25 December 2008

MERRY CHRISTMAS



When we brought Nathan out to the living room this morning, it took him a minute to notice all the presents under the tree. He seemed somewhat confused about the whole situation -- in fact, he immediately headed for his regular books and toys. We sat him down and gave him his Christmas stocking, and helped him open his first gift: a little toy airplane. He was really happy to have it, but after a couple minutes of flying it around, he said "Ba, ba," (translation: "Put it back") and placed it in the stocking again. So it took us a while to show him that there were other things in the stocking, and even more under the tree. I guess we could have just gotten him the airplane and he would have been satisfied, not knowing yet how Christmas really works for kids.

Although we didn't get the white Christmas we had hoped for, it turned out to be a beautiful day just the same...sunny, cold, and clear. So after our brunch, we got dressed and headed up to Victory Park to enjoy the view.

Armenians celebrate Christmas on January 6, so for everyone else, it was business as usual today...and a good thing, too, since Jarred decided at the last minute we needed green beans with our dinner and had to run to the supermarket this afternoon.

And now it's time to snuggle up for hot chocolate, Christmas cookies, pumpkin pie, Jarred's version of his mom's "fudgy-scotch squares," and a movie...and probably a stomach ache in the morning! Merry Christmas to all, and to all a good night!

Click here to see all our December photos, including pictures taken today.

21 December 2008

I'm dreaming...

...of a white Christmas! Looks like our chances are pretty fair:

check out our forecast

Today we'll be heading downtown for a "Winter Parade," the kickoff of Winterfest 2008, followed by festivities in the park across the street from the Presidential Palace. We'll be sure to take plenty of photos. By the way, I've been able to upload a couple more videos on our YouTube page, and there are more coming!

17 December 2008

Vodka Kalashnikov

While Christmas shopping at a nearby department store this afternoon, I saw this and had to share:



I don't remember the exact price listed on the shelf tag, but I know it was over 70,000 dram -- more than U.S. $230! Is anyone really going to buy that?!?

(Since I didn't have a camera on me, I got the picture from a Google image search. I also came across this article, if anyone is interested.)

14 December 2008

The last few days have been great. I'll just take it one day at a time.

We had about an inch of snow on the ground when we woke up on Wednesday. Having not seen snow in so long, I almost forgot how beautiful it is! Luckily, we bought Nathan a snowsuit last weekend, just in time. It's so big and thick that he can barely move in it, and he can't get up without assistance when he falls down. There's a great scene in the 1983 film A Christmas Story in which Ralph's little brother has the same problem.

On Thursday the parents of one of my students sent me a Christmas gift: a pair of tickets to a wine and cheese tasting event sponsored by the Center for Agribusiness and Rural Development (CARD). The event was held at the U.S. Embassy on Friday night. Jarred really enjoyed it, and even though I don't drink wine OR eat cheese, it was nice to see Ambassador Yovanovitch again (she visited our school in October) and hear her speak about how the USDA is supporting Armenian agriculture. I was also pleased with the live strings and piano, the locally-produced breads, fruit juices, and chocolate-covered dried fruits and nuts, and the opportunity to mingle with other English-speakers.

While at the embassy, I ran into Inna, the mom of another of my students, and she invited me to join her yoga class the next day at Shoonch, a relatively new yoga studio and spa in downtown Yerevan. You may be surprised to learn that I've actually never done yoga before, unless you count the prenatal yoga DVD I used during my pregnancy...I loved it, but after about 7 1/2 months I was too big to do most of the poses anymore! Anyway, I've always wanted to try it, and I figured there was no better day to start such a rejuvenating practice than my 27th birthday -- especially since they give a free trial class to all newcomers -- so I accepted Inna's invitation and attended the Iyengar yoga class at 10:30 on Saturday morning. It was a good workout, and after thanking the instructor for allowing me to join her class, I asked her at what time the beginners' classes were held. She paid me a compliment by replying that the beginners' class would be too easy for me, and recommended I continue as a member of her regular class starting this Tuesday. Jarred had the brilliant idea of buying a Shoonch membership for me as my birthday gift, so I'll definitely be there!

On Saturday night, we had a few friends over for more wine and cheese (Jarred was inspired to make a few purchases after the tasting), pumpkin pie, and a very chocolatey birthday cake. Everyone had a fun and relaxing time, including Nathan and 2 year-old Alex, the son of a fellow teacher who came to celebrate with us.

