Sunday, July 17, 2005

PST 7 parties and more parties

The experiences just pile right up, one on top of each other. This entry will be in reverse chronological order, by the way. I am too jazzed up to do it any other way.

I just came home from Armen’s graduation party, or “bye school picnic” if you ask my family. They still insist on speaking to me in broken English instead of Armenian. “jeel, you drink coffee?” To which I say no Armenian….”Jeel, you don’t drink coffee?” The other night, my host mother served me “mis a cheek….” Mis is the Armenian word for meat, and cheek was her attempt on “chicken.” Hav is the Armenian word for chicken, which, by the way, I have known since the second week in country. Sigh. Even now that I know the imperative form, and can properly say “speak Armenian, I understand” they still revert to English if I don’t immediately catch what they are saying…and they speak very fast.

My host mother withstanding, I just had a fantastic evening! When students graduate from school in Armenian they have a big party with their class, teachers, parents and school principal. Since Armen is a graduate, my host mother is a teacher, and my host father is the principal, I attended the party as well. Somehow I ended up sitting with the men (teachers) I think because I came late. The Armenians outdid themselves tonight, I have never had so many men so attentive to me during a meal. My glass was never empty, my plate was always full. I had men cutting bananas and giving me pieces, breaking apricots open and giving me half, filling my plate with food, and all clamoring to toast with me. Fortunately, women tend to toast with wine instead of vodka. There was toast after toast, with students, teachers and principals making speeches, of which I would venture to say, I understood half of the words! Now if only I could understand the connector words to make sentences. I do know that I made it into many of the toasts as a subject, and was told that whenever I am the village they will make sure I am having a good time and am happy.

As with all Armenian parties, there was lots of dancing. I am beginning to develop some rhythm! I danced and danced, and the Armenians just loved it. I was invited to dance to a slow song by one of the graduates, and all eyes in the entire room (along with a video camera and several regular cameras) were on me and this boy, whoever he was. I do my best to entertain, what can I say? I also think that I had my picture taken with every single graduate by the end of the night. People were literally lining up to get their picture taken with me. It is strange to be a celebrity…yesterday Eric, Jenny and I were out and three random people walked up to us and asked if they could take their picture with us. We said yes, and then later…”does anyone know those people?” None of us did… I am getting used to being the center of attention. When I come back to the US I had better be waited on, focused on, and doted on constantly….just get ready!

A few nights ago was Sarah’s birthday and her host family took all of the Americans up into the mountains…in the back of a truck. Like, a flat bed truck, with gates around the outside of the bed, where we stood (and held on tight) as we bounced up the old dirt roads. It is moments like these that I really feel like I am in the Peace Corps. No doubt about it. We arrived at a picnic area and in true Armenian form, had horavats, tomatoes and cucumbers, chocolate, drinks and a beautiful birthday cake. Although we had a great time, the party’s momentum was lost when we all piled back into the truck at 10:30 (in the dark) and it wouldn’t start. Now, this was quite a large truck, and we were pretty far above the village. Not only that, but none of us had really known that we going into the mountains (we thought we were going to the village lake, which is just on the outskirts), and thus were entirely unprepared. Usually I have a headlamp, knife, water, etc, with me. That night I only had my camera and jacket. Lesson learned….worry not.

After many attempts in starting the engine, we thought if we could get the truck rolling then the engine could crank or the driver could pop the clutch. So, we all climbed back out of the truck….and pushed. All 10 of us or so. And pushed, and pushed, and pushed….finally we got the truck over a small incline and on the downhill where we climbed back in and slowly rolled downhill until we came across a car traveling up—straight at us. Did I mention that this was a big truck? With no lights on because the battery was dead at this point? Fortunately the car saw us, and the truck stopped. Somehow I was nominated to go with Jenny, and Armen (Sarah’s host brother, and the truck driver…Armen is a very common name here, and also happens to be my host brother) with the driver of the car down to the village.

