Wednesday, December 26, 2012

The Day the World was Supposed to End

Today is December 26 , 2012, but this blog was written on Friday, December 21, the day the world was supposed to end.  Here’s the story as written on that day………….
    It is Friday, December 21, 2012 at 10 am and Dave and I are in the Moscow, Russia, airport awaiting our next flight headed towards vacation in Costa Rica. The world is supposed to be ending right now! But it is not ending, at least not here.  Travelers continue to rush to their gates, grab quick meals at expensive airport cafes, and tend to crying children who’d rather be at home than hanging out in an airport. 
Little girl with her dog, waiting for the world to end.....or ...maybe her next flight out of the Moscow airport

 Contrary to predictions that planets would align and trigger a
 series of earthquakes and floods which would wipe out the world’s population,
 we are still here. And we met a delightful Armenian diasporan young woman who drank a cup of coffee with us as we waited our fate.

Lori, young Armenian woman we met in the Moscow airport as we waited for the world to end or for our next flight.    The world did not end.  Our flight left on time and so did  Lori's.

According to the Moscow News, Reuters reports that 10% of the world’s people believed the apocalypse would occur and the world would end with the Mayan calendar in 2012.  Back in Armenia, many of my students expressed concern about these “the end is nigh” predictions. A few students said they would skip classes on this foreboding day so they could be with their family in their last moments.
       As Dave and I ignore what we believe to be just another doomsday prediction, we embark on our long awaited vacation to Costa Rica to be followed by visits to family in the U. S. As many others both today and previously, we do not support such predictions of the world’s demise and find it merely interesting material to read about as we wait in the airport. The Moscow News article states that the world is unlikely to end yet paranoia persists.  Of course, entrepeneurs and hucksters alike see $$$$$$ ( or drams or rubles) in their future. An apocalypse kit is apparently available and contains a rope, vodka and other supplies one might need in their last hours.
          It is now 3:15 pm and we are about to land in London to await our long flight to  our destination in San Jose, Costa Rica. We escaped the apocalypse and feel ready to enjoy a few weeks of family time before returning to Peace Corps service in Armenia. Not being one to say “I told you so”, I still know it was the right thing to do…….to ignore the warnings, proceed with business as usual and leave the apocalypse worries to others.      

Dave, Chris, and Dottie take a stroll on the beach  in Costa Rica

 Where were you on December 21, 2012, the day the world was to end??? 

Monday, December 24, 2012

48 in Armenia......46 in Niger......50 in...........

46 in Niger, 48 in Armenia, but where will 50 be?? Those numbers refer to Dave and my wedding anniversaries. We celebrated #46 by sharing a huge cake with fellow volunteers and staff in Niger, Africa in December, 2010, where we were still in pre-service training with the U. S. Peace Corps. It was an occasion to remember. 
Dave,Judy,Hayarpi and Levon celebrating  the Smith's 48th wedding anniversary in Armenia

Then both # 47 and # 48 have been celebrated in Armenia as we continue our Peace Corps service. For #48 we found ourselves celebrating  with Armenian friends in Yerevan, the country's capital. The city's official Christmas tree lighting provided a colorful, festive backdrop to our evening with Hayarpi and Levon, a young couple who have quickly become part of our lives in this country.  Were the fireworks and music in Republic Square performed especially for our 48th anniversary? Of course not, but the thought was appealing as we watched the explosion of lights and music coming from the stage and watched the count-down which preceded the sudden illumination of the huge tree.  Instantly changing from dark green to brilliant red signified the official start to the season leading up to Nor Tari in Armenia, and we were right there to see it.
Christmas tree in Republic Square 

Fireworks in Yerevan

Later, as we recalled previous anniversary celebrations, we began contemplating  how and where we might celebrate our proverbial "golden anniversary".  To be perfectly honest, I find it a bit disconcerting to think Dave and I are even OLD enough to be wed almost 50 years. Why, I remember when my parents had been married for 50 years and all of the flurry associated with their Golden Anniversary party. Where has the time gone? Will we want to have such an event or will we decide to take a trip around the world, or return to visit Armenia, or celebrate that 50 year span of time in some philanthropic way?  Do we really feel 50 years older that on that cold, snowy day we married in 1964?

