Friday, August 31, 2007

First bell for the last time

Today was the first bell ceremony signaling the beginning of fall and the beginning of another school year. Excitement was high as all of the kids lined up in front of the school in their black and white. For some reason the event seemed hours shorter this year than last. Perhaps this is because it's not nearly as hot and I wasn't quite as scared of the whole situation. Knowing what to expect, and knowing this language makes every situation so much easier.

As I prepared my speech last night (a sign that I wasn't as nervous-last year I studied weeks in advance and practiced in front of the mirror for hours on end) I laughed at how little I knew exactly one year ago today. I remember writing the speech with the English teacher and warning her that the words she was using were far beyond my vocabulary. I remember standing on the stage and mispronouncing the word Hayastan (Armenia). I remember feeling uncomfortable in the outfit my host family dressed me in. This year, dressed in my own clothes, I got butterflies but only because I decided that at the end of my speech I'd do the unprecedented and chant the summer Green Camp song with the kids. It was a big hit.

I've organized materials for my counterpart in the classroom this year but I've found myself busy with projects outside the classroom too. I've agreed to teach English 30 minutes-1 hour each week in the kindergarten, we have the after-school big brother/big sister nature club we plan to start, the new playground ribbon-cutting event will take place on September 20th and I'll be traveling in September to Vanadzor to grade our YES program applications. We just finished a grant application to the Open Institute Society of Armenia for a European Exchange club that I'm praying will be successful because it will serve as a platform for introducing the concept of service learning in the classroom. We're also staying very busy with PC initiative work. Our first round of initiative meetings with the new A15s is this month.

Today was the first day of 'school' but we get to rest tomorrow because it's Sunday. The real fun begins on Monday. Labor day. Happy Autumn All!

Tuesday, August 28, 2007

First Tooth Party

Today was the celebration of Manuk's first tooth. I was looking forward to this party as I had heard that on this occasion the baby (he's not even a year old yet) chooses his future profession. Curious about how this situation would play out I framed one of my favorite family photos as a gift and ran over to Aunt Liana's house.

When I arrived there were at least thirty people crouched around an empty blanket on the floor. They were laying out all kinds of items from scissors to pens, money to books. Each item represented a future profession (the scissors a barber, the pen a writer, etc...) They were short a cell phone so I offered mine and Manuk immediately began chewing on it with his one new tooth. I also thought it might be good to throw in my Armenian/English dictionary-after all, maybe he would become a translator.

After everyone arrived they sat Manuk down in the center of the blanket and covered his head with a lace table cloth. Much to my surprise, they began throwing cooked kidney beans, chickpeas and other forms of grains on his head from a bowl his mother provided. The kids in the front row and got very excited about this part of the ceremony. When the bowl was empty the veil was removed and everyone sat silently waiting for him to choose his item. More realistically they sat silently for about ten seconds--he must be quite a pensive child because he didn't choose right away. The crowd started to get impatient and bystanders began to shout things like, "Pick the money Manuk!" and "Push everything closer! There's no need for the things to be 10 km away!"

He rested his hand on my English/Armenian dictionary but it was the scissors that he eventually grabbed and immediately placed in his mouth (a hazard to say the least). It's settled then, a poor barber he'll become. I was delighted by the whole show.

Once that excitement it was over it was time to pop open the champagne and sit down to a table of cake, fruit, candy, popcorn and a similar bowl of cooked beans and grains. I was excited about the protien but it turned out everything was very salty (perhaps to balance all the sugar on the rest of the table). We ate and toasted then ate and toasted some more.

When it was time for my toast I congratulated his new tooth, wished it health (like everyone else before me had) and told his parents what a wonderful job they were doing caring for their children (Manuk is their fourth). I was hot and the video camera was right in my face. I was just about ready to clink glasses when Manuk's father exclaimed that he had a toast to make to me. He said that he was thankful I had come and asked me if I'd ever forget his family. I said that of course I would always remember them and everyone in Armenia. He asked me repetedly, then sang me a song and finally exclaimed that he wanted me to be Manuk's God mother. I was shocked.

