Eye struggles and architecture class

 

Here’s a random picture from language class. Here, Shant is wearing a fortune teller’s hat (balloon crystal ball not shown) to practice using future tense. Karen (our teacher) had us tell each other’s fortunes. It was pretty funny!

This week has been a struggle. I think it’s a combination of things, but they’re all adding up to me being in a funk. For one thing, I STILL have an eye infection. It’s the one I think I got from Vardavar, and if you’re thinking this is quite a long time for me to have the same infection, you are correct. I went through the first treatment of antibiotic eye drops, wore my glasses for a whole two weeks during that time (which I absolutely HATE having to do), and then went back to the doctor at the end to see if my eyes were healed and if I could start wearing my contacts again. She said yes, and I was thrilled.

 

Fast forward ONE day of contact wearing, and my eyes felt terrible, aka definitely NOT healed. Back to glasses. I went to a different doctor because I lost all faith in the first one, and she said I had another infection. I personally think I have the same infection, but that makes no difference. She tried to tell me that the infection came from my contacts… unlikely. I used a new pair, and I’ve never had an issue with this type of lenses before. I think that not many people wear contacts here, so they blame everything on the fact that you’re putting something unnatural in your eyes.

Now, here I am, going through ANOTHER round of antibiotic eye drop treatment. This time, I’m going to wait at least a week after finishing my drops before I count my eyes as healed and even consider putting lenses back in. So I think it’s kind of reasonable for me to be a little grumpy because having sick eyes impacts literally every waking moment of my day. Besides already feeling like I can barely see in glasses (not because the prescription is wrong but because I have no peripheral vision with them), I am horrible at keeping them clean, so that plus extra dust in the air here/at my archaeology job means I’m constantly looking through translucent glasses instead of transparent ones. I just feel like I’m living in the clouds a bit… like I’m not completely present because I can’t see clearly.

Sunset on my ride home from work!

If I separate my eye grumpiness from the situation, I guess this hasn’t been a bad week. My class is still going well and still stressing me out, but next week I’ll have a break from the stress at least. We finished going over different AutoCAD commands during Monday’s class, and yesterday we talked about space planning and the project. I constantly think about how much easier it would be to teach this class in a language I can speak or even just kind of speak. I would happily teach another class in Spanish. Needing a translator makes it so much harder to do everything. For space planning, we talked about the example of a school building. What kinds of rooms does a school need? How big do those rooms need to be? What rooms should be next to each other?

Here we have Shant getting ready to step over this nice gap on the way into a museum. This cracked me up… the street is under construction, so the entrance to the building is just floating. In the States, there would have been a whole plan for how to maintain safe access to the museum. Here, access is possible, and that’s enough. Mind the gap.

For their projects, they’re all supposed to draw their dream houses… or simplified dream houses. I told them that the best way for them to get better at using AutoCAD is by practicing, so they should make their houses whatever they need to be to challenge themselves. They’ll have all of Monday’s class to work, and then after about half of Thursday’s class, I’m going to make them all come up and give mini-presentations about their houses. I want each person to basically give the class a tour so that I can understand what they drew and why.

My big outside-of-class project for next week is going to be trying to figure out how to use the laser cutter. I have a week to work out the details, so I’m feeling nice and anxious about that. A big part of me was hoping that all of the students would forget about that part of the class, but someone mentioned it today, so I guess that means we can’t pretend it doesn’t exist (assuming I can figure it out). I’ve been phoning a friend (my Peru friend Debbie) to try to understand how the whole thing should work… keep your fingers crossed for me! I’m going to need all the help I can get.

Saghmosavank to Hovhannavank

Last weekend, a few friends and I decided to make our own excursion rather than going on the Birthright one because it was just a swimming day at Lake Sevan. We wanted to do something a little more adventurous, you know, because hiking Aragats the weekend before wasn’t enough for us. Carineh found an easy hike between two churches, Saghmosavank and Hovhannavank, and she and I planned to go with one of our other Gyumri friends, Shant.

Saghmosavank

We met “early” in the morning on Saturday… 10AM… to catch a taxi out to Saghmosavank. It was about a 45-minute ride, and when we got there, it looked like they were setting up outside for a post-baptism party. Good timing for us because we made it there before it started and could explore the whole church. Somehow, no matter how many churches we see, there’s always something a little different in each one. This was the church of nooks. Seriously, there were nooks everywhere. Some were high, some were low, some had floating stairs leading up to them, some had no visible means of access. Maybe they used to have a lot of things to store? I don’t know, but as a lover of nooks, I thought it was awesome.