These questions are merely questions for us to consider and no answers are available yet. #50 for us will come sooner than we think and by then , our plans will have changed more than a few times, based on life-----or as the saying goes, "life is what happens when you're making other plans".

For now, the only sure thing is that we hope to celebrate the event together, wherever that may be. #48 was fine. #49 is approaching. #50 is a goal to be reached and celebrated.  We hope you will join us when the time comes.    Thanks for being our readers in this journey.     Judy  

Thursday, December 20, 2012

Peace Corps Armenia: Month 18: November, 2012

November was such a good month in lots of ways. Oh, there are the usual gripes about schedule changes, cold building, students absent when they should be at school, etc., but overall, looking back over the month, it was a good one.  Here are some highlights, beginning with the fact that my grant proposal for new English books for our college’s English students was funded.  No, it was not millions of dollars, not even thousands, not even $1000, but for a college without books to study English, it was BIG.    My counterpart/team teacher and I will purchase the books in January when David and I return to Armenia from our Christmas trip……just in time for our second semester.

New classroom for English classes

In addition, my college director recently designated a different classroom as the English classroom ---one on the warm side of the building ---a significant factor when the building is often colder inside than out!  We have new desks and chairs, a blackboard, nice book cases and new linoleum and paint to clean up the old space.  We are told we’ll be able to share the use of a projector/screen and maybe a computer from the adjacent computer room.  This is so much better than when I came. The students have helped us teachers to hang our English posters and other things so that the room looks more like a classroom in the U. S. than in Armenia. Students come to this classroom now for classes instead of the English teachers going to the student’s homeroom.  So much better--------now we do not   have to drag all of our stuff from room to room and if we want to suddenly talk about a subject, our teaching materials will be right there handy.

Armenian English teachers at our workshop

Also in November a group of 4 other Peace Corps volunteers and I held an English teacher’s workshop at the British Council office in Yerevan.  In attendance were teachers from in and around Yerevan. Our focus was on reading and creative writing in one session. The second was on making inexpensive games and visual aids to enhance learning .   This is an idea not used much in Armenian schools so learning to use Bingo, Jeopardy, the Memory game, and the Hokey Pokey were new to many teachers.  We hope to do a follow-up workshop or 2 in 2013 since the response was good to this first one.

Staff at Bridge of Hope in Dilijan, Armenia during Thanksgiving Day lesson by Kellianne Lauer and me
    My site mate, Kellianne, and I have been holding  an English Club/class at an organization which provides service to children with various disabilities. Therapies of all kinds are offered plus there are children in the neighborhood who just come to use the computer, play, do homework or other activities. There is very little in my town for children to do after school or on weekends.  Bridge of Hope is a safe, warm place which meets many children’s needs.   Kellianne and I work with any staff members who wish to improve their English and we’ve had up to 14 participants in our meetings twice a week.  They are mostly young women (and one man),  who know a small amount of English and want to learn more---very interesting and enthusiastic and a pleasure to work with.

Students staying close to the wood stove in their classroom  when gas not available
A negative in November occurred when the local gas company did their inspection and found my college’s gas heaters not properly vented.  (Interesting, since they were that way all last year!)  Our director closed school for several days while repairs were being done.  When we returned to find the work not complete, a few rooms were being heated with wood stoves.  Wood stoves are used a lot in Armenia despite the fact that it is illegal to cut down trees for firewood.  Go figure, somehow, people obtain ample wood but it is quite expensive, as is gas.  At the college, I’ve witnessed students burning the wood slats from old furniture but this is not an acceptable practice.  Eventually one small gas heater per classroom was repaired and school was open again.  The building is still frigid in the halls and everyone must wear a coat to stay reasonably comfortable. I hardly recall now how cold it was last year when we had snow from October 1 until into May. 
 I hope you will continue to follow life here in Armenia. Unbelievably, it will endfor us  in about 8 months! Who knows what lies ahead after our COS (closure of service)? Guess we’ll see……………………… Comments are welcomed!        Judy

Wednesday, November 21, 2012

Thanksgiving Thoughts from Dave and Judy

“Thanksgiving in Hollywood” is a contemporary song found on the internet by my Armenian students. I do not want my students to think this song’s lyrics are a true reflection of what our American celebration of Thanksgiving is all about, even though the music is appealing and lends itself well to a program aimed at college aged students.  Just the mention of “Hollywood” encourages the students to think of the stereotyped, media’s portrayal of America---the land of rich people and vast opportunities.

