and eating street food. We dipped into an Armenian church, which though diminutive, had a choir practicing in the balcony (first time I’ve seen anything like that in the Caucasus), which gave the church a beautiful atmosphere. Then we found a café. We wanted hot chocolate even though it wasn’t on the menu. They improvised and served us a melted/liquid chocolate bar in tiny coffee cups. Interesting to say the least!

Old Town: Feel the charm

That night we ate at our hostesses house, as she prepared for us a wonderful Romanian dish. I have no idea how to describe it. There was a big pot, and inside she baked a mixture of corn flour, cheese, and other stuff. It was pretty good! Knowing that the next day would be an early one, and the fact that it was still raining outside, we decided to have an early night.

Wednesday
We went off to meet Aga’s EVS friend (also from Poland), who took the train in to meet us and go on a trip. Our destination was Gori, a nearby town famous for being the birthplace of Stalin.

The trip offered me a chance to see something outside of the capital, which is always good. I was impressed with the highway system, which is several notches above what you’ll find in Armenia. But soon we ran into snow and I feared the day would be another weather nightmare.

Gori was a pretty nice place. It’s supposedly 50,000 people. There is an ancient castle in the middle of town. We scaled up the old stone steps to reach the castle grounds. Once we breached the walls, tremendous wind was waiting for us. The top of the castle was just a large green area from which you could see the city over the stone walls. I don’t think I’ve ever been in such a windy situation! We didn’t stay long since it was cold and uncomfortable up there.

Gori from the castletop

Then we went to the Stalin museum. It was a pretty cool place, if you’re into that sort of thing. Lots of great pictures and artifacts from his life. They even had his death mask, which was a bit creepy to see. There was also a very feminine fur coat on display, given as a gift, which according to the tour guide, “he never wore.” Yeah right! There was also Stalin’s personal train wagon. We saw the inside and all the nice amenities he had. It was nicer than our train from Yerevan, that’s for sure. He even had a early-model air conditioner in there. Finally, there was his original house. It’s funny because the rest of the neighborhood has long since been destroyed. But his house remains, protected by a bigger structure. The house was like one of those prairie homes you see that is just one room and you wonder, “how did they live here?”

I aspire to him only in the realm of moustaches

At the museum we randomly met a Georgian taxi driver who was there with a Brit. He offered to take us with them as he was a tour guide. It actually worked out great. After Gori we went to a church in a river gorge with some nice frescoes. Then he drove us to a cave city in a river valley. Finally, we went to the former capital of Georgia, which has a couple really nice churches. He drove us back to Tbilisi and we said goodbye.

We had dinner with Aga’s friend and then she went her separate way. Our next mission was to find homemade Georgian wine, which is harder than it sounds in a big city. After a bit of walking, we were successful. It was getting dark, so we headed towards an old fortress on the hill for a great view of the city. Tbilisi at night is a mix of glowing orange lights which is really something special. We got up there just in time to see the turquoise sky putting the sun to bed. The wind was fierce, so we only stayed for a few minutes, but it was one of the best views I’ve had in my life and won’t easily be forgotten.

Unforgettable

Thursday
We started off the day right with one more khachapuri breakfast from our favorite restaurant. I began plotting schemes for stealing some Georgians for use in my new restaurant back home.

The afternoon was spent wandering around and finally enjoying some warm sunny weather. There was a great park where we had ice cream and did some serious people watching. We also stopped in at the office of an organization that is hosting an international weeklong workshop in Batumi. Aga is a leader for the Armenian delegation, so there was some business to take care of. Several of the next hours were spent greeting the 3 Armenians who arrived in Tbilisi and escorting them to the office.

That night I was booked at a hostel, so I made my way there to check in and take a shower. It was a day full of walking so it was great to finally take a small breather. Then I met back up with Aga and we strolled around a bit before she had to go back to the office with her people. I walked her back, said goodbye, and then took a nice long slow walk through the heart of Tbilisi for the last time. The city was going to sleep, you could feel it. The glow of the streetlights guided me home as I listened to music and soaked it all in.

