Thursday, June 30, 2011

Soviet Armenia

I took another long lunch earlier this week (though it did not last all afternoon this time!) to do a Soviet Tour through Envoy, the tour company run out of the hostel where most of the PCVs stay. It’s where my Silk Road friends stayed while they were here – and it’s where I’ve decided I will stay on my last night in the country. I’m going to be the first of the PCRVs to leave – since I will be taking off the day I COS; Gordon, Jeanne and Melvia leave later that weekend. I’m also going to be the last to leave, since I am coming back and flying out of Yerevan; Brian will have left a couple of days before I do. Rather than go back to Zina’s, I thought I would stay at the hostel – I’m there often enough, and that way I can guarantee myself a shower before I leave. Everyone raves about the Envoy showers! Envoy also has other interesting and imaginative tours; I’ve tried to go on others but they need a minimum number of signups in order to run them. The Soviet tour is a new one and it was very interesting. Gevorg, the creator and guide, said that so far it’s just the Americans who want the tour. And I said it was probably only the Americans who remember the Cold War, right? I recalled my conversation with our Safety and Security Coordinator, in which he said, “of course not, we were the most powerful country in the world!”

Gevorg dressed in period costume, with a bandana and a Soviet medal; the car had a banner and an Armenian SSR flag (same colors, but with a hammer and sickle). He also spoke in character, every so often telling about the future (i.e. present day), explaining how the rules of the Soviet Union made people so happy. We passed the Aeroflot office and started the tour in Lenin Square, today’s Republic Square – there had been a big sculpture of Lenin there, but that’s all gone (an even bigger Stalin was where Mother Armenia is today). Our next stop was the train station, from which you could travel all over the Soviet Union. In Soviet times, someone from perhaps the KGB would have been along with us and could have told us about everyone who lived in the buildings across the street and what they do. We had a Soviet snack lunch (a piroshki) and then took the Metro down to the factory area. All of the factories were close to the city, to make it easier for people to get to work. Never mind the chemical waste or pollution – the people had work! Now the factories are closed and there are weeds growing. It all disappeared overnight. He told some good Soviet jokes – I’d write them here but just in case they’d be deemed inappropriate for this forum, I’ll refrain. I did an internet search and noticed that there are several web sites that have some, so if you’re interested, you can find them.

We then went to the market – which is more or less the same as it was in Soviet times, except that then there were collective farms. Some of the produce at the market did come from individual farmers, but most of the land was collectivized (in the present day, Gevorg bought some apricots – they’re getting better!). Then we went to a Soviet housing complex. One of the old men sitting outside said something to Gevorg about him looking like a communist, and Gevorg had to explain why – that made my day. The housing complex was built in the shape of the letters CCCP. Gevorg described a daily routine – exercise 7:00 am, 7:30 go to work, work 8:00-noon, have lunch until 1:00, work again until 5:00, eat dinner when you get home, father play with kids while mother does dishes, everyone watch TV, 45 minutes or so for intimate relations, man leaves woman alone so she can cry, bed at 10:30. This was law. Not that everyone followed it, but everything was programmed by the state – down to the complete daily routine.

The next stop was left as a surprise – the only Lenin sculpture still in the country. When Gevorg was planning the tour, a taxi driver showed this to him; it’s in a courtyard in a residential area, outside the sculptor’s studio (and is available for sale). As he put it, the taxi drivers here know everything.

Our final stop was the house museum of the last president of the Armenian SSR, with displays that showcased all of the things he did for Armenia. It wasn’t at all a celebration of communism or of the Soviet Union, but rather a testament to what he was able to get done for his country within the system. It was a good way to end the tour on an up note (and the museum is conveniently located right across the street from the hostel). It was very interesting to see another side of Armenian history – of world history, really. And though it already seems long gone, it’s very recent history. And very interesting!

Wednesday, June 29, 2011

Adventures in Lori - Part II

On Saturday night Zina made a special dinner of summer dolma. Her (other) guests were someone who had stayed with her years ago – she had worked for Peace Corps Bulgaria – and her boss. We talked about Bulgaria, the long history of the peoples in this part of the world, and life in the former Soviet Union and its satellites. At the end of the dinner, the boss read my coffee grounds; this was a first for me in Armenia. After a couple of months of calm, I will have a big change. I will be working with people of many races, and live near water. I will be going to a mountain soon. Overall, he said, I have a bright future.

I might have gone to the mountain that he referred to the next day! The trip to the Debed Canyon was about eleven hours long – so why not go back to Lori marz right away, this time for a twelve-hour day? The hiking group was going to two places that sounded interesting, and I thought it would be nice to do some hiking, so I signed up. There were mountains in the distance, and Mt. Aragats was outside the window for most of the way up and back, so chalk one up for the coffee grounds.

There was quite a mix of people this time – from Argentina, Italy, Lebanon, Syria, Germany and of course Armenia; a cook, an architect, two civil engineering students, an NGO person, a teacher, two policewomen and more. Lori Berd was our first destination – well, after the Aparan bakery, that is. This fortress was built on the edge of a gorge at the point where two rivers meet, as Amberd was. There are the remains of a bathhouse and a church, and then we walked down into the gorge, where there was an arched bridge (wait – wasn’t the one last weekend the only one?). As we had lunch there, a group of PCVs and Fulbrights hiked through! As one of them said, it’s a small country. One could keep hiking along the gorge – and it would have been nice to, though it was quite hot – but we had another stop, at a Dendropark.

This arboretum was cool and shady but not large. Armenians come in the spring to breathe the pollen, thinking it has a health benefit. Maybe there’s something in that - near Lori Berd I could not stop sneezing, but in the Dendropark I could breathe and the air was fragrant. However, we walked on every path and still had about an hour to hang out before we went home. Jeanne had gone on last week’s hike and she said it was a long drive and not much hiking – I wonder if the leaders think that it’s too hot to do a lot of walking and that the group just wants to get out of Yerevan and go somewhere cooler. I’m glad I saw both of our destinations but I wish we had either hiked more or gotten back sooner. At least I got back in time to stop by Republic Square and watch the fountains for a while. I love those!