*****

We're off work now until January 7 for the winter break. We borrowed an old laptop from Josh and we finally set up internet at home, so we'll continue to post blog entries and photos in the coming weeks. Until next time...

02 December 2008

cold weather is coming

I took this photo from our back porch (looking northwest across the gorge) at the beginning of November:




A few weeks later, this is the same view:



I am now uploading all the November photos to photobucket. Click here to see them!

small spending

A neat thing about grocery shopping here is that stores don’t follow the “Not labeled for individual sale” rule. For example, if you only want 1 yogurt from the 6-pack, it’s no problem. Just break it off and bring it to the register. This is especially true of large items that would normally be too expensive for most Armenians to purchase on their meager salaries (I’ve heard that a person working a typical minimum wage-type job in Yerevan earns about 1000 AMD – less than U.S. $4 – per day). So instead of having to buy the mega-pack of Pampers for 7000 AMD (nearly U.S. $23), just tear open the bag and buy a few diapers individually for 100 dram each (only 30 cents)! Instead of paying 18000 dram ($60!!!) for an entire 15-kg bag of Purina dog food, just ask the store clerk to scoop some into a plastic bag and weigh it, and you’ll pay 1200 dram/kilo (about $1.79/lb).

26 November 2008

Happy Thanksgiving!

Thought I'd post an update before I left work today since it's been a while...

Nathan continues to develop well. He now spends most of his days running wildly around the apartment, dancing to Russian children’s songs, jumping on the bed, and alternately playing with and throwing his books and toys. He understands a great deal of our adult conversations, and his vocabulary (both verbal and ASL) increases daily. His latest word and sign are, respectively, “butter” and “please” – huzzah for good manners! In addition, Nathan can point to any body part you name, including what we affectionately refer to as his ‘doodle.’

Since Christmas is approaching, we are deciding what to get for him, and we are pretty settled on a rocking horse we saw at a nearby shop, a small electronic keyboard (nothing too fancy, though), and some new clothes, as his vertical growth has been accelerating rapidly – he shot up half an inch in the past 2 weeks alone!

Our school director is hosting a Thanksgiving party at his home this Saturday (we don’t have Thursday off), and it should be a lot of fun. The entire school staff is invited, and since most of the Armenian employees are not familiar with the American traditions, it will probably be quite an experience for them. Then again, there are no cranberries or sweet potatoes here, and the green beans are very different, and the turkey had to be ordered from somewhere special (they’re not commonly available here)…so we’ll see how it goes!

Happy Thanksgiving, everyone!

05 November 2008

November already...

I just finished putting up all the October photos that I thought were worth sharing. Looking at them makes me realize how many things happened last month! School had to be canceled last Thursday due to some plumbing issues, so Jarred and I took the opportunity to explore a different side of Yerevan: Kond, the oldest surviving neighborhood in the city. It's actually not that old compared with truly ancient sites throughout the country -- only about 200 years -- but the vast majority of buildings in Yerevan are considered modern, as they were built during the Soviet era of the 20th Century. Anyway, I've included my photos of Kond in the October Photobucket album so you can see for yourself.

Now it's November, and the temperature is dropping. Monday it was 6 degrees Celsius (about 42 degrees Farenheit) at 8:30am, and I hear from some that we could expect to see snow in a few short weeks. How exciting! We decided to take advantage of the last of the relatively warm weather this past weekend and went for a picnic with our friends Josh and Hasmik at the ruins of Zvartnots Cathedral, about 14 km west of Yerevan. Nathan got a lot of exercise climbing up and down the steps again and again, and saying the words "up" and "down" over and over, too! He also saw ants for the first time.

My class has a new student -- a Guinea pig named "Poncho." She was originally the pet of the secondary students, but their science teacher says they weren't taking very good care of her, so she needed a new home. Of course, she is welcome with me! At first I thought it was strange that she had a Spanish name, but I soon found out that poncho is an Armenian nickname meaning "chubby." Either way, she's a cutie! I'll have to take a picture of her to include in November's photobucket album.

Just one more thing: Congratulations to the new president-elect, Barack Obama, and all our fellow Americans on the triumph of this historic U.S. election. From what we've seen on CNN International, it seemed the majority of people in the world, except for about 47% of the U.S., was hoping Obama would win, so this is an amazing victory for just about everyone. (And lucky for Armenians, Obama, unlike Bush, has pledged to recognize the 1915 Genocide.) I think this article says it all.

