Sunday, March 31, 2013

Is Youth Wasted on the Young?

Youth is wasted on the young! As one of the topics for the Peace Corps’ International WRITE ON! Contest, these words made me stop and think.  And when I did think about it, I decided the familiar saying is not true----at least not all of the time.   Since David and I are the oldest volunteers in our specific Peace Corps A-19 group serving in Armenia, we frequently listen to ideas and opinions of our younger peers.  Many times we agree with them on subjects of common interest.  Some we totally disagree with due to our different perspectives and life experiences.  And some we aren’t sure about.   But I personally do not think youth is wasted on the young. 

     Let’s talk about how to spend one’s money wisely and, specifically, where to stay when spending a night or 2 in Armenia’s capital city of Yerevan.    Most of the younger volunteers stay at hostels in the city. There for a nominal fee, most hostels offer a room with multiple beds or bunks, hot showers, decent bathrooms either community or shared, and breakfast. During our time with the Peace Corps in Africa, we stayed in a hostel when in the capital city of Niamey.   It was quite large, usually crowded and many of the beds or cots were located outdoors due to the heat and the absence of air conditioning in that country.  This  Peace Corps sponsored hostel was usually dirty, with leaking water faucets and toilets, dirty dishes always present in the kitchen area and personal belongings strewn about the place. It was reminiscent of living with one’s own teenagers when rules were not adhered to. We felt out of place and frankly, disgusted with some of what we experienced.
    Once we came to Armenia where there were more choices for lodging, we said we’d not stay in a hostel, that we were too old, had “been there done that,” etc.   But our younger friends kept saying how nice one of the hostels was and that other older volunteers did stay there. Our peers understood and really didn’t care where we stayed, but as we spent more of our own savings and continued to stay in hotel rooms which we loved but knew were too expensive, we thought, “maybe we should give the hostel a try”.   Maybe we should listen to our young friends and fellow volunteers. 

      Well, this past weekend we did stay at the Envoy Hostel in Yerevan, Armenia. What a pleasant surprise did we have!  We opted for one of their limited numbers of private bedrooms with a shared bath as our first test of the establishment.   It was fine.  For a reasonable rate we had a comfortable, clean, conveniently located place to stay and no problems.  Staff members treated everyone with professionalism and kindness.  They were willing to help with anything we needed.  Breakfast was simple but good and certainly an acceptable deal for the cost.  We were free to add other items we wanted without a problem and they even served whole milk for cereal, oatmeal, coffee, etc. What a treat after rarely having milk in Armenia!  The best part of a stay at the Envoy is meeting the people who also stay there, both from Peace Corps Armenia and from other parts of the world.  One young man was playing his guitar in his room before others arrived to join him. It added to the almost hippie atmosphere of the place to hear the strains of his simple chords and voice throughout the building.  The recreation room which doubled as the eating area, was large and well equipped with flat screen t. v., computers, plenty of seating and a number of board games should anyone want to play.   The kitchen was fine and apparently may be used by guests under certain circumstances.  Everyone tends to their own business at the Envoy yet the feeling is warm and welcoming on the part of visitors and staff alike.          
Creative mobil decoration hanging in The Envoy
     Yes, we should listen to the young more often. Young people are willing to check things out, take chances we might not take (sometimes that is good, sometimes, not), and they are honest when giving their opinions. For David and me, listening to our younger peers is often a reality check on how things really are in their world and it helps us to gain a more up-to-date perspective of our own world. Although we had found a new hotel which gave us an appreciable discount when we stayed in Yerevan, and we feel as if their staff is part of our family, I think we’ve found another “home away from home” at the Envoy Hostel in Yerevan.  There is also a sister Envoy hostel in Tbilisi, Georgia equally as well recommended by the young. 

      Youth is not wasted on the young. It is experienced by the young.  It is enjoyed by the young and it should be respected by their elders. Why……..we were once young, too.
       Check out these photos from our recent stay at the Envoy Hostel in Yerevan, Armenia.They all make me smile!  
Vehicle parked outside The Envoy and driven by
young couple staying in the hostel as they travel around the area.

I think this artsy mobil signifies "home sweet home" with all the small paper houses.  That's what The Envoy becomes to many of its regular visitors.

The Envoy has this image on its outside wall. Yerevan was designated as the World Book Capital in 2012. 

Look who's riding on the back of the camping vehicle!

Young people work at The Envoy, all ages stay at The Envoy and young people told David and me about it.  Youth is not wasted on the young, at least not in this case.  



Thursday, March 14, 2013

Walk the Walk in Armenia

  I leave my college for the walk home. Today I am alone as other teachers must stay behind to complete work on records which I do not have responsibility for.  I look at the view from the sidewalk as I ascend the steep hill leading to the town's main road and later to David and my apartment.  
Snow on mountains in the distance, lingering , waiting for one more  snowfall .