By the way, I asked where we had gone on that very first hike – since I wasn’t on the mailing list yet – and found out that it was a nature reserve in Ararat province. I knew we had gone to a fortress and a church called St. Karapet, and when I read Lonely Planet I thought that’s where we might have gone; I was glad to confirm it. So that means I have seen two sites in Ararat marz (and not just been to Khor Virap twice) – Lori was my last marz, and now I have been twice, so why not see every marz twice now? There was a big MCA pumping station opening in Tavush last week; this was originally going to be an outing for all of MCA-Armenia but it was scaled back, and I didn’t go. During the construction they found some pre-Christian tombs; that would have been interesting to see, but I think that even those who did go last week didn’t see them. I may go back to Lori a third time to visit a PCV who has invited me. I’ll go back to Shirak on my way to Georgia and I think I will come back from Georgia through Tavush, and that’ll do it.

Tuesday, June 28, 2011

Adventures in Lori - Part I

One of the A-17s is a group organizer (every group needs one of those) and she put together a trip to visit the UNESCO World Heritage monasteries and other churches of the Debed Canyon. The group size kept changing and it ended up that we took a taxi, with one person in the front and four in the back (one of whom was her mother, who served in the Peace Corps 30 years ago!). The taxi was smaller than the grand taxis in Morocco and the people were bigger, so it wasn’t a comfortable day, but it was fun.

Our first stop was in Aparan, where there’s a renowned bakery. It lives up to the hype – I had a warm potato piroshki and a ponchik, which is like a cream-filled doughnut. We then started at Haghpat, perched – as so many of these monasteries are – on the edge of the canyon, with a magnificent view. It’s one of the UNESCO sites. What, to me, distinguishes it from the others is the bell tower, the decoration on the side of two brothers holding a model of the church, the fact that the buildings are separate where in most others they are contiguous, a dramatic khatchkar featuring human figures, and a library/repository in which there were holes in the ground for storage jars.

We passed through the town of Alaverdi, which is dominated by a copper mine. There’s also some strip mining nearby, which is not beautiful, but the rest of the landscape and the canyon was. Lots of trees in Lori marz! Our northernmost destination was Akhtala monastery. It’s surrounded by a fortress, similar to others I have seen – fortress and church all in one! The main attraction is the frescoes inside. Built and decorated in the Georgian style – it’s not far from the border and at one time was under Georgian control - it was awe-inspiring. It should have more visitors! But it was nice that we had it all to ourselves.

Sanahin is a contemporary of Haghpat (its name means “older than the other one,” while Haghpat means “huge wall”). It was built by the same family and has the same carving of the brothers holding the model of the church. It has a nice bell tower as well, and a little round chapel in the back. Sanahin has more trees on its property, so it felt cozier. And there were nice benches outside, where we had a picnic lunch. This is the other UNESCO site.

Maybe the best was the last, though – Odzun. As we approached the property, we saw a café across the way, where the priest was sitting. He came over and gave us a tour. He was obviously very proud of his church, pointing out 4th-century stones and 6th-century elements, including one of the world’s oldest Madonna and child stone carving. Then he demonstrated the building’s acoustics by singing; his voice was beautiful and the sound rang out and he was so sincere that we all felt compelled to make a donation or to buy something. This is another church that most tour buses pass by, so it was worth being in the crowded taxi to see all four of these outstanding sites!

Thursday, June 23, 2011


Time for another post with a collection of random information – and for the revelation that when I write this kind of post – I’ve been blogging for almost five years now, and am stating this for the first time – I title them with headlines that come from the “leftovers” Jeopardy categories. Did you notice?

It’s been hot here. Maybe in the 90s F? So far, it has cooled down enough at night that I can sleep well; it was hot at Chad’s. I suspect that one of these days it will be too hot to sleep at night, but am not sure it’s worth it to invest in a fan, though I could leave it with Zina or donate it to another volunteer. I’ve been feeling tired at night for the past week or so, and I realized it’s because my room is hot. I’m doing hot yoga in the morning, too! The sun peeks over the ridge and fills my room just as I’m getting started on my routine these days.

Have I mentioned that the days are long? I think so. They’ve been long for a while, and of course this week they’re the longest of the year. For the solstice, it rose at 6:33 am and set at 9:35 pm. Yerevan is at 40 degrees latitude, about the same as New York and Chicago, but I think the days seem longer here because there aren’t tall buildings to create shadows, so it stays very light very late.

One thing I enjoy here is seeing the swallows (that’s what the people here call them; a PCV birder says they are in reality swifts) fly around this way and that in the early morning and at dusk. There are so many of them! I imagine that without them there would be many insects to deal with. I got a few bites when I was away over the weekend but have had none in Yerevan. Why don’t we have swifts in major American cities? (Conversely, I have seen only a handful of pigeons here).

I’ve also heard quite a few planes lately – fighter jets practicing, I think. Except that each time I hear them, I wonder if the next war with Azerbaijan has started and if I’m about to get a text message to that effect from our Safety and Security Coordinator. I’m much more alert here than I felt I needed to be in either of my other assignments, though there was always the possibility of something happening there too.

I’ve been working on a miscellany of things with my counterpart away – most notably an entry for MCC’s Poverty Reduction Blog, my Peace Corps Final Report and Description of Service (with room to add projects that I’ll work on when she gets back) and one of the online surveys that we have to complete before we COS (the other won’t be available until July). In addition, I’m developing the flyer, testimonial and internet listings for Zina’s Bed and Breakfast. I’ve also started going through the English-language version of the MCA-Armenia web site, which is my de facto default project when there aren’t other assignments. I love that.

I’ve also had a miscellany of social activity – a lunch with Mel, Gordon and Jeanne (they were in Georgia for two weeks; I missed them!) last Tuesday that somehow turned into the whole afternoon, a lunch with Shannon last Friday that somehow turned into the whole afternoon (not without a little guilt though; I have to get over that and enjoy these afternoons while I have them), a coffee with the OSCE program chair, who is leaving Yerevan soon, another orchestra/Republic Square evening. Next Tuesday is a ballet – Prokofiev’s Romeo and Juliet – and I may go to an art opening tomorrow evening.

I think strawberry season is just about over. I can’t say I had as many as humanly possible, but I had a lot, and I still think they are the best strawberries I have ever had. Cherries are out now – they are good too, but I don’t like cherries as much as I like strawberries (and we know strawberries are better than snakes!). And I finally had my first apricot – Armenian apricots are supposed to be the best in the world. This one was all right. My host mother said she wasn’t even sure it was Armenian – she can’t tell where the produce is from these days. She also said the really good ones are too expensive. I told her I would give her extra money so I could see what the best taste like! She said it’s early and we’ll wait a week or two. I just hope the recent hailstorms didn’t ruin the crop, as I hear it did last year….