Friday
I got up at 6 a.m. I exited the Hostel, not feeling so hot after a week of walking around in the cold and rain. Not knowing Georgian or Russian, I was a bit nervous about finding the bus station I needed. I flagged down the first crappy taxi I saw (something about the Mercedes taxis, I just think they’ll charge me more). I said to the driver, “English? Hayeren (Armenian)?” He nodded yes to the English, so I said where I wanted to go and asked how much. He told me with his hand, 5 lari. Okay. Then he motioned for a gate and said 1 lari. I said, “Okay, khntir chka”, which is “no problem” in Armenian. Now he realized I spoke Armenian and it turned out he did too. Something about my initial question didn’t register I guess. So the fact he was Armenian made things a lot easier. We got to the bus station and the Yerevan marshrutka wasn’t there yet. But there was a guy in a van who said it would be 40 lari to Yerevan. I knew the marshrutka should be 30, so I said no. Then he said 30 lari. I said no again. Then he did the WTF thing with his hand as I got out of the taxi and waited for my marshrutka. It soon pulled up and I got my choice of seats. I chose the front so I could see the country. Since it is a big trip, the marshrutka doesn’t leave until it is full. I arrived at 6:45 and we didn’t leave until 8:30. The last 45 minutes or so of waiting was spent with 1 empty seat!
6 or 7 hours later we were in Yerevan. I made my way to the PC office as I thought I had a meeting. But it turns out I wasn’t needed at the meeting, since it was to prepare training materials for the training I will be participating in. So I had some shwarma and Mountain Dew, talked to some volunteers, and went for a beer with them. I had planned to stay overnight in Artashat with another PCV, but those plans were dashed once I didn’t need to be at the 2 day meeting. I went home to Vardenis, which felt great since I was pretty sick the whole day. 9 hours in marshrutkas – a new personal record for 1 day.

So, that’s what I did. What did I think? Georgia is definitely more Western than Armenia. You can see and feel an openness that doesn’t exist here. The people are just as friendly and willing to help. Their cuisine is ridiculously based on bread, but their bread is delicious. I didn’t get to drink as much wine as I wanted, but what I did have was great. The sights were great, but I can’t say I haven’t seen more awe-inspiring things in the States. How can I compare a capital city in the Caucasus to Yosemite? The church I saw in Vienna blows all the other ones out of the water, even if they are from the 5th century. But I am very glad to have gone there and experience something new. If anything, these people have more in common with Armenians than they would like to admit. Sure, they are completely separate cultures and nations, but you can’t take the Caucasus out of them. The city was more beautiful than Yerevan, more spread out, and generally cleaner. But there were many beggars everywhere (Yerevan has almost none). Especially disturbing were the young Gypsies (I hesitate to say that b/c I don’t want to lump all the people into that ethnic group which has more than its share of stereotypes, but they were darker skinned and looked like…Gypsies) that were obviously told by their moms to lay in the middle of the sidewalk to look extra pathetic. Multiple times I had a small girl come up to me and grab me, tug at my arms, and follow me. The women were beautiful and free. The men were handsome (I think?) and a bit on the full side of the self-confidence meter. It was similar to Armenia in so many aspects that I would really have to spend quite a bit of time there to discover the true differences. Tbilisi is a nice place, and I’m glad I went.

A Full Day

April 8, 2011

Yesterday was one of those days where you are lying in bed at the end thinking about all the cool stuff you just did. Let me capture that moment, more for my future self than anything, before I forget.

