Thursday, August 25, 2011

Week One at Site

This post wont be long. As the title implies, I have been at my permanent site for one week. School doesn't start until September 1st. I have been reading, taking naps, studying (a little), making tea, and amusing myself with any activity I can create for myself.

I have been lucky enough to work with my counterpart for an hour or so every day at school. I will be team-teaching grades 3,6,7 and 8. In Armenian schools, the students stay in one room all through school and the teachers move from classroom to classroom. We are lucky enough to have an English Resource Center which is a small room with a white board, printer, projector, one computer, a few desks and chairs, and various English resources my counterpart has collected over the years. My main job will be to help my counterpart effectively teach English despite the textbooks we have to work with. Hopefully we’ll be able to get the students more involved in the classroom with games, activities, visual aids, etc. Other than teaching I’ll be helping run an English club for students and possibly one for teachers. As time goes on, I’ll pick up other projects as well.

My new host family is just one host mom who is wonderful. I will most likely rent her second house from her come November when I can finally get my own place. It is right next door to where we are living now, close to school and my counterpart’s apartment and has a view of the mountains surrounding us. It is also completely furnished and has indoor plumbing.

Dilijan is a pretty spread out town but I don’t mind the walking. The Armenians think I am crazy but I try to point out to them that I walk 10x faster than they do and I don’t wear 4 inch stiletto heals all the time so walking is much more enjoyable for me than it is for them. It is about a half hour walk to downtown Dilijan where I can get some shopping done, get mistaken for a Russian tourist, and visit my sitemates for a bit. Judy and I are taking our time off before school starts to slowly explore the town and see what is available in various stores. So far we have found some small grocery stores, and a few warehouse-esq buildings with as many Chinese and Turkish products as you could want. I know where to go when I want to buy a lime green housecoat.

Because Dilijan is a larger tourist town, most people just ignore us assuming we are just tourists passing through. Some try to sell us tablecloths. Living in a town is different from living in a small village where EVERYBODY knows who you are but we still have our micro-communities in Dilijan. The other day when I was walking home, two different neighbors stoped me and asked me if I had eaten that day because they knew my host mom was gone and that I was home alone. Only after assuring them that I had and that I was in fact headed home to eat right that minute did they let me continue on my way.

I’m enjoying the relaxing pace of settling in but am also excited for school to start and to begin working.

If you want my address, let me know and I’ll send it your way!

I’ll be uploading more pictures soon!

Friday, August 5, 2011

Vartavar Holiday

I was sitting in my garden. Literally just sitting there staring at a flower. All of the sudden I see just the heads of a couple Americans bobbing down the path. Joining them are the heads of three Armenian boys from the village. Seconds later I am doused with buckets of water. Happy Water Day. After engaging in an entertaining water fight with my family, my mom handed me a bucket and the Americans ran off through the village intent on proving their worth. We were attacked halfway down the street but managed to hold our own. After emptying our water supply, we ducked into Lisa’s house for a refill and were promptly attacked by her mom. Filling our buckets in their front gate bathtub we ran outside and after a few minutes of battle with the village kids enlisted them to help ambush the last two American girls.

The next two hours consisted of the following: 100s of buckets of water being dumped on my head while the boys yelled “Kelli-jan is showering!” We broke off for a bit to douse our language teacher with water and also to chase somebody’s older cousin and his friends through three of their houses. After finally deciding to go home, I ran out the back gate of a friend’s house and started a steady jog home, hopping to put some distance between myself and the kids with water. They didn’t notice my escape until I had at least 100 yards on them and I was able to outrun all of them until I reached my turn off where two girls were waiting, ready with buckets. They got me once and I just barley dashed in our gate and slammed it in some other kids’ faces before they hurled water over our gate in one last attempt to get me.

I didn’t leave the house for the rest of the afternoon. However, at 7 I had to get all the way across town to our language teachers’ house where we were going to make pizza. I put my supplies in a ziplock bag and set off, thankful the streets were peaceful. I took with me a nalgeen full of water, for drinking naturally, but to be used in case of needed defense. I ran into a small child, no older than 4 halfway down the street and when he saw my water bottle, he ran over to me and punched me in the thigh. I told him I wasn’t going to pour water on him but he just punched me again. I wasn’t really sure how to handle him so I just kept walking, chuckling a bit. He ran after me and tried to pull down my shorts. I heismaned him as gently as possible and continued on my way. As I neared the main street I could hear the kids out by the running spring so I made my friend’s tatik let me in their back gate and got a bucket. Once I got out the front gate I was dry for all of 5 seconds.

Now, not only were the Americans mercilessly attacked but everybody was fair game that day. Tatiks, mamas, small children, store owners, cars driving by with open windows, bus passengers. I saw an old man run faster than I would have believed and jump a wall (cigarette in hand) when we chased him through his garden. I saw Lisa’s tatik take a whole bucket of water to the face. We dumped 6 buckets of freezing cold water on our language teacher’s head, one after the other.

I think we earned the respect of the village boys. We proved that we could not only take multiple buckets of water to the head but also that we were willing to chase them all the way down the street and throw our own bucket of water right back in their face.

The holiday occurs 98 days after Easter. Needless to say, this holiday makes my top 5 list.

Two simple Armenian recipes.

So far the Armenian food has been good. It can be very greasy and oily, but my mom does a good job of cutting down on the salt at least. The oil, not so much.

Most Armenians eat seasonally which means there is a lot of fresh produce during the summer and early fall months and none during the winter months. I’m trying to eat my fill now, but I know I will miss the fruit A LOT come December. And to think, last December I was eating exotic fruits every day in Hawaii. This year, I’ll be eating cabbage. Good thing I can make a good sauerkraut.

I’ll be posting more about food, as it is one of my favorite topics, but for now, I just wanted to share two simple recipes I have seen prepared a lot in my time here.

Walnut Eggplant Rolls

Slice eggplant into long thin slices.

Fry in oil or butter until cooked and soft.

Set aside

Mix together: chopped walnuts, garlic, salt, pepper, minced cilantro or dill and one of the following: sour cream, plain yogurt, or mayonnaise.

Spread mixture on cooked eggplant slices and roll.

Eat warm or cold.


Take plain yogurt and thin with water. Add diced cucumber, onion, and cilantro or dill. Salt if you wish.

Drink cold.

My permanent placement

I will be working as a TEFL teacher in an Armenian school, grades 3-9. English is the students’ third language, following Russian as their second. My school has over 40 teachers and over 300 students. My counterpart is works as both the vice principal and one of two English teachers. She has previously worked with volunteers and has been to the states on a teacher exchange program. This translates into: I am lucky. I will be working with somebody who has experience with Americans and knows how to work with a volunteer.

I will be living with the secretary of my school. She is 45 and has a son who works in Russia. It will be just the two of us in her house which is pretty big and also has indoor bathroom and shower facilities. Her house is just 5 minutes American walking speed and 10 minutes Armenian away from my school. The city center is a good 45 minute walk but there are plenty of stores nearby and also a bus that runs up and down the main street.

My town itself has a population of about 15,000 and used to be an old resort town and is located in the middle of a forest reserve so there is plenty of hiking etc. Part of the town as been preserved as an “old town” and consists of a couple of restaurants, a hotel, a museum, and a few local art galleries. The rest of the town is spread out along one long main road that stretches through a valley.

Armenia is only about the size of Maryland and I will be living in the northern region, just about an hour north of Yerevan (the capital city), am pretty close to Georgia (the only border Americans can easily cross), and can conveniently get to a few other big cities and volunteers from where I am.

I’ll be moving from my training village on August 17th and will start school on September 1st.