We are planning a program about Thanksgiving in America and will include harvest time in Armenia since the times coincide and inspire similar feelings of being thankful for what one has. I am trying to help my students to understand the history of our Thanksgiving Day and how it is celebrated now. The program will be presented primarily in English, but readings must be translated so that the majority of the audience will understand the message.  Of course, the universal communicator, music, will be of utmost importance. Unfortunately, songs which I love and recall -----“Over the River and Through the Woods”, “Come Ye Thankful People Come” and “Harvest Home” are not nearly as exciting as “Thanksgiving in Hollywood”.

Dave and Judy with Peace Corps Niger Training Director, Tondi,  2 years ago
 Armenia is a Peace Corps assignment wrought with challenges as well as blessings. What are David and I grateful for as we continue our 2nd year of service in Armenia? The first is the blessing of good health, unlike Thanksgiving 2010 which we spent in Niger, Africa during our first Peace Corps assignment. On that first Thanksgiving, David was being released from the hospital on Thanksgiving Day.                                                                  

Music and Art:  Armenia cherishes music and art and encourages its young people to study both.  David and I have come to anticipate attending occasional concerts of the Armenian Philharmonic Orchestra in Yerevan and the Dilijan Music School in our town.  Dilijan Art School is a fine example of available training for young talented students as they join the ranks of other famous Armenian artists. Music soothes the soul and art brings a different perspective to life in Armenia where strife and stress abound.
Armenia Philharmonic Orchestra  performing in Yerevan, Armenia
Director of Dilijan Art School with students submitting art work to the  K-12 ONE WORLD Classroom International Art Exchange

Mountains:  Visible from our apartment are lofty mountains which surround our town. Their majestic peaks will soon be snow-covered, but we are thankful for their mighty presence as we watch the seasons change throughout the year.
View of mountains from our apartment

Flowers:  Prolific profusions of flowers from early spring until the snows of winter make Dilijan, Armenia a haven for flower lovers.  I am thankful for that blessing of beauty which brightens our days yet is taken for granted by many Armenians.

A beautiful example of  wildflowers found in Armenia
Armenian family we met and shared a meal with several times: very hospitable people
                  Hospitality of the Armenian people:   Warm welcomes, a kiss on the cheek,  an invitation to have coffee , small gifts brought to every encounter even by those with little money…… we cannot be grateful  enough for those expressions of acceptance by people with whom we become acquainted.                                           

Armenian language tutor with Judy
              Tutors:  Without our tutor we’d be lost.  Our tutor not only teaches a foreign language to older learners such as David and me, but is also a link to the community in which we live, to the people we want to meet, to her family, to events we enjoy and to life in Dilijan.  For Knarick’s presence we are grateful.

One little boy in our neighborhood-------being shy, but so cute
             Children:  loving, laughing, curious, shy, ever present…..they are Armenia’s future and must be encouraged in the pursuit of more than basic education and life without hope. We are thankful to meet so many and to see them grow.

Narvik, special little child in our neighborhood who loves to study English with us.

Gas Heater in our apartment: we are fortunate to be able to stay warm on the cold days of winter  in Armenia

Heat: we have gas heat, expensive and warming.  We are grateful to able to afford it in our old age!! Many volunteers rely on wood stoves and must balance staying warm with the scarcity of wood as the winter progresses. Most Armenians we know also struggle with staying warm in a cold country.                                                    

      Peace Corps:  without this organization we’d not be in Armenia. We are thankful for the opportunity to be in the Peace Corps and hope our time in Armenia means something to others.