At first I thought it was lighthearted joking-who would want to make the young American teacher their child's God mother? It's not an easy decision. I tried to laugh it off and told them I didn't even know where Manuk was. I hadn't even gotton to hold him all day. Out of nowhere he appeared on my lap and the father elaborated on his proposal: "Sarah, you will come back in two years or so and we'll have his baptism with you. You'll take him to America right?" I didn't really know what to say so Manuk and I just sat and played with a chocolate waffer they offered.

The party continued with plenty of singing and poetry reciting. It was a great time until about 30 minutes later when Manuk decided he needed to use the restroom in my lap. At that moment I promised myself I'd never whine about changing another diaper...he wasn't wearing one. No one saw the big deal, but after ten minutes I had decided it was time to go home and change.

As I walked home arm-in-arm with my host mom I wanted to clarify what had happened in the house. She informed me that I would need to go home and come back because I alone can not be a God mother. I must be married. She told me that I'll go to America, find a husband and then the two of us will come back and sponsor him at his baptism. I was amazed and honored by the situation and we laughed about the two year expectation he had established the whole way home.

Wednesday, August 22, 2007

Cultural Exchage

The Peace Corps' mission has three simple goals:

1. Helping the people of interested countries in meeting their need for trained men and women.
(That's the playground project...more on that in my next post)

2. Helping promote a better understanding of other peoples on the part of Americans.
This means an American city girl learning how to chop wood:

Me. Explaining to Sargis how to place the wood on the chopping block.

I think I'm choking up on the handle.

The hit...that didn't break the only took 14 tries.

3. Helping promote a better understanding of Americans on the part of the peoples served:
Hermine and I made homemade play dough last week and grandma joined in on the fun. I've never seen anyone so proud of her cookie cutter cutouts.

Tuesday, August 14, 2007

Rex Number 2

Hi! My name is Rex and I joined the Z. family last week. I stayed in Sarah's room until she got tired of waking up to my cries (like in this picture) at 3:30 every morning.

I'm very small and fluffy. I'm only about as big as Sarah's shoe. I like to sleep inside shoes and chew on them in the afternoons to ease the teething process.

This is me with Sarah. She takes good care of me but she doesn't have any toys, doggie sweaters or treats that I can enjoy like those fortunate puppies in America. She's teaching me English. So far we've learned 'no' and 'quiet' and 'don't go there'. Maybe I'll get a visa and come back to the states with her next year... who knows...

Wednesday, August 08, 2007

365 days

Dear readers,
In exactly one year I hope to be attending the 2008 Beijing Olympics Opening Ceremony. The only problem is I can not seem to find tickets. Perhaps if I had regular Internet access I would be able to conduct more thorough searches, but for now I was hoping that I might be able to recruit assistance from the states.

If you are able, please forward me any links you may have to travel agencies/ticket agencies who are selling the golden tickets. I'd be so thankful. I'm sorry for the shameless plug.

Monday, August 06, 2007

Mid-Service Reflection

We met as a group for language testing and mid-service reflection last week and I come back to the village excited about the coming year and comfortable in this community. I won't know how I did on the Armenian exam until after swearing-in on the 15th but I know that I've progressed given the fact that I debated gender roles on the train back from Yerevan yesterday and understood when Tatik got in a fight with my host brother over investing the apricot income in a new satelite dish this morning.

As I begin my second and final year of service to Armenia I am confident in the projects my village and I have initiated: A new community playground and recreation area, healthy life styles newspapers introducing difficult topics such as reproductive health, stress and nutrition, and event planning of a community-wide health festival in the spring. I'm also excited about the cross-sectoral work that allows me to engage in larger initiatives (Gender and Development, Public Relations and Organizational networking for NGOs in the more remote areas). Work has developed as a result of the International Outreach Camp and Green Camp I organized and participated in this summer as well. I'll find myself busy working on an after school mentorship program on environmental and health topics and guiding young civic leaders through the grant-writing process this fall.

There are some personal goals I've set that should cover my free time including running the Athens Marathon and figuring out how to care for our new family puppy, Rex. A few friends and I are starting to seriously consider how we can organize our close of service trip next August. If anyone has suggestions or tips about the Trans-Siberian railroad or would like to donate tickets to the Olympic Opening Ceremony in Beijing I'd be extremely grateful.