27 October 2008

Back to work

Well, it looks like the summer weather is gone for good. The past week has been cloudy, grey, and drizzly, although I understand that autumn is normally considered the most beautiful season in Armenia. Even today it is raining, so our students had to spend recess indoors. I don't mind the cool temperatures at all...in fact, it's rather nice to give my sweat glands a break after 14 years of subtropical Florida weather...but still, I hope the sun will come out tomorrow.

Our fall break was great -- productive, but not too busy, and relaxing, but not to the point of boredom. On Monday, we took Nathan to a pediatrician recommended to us by a coworker. Dr. Abelyan was very friendly and Nathan got a clean bill of health. The same afternoon, all three of us went to the dentist's office just around the corner (we literally walked there from our apartment in about 4 minutes). Jarred and I both got a cleaning for a total of 20,000 dram (about U.S. $30 each) and we had the dentist examine Nathan's strange-looking front teeth. He said they are caused by a single tooth follicle producing two fused teeth. He added that we shouldn't worry about it now, just allow him to monitor it, and it shouldn't be a problem. In doing a quick search, I found out this condition is called gemination, and is fairly common in babies. I don't have photos of Nathan's teeth, but this is what they look like. And if you're still curious, here is an Alabama dentist's description.

Marina came over for two days to babysit so that Jarred and I could go out and do a few things on our own. On Thursday we went out to lunch at Pizza Roma for their excellent salad bar, then it was on to the National History Museum on Republic Square. The most interesting exhibit was the ancient map display. It turns out that the oldest known maps of the world, particularly the Babylonian Imago Mundi, show Armenia as one of the few nations on Earth. Another map that struck me (from the Middle Ages), shows Armenia just northeast of Paradise. We also learned about Armenian-American artist Arshile Gorky, and saw some of his works displayed among an exhibit of Armenian traditional needle-lace.

On Friday, Jarred and I went to Tsitsernakaberd, the site commemorating the 1915 Armenian Genocide. Just outside the entrance to the museum were planted rows of trees, donated by world leaders and sympathetic individuals in recognition of the victims of that atrocity. I counted three donated by U.S. Congressmen, and even one from Pope John Paul II. We didn't get to stay long in the museum because it closed at 4pm, but seeing the photographs and reading the letters, articles, and other preserved documents was nonetheless a very moving experience. For over an hour after the museum closed, we strolled the surrounding woods, pondering the dark side of human nature, and wondering why we didn't learn about the Armenian Genocide in any of our world history classes.
*****

As a result of my thrice-weekly lessons and of course, our daily exposure, I find that I am now able to read more than half of the Russian signage I encounter. My vocabulary is still quite limited, however, so I am able to understand far less than what I can read. It seems there are a lot of Russian words pronounced very similarly as their English equivalents, like salon, autobus, three, aquarium, and mayonnaise, for example. Pretty random, but hey, those are five words I can say in Russian without even thinking about it! And my accent must be fairly good because no one gives me any weird looks when I greet them. Sadly, my knowledge of Armenian (both written and spoken) remains virtually unchanged since a month ago. To say it is a difficult language to learn is an understatement.


I will be posting more pictures taken in the past couple weeks, including photos from fall break, at this month's Photobucket page. Enjoy, and thanks for reading!

13 October 2008

A field trip and a party

Last Friday my class took a trip to Garni as part of our Cultural Studies unit on Ancient Rome. I don't think the Roman Empire ever extended this far east, but it sure came close.

Here's some info I pieced together from various sources, and one of my favorite photographs from our little excursion.

***
The temple was constructed in 76 AD by the King Tiridates I of Armenia and probably funded with money the king received from Emperor Nero during his visit to Rome. The temple, resting on an elevated podium, was most likely dedicated to the Zoroastrian sun god Mithras. The roof is supported by 24 Ionic columns on Attic bases. Unlike other Greco-Roman temples, which were usually made of marble, the temple of Garni is made of basalt, a material of abundant local availability.