7:00: Wake up (about 1.5 hours earlier than any Armenians) and go for a run. Set a new course record, and, since I am the only one who runs this course, by default, a new world record for my meager ~4km loop of 16:53. It feels great to break 17. Enjoy a strong runner’s high after the max effort.
8:30: Skype with Peter for the first time in country (way overdue!). It was great to feel that he was in the room with me. Reminiscent of one of our thousands of conversations at SLU.
10:00: Go to the Y only to find that it is dead quiet except for the janitor. No child programs today since there is a concert at 12.
12:00: Take pictures of the concert. Beam a big smile as I watch the kids sing “Itsy Bitsy Spider” and “Wheels on the Bus Go Round and Round” (my favorite song from childhood). Who says Peace Corps doesn’t have an impact?!
2:00: Impromptu meeting with the CEO of the National YMCA. The website is finally done and there will be upcoming training meetings to show us how to use and update it. I can’t attend the first training since I’ll be in Georgia, but hopefully there is another I can go to.
4:00: Head home from the Y. On the way home, I stop in the flower shop near my house. Have a great conversation with the owner, who is one of the most friendly and easily understood men I’ve met in Vardenis.
4:30: Get home. Realize there is no water so I can’t finish my laundry as planned. Instead I sit and daydream about the near future for a while, after eating some bread and cheese for lunch.
6:00: Read, listen to music, work out, prepare dinner
7:30: Force myself to go to host family’s house for the first time since moving out. Give the women roses for Women’s Day, eat dolma, crush a bottle of vodka in about 20 minutes with the host dad and his brother, hang out with them for a couple hours. Realize that coming to visit them is kind of cool and that I should do it more often.
10:00: Get home and after hearing gushing water, realize I left the tap open. Speedily do some laundry, go to give Aga a rose too, call Solak host family and wish Artur a happy birthday and arrange a visit for Sunday
12:00: Go to bed and listen to Nickel Creek

Sunday I’m off to Georgia for a few days. Then I have some meetings in Yerevan. It’s shaping up to be a busy month, as I will also have something in Vanadzor and then a 3 day training in Yerevan for the HIV initiative. Next time, full report of Georgia and other happenings.

Tretuk

April 3, 2011

One of the coolest things that Peace Corps offers me is the opportunity to constantly experience new things. There is a mysterious place to go and explore, or a new person to converse with, or a funny experience around every corner. With that in mind, yesterday Aga and I set out for a distant village at the base of the mountains comprising the Azeri border.

The village is visible from Vardenis on a clear day. There are several villages sprinkled right at the base of the mountains, which are majority refugee. Tretuk was our choice mainly because of its remoteness.

Our walk took us through Mets Masrik, which is a decent sized (several thousand) village outside of Vardenis. As a foreigner walking through a village, you are sure to turn every head. So, it’s a bit of a weird experience. But as we were greeted by some village boys in Armenian, rather than a high-pitched mocking “helloooooooooo!!!” we would get in Vardenis, the village had a charm.

After Mets Masrik, we turned onto the road leading to Tretuk. Surprisingly, it was in great condition. On top of a great road, the weather was near perfect. The wind was calm but refreshing, the sun popping out from an overcast sky now and then, and the birds in the fields chirping away. The lack of traffic on the road made for a very peaceful walk.

One of the most relaxing moments of my life

We stopped at an abandoned complex of some sort. I couldn’t really tell what it was – there was a small empty building with a fenced area that contained a man-made, sod covered hill with a lock on the hatch. We sat down on the angled edge of the hill to take our boots off and have a snack. Laying in the middle of nowhere, looking out at the mountains with the warm highland sun beaming on my face, feeling the onset of fatigue after a couple hours of walking, and knowing that we were about to go to a new place, I can say it was one of the most peaceful and serene moments in my life. The world seemed to belong only to us.

After another hour of walking we entered the village. It was quainter than I had imagined. There were lots of destroyed houses everywhere. I couldn’t figure out if the destruction was due to age or warfare. There weren’t many signs of life until we came around to the other side of a large plain building, where there were 6 Armenians or so squatting in the shade. They looked up at us suspiciously as we walked by. My game plan had been to be really friendly in the village, in hopes of meeting someone interesting, but something about their glares sent my plans dashing.

We kept walking down the only road. There was an old woman walking in front of us. When she heard us, she turned around, gave us a WTF look, and then sped up. “Okay, maybe we won’t meet anyone in this village…” I thought to myself. Since we were hungry, we decided to scale a hill and sit at one of the destroyed houses to eat.