Floating stairs to a nook with another nook underneath

Nooks on nooks

Inaccessible nook

So pretty! You might even say… gorges… I know, the joke has been made before, but I’m still entertained by it and that’s all that matters

It is also situated in a pretty cool spot. It’s right on the edge of a gorge, and the hike we were planning to do basically just runs along the top of the gorge until you make it to the second church, Hovhannavank, which we could see in the distance. While we were admiring the gorge, we noticed that there was what looked like a decent road at the bottom, and we could hear a river. Then, someone pointed out a vaguely defined path that looked like it led to the bottom from where we were. That was all it took for us to completely ditch our plans and decide to hike down into the gorge instead. Brilliant, except for the fact that none of us were planning for a serious hike and weren’t completely prepared.

The gorge from Saghmosavank

See Saghmosavank peeking out from above the rocks?

We’re all a little bit crazy, so silly little details like that weren’t enough to stop us. I think it ended up taking about 2-1/2 hours to make it down. The “path” that we saw was not quite as helpful or defined as we originally thought. After about the first 10 minutes, any indication of the best way down vanished, and we were left to plot our route as we went. I wasn’t even completely confident that there WAS a way down, but I had no interest in going back up so that only left one option. It took some gravel sliding, rock climbing, and scrambling, but we made it! And as luck would have it, there was a leak in a water pipe right at the bottom, so we frolicked in the freezing cold water spray before continuing down the road.

Camouflage

The well-defined path down

Making it up as we go

Confused by this random cave that basically looked like someone just glued rocks to the wall and ceiling

Slowly…

The final stretch

Yay for roads!

From there, the path was easy. We walked for a bit before spotting a good swimming spot in the river and taking a break to cool down. None of us were prepared for swimming (obviously, considering we weren’t prepared for anything that day), but I don’t even know that I would have wanted to go completely in because the water was frigid. It was enough to just wade up to our shorts and put some cold water on our necks. We also floated our water bottles in the river so that we could leave with some ice-cold water. Genius, I know. One thing we were prepared for was lunch, and after a classic Armenian hiking lunch of lavash (flat bread… kind of like a tortilla), salami, and cheese, we set out again.

Gorge views

Our swimming spot

Thrilled about the water temperature

Taking a minute to cool off on this metal pipe… which I realize doesn’t seem to make sense, but there was super cold water running through, so the pipe was nice and cool rather than super hot from the sun.

The rest of the walk to Hovhannavank was uneventful. I was worried that we were going to have to hike out in a similar fashion to the hike in, but the road we were on started slowly ascending until we were out of the gorge with barely any effort. I’m glad that we started at Saghmosavank rather than going the other direction! I felt a little bit like an alien when we emerged from the gorge and entered into Ohanavan, the town where Hovhannavank is located. We were weary travelers who felt like we had just trekked across the universe, and it’s always weird entering back into civilization.

The farther we went, the more we found these random swimming holes (with water just as cold as the river)

Weird puff ball “flowers”

Selfie that I forced everyone to participate in

Cool, huh?

The road starts going up!

So, there’s the story of how our planned 3-hour hike transformed into a 10-hour adventure. Sometimes though, the unplanned ends up being even better than the planned. I don’t think any of us would go back and do it differently… except maybe for bringing more water and wearing more appropriate shoes. It’s fun to know that I have friends here who are as willing as I am to take the road less traveled (or sometimes completely untraveled) just to see where it leads.

Hovhannavank

Bells. There’s a pulley system so that they can be rung from the ground

The sunset! The clouds around it looked super cool

Larkaeologist

I am completely wiped. I feel like all of my Armenia posts have started with a statement to that effect, but that’s because it’s true all the time! My schedule here is at a constant sprint. It reminds me of when I was in college and felt like I had somewhere to be at every second of every day.

On the bright side, I am happy with my crazy schedule. Probably the low point of every week is teaching my AutoCAD class, but even that really isn’t so bad. I think I’m just at the point of exhaustion with teaching. My other job, though, is awesome!! Remember how I talked about how I heard that an archaeology job exists in Gyumri? It does! And I’m doing it!

View from one of the excursion sites… in the middle of nowhere

During the month of August each year, the archaeology institute here does a dig! They’re working 5 days a week, but I only join for Tuesdays and Wednesdays because of my other job and community service Fridays. It’s exhausting work, but I wish I could be with them every day because I’m having a lot of fun. I’m getting ahead of myself though. Let me go back to the beginning…

During my first weekend at Birthright, I heard a rumor that there used to be an archaeology placement in Gyumri, and I immediately emailed Sona, our jobsite coordinator, to see if it was true. She said yes, and after contacting them, she told me that they do a dig during August and were willing to take me! Eek!!