After Christianity had been proclaimed the state religion in Armenia in 301, all other pagan temples were destroyed, but the temple at Garni remained, and was probably used as a summer residence of the kings. A chronicle describes it as ‘a house of coolness’. It was ransacked in 1386 by the Turkish ruler Timur Lenk. In 1679 it was destroyed by an earthquake. Most of the original pieces remained at the site until the 20th century, allowing the building to be reconstructed between 1969 and 1979.
***



In addition to the temple, we also visited the ruins of a Roman-style bath that still has some ancient mosaics intact. Unfortunately, I didn't get a photo, but it was really awesome to see. You can see someone else's photos of them, and read more about Garni HERE.

After working up an appetite at the Garni complex, we drove about 20 minutes to Geghard Monastery, where we ate lunch and walked around a bit before heading back to school. The whole trip was amazing, and as you can tell from the photos, we couldn't have asked for better weather. We had to wear light jackets in the morning, and by afternoon it was warmer, but not hot enough to sweat, even with all our hiking.

*****
On Saturday night we were invited to a birthday party for our nanny, Marina. It was also a celebration for her recent engagement to her longtime boyfriend Karen (kah-REN). The party was held in the city center, at the apartment of Karen's parents. It was a very traditional celebration: the guests sat at a long table that was literally COVERED with food. When someone brought out a new dish from the kitchen and there was no empty space on the table, they would just stack it on top of something else. There were at least three types of salad that I could see (not like American salads with lettuce...more like various mixed vegetables and grains), big bowls of fresh whole fruit, tolmas, barbecued meats, bread and lavash, Georgian pickled vegetables, yogurt and sour cream, sliced salamis and cheeses, soft drinks, wine, and several kinds of vodka -- which the Armenian men kept making Jarred drink and drink because, to their amazement, he didn't get drunk. My favorite food was the homemade tabouleh. Meanwhile, Nathan filled up on corn, olives, and grapes.

There was plenty of Armenian music, singing, and dancing, and Nathan was the hit of the party. He played with the balloons and danced with all the ladies. Eventually, we had to leave, as it was getting late, and Nathan was tired...too tired to even try the birthday cake.

See all photos from the field trip, Marina's party, and more by clicking here.

One final note: our school will be closed for fall break Oct. 17-24, so unless we go to an internet club or come in to do some work during the holiday (which I would rather not do), we won't have access to email or anything for over a week. Please don't be alarmed; we'll be back as usual on the 27th. =)

10 October 2008

St. Grigor Lusavorich

Victory Park

Nathan Playing Video

Working Out

I have finally begun working out again. There is a gym just down the street from us with an indoor pool. It is nice having a housekeeper because on Mondays and Thursdays she comes to clean the apartment and if we ask her, she can make us an Armenian dinner. I do love to cook, but making dinner is always a good excuse to not go ot the gym. "Oh I had to stay later at work than expected, I still have to make dinner and it is just too late." Now, being able to have dinner prepared when i get home, I just have our driver take me by the gym on our way to drop Angela off at home, and I swim my laps. I am still building my endurance but I swam 1500 meters yesterday. It is hard getting used to the metric lengths. A 25 meter pool is about 6 strokes longer than I am used to. It throws me off when I know exactly how many strokes there are before I flip-turn in a 25 yard pool. But I feel good. Stress levels are reducing. It is amazing how much having money reduces stress. The apartment is clean, dinner is made on days i work out, our driver is on a strict schedule which keeps US on a strict schedule, and we are paying things off. Feels good.

From now on, whenever I post, I will include at the end a breif summary of my wellbeing. I am working out and eatling less junk so I am monitoring my weight.
I am swimming and working on increasing my endurance.
My stress level (1-10) the month before we left was a 12. I sought prescription mellow medicine.
My happiness with life here includes how I think of my career, language acquisition and survival, interactions with locals, apartment, money, comparing with life in US, and family togetherness.

Status:
Weight: 195lbs
Swimming: 1500 meters
Stress level (1-10): 4
Satisfaction with life here (1-10): 8

Nathan and Grandma Michele

This was taken in late July, shortly before we departed

05 October 2008

Eureka!

On Saturday we found broccoli and soymilk (vanilla and strawberry flavored)! Woo-hoo!

29 September 2008

videos in progress

We've been having issues, to say the least, with our digital camcorder. For now, Jarred has been able to put two videos on Our Life in Motion (our YouTube page), and he's working on a few more. Here is some footage of our apartment taken August 5th, the day we arrived in Yerevan.