When I go to other PCV’s houses, I enjoy seeing how they live. I especially like looking at their books. More and more PCVs have Kindles now – it makes sense; you can read so many more books and save all that weight in luggage and in packages from home – but I think that as more people get them, something that’s traditionally been a big part of Peace Corps life – the trading of books among fellow volunteers - will be lost.

I’ll close with some good news – the PCV who broke her ankle in three places just before our first trip to Syunik in February is on her way back this week! She was medically separated but was reinstated – so she won’t COS with the A-18s, but she’ll be able to complete her service here. I would love to get back down to Meghri and Kapan – they’re supposed to be beautiful in the summer – but I think I have to chalk that up to, “you can’t do everything.” I am glad I got there once!

The pictures are miscellany too – more from this past weekend.

Wednesday, June 22, 2011

Jews in Armenia

Last week, a fellow PCV posted a link to this site, created (I think) by another PCV, whom I have not met - - coincidentally (or not), I had just been reading about this in the Bradt guide. There’s an 800-year-old Jewish cemetery in Armenia, one of the oldest known in the world. It was rediscovered in 1996 and excavations have been in the works since 2000, through the Jewish University of Jerusalem. Several of the gravestones have Hebrew lettering on them. You can reach the cemetery via a rickety footbridge over the Yeghegis River. Built in the 1930s, the bridge supports include some of the gravestones; another bridge may be built and then the gravestones would be restored to the cemetery. Over 60 gravestones have been identified, some with decipherable inscriptions. Interestingly, some of them have the same symbols and decorative motifs – such as the spiral wheel – that are seen on some of the early Christian stones. There’s speculation that the same craftsmen may have carved stones for both this cemetery and Christian ones (makes sense to me). The Bradt guide says that the Jews in the area worked in flour milling. They came in the 13th century after the Mongol invasion and left in the 15th after the Ottoman invasion.

You may have already guessed that the way to this cemetery (and also to a couple of monasteries and a fortress) is near Yeghegnadzor and that we couldn’t get to it because of the road that was washed out. If the road is repaired before I leave, I’d go back to see this – it sounds like a fascinating bit of history and something unique to see. I enjoyed seeing the Jewish cemeteries and quarters of Morocco, after all! Or maybe I will just go back to Yegh to go tubing on the river with Emily, Meag and others – that would be fun.

Another volunteer has been working on some English translations – see If you look at a map, it makes sense that Armenians would have gotten to Israel and Jews would have gotten here; it’s not far. One day I did an internet search and found the address for a synagogue in Yerevan. Gordon, Jeanne and I were out for a walk one day and he didn’t feel well so he went home; Jeanne and I weren’t ready to call it a day yet, so I suggested we check it out. It was hard to find – we went up and down the street, and then a local figured out what we were looking for and pointed to a narrow, residential alleyway; we went though and found it. It was undergoing renovation and was empty; a menorah in front and some books with Hebrew lettering inside were the only clues that we were in the right place. Then the rabbi came along and talked to us for a while. He invited us to the re-opening, but it was the same day as our COS meeting, so we couldn’t go. I’m not sure I’ll make it back there but here’s a look at it now -

Who knew?

July post script, or why I am still reading tour books even though I am almost finished, part two – because I learn things. Near the sculpture of the hands from twin city Carrara (see May 28) and the tree-of-life sculpture that is a replica of one Yerevan gave to Carrara in return (July 14) is Yerevan’s monument to the Holocaust. According to the Bradt guide, the Hebrew is wrong. Still, it was nice to find this sculpture.

Tuesday, June 21, 2011

Village life, Spa town, Walkers meet, Caravanserai - Part II

I went back to Chad’s for the night with one of the walkers and her husband (who had not done the hike but who had randomly passed by them at one point during the walk, making his marchutny stop to say hello to them). The next morning, it was hard to tear myself away – we relaxed outside Chad’s house, talking and just sitting with his landlord’s family. The father took me on a tour of the garden. My host mother had told me there were lots of snakes in Yeghegnadzor, and when I mentioned it to Chad, he said there were three who regularly appeared in the garden. So the father took me to look for them. They weren’t in their usual spots, and I began to wonder what I was thinking by asking to see them and what I would do if they were underfoot. The father picked some ripe strawberries for me and showed me everything else he was growing. I tried to say that strawberries are better than snakes but Chad told me that I said I wanted more snakes – his Armenian is great, and it made the Jermuk trip and the family time all the more rewarding.

I loved my taste of village life, but tear myself away I did, to spend more time with Emily and Meag and the B2Bers. Everyone was sitting at a long table in the garden – hot, sunny Vayots Dzor, with everyone sitting outside, was quite a contrast to chilly, rainy Gegharhunik – making posters for the final B2B event. Everyone who had hosted the walkers along the way plus Peace Corps staff were coming for it; my plan was to leave town before the masses arrived. First, though, I wanted to explore a little more. The northern group had camped out their last night at Selim Caravanserai, the most intact remainder of the Silk Road in Armenia. Lonely Planet says that it’s not worth going just to see it, but that if you’re on that particular road it’s worth pulling over, and a couple of the walkers agreed with that assessment. I decided I wanted to see it anyway, especially after hearing all of Katie and Theo’s stories and reading their book. Emily and Meag called a taxi driver that they often use, and I talked them into coming along.

Of course, it was worth it, at least to me. First of all, just the fact that it’s there is an interesting slice of history – you can visualize the traders taking the same route that the Border2Border people had just walked, except with animals and goods to trade. Inside, there’s a main hall for the animals, with holes in the roof and a trough on the floor, and naves along the side for the people and their wares. The caravanserai was built in the 1300s. Per the Bradt guide, it is one of the best-preserved in the world - its remote site prevented its being quarried. And the view from it down the gorge was breathtaking. The tallest mountains, on the horizon, mark the border with Naxcivan (Emily said that there’s one spot on the drive back from which, on a clear day, you can see Naxcivan, which is that separate part of Azerbaijan, and then the next range is Turkey, and the range after that is Iran). We went over the Selim pass (in the other direction from all of those) and saw a completely different valley (oh, those microclimates!).