We went to a meeting with the guy in charge, and he told us that on August 1st, there would be a sort of kick-off meeting that I should come to, and the work would start on the 2nd. When he found out that I don’t speak Armenian, he basically said, “well, you will!” and then told me not to be afraid to talk even if I might mess up.

View towards Gyumri

Sona sent me to the August 1st meeting with Liana, my translator for class. The “meeting” was exactly the chaos that I should have expected and consisted of too many people in one room all talking about different things in a million languages except for English. There is a German couple who comes each year for the digs, plus there were some other people who I still don’t know who they were, plus there were the locals who are working the digs. So by “a million languages”, I mean Armenian, German, and French. But either way, it was all things that I didn’t understand.

It was announced to all people in attendance that no one should speak to me in English. Great. I mean, it is great to be forced to learn, but at the same time, I’m not trying to mess something up because I didn’t understand what I was supposed to be doing. Liana was silenced anytime she tried to translate for me, and instead I was given all of the instructions in Armenian (thankfully, at a slow speed). She gave me a summary after we left, and I actually did get most of it on my own! We leave at 8 each day (which is VERY early by Armenia standards… Karen called one of his marshrutka driver friends to make sure that they’re even running that early. Luckily, the one I take starts running at 7). I have to wear pants and long sleeves, and I should bring a hat, lunch, and lots of water. We went on a surprisingly difficult quest to find me a long sleeve shirt, and after rejecting far too many with weird/awkward English phrases on them, we located a plain white, fake Louis Vitton long sleeve. Better than nothing.

Me in my most attractive state, eyes still recovering from my Vardavar eye infection

On the first day, I made it to the office without any trouble, and off we went! We headed to a site that had already been partially excavated, and the day was spent removing weeds. It wasn’t the most thrilling work, but I enjoyed being outside and having something active to do rather than sitting at a desk. The sun got to be brutal, and I was happy to be covered up so completely. I had a bandana that I used to shield my cheeks and neck, so literally the only part of my body that was exposed was my face. I found out that a couple of the girls can speak some English because they whispered some words to me to let me know what we were doing. Thank goodness. I’m fine with being spoken to in Armenian most of the time, but for instructions, I’d really rather be sure.

This week was pretty exhausting. We were doing some actual digging, so I spent two days shoveling and hauling bucketfuls of dirt. That plus the hot sun is more than enough to make you want to lay down and sleep forever. I have no idea how everyone else is doing that 5 days a week! Though it is a lot of fun, and the people are all awesome. They all try to speak to me in Armenian and are patient when I don’t understand what they’re asking. I’m definitely improving though! Besides the practice I get there, I really like the language class that I’m in now, and I’m getting more and more comfortable with putting sentences together and speaking.

The weeding site

They think that the sites we’re working on now are from the 5th or 6th century BC. Whoa, right? Everyone is amazing at spotting artifacts in the dirt while digging, and I’m getting better at it too. The constant question – rock or ceramic? They also were pulling out things that looked like wooden tools, and it took me almost an entire day to realize that they were actually bones. Yeah, I know that it doesn’t make sense for wooden tools to last 20 some centuries without disintegrating, but I just let myself go with my first thought. Then I was kind of freaked out thinking they were human bones, but the German woman said that they’re probably all animal bones. Phew. Less weird. We found some that were jawbones though and still had teeth! Creepy.

By the end of the week, I was spotting and pulling things out of the dirt too. I’m like a real archaeologist! Not really, I know there’s a lot more to it than that, but it’s fun to pretend. Larkaeologist. Hehehehe. (Lara/Lark-izing words will never get old for me.) I also upped our digging efficiency by taking on the role of bucket mover. I went into the hole and placed buckets for the diggers to put dirt into, removed/replaced them when they were full, and lifted them out of the hole for dirt dumpers to take away (these are all, obviously, the technical terms for the different jobs). My goal was to have no lag time between when a bucket was filled and a new bucket was put in place for the diggers to use. It was a fun challenge to keep myself entertained, and I think everyone noticed how much more smoothly the process went. Before that, the diggers were dealing with the buckets themselves, and it was super inefficient. It was cool to feel like I actually improved something rather than just being another body doing physical labor.

Anyway, so far this job is everything I hoped it would be. Like I said, I kind of wish that I could just work with them every day instead of having to teach too, but that’s not possible, so I’ll have to just be happy with the time I have there!