The next thing I know I am sitting in the back of this car on a piece of plywood—no back seat, looking at jenny asking “what, exactly, are we doing here?” I was not worried about our safety, Armen is very trustworthy, and happens to be the village taxi driver and so has driven us to Vanadzor many times, we just didn’t know what was going on. I love experiencing incidents such as this in a foreign language…it is just like a bad dream, everything is surreal and nobody can understand each other. We arrived at Armen’s house around midnight, at which point I called Hasmik (my LCF) to A.) figure out what the heck was going on, and B.) have her call our poor host families, who were told that we would be home by 10 or 11, to let them know we were running a little late. Remember…everyone else is still in the mountains at this point. Armen spent a few moments putting his taxi back into working order (people in this country are constantly fixing their cars, they all have to be mechanics) and then took Jenny and me to our homes before going back to the mountains. We assumed that this was to bring back the rest of the volunteers. In the mean time, Jeff and another trainee had walked to Melissa’s house (the closest to the mountains, and quite a walk from where the truck was parked, and gotten Melissa’s host father to drive up to help as well.) He arrives with a car FULL of people, which if you ask me, isn’t too helpful for bringing people home… Armen also drove to the mountain with two more people. So the total number of people stuck on the mountain has just increased by six. Then, as the story goes, all of the Americans piled into Melissa’s host father’s car, only to have him drive 10 feet…and into a ditch. Brad said he was laughing so hard at the situation that he couldn’t speak for a good ten minutes. There were now three vehicles in the mountains: a truck that wouldn’t start, a car in the ditch, and a taxi, which eventually was the means of transport home. The taxi made it to Melissa’s house…and then died. Believe it or not. Anything goes in this country…it is taking a lot to surprise any of us at this point. From here, the volunteers decide to walk, and I think they made it home by 2 am or so.

I tried my best to explain the situation when I arrived home to my host mother and assumed that with Hasmik calling the families that things would be okay. I have now come to learn that Hasmik didn’t tell the families that we stuck in the mountains because she didn’t want them to worry…and despite three separate attempts to explain what happened (even with the aid of my trusty dictionary), I am pretty sure that my family thinks the reason I was late coming home is because I drank too much wine.

This is extremely frustrating for many reasons, and I am to the point where I have to hold myself back to keep from yelling in English…maybe that would help. The families in the village gossip about their volunteers all the time and it won’t be long until the entire village thinks we are all a bunch of drunks. Melissa told me that her mother was asking if I was sick the other day and if my knees hurt. My knees? Yes, I have had a few knee surgeries, but what does Melissa’s mother know about it? Honestly… I have appealed to Hasmik for help on this one, but since the graduation party is a three day event (seriously) my host mother hasn’t been home in the evenings lately.

So now I am faced with a new issue….my family thinks I am a drunk. Great. This is not helped by the fact that alcohol is viewed differently in this country: vodka is normal, a family can go through an entire bottle in one meal. But beer is serious stuff, if you drink beer you are a lush. So, us Americans, who happen to prefer beer to vodka, and are also used to drinking a whole beer, out of the bottle (gasp), are alcoholics. Tonight at the party I got to face the aftermath of all of this. Here I am, toasting happily with all these Armenians who think I am just great, and my host mother decides to pull me aside to tell me that Armenian women don’t drink very much wine (this by the way, is not true). This was after she took away the vodka that was sitting in front of me (it wasn’t mine…it was moved to my seat while I was dancing) and told me that women don’t drink vodka, they drink wine (also, not true). I distinctly remember the fourth of July picnic, where she was filling my cup with vodka repeatedly. Also keep in mind that I am drinking wine out of small shot glass and in the course of the evening—three hours or so—had less than the equivalent of one glass between eating and dancing. I was not drunk, I wasn’t even feeling the effects. I can’t win.
I am really starting to feel comfortable in Armenian and I am enjoying spending time with the people. I am learning a lot and having fun, but I am ready to get out of the host family situation and on my own. My host mother is that person who is loud and pushy and well-meaning but way too in-your-face, even for Armenian standards. It is not only me that gets treated like this, it is everyone. I still have hope for next family, I will update you after next week!

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