Friday, February 23, 2007

Gender awareness

Today is a holiday for males in Armenia. The students celebrate in school by buying gifts for all of the boys in their class. It's not like on Valentine's Day in America when you only buy for the one you like most, here everyone gets a present. This seems like a good idea, in Hermine's seventh grade class all of the girls contributed 400 dram ($1.50) and then went to the store together to pick out a present for their classmates. But then I asked Sargis what would happen in his class, where there are 21 boys and only five girls; it seems that the holiday becomes quite a burden in the 6a classroom.

Earlier this week a new litter of pigs were born in our household. Eleven total, the last one and smallest had a difficult entry into the world. On Wednesday we brought him inside the house so that he could stay warm and get strong apart from all his brothers and sisters. It seems they're all very feisty and one of them stepped on his ear. At first he couldn't even stand and they were feeding him with a bottle. He spent two nights sleeping in a cardboard box next to the wood burner. They filled up the mini wine bottle I brought back from my AirFrance flight with hot water and he would sleep on top of it for warmth. I got pretty jealous of little Oscar (they were showing a commercial for the award event when I was asked to choose a name), he looked warm in that little box. It was fun for a few days to wake up and come downstairs to the little snorting pet, but he got rambunctious and was sent back to the pen with the rest of the piglets. Yesterday someone came to buy a pig and much to our dismay we learned that Oscar is in fact a girl. We changed her name to Oscarita and the problem was solved, but now I guess she won't get to celebrate today's holiday.

Monday, February 12, 2007


To PCVs a SPA doesn't mean relaxation but Small Project Assistance grant writing. I spent the majority of last week learning about how to effectively write project proposals with the people in my village. People used to always ask me, 'so, what exactly do you do with an organizational communications major?' I guess this is it. Although the process of identifying a need/priority in the community, planning, proposal writing, implementing, record keeping, monitoring and evaluation is all very familiar, it was exciting to see my counterpart light up at the work that goes into project development. She's young and enthusiastic and I am excited about the work that we have ahead of us.

We've drafted a community questionaire and recruited students from the youth action club to distribute them door-to-door. I would do it myself, but I can't go anywhere in the village without being invited in for an hour conversation and a cup of coffee.

Before I was most intimidated by the fact that a lot of what I wanted to do was not community initiated and I didn't feel that I could effectively build capacity alone. It's exciting to see, however, that once one person buys into your plans or ideas how others begin to follow. Now that I've got an engaged counterpart (an 'in') I'm hopeful about the potential for our work.

Friday, February 02, 2007

It's winter here.

I would like to sincerely apologize if we didn’t get to spend time together while I was home. The purpose of my trip was to spend time with my family and it didn’t leave a lot of time for visiting. America is a great place though, and I hope you are all enjoying the new year. Although I was in Ohio for less than two weeks, I was able to enjoy a burrito, a Graeter’s raspberry chocolate chip cone, Chinese food, sushi, Aunt Dee’s cherry cheesecake, dry cleaning (but better yet a washing machine inside the house), hot showers, running water, central heating, possession of a car, a credit card and access to Target (via the car). I’m embarrassed that the list begins with all of the food I got to indulge in, but what can I say? Columbus has some really great restaurants. Don’t take these things or the people who you enjoy them with for granted. I can honestly say this appreciation for America and the people in it is strongest as I write this blog entry from a computer on the other side of the world.

I got a hearty welcome from Mother Nature when I got back last Monday. It snowed about six inches and interestingly enough the snow plows didn’t show up in the village. For some reason, I came back and forgot where I was and proceeded to brush my teeth in the sink only to realize (after none of my spit was draining) that the pipes were frozen all the way through. I stood staring at my orange toothpaste just floating in the frozen water for at least ten minutes trying to decide if maybe some pouring some boiling water in the basin would thaw it out. I was informed that the only way to solve my problem was to take a cup and throw the water down the drain in the floor (thank goodness the ground doesn’t freeze). The kids wanted to know what was wrong with my mouth (they’d never seen someone foam orange) and I explained that it was my new “Amerikakan” Aquafresh toothpaste. They weren’t impressed. I have since learned to brush my teeth and wash my face in a squatting position above the drain.

At home people wanted to know what the weather is like here. It’s cold. It’s so cold that the toilet bowl water freezes. It’s so cold that my 10-year-old nephew and I write love notes to each other in the ice growing on the bathroom wall. The school is so cold that the day starts at 11 a.m. and ends at 3:15 p.m. because we can’t heat the classrooms. The students go to each class for 20 minutes. I guess you don’t actually have to show up right now because our ninth grade class last week had 10 students (and this isn’t Capital there are supposed to be at least 26 in the class) and my eighth grade class had seven. We sat around and talked about stress (the topic of the lesson) but the short conversation turned to HIV/AIDS after only five minutes and we never got back on track. I asked my counterpart what would happen to the classes/lessons if students didn’t show up and she said that she would review when we began a regular routine again. Although I don’t know when that will be I can’t understand the purpose of these classes…except to remind us how miserable being indoors can be. That’s what was most shocking to me in America. I could hop out of my warm bed, shower in a warm bathroom, get dressed in a warm bedroom, leave the house through a garage (which, incidentally is probably is the same temperature as my bedroom here) and sit in a warm car, drive to a warm destination and the whole time never even know that it’s winter at all.

February 1st was Manuk’s 40th day of being alive (he was the boy born right before Christmas). After school I got home and my host sister had prepared lentil and pasta soup, bread and cheese for lunch. I ate in a hurry because she said that we had to go to Manuk’s party. I’m not sure of the significance of 40 days, but the minute she said party it occurred to me that I was going to be fed again as soon as we arrived. Party and BBQ are synonyms in Armenia. I asked if I shouldn’t eat a big lunch and they all said that I should, knowing full well I was going to go to my host sister’s house in less than 20 minutes. True to Armenian form, the minute we walked in the door I was pinched on my cheek, told I had gotten skinny in America and shoved to the table. Before I even sat my host sister and mother began piling my plate with spoonfuls of rice and a chicken leg. They poured me some liquor and a cup of juice and began to toast to my health, the baby’s health, our family’s health and the health of the whole world. I found the chicken leg to be chewy and covered in skin, but before I could complain I looked across the table and saw my host nephew gnawing on a chicken throat. I thought that was strange until I looked next to him at my other nephew trying to eat the skin between two chicken toes. I didn’t know there was meat on chicken feet! As it turns out there is, and my other host sister proved that when you devour it entirely all you’re left with are a few three inch long nails. I guess I was able to hide my surprise as I remembered my first host mother trying to force me to eat a cold pig’s ear last summer.

People have asked what I eat on a regular basis-meat isn’t it. Normally I have rice or barley or macaroni as a main dish, it is accompanied by cheese, bread, cabbage/carrot salad and juice. The food improves ten fold in the summer when there is a regular supply of fresh fruits and vegetables. Fortunately we often have apples for dessert. I keep a small stock of peanut butter and chocolate in my room but generally I stay pretty full and only use it for days when I’m traveling.

Fortunately, I’m able to ease back into my Armenian lifestyle. All of the A13s are meeting for a project design management workshop this week with our counterparts. I am bringing the chemistry teacher from school and we hope to learn how we can develop a plan for building a pool in the village...I’ll keep you updated.
If you look carefully, you'll see Mt. Ararat through the clouds in the background. It has two peaks. I also enjoy this photo for the outhouse conveniently situated in the backyard.

Two seconds earlier I was smiling and waving for the camera. My photographer was a bit delayed.

This mountain makes for a great hike in the summer--when the snow isn't up to your knees.