Mount Aragats

Last weekend’s adventure was hiking the northern peak of Mount Aragats! Aragats was created by a volcanic eruption and is now a huge crater surrounded by four peaks. They’re creatively named the northern, southern, eastern, and western peaks, and the northern peak is the highest point in Armenia at an elevation of 4,091 meters (13,420 feet).

This is what most of the beginning of the hike was, as we made our way past the southern peak

It has also been an important symbol for Armenians since the pre-Christian days and has pagan and Christian shrines scattered around. Many of them are hidden, and according to the legends, some are hidden using methods more magical than simple camouflage. Remember our friend St. Gregory? The one who lived in a pit for years and helped to convert the Armenian king to Christianity in 301AD? Well, he was a VERY busy guy because he also used to climb Aragats pray and at night was guided by a lantern “hanging from heaven”. The lantern supposedly still appears on the mountain, but only the worthy can see it.

Big rocks!

When Sarah and I went on that tour in Yerevan, the tour guide talked about how he and some friends hiked the northern peak, and from that moment, I decided that I was going to do it if I got the chance. I didn’t know at the time if I would find any friends who liked to hike, but I was hoping! Sure enough, about a week into being in Gyumri, I heard about a group forming to hike it, and I signed myself up. I was worried because I hadn’t really planned on doing any serious hiking while here, so I didn’t bring my hiking boots. It was hard to find any real information online about the hike, but from the people we talked to and the information we got from the guide, it sounded like boots would be a good idea. I ended up being the absolute luckiest because a friend was coming to visit Armenia the week before the hike, and she brought my boots with her! I’m telling you, if you ever do this hike, boots or hiking shoes with a hard sole and waterproofing are essential! We even hiked it at the time of year when there’s the least snow, but it doesn’t matter. Trust me.

The western peak from the low-ish area between western and southern

We set out from Gyumri at 4:15AM, and yes, that was as miserable as it sounds. My host mom was sure that I was saying the wrong number when I told her when I had to leave the house and then told me to have fun and that she would still be sleeping. The drive to Kari Lake, the spot where the hikes start, takes a little more than 2 hours from Gyumri, and it took us even longer because the taxi drivers needed to take a couple smoke breaks, we hit an animal on the way, and we got stuck behind some farm equipment. Off to a good start.

The eastern peak and the first snow patch that we had to cross.

The hike is supposed to take like 8-16 hours or something like that. We were shooting for finishing it in 10, but I had no idea what to expect. Thankfully, we had a guide, so we didn’t really have to know much. I totally didn’t realize how much hiking you have to do to just to make it to the base of the north peak. We set out from the lake, walked past the southern peak, and crossed into the crater through the low-ish point between the western and southern peaks. When I realized that all of the hiking up we had done wasn’t even the beginning of the hike to the peak, I was horrified. We had to hike down into the crater before hiking all the way up again. It took us three hours just to make it to the base of the northern peak.

Making our way down into the canyon

After a break, we started to make our way up. The terrain was basically all rocks. Little rocks and medium sized rocks with sporadic plants. The lack of much plant growth and dirt to hold the rocks in place meant that every step was a potential rock slide. Perfect. This is where the recommendation to bring hiking poles started to make sense. You should bring hiking poles. It’s certainly possible without them but I would estimate approximately 10000x easier/less terrifying with them.

Multicolored stones!

The first half of the hike up to the peak isn’t really that bad. It’s steep, but you can find paths where the rocks aren’t as unstable, and the only part of me that was getting tired was my calves. We stopped to take a break in the least comfortable location (imagine like a 45-degree slope with sharp rocks poking into you) before starting the second half. From that point on, it was way worse. The inclines were steeper, the rocks were smaller and less secure, and the drop offs were mildly terrifying. I’m not afraid of heights, but I am afraid of rock sliding down the side of a mountain. I’m not a fan of feeling like I can’t trust my feet to stay where I put them, so I started going extra slowly. The other people in my group must be half mountain goat because none of them seemed to be that bothered by it (though I’m sure that’s partly because if they were nervous, they just didn’t show it). I let them go ahead of me because, in that kind of situation, I don’t like feeling rushed or like I’m holding people up. I knew that I would make it to the top, it was just a question of the speed at which that would take place.

View from the top!

I think it took us something like 3 hours to make it to the top. Everyone else could have probably done it in 2-1/2 or less, but I was definitely the weakest link in that situation. Fear is a really interesting thing. There are so many things that I’m not afraid of, and there are a lot of similar situations where I would be completely fine. I think that in that case, it was a combination of having a couple foot slips that freaked me out, not wanting to slow down the group (though that happened anyway), and feeling a little unbalanced because of the altitude. I never had the thought that I couldn’t do it or that I should turn around; I just needed to do it my own way and to go at my own pace.