  The uncharacteristically gentle March wind is at my back as I continue the walk home from a day of classes. It blows my hair forward; as wisps of hair tickle my eyes, the view ahead is momentarily
 hindered. The sun adds warmth to the spring chilliness and my mind wanders, as it often does, on these 25 minute journeys home through the neighborhoods with which I am now quite familiar. I hear the wind’s sound as it rushes through the pine trees around me. 
Large pine typical of those lining our streets and which were covered with snow last week

Their swaying movement appears to be synchronized like an orchestra whose violinists all lean in one direction as they perform music in concert with each other. These musical evergreen trees are now forest green and free of the snow just recently adorning their branches.  It is spring in Dilijan, or at least today it feels like it. ( I’m told we still might have another snow though.) Children along the way greet me with their smiles and mechanical “hellos”. They make the trip more than worthwhile after spending the first hours of the day with unmotivated and sometimes surly teenagers at my college.
As I walk it comes to mind that in 4 months Dave and my Peace Corps service will be over. Thinking about that short time, out of a total 27 months, makes the neighborhood and all that has become familiar more impressionable.  Although there are negatives, I don’t want to forget some of what is “just Armenia”, as we non-Armenians say when an event or a happening is beyond our understanding or comprehension aside from being culturally appropriate.   As I walk, a short legged little reddish-brown dog follows me. We see it every day when walking to work. I see older men standing in groups on the sidewalk, smoking and chatting, nothing to do and nowhere to go.  Across the street are younger men, also smoking and chatting as if following the pattern of their elders on the opposite side. This is one thing which is bothersome to an outsider---the lack of involvement of our town’s ordinary men who seem truly to have nothing to do.  Yes, unemployment is extremely high and selected men do work in local stores, drive avtobuses and taxis,  and do construction work at various sites, etc., but there are still countless men who prominently “hang out” day in and day out. We see them every day.
       As I continue my walk, other regular sights and activities come into focus.  I see the numerous small neighborhood stores vying for business, people waiting at the avtobus stops to go to the center of town, children arm-in-arm, leaving the local school to go home, and a dog and a homeless man seeking their lunch from the same overflowing garbage can
Small store seen every day on the way to my school and David's work

. I see the local elderly woman who walks every day, mumbling to herself, carrying cardboard boxes she collects along the way. She is followed at a respectable distance behind, by her daughter, who we surmise must accompany this woman to assure her mother’s safe return home.  Allegedly both of these women were local teachers until the elder one became mentally challenged and now requires supervision by the younger. I feel empathy for the daughter and sadness for the mother. And I see the myriad of clothes lines high off the ground and loaded with clothes drying in the sweet breeze of a spring day—so much better than a week ago when the same lines were laden with frozen garments stiffly swaying in the frigid late winter wind. I wondered at the time if they ever actually got dry????
Avtobus stop where people wait for a ride to the center of Dilijan
           Photos to follow will show a few other typical neighborhood sights which we see daily and take for granted.  Soon those sights will only be memories stirred by photographs made in Armenia and thoughts aroused by sounds, smells, and experiences re-lived with others.    Pictures tell a story.  I hope you enjoy them.

Sign atop an abandoned dairy business near our street

This sign is near our apartment.  We've seen the hotel but not CASANOVA.
Litter is everywhere in Dilijan. It is an eyesore which does not seem to bother local people  but is an obvious detraction for tourists and those of us concerned about the environment.
These children asked that their photo be taken as I walked home today. Of course, I was glad to snap their picture and will get prints made for them.   Children love to see themselves in pictures.
Children I meet along the way make this walk more pleasurable and more memorable as I contemplate leaving Armenia in the near future.  We all walk the walk  together, as we live in Dilijan. 


Friday, March 1, 2013


                 I should be asleep, resting for the next day, but I can’t sleep.  There is a dog howling  somewhere on the ground ,14 floors below our  hotel window. It is a mournful sound and repeated every few seconds as if controlled by a timer. I picture the dog’s head  thrown  back and its mouth forming a string of o’s …….just as depicted in a favorite Far Side cartoon I saved for years. But in that cartoon, someone was there to respond.  This dog howling on the streets of Yerevan is most likely a stray with no home, no owner hence, no responder.  The howling eventually ceases. Is that because someone threw the dog a bone or because it just gave up and quit????    Even with the silence of night returning, I cannot sleep.  Now I’m thinking of other such dogs we’ve seen in Armenia and it keeps me awake.
           I can see in my mind’s eye, the pathetic mother dog we encountered on the street yesterday.                                          