     Happy Thanksgiving to all.  May your day be blessed with loved ones wherever you may be on the 4th Thursday of November, 2012.    Judy and Dave

Tuesday, November 20, 2012

Smells, Odors, Aromas, Fragrances.......of Armenia

The smell of the bathroom is overwhelming as I walk down the hall. It is several meters ahead and at least it is inside the building, not outside in the ever-changing weather of an Armenian autumn.  Open holes atop a concrete platform, no water to flush, and bring your own paper---- it does have  ½  wall partitions between the “pits” but no doors----that is the bathroom at my college.  There may be cold water, although it freezes during the frigid winter months, but no soap or paper towels for hand washing.  I have trained myself NOT to use these ancient disgusting facilities except in a dire emergency, but plenty of other staff and the students at my college enter and exit these places every day. They are accustomed to it or do not care about the lack of esthetics which bothers me.  It is pathetic for children to encounter such degrading conditions and not even realize there is a better way.

As I walk home today the warmth of the sun caresses my face. I carry the jacket worn this morning to ward off the chilly, dampness of late October. As I approach our neighborhood a familiar scent wafts across my path and immediately excites my memory. A feeling of homesickness overcomes me. Smoke is in the air and the smell of burning leaves so reminiscent of autumns in the past evokes a strong emotional reaction. I am reminded of campfires, of camping out, of cooking marshmallows to a crisp over an open fire. I can smell the season’s first fire in our former home’s fireplace. Momentarily I forget the blessings of such a warm, sunny autumn day when last year we had snow in October. I continue to walk, deep in thought and reflection, and think of the past, thousands of miles away from Armenia. The scent of burning leaves follows me and I relish the moment. I take a breath and breathe in the essence of autumn.
Students enjoying autumn leaves


The smell of freshly baked bread greets us as we walk in our neighborhood on certain days. Near our apartment is a family-run bakery which specializes in the baking of lavash, the National Bread of Armenia.  From early morning to nightfall, 4-5 women work in this small place located on the street level of the owner’s home. They can be seen mixing ingredients, rolling out the dough, slinging it into shape like a pizza crust creator, then putting each piece into the special stone oven to bake to Armenian perfection. Lavash is a thin Armenian bread which is served with every home-cooked meal and in every food establishment in the country. Its closest kin may be the bread used in wraps so popular in America or even the delicate crepes served in France.  When purchased from the bakery, the customer gets 3 large sheets of lavash for 240 Armenian drams, about   60 cents in USD.  Though thin, it is sturdy bread and one served in a variety of ways without which an Armenian meal would be incomplete. It is cut with scissors and placed in stacks beside each diner’s plate.   In the absence of lavash’s daily aroma drifting through the streets, our neighborhood would also be incomplete and our morning walk would not be nearly as pleasant.  We will miss lavash when our time in Armenia ends.
Neighbor who makes lavash
Sheet of lavash as bought in Armenia

          Cow dung, chicken droppings, pig pens ---all of these exist in our neighborhood, and we live in a tourist town of Armenia.  The smells create a barnyard-like odor usually found in rural areas in the U. S.  Since there is no zoning or restriction against having small numbers of livestock in town, we encounter random cows grazing along the streets and in the center of town. One is just as likely to see chickens and occasionally pigs and horses stopping traffic. Local drivers are accustomed to the presence of animals in the street, and we’ve not seen any fatal accidents because of this dual use of the roadways.  The animals are non-aggressive creatures whose main goal each day is to eat till full. This goal will be increasingly more difficult to achieve as winter arrives. The animals will then be confined to their owner’s small sheds and barns on the coldest of days. Now though, they roam the streets untethered and unattended.  Traveling alone or in small groups, the cows, chickens, occasional pigs and a horse now and then, seem to know where to graze, which garbage cans are full on a particular day and where they must return to when it gets dark.   To some people the animal odors are distasteful smells one must endure. To us the smells are comforting and indicate that other living things are sharing our space in Armenia. I like that!