The crew

The view from the top was awesome, and the feeling of making it there was even better. I chose to ignore the fact that I was also going to have to make it back down because I didn’t want to spoil the moment. We sat at the top, ate some snacks, and enjoyed the views of the other Aragats peaks and the surrounding landscape until the guide insisted that we start heading back down.

At the top!!!

Mid-hike snowball toss

I took my place at the back of the group to avoid slowing anyone down, and the guide came over and offered me his hand. I knew that I could make it down without any help, so the choice was really just between 1) insisting on doing it myself, slowing down the group even more, and feeling terrified the entire descent and 2) accepting some help, moving at a reasonable speed, and feeling slightly at ease. I’m all about doing things for myself, but there’s also no shame in accepting help when it’s offered. I took his hand, and he basically dragged me down the mountain.

Going up again…

At the bottom, we had to decide how we wanted to get back to the lake. The “fastest” option won, but fastest definitely didn’t mean easiest… in this case, it meant steepest. There’s nothing worse than finishing climbing the mountain that you came to climb just to realize that you need to climb two more mountains to get home. We went up and down FOUR times on the hike. The actual northern peak part of the hike was definitely challenging, but if that was all you had to do, it wouldn’t be bad at all. We spent more than half of the total hike time going to and coming from the base of the mountain!

Kind of like paradise…

We had one river, two more aggressive uphill climbs, three snow patches, and seemingly endless wildflower spotted fields to make it through before the end of the hike. For all of that though, I was fine mentally. It was just something about the sliding rocks on the north peak that got me into a funk.

Me in the oasis

There she is… the northern peak

Me looking much more epic than the reality

So many wildflowers!

When we made it back to the lake, I wanted nothing more than to go to sleep. The whole hike took us about 11 hours and 20 minutes, including our million breaks and my pokiness on the way to the peak. All things considered, I thought that was pretty good. We loaded back into the cabs and made our way down the windy roads down the mountain and home to Gyumri. I got home a little after 10PM and went immediately to bed. I must have looked a mess because my host mom didn’t even try to force feed me when I said I just wanted to sleep.

All in all, I’m glad I did it, and even more, I’m glad that I never have to do it again.

P.S. If you ever find yourself planning to hike the northern peak, talk to me. Hiking boots. Hiking poles. Late summer. Lots of water.

T.I.A. – Armenia edition

This has been a crazy week! It was one of those ones that simultaneously feels like a lifetime and a split second. It started out on a rough note… Last Thursday was our last class doing pre-activities before starting AutoCAD, so I wanted to check out the program after class to make sure that it was in English like they told me. That turned out to be the least of my worries because the program wasn’t even installed! On any computer! Maybe I should be blamed for not checking sooner, but I thought that considering 1) I was literally brought to Gyumri to teach AutoCAD and 2) when I asked how many computers had it and what language it was in, I got answers to both questions, it was safe to assume that the program was installed. Wrong.

I have no relevant pictures, so instead, you can enjoy a random selection of wildflowers and this nice sunset picture of Gyumri’s main square.

This was probably my first T.I.A. moment in reference to Armenia (for anyone who wasn’t around for Ghana, T.I.A. – This Is Africa – became our mantra anytime something happened that our foreign minds were unable to comprehend. Having that mindset makes it much easier to just accept it, regardless of how seemingly ridiculous, and move on). So here we are, the new T.I.A. This Is Armenia, aka I shouldn’t have assumed anything even though in my mind, that was a natural conclusion to draw.

I immediately told the workshop coordinator, and she seemed shocked. That was comforting… not. She assured me that it could be installed by Monday’s class, but with my expectations shattered, I didn’t let myself believe her. Since I only work at GTC on Mondays and Thursdays, I wasn’t going to be there again before class. I asked if she could send me a message when the job was finished so that I didn’t have to worry… guesses, anyone, about whether or not I actually expected to get a message? Correct, the answer is no, I didn’t expect to, and no, I didn’t receive one.

I sent follow ups on Saturday and Sunday and was assured that they would be ready in time… until Sunday at about 7:30PM when I got the “there’s an issue, it’s not going to be ready for tomorrow” message. Ah. At last. I made the call to cancel class because there was no time to prep something new for Monday, and even there was, we would have just been killing time.

