In my trips to Lori marz last weekend, I passed through Spitak, the closest town to the epicenter of the 1988 earthquake. One in four people died, and almost every structure was damaged or destroyed. I read that because of the extent of the damage, the Soviet Union called for international help – that was a first in the history of that closed nation. There are still many relief organizations there. The town now looks very nice, with all-new buildings. I read that different neighborhoods were done in the style of the (mostly European) donors; that was a little hard to see while passing through, but in the distance I did see some peaked roofs and atypical colors. It’s hard to imagine what things were like on that bitter cold winter day. I still find myself hoping that nothing happens while I’m here (and now I can count the days – they are flying!). I also hope nothing happens while David is the Country Director; he had a lot to deal with in Morocco. I mentioned this to a friend, who said she kind of hopes something does happen for our Safety and Security Coordinator, who is so prepared!
Further on the subjects of being prepared and safety and security – Melvia went to Georgia for vacation last week; when you’re a PCV and you vacation in another Peace Corps country, you have to follow their policies. She forwarded their warnings to me – women shouldn’t travel alone at night on the train (I had been planning to but now I think it will be lovely to see the countryside during the day), watch out for petty theft, and a few others. It made me feel all the more glad to be in Armenia, where theft is almost nonexistent and people are honest and trustworthy. That’s not to say Georgia is dangerous; those are fairly standard warnings. If you look at the State Department warnings, you might not go to either country! I have talked to several PCVs who have gone and none has had an incident, but it does underscore how safe Armenia is. Everyone says the Georgians are very different from the Armenians (harder drinkers, more boisterous, less hardworking); it’ll be interesting to see for myself.
There are other people in Armenia that I am not likely to see but that I wish I could. In the north of the country are some Russian villages – I wonder how different they are. I did see the Russian church in Gyumri – maybe that is the only visible sign of a Russian village? Even more intriguing are the Yezidi, herders who practice Zoroastrianism. They’re ethnically Kurdish, but say they are different from other Kurds. Sources say there are about 40,000 Yezidi in Armenia. I have passed through some Yezidi villages, though I only know that after the fact – I read that in their cemeteries the graves look like little houses. We went by a couple on the way to Lori; I was on the wrong side of the car to photograph them, but I did notice. On the other hand, I noticed several domiks with bee boxes. I wonder if it’s Yezidis who keep the bees? With all the wildflowers here, I bet the honey is great. I read recently that Armenia is the only former Soviet Republic with a nearly homogeneous population – of course the Azeris left during the conflict, but right after independence, Greeks, Ukrainians and Russians left as well.
I read that last fact in the new Cross-Cultural Reader; it was put together for the group that is in PST now – by now I’ve read a lot of background but each source has different information to add to the mix, so I keep reading. One other note from that reader surprised me – Armenia is the second-most densely populated post-Soviet republic, after Moldova. The Border2Border walkers said that what struck them as they were walking was how empty the country is, and I would say the same based on my observations (once you get out of Yerevan, that is) – so the rest of the former Soviet Union must be really empty! The reader also said that in addition to apricots, cherries originated here – that is, all cherries in the world are derived from cherries here. I’d best eat more of them! The apricots are getting better and better now though.
Workwise, while my counterpart has been on vacation I have been going through the MCA web site, slowly but surely. More, I’ve made a lot of progress on my Peace Corps reports and on the web site for Zina. I’ve also felt somewhat guilty about the English lessons not working out. If there is one thing I notice in what I’m given to wordsmith, it is use of the definite article. I know the usage is not the same in Armenian; my tutor would correct me but didn’t make a big issue of it. I did a search for some rules about use of the definite article in English for non-English speakers and have a paper ready for my counterpart’s return. I’m not sure it will really clear things up, but it makes me feel I have helped. I’ve been studying some Armenian lately in the evenings – I think being around some of the PCVs who speak it well has inspired me just a bit, though I don’t think I’ll have much use for it later.
And I haven’t mentioned Brian much lately because I haven’t seen him much lately! Maybe three times in the past month, all for a short period of time. He’s really into his work, and he moved to a new homestay to be closer to work. He seems so happy! I am happy for him. His work will keep him even busier in the home stretch, so I told him to reserve July 28 for a farewell dinner; it may be that I don’t see him until then!
While going through pictures for Zina’s web site, I also added some to older entries here. Scroll through for some more images of Armenia!