Wednesday, December 12, 2007

Tis the Season for YakTrax!

It’s YakTrax Season!

For all you rookies out there, it is officially the season of YakTrax. If you have no idea what “Yaktrax” means, you must not live in a land full of snow and ice! YakTrax are rubber metal shoe things that you put on the bottom of your shoes. This little shoe slipper thing easily shapes your shoes/boots and provides incredible amount of traction. In short, I am just informing you all that the snow has fallen, the ice is residing, and winter has been in full gear for a month in Armenia, or at least where I am. That means that there are only 5.5, yes, 5.5 months of winter left!

On a more random note, to conserve water and body heat, I have cut my hair! It is short and so easy! All I do is put some paste and mess up the hair and I am in style! The kids at school love it! They think it is funny, but then they tell me it suits me! Nevertheless, the villagers are not even too surprised with me; they just find me interesting, lovable, and weird. What a package eh? :P

As I always state, time is flying by, and I cannot believe it. There is just so much to do! I just had a fall spelling bee at my school last weekend. It was great to see the improvement from the students from only 6 months ago. This year, we will be hosting the 2nd National Spelling, and I am one of three people implementing this event. Not only that, but we are also implementing a creative writing contest to start at the local levels, and spread to a Trans-Caucasus contest. Critical and creative thinking and writing skills have been used frugally, and using a contest always helps with the incentive to write at a deeper level. The end result of this contest is going to be much more beneficial as the three countries; Azerbaijan, Armenia, and Georgia will have a booklet produced of the winning essays. It is a nice way to increase neighborly relations.

In case you haven’t heard, I am trapped in Armenia. All borders around Armenia are closed off; as the most recent border closing of Georgia is due to their Presidential elections will be held in early January. So needless to say, I was not planning on going to Georgia or anything, but just found the concept of being trapped quite entertaining for the time being.

In the village, with many thanks to various contributors, we are reconstructing an English Learning Lab at my school. We have started the process, and are laying the floor and putting in windows this week. The cement and rocks have arrived, and the dirty work is soon to begin. As you may have guessed, I can’t wait to help! On another note, I have been very active in editing and recreating summer camp curricula for various camps to be held this summer. I love this work and I still get the goose bumps when I reflect on the experiences we (both Armenians and Americans) had during the camp season last year!

Thanksgiving came and went, with only a bit of celebrating. We had our annual Peace Corps Armenia conference in which we all gather for yearly meetings and updates. Here, we also had a Thanksgiving dinner. It was really yummy, I must say. Mixing peas, corn, and everything in my mash potatoes is just heavenly, then later, only to be topped with a real pumpkin pie! For the actual holiday, I was in the village, and made one of the best meals known to the American man; Kraft Macaroni and Cheese! After my meal, I went and hung out with my neighbors and tried to explain to them the purpose of Thanksgiving and all of its rich tradition. The funny thing is Armenians are always deeply expressing their thanks to one another, and my neighbors did not quite understand why we only do this once a year…I do have to agree that one time a year is not enough.

This month is super busy for me. We celebrated World’s AIDS Day with a national poster contest, last weekend there were some meetings to discuss the financial future of the youth environmental camps (still unknown) with some of the major NGOs, as well as some teacher-trainings and workshops here and there. My classes and clubs (basketball, English, and Eco) are doing really well. I have no big plans for Christmas this year. I am going to stay in the village and hang out with my friends and students. We are going to have a small Christmas program with the students singing English songs and later we will make some cookies. It should be a great time indeed!

The Armenians celebrate Christmas on January 6th, so Christmas on the 25th will pass without the lights and Christmas trees and other traditions that many of you are already pretty sick of! I have in fact; put some Christmas lights up in my living room, only to find out that they don’t work. Also, I have realized that I have a poor holiday song collection. Hopefully the students can sing their hearts out for me as they sing in English the holiday songs!

The New Year is the most celebrated holiday in Armenia. Families and friends will spend a lot time baking and preparing of the new year, which its celebration lasts until at least January 6th, their Christmas Day. It is quite exhausting work, and feel sorry for all the women who work so hard! Last year, I believe I visited 26 homes! That means I ate the traditional food, dolma, 26 times, and that does not count the number of toasts! I bet that number reached around 100. And now this year, I know more Armenian, which maybe will fend off the amount of dolma, but increase the amount of toasts...Yikes :)

The New Year celebration can be exhausting, as I stated, but it is blast and I can’t wait to celebrate it this year with my Armenian family, as a year has gone by, and some many things have changed. This year, I will be able to chime in all conversations.