Thanks to one very helpful and hardworking person at GTC, the computers WERE ready for Thursday, and AutoCAD WAS in English. Phew. So my class turned into a combined English/AutoCAD class as I taught everyone the English words for the different commands and other relevant words. It was interesting. I feel like no matter where I am, I’m teaching everything for the first time the absolute HARDEST way. In Peru, yeah, let’s teach kids about robots in Spanish. In India, sure, let’s teach Shakespeare to kids who are at a 4th grade reading level. In Armenia, perfect, let’s teach AutoCAD in English to people who only speak Armenian. On the bright side, if I ever do any of these things again, they literally can only get easier. I’m sure of that.

It actually went fairly well today which was encouraging. There’s a huge abilities gap in the class though, so some people catch onto things really quickly, and others have to be walked through every step. It’s going to be a challenge to keep everyone busy and challenged, but all I can do is my best. That’s just the way computer program classes are, and if you’re one of the fast people, you need to either find some ways to entertain yourself or help the slow ones.

My amusement of the week has been discovering the Armenian way of pronouncing English words. For example, I was helping my friend Carineh (Cah-ree-neh) out by buying some Twix bars for her class. I went into a little store near GTC, and the shopkeeper asked if I needed any help. Normally, I’d say no and just suffer through trying to find what I wanted, but I decided that the evil of trying to speak Armenian was less than the evil of poking around the tiny shop while being stared down.

Me: “Twix oonek?” (Do you have Twix? with Twix pronounced the English way)

Shopkeeper: “Huh??”

Me: “Twix?… Tweeks?… Tweeeks??… Tveeks???”

Shopkeeper: “Ah! Tveeks! Ayo?” (Yes? – She points to a normal size Twix bar.)

Me (relieved): “Ayo! Vetz.” (Yes! Six. – My attempt to tell her I needed six of them.)

Shopkeeper: “Medz?” (Big? – She points to a bigger Twix bar.)

Me (ready for this to be over): “Che, vetz.” (No, six. – Also holding up six fingers because obviously words aren’t working.)

Shopkeeper: “Ah. Vetz.”

She goes and gets six Twix bars and rings me up. Success in the slowest way possible.

This was not the first time that pronunciation completely eliminated our chances of being understood. My first week, we were trying to confirm that GTC has a laser cutter, so Carineh asked one of the guys who works there if he knew where the laser cutter was. She said it all in Armenian except for “laser cutter”, and he just blank stared at her until she said it a few more times with different emphases. Finally, we got an Armenian, “ah! You mean the lah-zer cooter!” Right. That’s exactly what we meant.

This week, I was explaining in Lar-menian (that’s what I’ve started calling the horrible Armenian I speak) what I teach at GTC, and I said “I teach a class on architecture (I said this in Armenian) and AutoCAD (not in Armenian because there’s no translation, except apparently pronunciation-wise)”. Again, blank stares from people who definitely know what AutoCAD is.

“AutoCAD?… Ow-toe-cad?… Ow-toe-cahd??”

Finally, a response, “OH! Ahv-toe-cahd!” But of course. How did I not see the “v” in AutoCAD? Silly me! Carineh said that’s probably because the Armenian word for “automatic” is “av-toe-maht” which makes sense, but at the time I was thinking “WHAT THE HECK??”

As a result of all of this, my current favorite thing is saying English words with a heavy Armenian accent whenever I don’t know the Armenian word. The best is that sometimes, I’m actually right because there either isn’t an Armenian word for it or they use the Russian word which sometimes sounds like the English word. Candy names are the most fun though: “Keet-kaht”, “Sneekers”, “Muh yev muh” (M and M), “Skeet-ulz”. I could keep going, but I’ll spare you for now.

Vardavar

Last Sunday was Vardavar, aka my new favorite festival. It’s been celebrated in Armenia since before Christianity was declared the state religion in 301 A.D. I don’t know when it started originally, but that puts it at a minimum of 1700 years ago which is kind of insane.

Pre-outside dryness. Me, Arin, and Ruth

Back in the country’s pagan days, Armenians were sun worshippers. Originally, the Vardavar festival was dedicated to the goddess Astghik. For those of you familiar with Greek/Roman mythology, her closest equivalent would be Aphrodite/Venus. She was the goddess of fertility, love, beauty, and water, and the legends said that she brought love to Armenia by sprinkling the land with rose water. To celebrate her, people would release doves and sprinkle water on each other for good luck.

Like so many other things, after the country became Christian, the tradition remained, and the reason was modified to fit the new state religion. Now, it’s celebrated 14 weeks after Easter and is a celebration of the Transfiguration of Christ, when Jesus became divinely radiant on top of a mountain, was joined by the prophets Moses and Elijah, and was claimed by God as His Beloved Son. Don’t ask me what connection that has to people dumping water on each other’s heads… Some say that it’s a celebration of the end of the flood from the days of Noah which seems to make more sense considering the water connection, but either way, it was an attempt to fit new beliefs into old traditions.