This is one of the regular cows who wanders our neighborhood producing the smells  described above. She is definitely also willing to be photographed!

After I wrote this post, it dawned on me………here in Armenia one of the distinguishing facial traits seen in most Armenians is the person’s prominent nose.  In fact, when my English students are asked to describe their peers in an exercise focused on adjectives, they always include their thoughts about the other student’s nose. Of course, this prompts some uneasy laughter and good –natured teasing among the students.  Maybe the Armenian focus on noses prompted my focus on smells. Who knows (nose)?       Judy

Sunday, October 21, 2012


    Benjy was hit by a car recently and died.  His small, sturdy, blood encrusted body was lying near the curb where he’d either been thrown or placed after the incident that took his life.   Dave came home with that sad news and although we were not surprised at what happened to him, we were saddened by Benjy’s death. I could not imagine seeing him as Dave did, as street cleaners scooped him up off the ground---- workmen just doing their job and getting rid of a dead dog. So, you might ask, who was Benjy?   Early in our time in Dilijan, we began to see a scruffy, shaggy, tail-wagging dog who slept on the street near the curb in front of what we hoped was his home. First, I saw him as I walked to my college, then when our routes changed and David walked by the house, he would see the dog.  Dave named him Benjy due to his resemblance to the movie star dog bearing the same name. Dave started giving him a treat every day, sometimes left- overs and occasionally real dog biscuits when we could find them. The dog gradually became Dave’s friend and would jump up to see him as he approached, as if he recognized Dave’s red coat and kind voice. He learned to like me, too, and one day as I was sitting at the bus stop not far from Benjy’s spot on the sidewalk, he came over and let me pat him on the head.  Benjy was the dog we could not have in Armenia and a reminder of ones we had owned and loved in the U. S.
   In Armenia , dogs are  usually either tied up to short chains  or left to run loose in the streets, often to be hit by passing cars or taunted by obnoxious children.   The tied- up dogs spend their days and nights barking at passers-by, eating whatever is thrown to them by their owners, and often sleeping out in the open even in the frigid winters of Armenia. The freer dogs risk their lives for their freedom, are sometimes skittish around strangers, and occasionally act aggressively.  They fend for themselves by eating from the strewn garbage which litters our town or by literally jumping into the dumpsters as if it was their cafeteria----what will be served today?   Very few people in our town seem to have real pets but Benjy gave us the impression that he was cared for. He was usually in front of the same house every day, up until the past few months when we began to see him all over the neighborhood. Benjy’s untimely death occurred and made an impression on both of us. We miss seeing him and wish he had experienced a better dog’s life.

Benjy eating treat given by Dave as he goes to work in Dilijan

          The death of this dog, who we really did not know, saddened us. Then a few days later a neighbor who we had never met, died of an alleged heart condition.  We saw the cars at her home as friends and others paid their respects. We wondered about who she was, what she was like and what kind of life she had led here in Armenia.  We’d never know those facts.  Then yesterday at my school it was announced that our director’s sister-in-law who lives in Russia, had died of lung cancer.  Although I do not know this person, I do know, respect and care about my college director.  I felt sad for her and all that was ahead as she dealt with a loss in her family.
       The common thread which runs through each of these stories is that I knew about all 3 living beings who died. Their deaths came 1-2-3, one after another within just a few days of each other. Even though they were only marginal and distant beings in my life the knowledge of their passing prompted thought. Do events of a certain kind come in 3’s, as the old superstition claims?  Or is it mere synchronicity that I heard of deaths in this sequence? I wondered about the old superstition and found that there is a Biblical connection to the number 3, but is there more to learn about this old belief?  Wikipedia (who doesn’t believe Wikipedia??) says that the superstition about events occurring in 3’s comes from the “three on a match” among soldiers during WWI. According to Wikipedia, if 3 soldiers lit their cigarette from the same match, 1 of the 3 would be killed. The first soldier would light the match, then his cigarette, and the enemy would see the light. When the second soldier lit his cigarette, the enemy took aim. Finally, when the 3rd soldier lit his cigarette the enemy would fire and kill one of the men.  In reality, though, there was NO such superstition in WWI, but it was invented by Swedish Match tycoon Ivar Krueger in an attempt to get people to use more matches! Wikipedia also confirms this latter story.
Whether the rule of 3’s means anything or not is insignificant. What is important is that these 3 living beings I’ve described are no longer with us and there are people who loved and now miss them, even Benjy.  Their lives were meaningful for that reason alone. May this piece be a tribute to each of them
3 final words……………….REST IN PEACE.                                 Judy

Sunday, October 7, 2012

Women , Robots, and Autumn in Armenia................