As far as the language goes, I must be improving because just recently a couple of people called me a ”shatakhos” meaning that I talk too much! Uh-oh! I continue to take some tutor lessons because I want to perfect my grammar knowledge and work on my pronunciation….even though pronunciation gives me trouble in my native tongue as well.

Before I end this update, I must give a bit of an update on Greece. If you have not traveled there, it is definitely a spot to go. After participating in the marathon (which I would do again; I had a blast despite the knee trouble), we went to Santorini for some relaxation time. It was the end of the tourist season, so prices were cheap, the fish was still fresh, and it was like we had an island to ourselves! Santorini is quite beautiful and the sunsets are about at romantics as they come. Besides the nine hour boat ride to the island, we were in Athens seeing most of the ancient ruins and touring around the city. It was the first time I had been to a developed country in over a year and a half, and it was funny. I was the total outsider, as I am sure that was shown when all the PCVs screamed in joy when we went to a grocery store (a real grocery store) and the appearances of avocadoes, skim milk, brand name ice cream, and Honey Nut Cheerios made their appearances. Not a day did not go by for one week, where I did not eat at least three bowls of cereal with skim milk! Oh, cereal, how I love thee!

The marathon itself was a wonderful experience that I cannot wait to repeat. The course is suppose to be one of the more difficult courses, but we all trained in very high altitude which helped our lungs, though our legs were quite beaten up from running on such rugged surfaces. This pounding eventually won the battle over me, as during the marathon, I was in severe knee pain, and honestly had difficulty walking for three days after the marathon, but finished; only a little slower than I had anticipated. It turned out that I had sprained all ligaments and have water in my knee, which means I can’t do anything for three months! One month has gone by, and my mental state is well. I shot some baskets the other day, and wow, my knee felt it the following day! I am eager, despite the snow and cold, to get out and run again!

This update is quick long as it is, so I will end it soon. Here’s wishing you all a safe, healthy and wonderful holiday season. Please know that you all will be thought of, and when you all sing songs, gather around the tree, unwrap presents, or busy baking cookies, I am with you too. Merry Christmas, Happy Hanukah, Happy Kwanza, and Happy New Year. May 2008 be filled with laughter and joy and may you reflect on how lucky you were in 2007!

Sending this last post of 2007 with many hugs and love,
Happy Birthday: Cheryl, Mike, Ellen
Happy New Baby: Steph and Brian = Katie
Pictures will come in a week or so...


Terra said...

Syd, I'm amazed how much you can pack into a few months of work! Kudos for continuing the Spelling Bee and Writing Olympics projects and doing it with style and enthusiasm! The dedication you have to your local village and time you spend with your friends and students is inspiring! Reading about NorTari dolma makes my mouth water...please eat some for me this New Year!
Terra and future Tigran or Anush :)

Tracy said...

Howdy Syd, from the land of the wandering buffalo. We are trapped under an ice storm, with over 200,000 without power (myself included). Indeed I will snuggle up with the hot chocolate you mentioned! It sounds like you are enjoying your adventure and all is well. Hope the knee recovers quickly and completely. I have a rugger leaving for the peace corps in february--Costa Rico! Lovely, eh?

Love you,
Tracy Curtis

Your Scrumhalf Connection said...

Hey Syd! I love your updates! Happy Holidays from Austin.


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Lorin said...

I love reading your column each time you get a chance to update it. Though I've done a terrible job of keeping in touch, I think of you often and am continually amazed by all you've done, you're currently doing, and that which you have yet to conquer! You sure have come a long way, "C"! Have a great holiday season and best of luck with the knee. oh, and you need to convince me to do another marathon... I did my first in March and said I'd never try another, but might reconsider :)

Anonymous said...

Merry Christmas Syd! So glad to hear you continue to have fun and are well. Saw pictures of your parents' visit. All the Merz cousins are getting together for Christmas this year. We will definitely miss you and will send you pictures! ~ Love, Katie and Joel

Anonymous said...

Sorry to hear about the knee. I admire you for even thinking of doing another marathon. Just watching one was grueling enough for me. Take care and Happy 2008.....may you have heat and hot running water the next 3 months.

Mrs Z