Ruth, creeping on unsuspecting passersby

It’s celebrated all over Armenia, and I joined the fun in Yerevan. I’ve heard that things get pretty crazy in the villages too, so I’ll have to check that out if I’m ever in Armenia for Vardavar again. Yerevan, especially in the central part of the city, turns into a bit of a water war zone. Don’t even think about leaving your house if you’re not prepared to get wet! It seemed like, outside of the city center at least, people were a bit more discriminating when it came to picking victims. Older people, people with kids, and people clearly not interested in getting wet were mostly left alone from what I saw. As soon as you look like you’re participating in the festivities, though, you’re a target (though even there,  I had people considerately ask me if my phone case was waterproof and if they could get me wet. Super nice!).

Craziness. Note the fire truck

The fountains in the city are the main war zones, which makes sense because that’s where it’s easiest to refill your bucket/bottle/water gun/etc. I spent the day with my friends Arin and Ruth, and we decided to meet up with some other volunteers who were planning to go to Republic Square (the fountain where there’s the nightly light/water/music show). First though, we spent a little time chucking water out of Arin’s window at innocent passersby (but only the ones that we deemed acceptable targets). If he was in a location with more foot traffic, I would have just said that we should stay there all day. It was hilarious! But no, we had to leave to get the full experience.

Refills from our new best friend

For our makeshift buckets, we cut the tops off of some big water jugs and then filled them up and hit the road. Ruth and I literally got one foot out the door of the apartment building before we were spotted by a bucket-wielding group of guys, and like I said, as soon as you’re holding a bucket, you’re a target. We managed to dodge the worst of it but also threw away all of our water in the first 15 seconds of being outside. Luckily, we passed a man soon after who waved us over and refilled us from a secret water supply. Back in business.

I felt like a spy walking down the street. You couldn’t trust anyone! I started to perfect the technique of walking past someone, letting them think they were safe, and turning around to drench them from behind. Once we got to Republic Square, it was a whole different game. There was a fire truck spraying people with the fire hose. Arin and I decided to just go for it and jump into the fountain because getting completely soaked was inevitable, and when else were we going to get the chance to go into that fountain? We hung out there for a bit before deciding to hit the streets again in the hope of finding some still dry people to attack. Okay, that sounds bad, but that’s the way it works!

My main emotion for the entire day

We passed some parents holding their babies up under those misters that some restaurants have. I thought that was hilarious. Baby Vardavar!

I started perfecting my water dumping technique… I would creep up behind people and pour just a little bit of water down the backs of their necks. It made everyone jump, and then they’d whip around, see me, and give me the “yeah, you got me” laugh and shrug. I thought it was perfect because I wasn’t trying to make anyone mad, and who can get mad about just a little water like that?

Swan Lake chaos with gross brown water

We stayed far away from Swan Lake, one of the other big pools in the city center. Apparently things get kind of violent and especially not fun for girls, so I wasn’t really interested in finding that out for myself. Some of our friends came out with unpleasant stories which is too bad… it stinks when people take a fun, innocent thing and make it into something else. I was just content to roam around and gently pour water on people.

After some time in the streets, we decided to head back to Republic Square because it was much easier to refill our buckets with a fountain in the vicinity. I stuck with my same strategy of sneaking up behind people and pouring water down their necks, but I started doing it with a full bucket. I perfected the dump-and-turn technique. It’s a protective strategy because sometimes after you gently pour water on someone (males especially), they choose to retaliate by throwing water knives at you (my made-up terminology for “whipping water as hard as possible in an attempt to make it hurt”). Another case of people trying to ruin a fun thing. I was happy to have Arin and a couple other guys with us who could yell at people in Armenian if they were getting too aggressive.

I luckily had a waterproof case for my phone, so I didn’t have to worry about keeping it dry. That case is seriously the best thing I own.

Proof that we were in the fountain!

Loving life

Post-fun drenched

For the last hour or so of our time outside, we found ourselves a quiet corner of the fountain and mostly battled with little kids who, like us, were just trying to dump water on people and have some fun.

All in all, the day was super fun. A couple days later, I found out that I got an eye infection probably from the water getting trapped behind my contacts, so that’s good. Souvenirs from Vardavar! No regrets! Except maybe my one regret of not taking out and throwing away my contacts right after. Live and learn, I guess.