On the way back, we stopped to see a road that had been washed out (more on this in another post) – the entire side of a mountain just slipped into the river below, cutting off about nine villages. This is the way to some good hiking and historical sites; if it’s repaired before I COS I might be tempted to return. We also stopped at a 13th century arched bridge – so arched that it comes to a point – that is also part of Silk Road history; it's the only one of its kind in Armenia. All of this was fascinating, and much more fun because Emily and Meag were along. Emily’s Armenian is also very good, so she could translate some of the comments that our taxi driver made. You can see her in action in this video, made by the U.S. Embassy here -

Time flies when you’re having fun, and I made the last marchutny going back to Yerevan. I was so happy after a weekend of kind people, interesting sites, beautiful views, and sunny weather that the two-hour hot, airless, bumpy, twisty ride went by quickly. The Yegh marchutny stops not far from where Gordon and Jeanne live; she was on an outing with the hiking group but he met me at the café at the train station, where we had khatchapuri and traded tales.

Monday, June 20, 2011

Village life, Spa town, Walkers meet, Caravanserai - Part I

This may have been my favorite weekend in Armenia! It got off to a shaky start, though, with a two-hour ride in a completely full, hot and airless marchutny – during which, ironically, I was reading a New Yorker article about tuberculosis (nobody coughed during the ride, thankfully). Then I got into a taxi where I had trouble being understood and was lamenting my lack of Armenian study and practice – when I got to my final destination, my host told me I got the crazy taxi driver, so it wasn’t me. After that, I had a wonderful time.

I met Chad once at the cafeteria near the Peace Corps office; I told him I was interested in coming to Yeghegnadzor for the end of the Border2Border walk, and he instantly said he had four beds and I could have one, in my own room. Plus, I mentioned that I was interested in going to Jermuk, the spa town of Armenia, and he agreed to go with me. What a nice host! First, we met his landlord’s family – extremely nice people, with cute kids – and walked around his village. It’s the largest village in Armenia in area and the second largest in population. Almost everyone lives off subsistence farming in their gardens; some also have animals that they take across the river to graze. Chad’s family is quite prosperous – they grow enough food for themselves and have extra to take to market, plus three of them have outside jobs; it was nice to see a well-off family. Much of the rest of the village looked prosperous as well, with big houses and gardens; Vayots Dzor is a good region for agriculture. All is not paradise, though – the 19-year-old daughter in Chad’s original host family was bride-napped a few months ago by another family in the village. She hasn’t been allowed back to see her family, and she’s now pregnant. Another volunteer is extending his service specifically to work on bride-napping issues; it’s apparently an increasing practice here.

We took the marchutny to Vayk, the next town over, and learned that the next bus to Jermuk would be an hour and a half later – I was happy to spring for a taxi rather than wait, and we ended up with a driver who regularly transports Peace Corps volunteers. He offered to show us around, wait for us and take us back. First he took us to the ski lift, which operates year-round, and we had a view of the mountains and lake – Jermuk, at about 2600 meters, is much cooler than the village from which we had started. Then we went to a waterfall, where we took a little walk by the river. Jermuk is known for its waters – a local sparkling water is bottled here, and in the town itself there are hot mineral springs where you can drink and/or fill bottles. I had a sip from each spigot and feel cured of any possible ailments! Jermuk is also known for sanitariums – in Soviet days (and even today), people would come for long vacations and get various treatments. These are not as sophisticated as the spas we may know of and long for (ah, for The Farm in the Philippines!), but I wanted to experience a treatment. I had a 15-minute underwater massage – I was immersed in a big bathtub and then an attendant directed a stream of water from a hose along all of the major muscle groups. I wish the bath had been a little warmer, but I did feel relaxed and clean – not bad for less than ten dollars. I don’t think I’d go back for a long vacation though, or even a weekend. Our last stop was by the lake, where there are more resorts. It looks like a nice place to swim – unless you get too close to the end, that is. There, a large daisy-shaped outflow drain goes to an underwater river that empties into Lake Sevan, 53 k away. An interesting engineering project, and the end to an interesting little visit!

After Jermuk we went into Yeghegnadzor, where the Border2Border walkers from both the north and from the south had arrived. Supporting them and seeing them all at the end of their walk was my motivation for the timing, but I also wanted to visit Emily and Meag, the PCVs who live there. They were working with the women embroiderers; they have since found other projects, as have I, but they’re both nice, so I wanted to visit anyway. Plus, they are renowned throughout the country as great cooks. I found my way to the kitchen and helped stir cherry pie filling while others were making lasagnas. After all the prep work was done and the food was in the oven, we sat on the steps while a trio of B2B walkers who happen to be extremely musically talented (one went to Julliard, one won a national barbershop quartet contest, and the third, who knows) sang, harmonized and played a variety of instruments – one guitar and several improvised (shaken Pringles can, brushed broom, and banged-on pans, water bottles and other items). It was a real treat! As was dinner – even at a point where everyone (especially the walkers) was so hungry that anything would have been devoured, the food was exceptional. I enjoyed the stories and the camaraderie, and had a chance to do one of my favorite things – washing dishes when I am a guest in someone else’s house.

Friday, June 17, 2011

Gallivanting in Gavar

Gavar is the provincial seat of Gegharkunik marz, near but not on Lake Sevan, a town of about 30,000, framed this time of year by green, snow-capped mountains. It has a nice church – the tallest in the country before Etchmiadzin was built – but the main attraction for me was the PCVs who live there. When I mentioned my plans to another PCV, he decided to come along for the day before returning to his site. Good thing that he did – this was my first encounter with overcrowded marchutnys. I remember the bum-rushes at the Fes taxi stand, but hadn’t steeled myself for pushing my way onto a vehicle here; as another crowd gathered, we found enough people to share a taxi, and off we went.

Chris and Bryan were the hosts, Vincent and I came up together, and Rani and Robby were visiting as well, already there. The six of us took a long walk to Noratus, the site of more khatchkars in one place than anywhere in the country. They date from three separate time periods (I think 5th, 9th and 11th century) and you can see the evolution in style. There are even older (cradle-shaped or flat stone) grave markers as well, and a fancy, new part to the cemetery, in addition to a view of the surrounding town, lake and mountains, so it was a nice place to wander around. There had been a bigger collection of khatchkars in Naxcivan, but the Azeris destroyed it. Supposedly, when the Ottomans came, the general defending Noratus dressed the khatchkars as soldiers, and the Ottomans, thinking it was a big army, retreated. We wandered, had a cup of coffee outside the entrance, and then some of us walked back – part of the way through fields of wildflowers – while others took a taxi and started cooking. Another PCV friend, Shannon, came up in time for dinner, a repast of fried zucchini sticks, macaroni and cheese, and cherries, strawberries and Girl Scout cookies that I contributed. Good walk, good food, good company, good cheer. It was one of my favorite days here!