POSTCARDS:  My summer English conversation group recently completed a project sponsored by Traveling Postcards, an international organization which gathers postcards from women in groups worldwide. Their theme is ART, Power, and Potential and through the interweaving of these 3 entities, women (and some men) are drawn together as they focus on others. The cards and messages of support from our group will be distributed to  other women suffering hardships such as domestic violence, trafficking, serious illness, homelessness, or other situations which victimize women.  Our group which consists mostly of university students and English teachers  wishing to practice conversational English, created handmade post cards with messages of hope, love and concern for these women we’ve never met yet with whom we feel a kinship. We even had a guest participant who is a university student in Russia and who uses impeccable English. It was a new experience for the young women and 1 young man to reach across boundaries of geography and ethnicity and to help others.  My wish is that this brief experience will light a fire within at least one of our group’s participants to work for change in the role of women in Armenia.  This might be an idea for a group you know. To learn more about the project go to  .

Post cards created by my English conversation group to be sent to women all over the world through 



WOMEN AND ELECTIONS : I just learned this week that 4 women are seeking city council seats in our small town of Dilijan, Armenia. That is noteworthy because women do not typically participate in elected volunteer positions in Armenia, especially in smaller towns. The women are all directors/principals of their organizations or schools. They are well educated, well known in town and well respected. These women will have many opponents---one report says 33, another 70. Although as Peace Corps volunteers we are not allowed to be involved in the political process, we can certainly be interested observers. The outcome of this election will be most intriguing and may set the stage for future involvement of women in how our town is run. May the best women----and men, win seats on our town’s advisory council. May they bring fair judgment, honesty, creativity and enthusiasm to those posts.  Special after-note:  the director of my college was the only woman elected to our town council.  Shnorhavor (congratulations!!)Tamaryzan. 

 Greta Tamaryzan, new Dilijan, Armenia town council member


ENGLISH:  “Hi, Mrs. Judy. How are you?”  I am walking home and hear a child’s voice.  I respond with, “Hello, I am fine. How are you?” “My name is Aram”, replies the cute little 10 year-old boy as he rapidly pedals his bike by me.  This is a typical exchange of greetings Dave and I encounter every day. Children we’ve met at school, on the street, during summer activities, or elsewhere, want to practice their English, so a person identified as speaking English is often greeted by robot sounding questions learned by the children in school. This particular child, Aram, did not understand my question.( “How are you? “was answered with the child giving his name.) Most children know the correct response based upon what they’ve memorized. “I am fine, thank you”, is usually uttered in a robot tone of voice.  That is often the end of a conversation except for the smiles and giggles of an embarrassed child. The boy who spoke to me had met David and me during the summer and now knows we’ll talk with him. I hope we move past the robot stage, into a more relevant verbal exchange as time goes on.
Aram always speaks to us when we see him in our neighborhood 
Autumn… ARMENIA:   We just bought 10 kilograms of fresh tomatoes and 2 kilograms of red bell peppers today. The lady down the street who sells fruits and vegetables at her home wanted to know what we were going to do with the purchases.  We tried to tell her that wewere planning to can the tomatoes and peppers for use in the winter, but we did not know the Armenian word for canning. That is where charades comes in handy----we acted out how to seal a jar with the Armenian tool used for that purpose. She understood and said, “shat lav” or very good.  I guess she was surprised that Amerikatsi’s would do such a thing. We learned last winter that many vegetables are plentiful if you wish to pay the winter prices or if you choose to eat only potatoes, onions, cabbage, beets and carrots.  Tomatoes and peppers are available but the selection is limited and costly during the winter, just as in other parts of the world.  We learned how to can tomatoes and peppers from our friend last fall so are doing it ourselves this year.   The neighborhood saleswoman weighed our bags with her small hand scale and gave us a price.  We spent less than 2000 Armenian drams for tomatoes and peppers, a fraction of what those items would cost during the winter if we chose to buy them. We also will can peaches next week before that season of tasty fruit is over.    Preparation for winter has caused a scurry of activity as women can, continue the process of drying seasonal fruits and herbs, and complete the laundering and line- drying of thick bedding needed during Armenia’s frigid winters. The harvesting of apples, pears, and plums also signals the beginning of vodka distillation. Thanks to a fine book sent by Kirby Riffel, we will go from a very modest 5 gallon distillery to a much more ambitious plan this year.   David and I are trying to get ready for winter and to use some of the knowledge we gained by living here last year. We hope we are as prepared as the ant in Aesop’s fable, The Ant and the Grasshopper. 

