Monday, August 13, 2012

Summer Activities, Part I: Mother and Father Lauer's Journey to the Caucuses and Turkey

Wow, what was I going to do now that I wasn't scheduled to work my regular 8...hours a week that is?

Well, I was going to find myself busier than I had been since training.

Mom and Dad flew into Tbilisi, Georgia where I welcomed them to their very first caucus city. Tbilisi is a city with an old town, a river, a fortress, some large soviet-style streets, and probably 100+ churches. Although we often hear reports from Georgian volunteers that highlight the glaring similarities between Georgia and Armenia in terms of food, dress, and village life, the capital cities of each country highlight some of vast differences between the two countries as well.

Tbilisi seems more characteristically a country's capital. It has a river, a trait that although un-noticed at first, is a typical city focal point that is missing from Yerevan. Tbilisi has been a capital city much longer than Tbilisi and therefore has an "old town". Yerevan has only served as Armenia's capital and a large city center since the early 1900s after thousands of refugees from the Armenian genocide settled there. Both countries became a part of the Soviet Union, which to the western eye is obviously recognized in the soviet-style architecture so abundant in Yerevan.  In Tbilisi, due to its longer and more varied history, the soviet architecture is tucked between building of other influences as well.

Another superficial and almost silly observation highlighting yet another difference between the two cities was women's shoes. My Dad remarked that "All the women here wear high heals!" At the same time he remarked this, I was noting what I considered A LOT of flats being worn by women. Every time I am in Tbilisi it feels like the fashion capital of the world for a few moments as I look around and see variety and glimpses of personal style. Style in Armenia, compared to Tbilisi makes it almost seem like Armenians are all wearing uniforms. The men where black pants with black shirts (maybe white in the summer) and black pointy shoes. Young women wear skin tight pants or dresses, often very revealing by western standards and high high high heals. Older women were long skirts, conservative shirts, and stockings all the time.

Finally, the attitude of both cities highlights stark differences between Armenia and Georgia.  In Georgia, the first foreign language written on signs or spoken to you is English, in Armenia it is Russian.  It seems that Armenia gladly joined the Soviet Union, I get the impression that given the time and mitigating circumstances, the becoming a part of the Soviet Union saved the people of Armenia. Certainly, to this day, time under the Soviet Union is recalled fondly as it was a time when people had their own homes, good jobs, plenty of food, and good education and social services. In Georgia, my parents and I visited the history museum where my ignorance (other than information gained from recent current events) was shattered. Georgia's time in the Soviet Union punctuated with anti-Russia and anti-Stalin protests.

Next Stop: Istanbul

Istanbul was busy. For starters, it is a large city, and on top of that it is a city that is one of the top-ten tourist cities in the world. We couldn't really get lost, all we had to do was follow the steady stream of camera holders to the next destination. We got to see the Blue Mosque, the Hagia Sophia, the Grand Bazaar, the Topkapi Palace, and Dancing Dervishes. We topped it all off with a Bosphorus River cruise which took us to the black sea. It was easy to see the appeal of Istanbul; it is a city full of history,  full of culture, full of modern conveniences, and so full of lively people.

Now it was time to return home, for me that is: Armenia.

First stop: Dilijan. Mom and Dad got to see my apartment, my school, meet my counterpart and my sitemates. After Dilijan, we traveled down south. (to my Dad's amusement, the road we took used to be part of the silk road) We stayed in Goris and visited another volunteer in Halizdor where we did some hiking, visited old Halidzor in the gorge and took the cable car to the Tatev monastery. In Yerevan we visited the genocide museum, enjoyed some good food, and took in the cities sights. We also managed to visit my training host family and take a day trip to Lake Sevan.

It was a busy but fun two weeks and I will be forever thankful to mom and dad for the two weeks of their visit.

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