Border2Border is a volunteer project that I have been excited about since I first heard about it – you can read more at Six PCVs started at the Georgia border and six started at the Iran border and this coming weekend they will meet at Yeghegnadzor. Along the way they are stopping every other day or so and giving health lessons to kids about smoking, drinking, nutrition and exercise. I’ve planned for a while to go to Yegh this coming weekend to support everyone (several of the people I’ve become friendly with are walking – and the PCVs in Yeghegnadzor have been warm and inviting). I didn’t realize when I set the date with Chris that the northern group would be arriving in Gavar on Sunday. Once I knew it, though, I offered to help; Chris and Brian convinced me to contact my counterpart and Peace Corps and tell them I was staying to see the presentations on Monday.

Chris, Bryan and I spent most of Sunday getting food – both for the nutrition presentation and for the meals that the walkers would have during their stay. There’s no supermarket in Gavar, so we had to go to several hanuts to get everything requested and required; that’s just daily life for the people in the regions (as is water availability – Chris has water from about 7:30 am to 2:30 pm and he fills up buckets so that he can flush and wash during off hours). It was raining off and on and much chillier than the day before – it had been threatening during our hike but the rain held off until after dinner.

The B2B people arrived in mid-afternoon and we greeted them with cheers and snacks. They were tired – they’d walked 187 km so far and 38 km that day – so we sat around and talked (well, some dozed, and some just sat without the energy to talk). I’ve never been one to just hang around, but the walkers, the hosts, and the other PCVs in town are all good people, so I am glad I stayed. As with Thanksgiving in the Philippines, it was nice to experience a slice of PCV, as opposed to PCRV, life here in Armenia.

The next day, showers went to the B2B people but not to the hosts or other guests (I hadn’t slept well, either – makes me appreciate the shower and bed at Zina’s all the more). I helped cook breakfast and then we all went to the school to set up for the event. The picture of them walking in was staged for the media – but their actual arrival the day before was in two groups, so this is a better picture. About 45 kids came; I haven’t interacted much with kids here so it was interesting. Gordon is working on a grant to study gender differences in the schools. In general, the girls are good students and the boys are disruptive – maybe because they know that after school they have to go into the military or to Russia to have any hope of work. To some extent, the same dynamics were at play in these health lessons.

After the setup, I sat in on talks. About halfway through the second one, I was pulled out of class – I don’t think I’ve experienced that since sixth grade! The sky was looking ominous and Shannon and Rani wanted to get going back to Yerevan before the storms hit. I’d been looking forward to seeing the kids swarm around the healthy food and do the exercising, but at least I had seen some of that in photographs the night before. We made it out just in time. And when I got back, I napped and then went to bed early! I did rouse myself in between for dinner with Will, the A-14 in town, and his now-fiancee. He had come here to see his girlfriend and in the course of the month proposed. She said yes; he said how about now? They’ve been working on the paperwork but it’s complicated, so he will come back in a month – possibly with his parents and brother as well; they’re a nice couple and I wish them a happy marriage! He came over to have a farewell coffee with Zina on Tuesday, and I, refreshed by sleep and showers, am having a good week!

Tuesday, June 14, 2011

Making Plans

Friday was a big day – I bought the tickets for my plane flights home. That was surprisingly emotional – I’ll be sad to leave here, but also happy to get back to the U.S. I am not looking forward to the job hunt that lies ahead, but I am trying to have the mindset of looking forward to the job that will result from the hunt. It helped to make the flight arrangements from the Peace Corps office and have fellow PCVs with whom to process the emotions.

A friend of mine had sent me a coupon for California Pizza Kitchen the other day, and that started me thinking about having one of their salads. I’ve also been thinking about the salad at Suki Zuki in Water Mill (near Southampton), Aroma Coffee and my pre-Armenia breakfast, protein shakes. Plus, someone recently mentioned Indonesian food…. But I really haven’t been thinking that much about food - more about people I am looking forward to seeing. I passed a bicycle-rental place the other day; I have never seen people bicycling in Yerevan and I think there is too much traffic for me to want to, but now I am looking forward to biking when I get back. There was a 5K in Southampton last weekend that I’d participated in last year and the year before; I look forward to 5Ks and more events. The National Peace Corps Association has a 50th anniversary shindig in Washington, D.C. in September; I’ve signed up for that.

Even before I bought the plane tickets, I changed the address on my magazine subscriptions. For the Philippines, I had all the magazines go to my forwarding address, Edie’s, and was stunned at the pile that had accumulated in six months (especially since I’d eliminated just about everything except the New Yorker). I’m glad I’ve been receiving them here but know that not all of them have arrived. I’d brought a few books with me and picked up a few more while here; between the books and the magazines I’ve had just about enough reading material. I brought some DVDs to watch and haven’t watched a single one! I watched much more in the Philippines (maybe I read less? I’m not comparing to Morocco because in 27 months there was time for everything and then some!).

I’ll stop in the Netherlands for a couple of days on the way back. After I COS, I plan to go to Nagorno-Karabakh for a couple of days (I cannot go while I am a PCV – and given that the situation can change at any moment, I won’t decide for sure until that day. Here’s the latest -; this was last week’s one-sided story - I’ll then go to Georgia – I’ve now gathered information from several people who have vacationed there, so I have a tentative route planned out. I looked at flights out of Tbilisi – no more convenient or less expensive; if I fly out of Yerevan I can keep my big luggage here while I travel. The question was how many days to spend there and will my relatives be available in Holland. Turns out that Armavia (the only option) flies direct to Amsterdam only on Thursdays – so that set the date for my flight out as Thursday, August 11. I emailed my aunt and uncle in Holland and heard back almost immediately that they would be available (now I have emails out to the cousins). Even though not much time passed, by the time I got back to the Armavia web site, the price of the ticket had gone up considerably! I had to make sure I had it though before buying Amsterdam to JFK. I promised my sister I would be home by August 15; I arrive at JFK on the evening of August 14. Now I have to look into accommodations along the way….

