Friday, March 16, 2007

Most recently, I visited the very beautiful and very old country of Armenia, more specifically its capital Yerevan. It was a pretty ideal trip overall because we did a lot of touristy things like see old monasteries and such but we also took time to relax, and we avoided disaster for the most part. About the worst thing that happened was that we couldn’t find a restaurant we wanted to eat at one night, though that was kind of tragic at the time… Yerevan is a mere 5 hour marshutka ride from Tbilisi, so the travel was pretty smooth. I was expecting Yerevan to be very similar to Tbilisi, but I was pretty surprised by how different it was. Tbilisi is overall a much more beautiful city, with more interesting architecture and natural beauty throughout the city, but Yerevan is a little cleaner and has a stronger European feel. We stayed at the hostel where Armenia’s PCVs stay when they’re in town and it is a LOT nicer than the hostel we stay at Tbilisi. But it’s probably more expensive, I’ll just keep telling myself that… We took a few day trips out of Yerevan to see the historical sites that any visitor to Armenia is obligated to see. We hired a cab to take us to Garni, a Hellenistic-age temple, and Gehard, a 14th century monastery. Both sites took us deep into the still snow-covered mountains and through villages that were nearly destroyed in the mid-1990s earthquake but still surviving today; it was a very beautiful drive. The Garni temple sits on a rock ledge overlooking a deep gorge with frozen waterfalls, and it’s pretty amazing. The Gehard monastery is equally impressive. The main church within the monastery has a series of cave chambers off it’s main alter room. There are holes to let sunlight through the ceiling of the caves, carvings on the stone, and water dripping from various places. The water in one chamber is said to keep the skin youthful and glowing (I dabbed a bit around my eyes and forehead, just in case). One of the caves is said to be a tomb, though of what or whom I don’t know; all I know is that it felt a little “Raiders of the Lost Ark”-ish and I liked it.
Another interesting place we went was to Etchminadze, the Armenian Vatican located about a half hour outside Yerevan. The main church is so beautiful inside, too bad we couldn’t take pictures. The most interesting thing about it is the treasury, home to 1,700 years worth of religious relics (Armenia was the first nation to formally adopt Christianity in the 3rd century). The church possesses some pretty impressive artifacts, for instance: the supposed spear the pierced Jesus’ side at the Crucifixion, an artistic depiction of the Crucifixion supposedly done by John the Baptist, and fragments of the Holy Cross and Noah’s Ark. Unfortunately, you have to be a VIP to see these things, and we were wearing muddy sneakers and backpacks. ANOTHER cool thing is that when the church was first built, Christianity was a very new religion, replacing centuries of paganism. So the founders retained a pagan fire temple within the church, just in case this whole Christianity business didn’t work out after all. Once again, you have to be a big-shot to see this, or at least make a reservation. We actually saw a group going into the pagan temple but they closed a heavy iron door in our faces. Or in Ryan’s face actually, but props to him for trying. Even though we didn’t get to actually see these fascinating things, it was still fun just to be in the same building. For me at least.
The last thing I’ll write about Yerevan, before I get to the food that is, is the Armenian Genocide Museum. It’s situated on top of a hill with the most amazing view of Mt. Ararat in the city. Outside of the museum there’s a memorial with a never-ending flame encircled by fresh red and white carnations, then by twelve very tall, thick stone pillars. The pillars stand for the twelve communities of Armenians that were devastated during the genocide. Near all of this is a triangular monument stretching high up to the sky. It was a very powerful yet humble memorial. The museum itself was, of course, extremely saddening and depressing. Seeing all the pictures of genocide victims and reading all of the very damning documents, or evidence, that the Armenians were indeed victims of genocide was almost too much for me. I was definitely in a melancholy state for the rest of the afternoon, but I’m really glad that we went and if anyone reading this ever goes to Yerevan, you should absolutely go there.
The most “Georgian” moment I’d say we experience in Yerevan was at the National Art Gallery of Armenia. We paid to see the gallery at around 4:30, the gallery closes at 6:00. At 5:10, as we’re leisurely taking in the eclectic collection, this woman starts motioning to her watch and sort of shooing us along. Suddenly all of the old ladies start crawling out of the wood-work to urge us to leave. Some even roped off their floors so we couldn’t take up any more of their precious time even though they were STILL OPEN. I was actually really pissed at first, but then it was kinda funny. Still, we took our time, walking around exaggeratingly slow and absent-mindedly. By the time we left we were all laughing at the absurdity. That’s just the kind of thing that happens in Georgia all the time. So this picture that will ideally appear near this part of my blog entry is Lyssa, Seth, and I showing our disdain and disgust for the National Art Gallery, or its staff rather. BOO NATIONAL ART GALLERY STAFF, BOOOOO!!!
