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