But first – more time here! Friday night I went to the orchestra – delightful as always – and followed that with a few minutes of watching the dancing fountains at Republic Square (almost a bonus concert!). And I went away for the weekend – more on that in the next post. My counterpart is on vacation through the end of the month, so I have time to work on my travel plans, start writing the COS documents, and maybe even send out a few resumes? I’ll also be going through the MCA-Armenia web site and making suggestions on the usage and grammar. And I’m available if anyone on the team has any projects for me.

Friday, June 10, 2011

Pride and a Postcard Shot

On Tuesday I had several opportunities to be proud. The MCC and MCA-Armenia team went to Garni for a little ceremony for the 1000th borrower. As part of the program, MCC allocated $8.5 million that will go (now in a revolving fund) to farmers to help them implement some of the improvements they learned about in the trainings. Most of the money is going towards new greenhouses and cooling units. This particular farmer was building a cooling unit, which will enable him to extend his season and therefore increase his income. When I went last week to the interviews of the lenders I took notes but didn’t feel any particular emotion. But seeing the farmer and realizing that these small loans at favorable terms can make a big difference in the lives of – well, now 1000 borrowers but their families as well, so thousands of people – I felt proud. And the credit component is one small part of the MCC program here in Armenia. The total program is projected to help 420,000 people! I came back and wrote the story, which sailed through without changes; it will be used on the web site and for the next quarterly bulletin.

That evening, I went to an Independence Day celebration at the U.S. Embassy – just a little bit before July 4, because the Ambassador is leaving office this week. I don’t think any other PCVs were invited – it could have been the MCA-Armenia connection, but I assume it was the Princeton connection. I knew some people there – MCA and MCC, Peace Corps staff, embassy people I’d met, Fulbright scholars. Listening to the Ambassador’s remarks, I felt proud to be serving here during her term as Ambassador – she is really impressive, and seeing her in action and sharing that special dinner have made an impact on my service. I also felt proud to be an American, independent for 235 years, where we have freedoms that people in other countries only dream of – or maybe don’t even know to dream of. You can read the Ambassador’s remarks here - - and her farewell message as she leaves Armenia here -

I rode to the 1000th-borrower event with the MCC Resident Country Director, and he mentioned the strategic partnership agreement that MCC and Peace Corps have and said that publicizing the MCC to the PCVs is part of what he views as my assignment. So I then wrote an article for the Peace Corps Armenia newsletter – between that and the one I wrote for the Peace Corps Response newsletter and talking informally to PCVs I think that might be the extent of what I can do; I offered to do a more formal talk for the trainees and was told they are too new. My other work task this week was proofreading the English version of the quarterly bulletin (for which the gender article is the cover story!). I love proofreading.

Wednesday night as I was getting ready to leave work, I sensed the sky darkening. I got down to the lobby and a dusty wind was blowing. Storm a-coming! I decided to chance it and got half a block before being pelted by hail and a cold, hard rain. I took cover until the worst of it passed and straggled home. My reward the next day was the postcard view of Ararat I had been waiting for – it was spectacular. Which is the postcard and which is the postcard shot?

Monday, June 6, 2011

Three Marzes and a Market

On Saturday, I took another organized tour, this time with Mel, the PRCV who started most recently; I haven’t seen that much of her and it was nice to spend the day together. And to see more of beautiful Armenia, all green for spring. We drove northwest through Kotayk Marz, past good old Charentsavan, to Tsaghkadzor, the ski resort town. Turns out that this was the place that the Soviet Olympic ski teams practiced. Well, had I known that…nah, just as well. There was still some snow at the top of the mountains, but ski season is over. Kecharis monastery, in the same town, was our destination – now I’m coming around to the “you’ve seen one monastery, you’ve seen them all” way of thinking, but they are all in picturesque remote locations, so seeing them is still a good way to see Armenia. Most of our fellow passengers were Iranian, up for a four-day holiday weekend, and they were very nice.

We then went past Lake Sevan, the biggest lake in Armenia – and, if I understood it correctly, the second-highest lake in the world after Titicaca (can that be true?). We stopped for photos; there’s a separate tour that covers Lake Sevan highlights, but the photo stop alone counts for me as an activity in Gegharkunik marz. We then went through a tunnel and were in a completely different climate – Tavush marz, where most of Armenia’s forests are. Trees! Dilijan, in an alpine area, is known as the “Switzerland of Armenia.” I think that’s a stretch, as was Ifrane as the Switzerland of Morocco; if I ever go back to Vietnam I’d like to see the Switzerland of Vietnam, but maybe the thing to do is to go back to Switzerland! There were mountains and trees and maybe a bit of chalet-style architecture…and a couple of major monasteries. Goshavank was a major cultural and learning center for several centuries, before Tamurlane burned its 15,000 books, and Hagartsin is in a beautiful forested valley. Both have 800-year-old wishing walnut trees; since I spent some time this week fretting about the next chapter in my life, I made a couple of wishes and now everything should be okay.

Sunday morning I went to breakfast at Artbridge with another PCV whose company I really enjoy. And then it was on to the Vernissage – I had been looking at a particular artisan’s wood carvings, and a few weeks ago when I finally decided to buy a piece, he had sold it! I commissioned a new one, a three-tiered bird-shaped salt cellar, and picked it up; also started to buy some things that I think will make nice gifts for people back home. I spent part of the afternoon outdoors in the gazebo behind the Peace Corps office, listening to podcasts and writing postcards; it was relaxing and productive at the same time. And then I had tea with Brian; I hadn’t seen him in over a week! Zina made dolma for dinner; they were delicious! I’d been going out a lot lately and it was great to eat home cooking. That was followed by a powerful thunderstorm and maybe that orange glow in the sky (though I think it’s supposed to be a late-afternoon glow) and a rainbow!

Today I took a long lunch and went on a tour/tasting at a brandy factory; they’re open only on weekdays. One of the PCVs has his parents visiting, and he arranged a little group. Armenia is known for its brandies and it was important from a cultural standpoint to take the tour and to taste samples of various ages. If there’s room in my luggage, I may have to take some back to the U.S. with me….

