Dave’s watch, which serves as our alarm clock, beeps at 6:30 am but our day really begins at 7:30 am when we hear the low mooing of many cows as they cross the road near our open window. Nose- to- tail, they amble, headed for greener grass to graze on the nearby mountain. Along side the cattle is a farmer, stick in hand but his voice the tool most useful in keeping the cows in line. If one strays to the side to munch on a patch of tempting grass the farmer quickly pursues the animal, taps the ground with his stick, utters a few loud sounds and occasionally throws a rock at the wandering cow. They usually move quickly back with the herd, the mooing becoming louder as these cows patiently make their way methodically up the mountain. This process is repeated exactly twelve hours later. Around 7:30 pm every day, these cows are herded back to their barns where the Armenian women who milk them wait to do their work. One wonders who is happier for that return to the barn—the cows who’ve been in the hot sun, grazing all day and now coming home with udders seeking relief, or the women who tend to the cow’s basic needs and understand only as a woman can, how important their work is.
We enter the downward stretch in our pre-service training for Peace Corps Armenia. Preparations are being made for our official swearing-in ceremony. Soon after that we move to Dilijan, Armenia which will be our home for the next 2 years. We will leave our sweet host family, the dairy farm life and the neighbor’s cows who serve as our alarm clock. We’ll leave at summer’s end as our family and most others are preparing for the long, cold winter ahead. Now farmers are busy baling hay and storing it for their animals to eat during the winter. Women are canning fruits and vegetables in great numbers and making muraba(jam) from the fruits so available during the summer. Herbs are being dried; apricots, peaches, cherries and other fruits are being preserved for later on when only root crops and a few other vegetables are available. In mid-September our family’s large herd of cows will be driven from their mountainous summer home back to the place where we now live. Fat, sleek, and ready to face winter, they’ll be cared for by our host father and his workers.
It is strange though that living on this dairy farm, we never have milk to drink. The milk produced by our cows is trucked down from the mountains and sold to a local company which produces matsoon (yogurt-like dairy product), sour cream, tan (similar to buttermilk), butter and other products. As the cobbler’s son did not have shoes in the tale of long ago, this dairy farm family does not drink milk although they do have cheese, butter, matsoon and other milk products. We take it in stride and supplement our diet with calcium tablets provided by the Peace Corps.
In the summer, our family’s cows and our neighbor’s cows thrive in the grassy, cooler mountainous areas of Armenia. They survive the cold winter closer to home. Just as it is for their owners, life is tough in Armenia, but the people are strong, resilient and able to handle challenges which face them. And so preparation for winter has started even as our days are hot. In our new town, we’ll miss the procession of cows passing our window, morning and night. We’ll recall the gentle moos and the farmer’s voice, but we’ll trust that it will all be repeated next season, because that’s how Armenia has survived. Despite the tragedies of war, genocide, earthquakes, poverty, religious intolerance, and lack of freedom as a country, Armenia prevails and is proud. May this resilience continue to serve the people of Armenia. Judy