A few of the 31 jars of tomatoes we canned......yummy in winter time with chili, spaghetti, etc.

Kitchen tool every Armenian uses to seal jars after canning. Our neighbor lent us hers and was surprised that we'd even WANT to can!

Dave sealing canned peaches with Armenian  kitchen  tool. Armenian men do not usually help with canning or other kitchen chores. That fact was confirmed by  a student Judy tutors.

Dave putting jars into pot for boiling, just one of the steps in the home canning process

(Autumn pears waiting to be canned.)  Our neighbors bring us more pears than we can eat they will be canned too!

We hope you enjoy your autumn, wherever you might be.
Judy and Dave

Sunday, September 16, 2012

Armenian Musings and Random Thoughts

Students on first day at Dilijan State College, September, 1, 2012

Children entering local school on September 1, 2012
SCHOOL: All over Armenia summer ends with the First Bell assemblies and celebrations on September 1.Young children dress up in their best new clothes.  Older students are glad to see their friends while enduring the opening speeches of welcome from their teachers. In some schools, a toast of cognac indicates the beginning for the staff and faculty. In the case of my college, which is housed in an old run-down Soviet –style un-insulated building, the dust of late summer construction clings to the floors and walls and drifts into the air. It is pleasing to me in spite of the job not being quite finished, to find that a newly painted room is assigned to my counterpart and me for our English classroom. We’ve wanted this separate room where we can teach our students, store our materials and display visual aids related to the English language. We hear that we’ll get new desks, a new blackboard, new linoleum flooring, and a new computer complete with a headset for use with audio materials. This is music to my ears. I will (or “shall”, as in British English,) keep you posted on our new English room.
New English classroom, Dilijan State College: no flooring or furniture yet on  first day of school, September 1, 2012

     DRIVING:     I miss having a car, or maybe it’s just the convenience of driving when and where I choose that I really miss. As a Peace Corps volunteer, we are not allowed to drive while in country and here in Dilijan, Armenia, we at least have reliable public transportation.  I still miss driving in a country where women do not usually drive except in larger towns and cities.  Recently, it took me 2 avtobus rides, 2 –hour and ½ marschutka rides and 2 short taxi rides to attend a Peer Support Network meeting and return home the same day. It is 102 KMs or about 63 miles in distance to Yerevan where the Peace Corps office is located. That’s not bad when some of our volunteers live as far away as 7-8 hours necessitating a 2 –night stay out of their site just to attend a meeting or tend a few items of business.  I still miss driving a car.


Uncovered garbage cans in our neighborhood, visited by cows, cats and dogs
ARMENIAN DUMP DOGS:  The garbage dump puppies we saw as babies early in the spring are now gangly teen –aged dogs who still rummage in the neighborhood uncovered dumpster for food.  They compete with the cats and the neighborhood cows for sustenance. The puppies look amazingly robust and they are friendly, unlike other stray dogs or ones tied up with a mere 3 feet of rope from which they bark and guard their owner’s property. I wish we could take these puppies to our apartment but we must turn my head and try NOT to make friends with them. We do take them scraps when we have them. I fear for these dogs when winter comes.

