“Old Susannah, Oh don’t you cry for me. I come from Alabama with my banjo on my knee.”
Who would expect to hear those words sung by an Armenian woman who barely speaks English? But our new host Mother sang these lines as we were working together on our respective languages. Annahit is learning English (Angleren) and I, Armenian (Hayeren). We help each other although she is certainly a quicker learner with a better memory than I. The startling recognition of the old Southern Stephen Foster song prompted me to bring out my new alto recorder which so far, had remained packed in my duffle bag. I do not play well but was able to provide the tune for Annahit’s song and in return, received lots of laughs and photo requests from our host family. Anahit’s 2-year old son, Armen watched with curiosity, and I was relieved he did not want to play with me! He is a bright, active, smart child who frequently uses “che” (NO!) just as our American children do. He vocalizes and sings constantly and occupies himself amazingly well with little direction from adults. He has minimal play materials. I long for some of the items I chose to leave in the US due to space constraints when packing. Compared to the US, there is a limited supply of toys in village stores, so this child makes do with his Mother’s drawer of cooking utensils and other random household items. He is fortunate to have an older brother with a computer, and he does have a child’s computer program which is utilized occasionally. As a result, Armen can sing an entire children’s song in Russian and does so at many of our meals.
One day David and I bought colored crayons for Armen and brought them home for use when he was bored. That day came and I gave him 2 of the bright colors and several sheets of blank paper. (We have not been able to find coloring books here.) He was content to draw and scribble free style for a brief period of time, then just when I turned my back to help Anahit with a cooking project, he began making large scrawls of color on the kitchen walls!! I quickly took the crayon from his small hand, saying, “che” and trying to look stern. Anahit smiled and said, “vochinch”, meaning “ it’s okay”. I quietly put the crayons away until another time when someone could sit with Armen while he colored. I’m a Tatik (grandmother) and should have known better than to leave a 2 year old child unsupervised even for a second!!!! Later, Aahit told me they planned to paint those kitchen walls but not until Armen is older. I certainly see why.
The brief encounter with music in the life of our Armenian family provides yet another thread or connection between them and David and me. Our interaction with Armen is another route to cultural exchange as we see the overwhelming similarities in 2 year-old children, no matter where they live.
May these everyday experiences and efforts be multiplied by many more such small links in the chain of understanding. Judy