Though not frail or emaciated looking , she had probably  whelped her puppies recently.  Her breasts were swollen and red and she was scrounging for food along the gutters of the street. Where were her newborn pups? I’m certain they were not waiting for her in a warm basket or in a box with a blanket, prepared especially for their coming. Most likely they were nearby in one of the old concrete buildings,  huddling underneath debris of some sort , where the mother dog was trying to shelter them from the cold February winds of Armenia.  How could she or any other mother dog feed herself and nurture her pups as a stray on the street?
                    I then visualized  the dogs in our town that are routinely tied up to trees  or stakes, trapped at the end of meter-length chains where they spend their days “protecting” the dismal property of their owners by barking ferociously at each passer-by. Being a watch dog is a job.  One dog in particular emerges from his cold, metal 50- gallon- oil- drum- home each morning as we walk to work.  He appears to be strong and ferocious with a daunting bark and demeanor,  but what can he do with only a bit over 3 feet of freedom.   We occasionally witness his owner pouring some kind of gruel into his bowl, so at least he is fed. In the summer it is the same routine, but it is hot. That is no life for an animal. Another dog I see at the bus shelter near my college is a large, mixed-breed animal with a heavy fur coat. What attracts my attention is the way this dog sits majestically guarding its owner’s backyard, but rarely does it bark.  It sits erectly and quietly, all the while, appearing to observe those of us waiting for the local avtobus.  Though students are laughing, running around and talking, the dog does not seem to feel threatened and does not test the length of his restraining chain to bark and snarl at the activity nearby.
                    As alternative and more pleasant thoughts, I picture the cute little pug puppy I saw today in a nearby park. It had a collar and leash and was being hugged by its young female owner. Then there is the volunteer who is making arrangements to take her adopted dog from Armenia back to the U. S. Finally, I think of the beautiful blond cocker spaniel we see in the Green Bean coffee shop in Yerevan. This dog's owner rescued it when the dog's former owner could not continue to care for the animal.  It now visits the owner's restaurant is is obviously loved and well cared for in Yerevan, Armenia.       These dogs are exceptions and they are the lucky ones.   They have unknowingly encountered kind humans who care for them and treat them as something having value as living creatures in our world.
                  Unfortunately, there are so many more dogs in Armenia and around the world that merely survive, reproduce and continue the cycle of keeping their kind alive.
Stray dogs resting in intersection of streets in Yerevan,Armenia
   Then there are the "dump dogs"---born near the garbage dumps, fed by the garbage, and thrown there when they die.  There are the abandoned dogs who lose owners for various reasons just as in the U. S. They suffer from not being accustomed to life on the street. They are seen walking up to strangers, wagging their tails and appearing to be friendly as they beg for food.  Then the stranger kicks them or yells for them to “go away”.   Only once have I seen anyone respond positively to such an animal. It was at the bus stop and a child gave the dog his hunk of bread.  The adult accompanying the young child encouraged this action. It was literally the first act of kindness towards a stray animal that I’ve witnessed in Armenia, and it may be the only one.   
               A stray dog that received a hand-out from a kind child but  looks like it has already been abused.  Ears are totally gone, the probable result of unnecessary cropping done inhumanely. 

           As I lie awake thinking of all of this, my eyes begin to feel heavy and I know sleep will come in the wee hours of this morning. I also know I must write about these thoughts. As in other writings, it is more a compulsion to clear my head of such ramblings than to produce a solution to this troubling issue in my current world. I am not up to problem solving in this culture of poverty and neglect where people, too, have their stresses every day.

                 The next day, David and I again see the previously mentioned  mother dog looking for food near our hotel.  I buy her a small packet of dog food, return to where she is walking around and open the food for her.  Of course, she laps it up quickly and tries to eat the packaging before another stray dog comes to investigate. My impulsive act does not solve this dog’s problem, but it makes me feel better for the moment. I was pleased that the dog did not run away in fear or growl and bark at me. Maybe this is a sign that she is being fed by others who take pity on her plight.  Maybe there are more caring people than I’m aware of.  These thoughts provide comfort for the moment. Maybe I just have to live with that.

Mother dog scoffing up small package of dog food

  1. Note:The dog to the left is a beautiful cocker spaniel owned and cared for by the owner of the GREEN BEAN coffee shop in Yerevan.  This shop is one of the only smoke-free cafes, coffee shops or restaurants in Yerevan. It emphasizes natural ingredients in its foods, recycling and an over-all green focus. The owner is interested in helping stray dogs and actually rescued this blond cocker spaniel when its former owner was no longer able to keep it. The dog comes to work with its owner on some days and is treated royally.  There are some kind people in Armenia and, hopefully, their numbers will grow so that animals are better treated. With that thought in mind, I finally drift off to sleep...............................Judy