Class, chaos, and the Armenian struggle

Normal life over the last couple of weeks has been hectic, to say the least. I still feel a bit like I’m a chicken running around with its head cut off, but now at least I don’t feel like I’m also precariously close to falling off a cliff. So that’s an improvement, however slight.

Planning time

The final count of students signed up for my architecture/AutoCAD/laser cutter class was 18, and on the first day, we had 10 actually show up, and their ages ranged from 15-25. I thought that was a perfect number. I met with Liana, my translator, before the class, and we went over what I was going to talk about so that she was prepared. I still am getting used to the whole translator thing, but I’m lucky to have someone translating who wants to do a good job. The translators are volunteers too, so their motivation is just wanting to practice and learn. Liana is just as determined as I am to make this a class that people are interested in. It’s nice to feel like I’m not the only one who cares.

Hard at work

We spent our first class doing a mini architecture history/around the world architecture tour. I had such a hard time putting that together because there is SO much you can include in an architecture history lesson. That’s the biggest challenge for this class in general. We don’t have THAT much time, so I have to decide what is really important for the students to understand and what can be skimmed over. I did a little bit of history and then tried to show them how different parts of the world developed different architectural styles.

Literally no chance this thing was going to stand… but they got some style points.

We then moved into talking about all of the people involved with creating a building today. Honestly, I have no idea how the construction process works here, so I just based it off of how things happen in the US. If they actually decide to go into this field, they’ll figure it out. That was my segue into my personal favorite team building activity, paper towers. You split the group up into teams of three or four and give them a long piece of tape, scissors, and 4 or 5 pieces of computer paper. The goal is to build the tallest free-standing tower possible in a set amount of time. I’ve done this in three countries now, and it never ceases to amaze me how everyone comes up with something completely different. Also, it doesn’t matter how old or young the students are. Someone always ends up with a tower that blows away the competition, and someone always builds something that immediately collapses.

The winning tower. Plus it’s sleek so they get some extra points for that too… but honestly, I think some of the kids in Peru built a taller one. Sometimes people think too much.

Drawing plans, elevations, and sections of Liana’s purse

We also started talking about the types of drawings that an architect makes: plans, elevations, and sections. We did a couple of activities with that over the three classes, including my personal favorite one where they drew a plan of the outdoor courtyard. I gave them all graph paper and told them that the scale was one step = one square. So they all had to walk around the courtyard measuring distances with footsteps. It was good because we didn’t need a tape measure, and I always think it’s better to have people doing something weird/interesting because it’s more likely to keep their interest than just sitting in one place for two hours. Next week, we’re moving into computer work. I think the students are all probably happy about that because it means they can stop doing my bizarre activities, and I am too because that means I can start using online tutorials to help me rather than having to make it all up from scratch. You have no idea how long it takes me to prep for classes when I’m starting from zero.

Courtyard measuring

Last week was also my final week working at the startup company! It was interesting working there, but I can’t say I’m too sad to go because next week starts my archaeology volunteer placement! I’m really excited about this. Sona, the Birthright job site coordinator, took me last week to meet with the archaeology people. Apparently, there’s a German group coming for the month of August, and they do a big archaeology dig each year. They showed us a drone video of the site from last year. It was awesome! I’m going to be joining them two days each week, and I definitely need to go buy a long sleeve so that I don’t get fried from being outside in the sun all day. Ah!! I can’t wait! Hopefully it’s as cool as I think it’s going to be.

Here’s the courtyard from above. I made them include all of the different ground materials, plus the benches, trash cans, doors to the surrounding buildings, trees, etc.

On the language front, my Armenian is slowly improving. I got promoted to the next Armenian class, but that’s mostly because I already knew how to read and not because my Armenian is any good. I have a lot of vocabulary to learn before I’m caught up with the people in this new class. There’s no use knowing 15 tenses to conjugate verbs in if you don’t know the right verbs. I am way better than before though. I sometimes will go to my host mom with a well-practiced sentence, and I’ll say it so well that she then overestimates my abilities and asks a follow-up question. Most of the time, I understand what she’s asking, but I just don’t have the words to answer her. So I do the mouth open and close like I really have something to say, and the words just won’t come out. I’m like a fish. In response, she usually just smiles, shakes her head, and says, “Ah, Lara jan” (Lara jan means “dear Lara”. People use “jan” all the time as a kind of term of endearment). At least she’s patient.

Anyway, I’m hoping that I’ll have more time to practice my Armenian now that we’re moving into the software part of the class I’m teaching. I really do think that the prep is going to be much easier now.

Goal for this week: feel like a chicken with a head (baby steps). That sounds reasonable, right?