Once we got seated we had a pretty decent view of the village. You could see the villagers still congregated and contemplating our presence. Then, from behind one of the standing walls of the house, a guy on a horse appeared. He rode right up to us and we began speaking. He was a younger guy and didn’t really look Armenian. His dark weathered face was accented with light brown hair and light eyes, a rarity among Armenians. After correctly guessing that I was American (that never happens), he offered us to ride his horse. Sadly, all I could think of was Peace Corps’s rulebook stating that we are forbidden to ride a bike, donkey, horse, etc without a helmet. That, plus considering the roughly 10-15% grade of the hill we were on, I politely declined.

“Are you hungry? If you’re hungry, let’s go to my house.” We were both happy that he offered, and agreed to go. His house was just at the bottom of the hill. After tying up the horse (named Bullion) we were met with a Noah’s Ark of animals. Turkeys and chickens started spilling out of the yard. A huge fluffy dog rolled around on the ground wagging his tail. The man went to the dog and held its mouth, like a muzzle. It looked like a friendly dog, but I didn’t mind the gesture since you never know. We were also met by an older woman and a cute little girl, who promptly ran away accordingly in cute fashion.

Inside was another old woman and one of the most beautiful Armenian women I’ve seen. Her beauty was simple, without makeup or glamour. And after talking with them, it was obvious she was beautiful on the inside too. To see someone like that in a village was a bit of a surprise. She was holding a little boy, and my first thought was that she was the wife of the kind man who invited us in. I thought what a great couple they are. But it turns out she is his brother’s wife.

We sat down in their warm family room and were served homemade cherry juice. They kept asking if we were hungry, or if they should bring bread, or if we wanted matsun, but I kept declining. We brought food with us, and I’m sure even though they were willing, the family didn’t have a lot of excess. It felt great to sit down after a 3 hour walk. Aga tried speaking to them in Russian, but they responded to her in Armenian. So the conversation during our hour long stay was Armenian. I was surprised that their barbar was not as thick as in Vardenis. They asked all about us (Who told you about our village? How did you know it was here? Why did you come here? How did you get here? How are you going back? Can we get a car to take you? How old are you? Are you brother and sister? Are you married? What do you do in Armenia? Were you born in Armenia? And much more). It was great to talk to a family in such a remote place. Their village is only 100 people. Can you imagine living in a place like that?

Then, it was time to leave. I asked if they wanted a picture of their family. They were interested in my camera and agreed (except for the pretty girl – interesting, and refreshing). We said goodbye and left having made some new friends in a faraway place.

New friends

On the walk back, I couldn’t help but think about the man, Davit. He is 24, just like me. I thought he might be much older, but living in a village in Armenia isn’t exactly an easy life. I wondered about his life, what he does, what he will be, how easily I could be in his place and he in mine, and if he will find a great girl to marry. I also thought about how drastically different our lives are and if we would be friends in another world. Despite all these ideas out of my control, I am happy to have met someone like him who is somehow open-minded despite his situation.

In other news, our Border2Border project has been completely funded! Thank you to everyone who contributed, shared the link, joined the Cause, or told your friends about it. We really appreciate you guys helping us out. In April we will be printing out our curriculum, buying prizes for the kids, and making other preparations ahead of the June start date. Late April/early May will be site visits, where the walkers will drop off thousands of brochures and posters along our route and meet with community stakeholders. We have been meeting with Armenian Red Cross and fully expect to utilize their partnership to make the event a success. Also, as I am not a walker, the lead team members called me and welcomed me to participate in any stretch of the course I would like. I appreciated the gesture, and will probably take them up on their offer. There is a stretch from Martuni to Yeghegnadzor, the final stop, which I would like to do. It involves 2 days through a mountain pass and a night of camping. Although, after walking 27km yesterday, I’m glad that I’ll only be doing a couple days of walking!

Next Sunday I will go to Georgia for the first time. The plan is to take the train from Yerevan, which takes 15 hours or so. Then I will stay with a CouchSurfer in Tbilisi while we meet up with Aga’s friend to show us the sights. It should be a great experience. I’m ready to see Georgia after hearing many great things.

More soon!