Sunday, June 5, 2011

Weekend in the West - Part III

At JFK I saw an inspirational billboard – coincidence? I boarded the plane and it sat there for a while – but that only meant more dozing on the way to Frankfurt, so it was a good thing. I had heard that there isn’t much to Frankfurt, but I had a great afternoon there – somewhere new, somewhere European. Another easy train ride from the airport to the city (and no left luggage there either – some of the things other PCVs had requested were liquids over 3 oz…. somehow I had confidence that my bag would be there when I arrived in Yerevan three flights later, and it was – thank you, Star Alliance) and my first stop was the Main Tower, for the panoramic view from the observation deck. I then walked past the old opera house to the Romer, the historic main square, where I paused for lunch (Frankfurt is known for apple wine – I had delicious apple juice!). I climbed the tower of the Dom, the big church – and realized I was low on energy. Strolled along the Main River and then it was time to go back to the airport. Most museums were closed since it was a Monday, so if I am ever there again, there is more to see! And if I am ever there again on a Monday, I could do a boat ride on the Main. Okay, I will grant that there are more interesting cities, but I thought Frankfurt was just fine. Yes, I did consider having a frankfurter (I haven’t had a hot dog since high school) but I resisted.

A short evening flight to Vienna and a brisk walk from one end of the Vienna airport to the other and I arrived at the gate as the next flight was boarding. I dozed a little on that one and arrived back in Yerevan at 4:40 am local time; slept back in “my own bed” for a few hours and then got right back into the swing of things!

Well, sort of. It’s often hard to get back to the real world from Reunions – I usually have so much fun (and so little sleep) that I crash afterwards. And with the COS “conference” and Reunions as my 2/3 milestones, I started to feel overwhelmed about finishing up – still more to do and more to see! – and unoptimistic about the future. Another job hunt looms, and I feel no closer to figuring things out than I did when I started wanting to do something else – which was about the time I graduated from Princeton in the first place. Being tired this week added to the blues. But I’m already feeling more chipper – it was a good week. And I have to remember to live in the moment – sure, I can start making travel plans, working on the COS paperwork and even sending out a few resumes, but being 2/3 done means there is 1/3 left and therefore more of Armenia.

Work was mixed this week. For the article on the recipient of the 1000th loan, I was sent out with a camera crew to observe interviews with the lending agencies. But it was a very hot day and the interviews were in Armenian and I was just back – so it was tough to stay awake. Still, I was glad to be sent along – what I did understand I found interesting. Then my counterpart made a lot of changes to the bridge article, which was somewhat deflating, but she told me she kept the core of it, which is true – and now it’s a better article, which is good. The workweek ended on a good note, as I wordsmithed the English translation of several articles for the quarterly bulletin – this I know I did well. I also wrote an article about my work for Impact, the Peace Corps Response newsletter; summarizing it reinforced how much I enjoy the assignment.

Social was mixed too. On Tuesday I put the Reese’s in everyone’s mailboxes, which made me happy; at the end of the day I was tired though so I went home, napped, flipped through a magazine and then went to bed. Oh, and it was hot. Wednesday I had dinner with a friend and felt energized; we then walked to the Cascade, where there was an outdoor concert for International Children’s Day, and enjoyed listening for a while! Thursday there was a dinner for two volunteers who are transfer-extending (i.e. leaving for another 27 months!) to Mongolia; I wanted to attend but the restaurant was just too smoky so I gave them each a hug and then went out to dinner all by myself (since I had told my host mother not to make anything). Friday morning at Artbridge I saw some of the people I had abandoned the night before, so that lifted my spirits, and they were lifted further when I had dinner with other PCVs and with the MCC person who has been my conference-room-mate for the past two weeks. We went to Dolmama, the restaurant where earlier this year I had the best meal I’ve had in Yerevan (and one of the best meals I’ve had anywhere). So – the week ended on a good work note and a good social note, and then I had a good weekend!

Saturday, June 4, 2011

Weekend in the West - Part II

I won’t go through the details of Reunions but I will go through some of the highlights as they relate to my experience here. As I said from Morocco, Princeton Reunions is its own form of culture shock or alternate reality no matter where you travel from to get there, so the fact that I came to it from Armenia didn’t matter. I spent most of the time with friends, went to the Band concert, marched in the P-rade, and enjoyed the orchestra al fresco, and was wowed by the fireworks. All too soon it was time to say goodbye to people; it wasn’t too difficult, knowing that I’ll be back in the U.S. soon.

On Saturday morning, I went to an exhibit of JFK at Princeton (he was there for a few months as a member of the class of 1939, but when health problems caused him to miss so much school that he would have had to start over, he transferred to Harvard). I might have gone to see this anyway, but I thought it was a must given that I was here from JFK’s Peace Corps. I also saw a Kurt Schwitters exhibit, mainly because a friend of mine had lent an artwork for it, and even though I didn’t go with her, I did so in spirit. I saw one of the Armenian-American Princetonians that I know and had a chance to speak some Armenian with him (though I learned Eastern Armenian and they Western, and the two are different). Another highlight was meeting jazz-fusion guitarist Stanley Jordan, back for his 30th Reunion. I rushed to the tent when I heard he was going to jam with the band, and I bought one of his CDs. I just looked at his web site and he is playing in Georgia (the country) on July 23! If it were only a couple of weeks later, I could go! I hear he’ll be playing in New York in the fall – maybe I will see him then. Until then, check out one of the youtube or other videos to see how original he is and why this was a treat. My friend Erica (she of the Schwitters!) took the picture of him autographing my CD.

I didn’t feel I had to eat anything in particular (I had sushi for dinner, but that was more because I wanted to eat something light, and something quick – I had just had sushi in Yerevan, though it was too expensive for me to have it again while here). I did go to PJ’s for breakfast, but that was more out of tradition than a need for pancakes, and I never made it to Thomas Sweet (note, the earth still spins). It didn’t feel weird to be back – maybe because I had already come back twice from Morocco and maybe because Yerevan is a capital city and maybe because I’ve been in touch. What was more amazing to me was that I never felt the jet lag – I was able to stay awake when I wanted to and to fall asleep when I wanted to; I never felt as out of it as I was afraid I would (sometimes I have felt worse coming from much closer!).

Notable, though – I realized I had missed using the 3G on my iPhone to text friends and check email. I had resisted (if not avoided) becoming dependent on it before I left, but I sure enjoyed using it for the weekend! And I loved the music – mostly classic rock and roll, but just hearing a variety of American music was a joy – not that I don’t get variety here, with Armenian, Russian, classical and the same few American songs that play on Armenian radio, but it was nice to hear something than the same few American songs – more of a joy than I anticipated. I’ll schedule an infusion of music for when I get back (maybe some streaming radio or Pandora or or whatever the new thing is now – I’m out of it!).

