Wednesday, January 30, 2008

Climate changes

Yesterday afternoon at 3 p.m it was:
40 degrees Fahrenheit outside
79 degrees in my favorite chair next to the wood burner in the living room
23 degrees in my bedroom upstairs

I wanted to dance when I walked out of the freezing cold school and saw the snow melting away and the tops of the mountains to the East. My enthusiasm was quickly curbed with concern for our apricot harvest.

Whereas a year ago I never would have given a second thought to crops and frosts, (except when my mom used to lay bedsheets over our flowerbeds when the weather channel warned of an overnight freeze) I saw the detrimental effect one cold spell can have on an entire year's worth of planting, watering and tending. We're nervous for the trees this year.

Last spring in late April there was a freeze that killed half of the village's crops and left the other half (in the land that sits higher none of the trees were harmed) financially secure. No one wants another poor harvest- especially those families with orchards that sit low in the plain.

This morning I was brushing my teeth outside (because it was warmer than the frost-covered bathroom) when my host brother came in from tending the pigs. I commented that the rain was better than snow and he said that no, in fact, it was much more dangerous because if the rain enters the apricot blossoms and freezes overnight it could kill all of them. And here I was content in my own little world, trying to figure out if the village pipe system could have thawed enough to provide some laundry water.

Maybe mom will come over with bed sheets for 15 acres of apricot trees...

Thursday, January 24, 2008

Project Design Management

The Project Design Management workshop teaches volunteers and their counterparts how to involve community members in moving from analysis of their site to planning and implementing projects. As one of the trainers for this year’s conference, I will be responsible for sessions on everything from asset and deficit identification to project design, action plan creation, budgets and evaluation and monitoring- a dream come true.

Training this week was a relief from the difficult village winter and allowed Alla and I to talk with some of the most active volunteers and their counterparts in the country. Inspired by my offer to extend for a third year and the project design review course, we discussed the possibilities of starting an NGO in the village, working on gender issues and planning two summer camps.

Quarterly reports are due at the end of the month and it seems that although this quarter was very much focused on my personal development (including marathon training, vacations and quality holiday celebrations with the host family) next quarter will be very busy. We’re planning to host a local spelling bee in the school and perhaps even a writing Olympics. There’s camp planning, a service learning project and Web site design.

Now if only the weather would warm up.

Thursday, January 10, 2008

Future Leaders Exchange

The Future Leaders Exchange (FLEX) program was created by Congress to provide people of the countries of the former Soviet Union long-term exchanges. For 16 years secondary school students have traveled to the US for one year to live with an American host family and study in our high schools.

I was chosen to serve as a pre-departure orientation teacher for the 2008-2009 group. This summer I'll be able to teach approximately 50 young Armenians about American culture, US high schools, friends and family life.

For now, it's the training in April that I'm most excited about. Syd and I will travel to Moscow early to see the city and then work for four days with people from other caucus countries.

We can't wait to visit Red Square and see Grand Kremlin Palace and St. Basil's Cathedral. I'd really love to have tea in the Ostankino TV tower (the tallest in Europe) and it would be interesting take a boat tour and enjoy the museums and parks too. Who knows, we might even visit the Moscow Circus!

Monday, January 07, 2008

It's beginning to look a lot like New Years

Happy 2008! After setting off home made fireworks in the street at midnight we went inside and began to enjoy the traditional table, endless toasting and door-to-door congratulating. The New Years process begins at 12 a.m. and goes on until at least January 6th (Christmas day). After visiting more than 45 houses at my current site, I'll be making rounds to my PST host family within the next week.

These were beautiful and less intimidating than the fireworks that sounded like rockets being set off on our porch.

To your health, the health of your family, to a glad year and all the best.

The dish on your left is dolma (cabbage and grape leaf rolls), in the center on the top of the pig thigh is blinchik (fried crepe beef wraps). There's your standard vodka, juice, cold meat tray and salads.

Toast, drink, eat and repeat. Over and over. With everyone you know.

If they came to your house you're expected to go to theirs. The table will be nearly identical.

Sunday, January 06, 2008

Christmas scenes from the village

Living the village life around the holidays always makes me feel like I'm living the Christmas story I only saw in picture books growing up. Although the Armenians celebrate on January 6th with not nearly the fanfare of Western society, I feel a closer connection to the nativity story here than at the store sales and zoo lights of America.

Our manger. Where the cattle are lowing.

The shepherd and his sheep.