To change subjects completely, I’ll talk about the food I ate in Yerevan. Mexican. Food. Guac-a-mol-e. Fresh a-va-ca-dos. Chips and salsa. Enchiladas. Tortillas. Margaritas. IT WAS AWESOME. The Cactus, as restaurant is called, was worth the trip for me. Five hours and a border crossing for good Mexican food? I’d do it, trust me. I’m from Texas, after all--Tex-mex is in my blood. As if that weren’t enough, Yerevan also has a Dunkin’ Donuts-style donut shop. Glazed, cinnamon rolls, bear claws, Bavarian cream, you name it. We went there twice, just like with the Tex-mex. Yerevan also granted us the opportunity and pleasure to eat many varieties of hummus at any of the several middle-Eastern restaurants. I kept trying hummus in Turkey and was always disappointed; but not in Yerevan. I was very happy. I’ll stop talking about food now, I can’t imagine how boring this is to you people who can eat these delectable things whenever you want.
I hope this blog entry finds all of you (my family and maybe two of my friends who actually read my blog) happy and healthy. I’ll see all of you stateside in two and a half months!!!! Can’t wait…


It’s official: I have survived my first Georgian winter. I can’t describe the deep sigh of relief this fact allows me. But the temperatures are slowly rising, snow is melting, and the cherry blossoms seem to pop up faster with each day out here in the west. The horror stories I’d heard from G5s had me terrified of the winter. I was told there’d be five months of no electricity, relentless rain and slush, short days, and I’d spend every moment huddled around the wood stove with my host family. I’d heard stories of G5s peeing in water bottles in their rooms because it was too cold to go to the bathroom, and drinking vodka in their bedrooms to keep warm and fend off the boredom: I don’t know which one of these scared me most (probably the vodka) but I wasn’t looking forward to either. But, thank God, we were spared of such an awful winter this year. It got cold, that’s for sure, and it rained and snowed; but, luckily, I live in the west so it wasn’t too bad. I’ve definitely spent an amazing amount of time in the petchi room with my host family, and the only time I’m in my ice-box of a bedroom is when I’m sleeping in my sleeping bag with a quilt and blanket on top. My usual bedtime attire entails: longjohns, flannel pants, wool socks, and sweatshirt (usually a hooded one so I can pull the hood over my head, or I slept with a beenie on). In December my family gave me a small electric heater that doesn’t exactly warm my room, but it does cut the chill just a bit. I also slept with a hot-water bottle on really cold nights. I also started going to bed much later just to spend less time in the cold room (well and to watch Lost, I’ll be honest), not until after 11:00. Lately though, it’s been much colder inside than outside. My house is huge with high ceilings and made of concrete, so it really seals in the coldness… But the point of all this is that I’m very much looking forward to spring. I’m told that Georgia, particularly the west, is quite lovely in the spring. Cherry blossoms, violets, daffodils, and green hillsides are starting to reappear finally!
School has been a mix of highs and lows the past few months. My school is super-disorganized and chaotic because we’ll be joined with two other schools next fall and teachers are worried about losing their jobs. I also don’t have a director, a principal, anymore because she stepped down and we don’t know who our new director will be yet. This all means that the teachers aren’t held accountable by anyone and we get lots of no-shows and tardiness. This screws up my schedule because when a teacher is absent the entire class schedule gets shifted around, so some of my classes end being held at the same time or not at all. All of this makes it difficult for me to begin my secondary projects since I don’t have the support of a director or know which of my English counterparts will be returning next fall. So that’s been a little frustrating… But a good thing is that I started my English clubs in January. I have one for 5-6th forms and another for 8-11th. It’s been a lot of fun and given me more to look forward to during the week. I’ve given the students the chance to tell me what they want to do in the clubs. So far, I’ve taught them lots of American slang (they love that) and we’ve watched “The Little Mermaid,” in English of course. English club is fantastic because only the best students show up! They’re all enthusiastic and attentive and genuinely interested in improving their English, it’s WONDERFUL! The group of kids who show up for English club are awesome and brilliant and really make up for the rest of the students who couldn’t care less…well, for the most part. Things besides teaching that are keeping me busy now and in the near future: clubs, possible writing/newspaper club, teacher training (a Peace Corps committee that organizes English teacher trainings in the regions), GLOW (girls leading our world, I don’t really do much for GLOW except be the secretary at meetings), Writing Olympics, reading endless books, making bracelets with my host sisters, text messaging, engaging in daily cross-cultural exchange to break down stereotypes and build mutual understanding, and countless other important and not-so-important things…