On Sunday, my friend Carol drove back to New York City and I went with her; it was nice to get a ride! We then went to Citi Field for the Mets game, though I knew she would rather have just had a nice lunch. Going to this game was more important when I thought I was going to be in Armenia until September 30 and it might be my only game of the season, but the post-Reunions Sunday game is something of a tradition, so I still wanted to go. The tickets she bought got us into the Acela Club; we checked out the menu and decided to have lunch there – so she had her nice lunch and I had my ball game! Best of both worlds.

I then did some power shopping – a few toiletries that I had planned to replenish (mostly eye stuff) and fulfilling requests for PCVs, the health food store for something healthy for the plane ride back, some blank CDs. My friend Gary offered to get me anything I was running really low on, and I asked for Excedrin Migraine – as it happens, I took my very last one on the plane on my way over. I hope I don’t regret not buying an additional bottle – so far I’ve taken two every day since, but I hope that’s just readjustment; I have more than 50 days to go and there were only 100 in the bottle…. I also bought enough Reese’s Peanut Butter Cups to put one in the mailbox of every PCV in Armenia! Why are Coca-Cola and McDonald’s all over the world and not Reese’s? Well, it makes the PCV heart for them grow all the fonder. And then it was time to go to JFK – a much easier trip on the Sunday of Memorial Day weekend!

Friday, June 3, 2011

Weekend in the West - Part I

I was stressed about the travel and the potential jet lag, so the all-important night-before-the-night-before, I was wide awake for three hours in the middle of the night. That didn’t make it any easier to wake up at 2:30 on Friday morning (not even with the knowledge that it was 5:30 pm EDT when the alarm rang). At least the packing had gone smoothly – I had a small souk bag of things to leave at Howie’s in addition to my carry-on bag. The ride to Zvartnots airport is not far, especially at that time of day, and my host mother had negotiated the taxi fare for me. I didn’t realize that Austrian Airlines would charge for the extra bag – had I known that I could have brought the big suitcase, though it seemed silly to lug it for a four-day trip – and that they would deem my carry-on too big to carry on, but then I didn’t have to worry about finding the left luggage room at the Vienna airport.

I was able to doze through most of the three-and-a-half hour flight and had time for an early-morning stroll in Vienna. The train to the city takes about 18 minutes, and from there it was about a 20-minute walk to Stephansplatz. I had been to Vienna once, years ago, and this walk was from a different direction from the walks I took then, so other than the plaza itself, nothing was familiar. Nor was anything open – but the weather was nice and the buildings are impressive and I had a little walk in the Stadtpark on the way back and drank water out of a public water fountain (I don’t dare do that here) and took the train back to the airport. The A-19 group is in Vienna right now! They have the better part of a day there before flying to Yerevan tonight. Why didn’t I get that itinerary, instead of my short layover at CDG?

The VIE-to-JFK leg was long – I read everything I had brought with me in the bag I did carry on and wrote all the postcards I had brought with me (ever since I discovered that my Morocco postcards never made it to their intended recipients, I haven’t been as enthusiastic about writing, but after writing these, I felt invigorated, so I will be writing some more before I leave here!). No sleep. The hardest part of the journey was the shuttle from JFK to EWR. Stop-and-go all the way – for almost four hours – on Friday afternoon of Memorial Day weekend! No sleep, even though at that point it was bedtime in the Armenian time zone. At least I pulled another magazine out of the carry-on I had checked!

EWR to Princeton went smoothly; when I wondered where I might find a taxi, the driver offered to take me to Howie’s for the bag drop-off and back to Nassau Street. I was so relieved when I dropped off that bag that I didn’t realize quite how tense I had been about it – but I know that figuring out what to put in it (the few winter things that I decided not to leave behind here and some of the purchases I’ve made here) was stressful and not knowing if it would arrive when I did and arrive intact was stressful. Plus, Howie went away for the weekend so I had to figure out how to open his door (which required a phone call – glad he answered!) and having the driver wait – well, anyway, once that was done, I could just be happy to be back at Princeton!

Wednesday, June 1, 2011

Holidays and Observances III

There are holidays I will not be here for but it is interesting to read about how they are celebrated in Armenia! This is from a combination of Culture Smart and Lonely Planet:

New Year’s is the start of the winter holiday season, which continues through Armenian Christmas on January 6. On New Year’s Eve, there are feasts, and apples and coins are traditional gifts. At midnight, lights are extinguished, the family recites the Lord’s Prayer together, and then the home is made as bright as possible. On New Year’s Day people visit each other and welcome guests and there’s a flurry of phone calls and text messages. On the doorsteps you will see pomegranates lying about the pavement, a symbol of hope and abundance for the coming year. The more food there is and the more guests eating it, the better the year ahead will be.

Pomegranates hold a special place in Armenian culture as symbolic of the cycle of life and renewal. Legend has it that a whole pomegranate has 365 seeds, one for every day, and if you eat one seed a day, it will bring you good luck. This in contrast to the Moroccans, who said each seed is a little piece of heaven. They are also red, a color revered by the Armenians, symbolizing all the blood that has been shed.

On Christmas Eve, there is either a quiet celebration with family or a church service. Traditional families light lanterns or attend church; they bring home a church candle to fill their homes with divine light. On Christmas morning, families attend church again. A large basin of water is put in front of the altar and a cross is submerged in it to symbolize Christ’s baptism. Then everyone approaches the basin and takes home some holy water. For the next week, through January 13, every day is still considered part of the celebration. Families and friends visit each other and not a lot else gets done!

Weddings are big celebrations here too – they can last for days and the entire family – or the entire village – participates. Armenians are encouraged to marry not only other Armenians but local ones – though they cannot be related, going back seven generations. Generally, the groom’s family pays for the wedding while the bride’s family pays for a more limited engagement party. The church ceremony is short but filled with ritual. The couple approaches the altar and the priest puts crowns on their heads. They stand forehead to forehead as they receive the blessing. Then they drink wine from a shared goblet and are pronounced married. A godfather, chosen by the couple for this honor, leads the wedding and provides guidance throughout their married life. There is dancing and toasting for hours. Unmarried friends are given small gifts by the wedding couple as good luck tokens to wish them to be married soon; if one puts it under one’s pillow, his or her future wife or husband appears in his/her dreams. Some wedding superstitions – it’s a bad sign if two brides see each other on their wedding day. Getting married in May may bring sadness later in life. And the bride and groom are supposed to ward off evil spirits by breaking two decorated plates upon entering their new home; the plates must be broken on the first hit for this to be effective.