                               Cat in bottom of garbage can, looking for food; dogs eat on the outside.....

Kellianne (seated) 
KELLIANNE  and the VISITOR from AFRICA: A  black man, as he is called by locals, has been in our town this week. Persons of color are not often seen in Armenia and they are shunned and stared at .This man has a passport from Guinea and was supposedly sent to find work in Armenia by an international refugee organization. This plan has not worked out. The man is waiting without food, money or shelter until his scheduled appointment with an advocacy attorney in Yerevan in 3 weeks.  Kellianne, a young Peace Corps volunteer in Dilijan,  became involved when the man was put off of the local avtobus at her school because the bus driver knew someone there spoke English. The man spoke minimal English, but Kellianne spent several days trying to find resources for him. Amidst the stares and scoffing looks in a local cafĂ©, she bought and shared a meal with him. Other than used clothing and the cash she, David and I gave him there was little success with her efforts. I accidently met the man on the avtobus as I was going to my tutoring session.  We spoke briefly and other riders on the avtobus appeared to be shocked at our verbal exchange, two foreigners speaking English together----an older female and “the black man”. The avtobus driver even looked at me as if to see whether I was offended by the man when he immediately showed me a small piece of paper.  This small scrap of paper with our Peace Corps site mate’s cell phone number was his lifeline because Kellianne  had responded compassionately to a human being  viewed by everyone else as totally different and unworthy of respect. No one else has even tried to help this displaced stranger from another country. How he ended up in Armenia is a convoluted, complex, circuitous, around-the- world journey which none of us understands. Everyone we speak with in this small town knows about “the black man”, but no one else has stepped up to the plate to help the uninvited visitor who is strikingly different from them.  It is another chapter in a Twilight Zone –like story which describes many of our experiences in Armenia.  Now we do not know the whereabouts of this man, but we hope he has gone to Yerevan where there might be a possibility of social service assistance.  May his lifeline eventually include someone who has the authority to guide him with as gracious a spirit as Peace Corps volunteer, Kellianne.                   

Saturday, August 18, 2012

"F" is for Flower..........

    As an English teacher, words and their spelling take on a special meaning. The alphabet is also important, and to those who are learning our alphabet, no matter what their age, visual examples are part of how a letter is remembered.

    This summer I have worked with students at various levels of achievement in English. Most do not really know  the alphabet and  they struggle just as I do with their 39 letter Armenian alphabet.

    In my experience, the letter "F" stands for" FLOWER".  It is also the first letter of the word   "FORK" .
    The impact of these particular visuals is far less for my students than for me because this spring David and I , with the help of our friend and my team teacher, Christina, planted a FLOWER Garden at our apartment.  We scattered a collection of seeds which Christina and I had collected from various places, watered them well and waited.

Christina planting seeds in our new garden.

Watering of this garden must be done by hand since there is no  outdoor faucet available.

In a few weeks, we began to see tiny seedlings popping up in the bare soil where grape vines previously grew.  The need for water grew and continues through the summer. That has become David's job! Then came the tedious job of transplanting many of these babies into different areas of the garden because there were too many plants trying to grow too close together to thrive .
Here is where the FORK came in------it was my tool of choice and it worked fabulously!!
This is the FORK which transplanted hundreds to seedlings in our garden.

Soon, our flowers began to grow  in abandon, during the lengthy, sunny , warm days of our Armenian summer. This is a cottage garden and some of the flowers remain nameless to us and to our Armenian gardening friends. None the less, "F" signifies FLOWER and  FORK and now, FRIENDS. 
I will not forget the letter "F" in our alphabet and maybe my students won't either because of the MANY photos of flowers I make and show them.  



Learning these words in the Armenian language is more difficult. There is not just one letter to begin these 3 words. In the transliterated form of Hayeren (Armenian language) ,  flower is tsaghik,  fork is patarrakagh, and friend is anker.

     I hope you have many flowers and friends in your life and a few forks, too!!!    Judy