Check back throughout the week to see more. Remember, there is a permanent link to OLIM on the right side of this page under "SEE ALSO..." so you can watch old videos and check for new ones anytime you want.

OCTOBER 1 UPDATE
I have created a new album of September photos and will continue adding to it tomorrow, since our connection here is so sporadic.

I know many of you have been dying to see video of Nathan walking, and at long last, I have been able to upload one (filmed September 14). Again, please be patient as we put more on our YouTube page.

23 September 2008

In response...

My last entry was something of a response to some questions about languages that our friends had asked, and I just received some other questions from Tita Detsi, so I'll post them along with my answers here in case anyone else is wondering the same thing!

Q. "What are the supermarkets like in terms of the available food? ...do they have fresh veggies, fish, milk, etc?"
A. There is definitely an ABUNDANCE of fresh produce here. Agriculture is the number one industry here, from what I understand. People set up little stands along side roads and on street corners so there are plenty of opportunities to purchase locally-grown grapes, peaches, plums, berries, apples, eggplants, tomatoes, cucumbers, cauliflower, potatoes, onions, peppers, garlic, herbs, and more. You can also find lavash (Armenian flat bread, similar to tortillas, just really big and paper-thin), fresh eggs, cheese, and meats at some of these stands. However, availability of produce is seasonal, and during winter our selection may be more limited, so a lot of people stock up and freeze things in advance. We haven't seen much fresh seafood, which is not a big surprise considering Armenia is a landlocked country, but western-style supermarkets like SAS and Galaxy carry just about everything else: produce, wide assortments of dairy products, bakery & deli items, nuts, dried fruits and preserves, breakfast cereals, canned goods, fruit juices, bottled water, sodas, snack foods, chocolates, Starbucks coffee products, and even Wrigley's chewing gum at the cash register. It's not much different than an American grocery, except we see a lot of things that are imported from Europe, the Middle East, and other parts of Asia. The only items we are having difficulty finding are peanut butter, coconut milk, tofu, broccoli, and wheat gluten, which is sad because these are some of our favorite ingredients for cooking and baking. We will continue our search for them at other grocery stores in the city. In the meantime, we are working on making our own peanut butter, and if we are really craving tofu, we order out from a local Chinese restaurant that makes its own from home-grown soybeans.

Q. "Are you finding it expensive?"
A. In terms of food, no. A loaf of fresh bread is 150 dram, which is less than U.S. $0.50. The other day at the farmers' market I bought some peaches -- the man selling them had 3 kinds: one was 200 dram per kilogram, the second was 300 dram/kilo, and the third was 400 dram/kilo. I bought the most expensive kind...they looked the best, and it worked out to be approximately $0.60/lb. Restaurant prices vary depending on location and other factors. For example, we went to a nice Georgian place last Friday night where I ordered an entree of vegetable tolmas (lentils, herbs, and rice wrapped in cabbage leaves) for 700 dram -- about $2.33. A couple weekends ago, we checked out one of the restaurants at the very posh Yerevan Marriott in Republic Square, and the vegetable lasagna on their lunch menu was priced at over 3000 dram -- more than $9.96. Many non-food items cost about the same as they would in the States, such as baby diapers, cosmetic products (Garnier, Dove, Neutrogena, Johnson & Johnson, Colgate, etc.), and other imported goods.

As a side note, the dollar does not go as far these days as it used to. In early 2004, USD $1 would exchange to AMD 590. The current exhange rate is about $1=AMD 301.

Q. "How is the school where you are teaching?"
A. Wonderful! We love working for QSI. The educational philosphy makes so much sense, and there's no standardized testing like in the States. Teachers have much more freedom in designing their lesson plans and assessments. Communication with parents is very open, there are few discipline problems, and the school director is very supportive of the faculty. The school itself is located several miles northwest of the city center towards the nearby town of Ashtarak. Every morning as we approach the school from the highway, we have a glorious view of Mt. Aragats, Armenia's highest peak. If you have Google Earth on your computer and would like me to send you a link to view the location of the school (and our apartment, etc.), let me know!

Q. "What is your mailing address?"
A. Please send all packages and correspondence to

Jarred and Angela Blackmer
QSI International School of Yerevan
P.O. Box 82
Ashtarak Highway 2A
0088 Yerevan
Republic of Armenia

18 September 2008

Learn to speak Russian and Armenian -- in one entry!

I was having a conversation with some friends recently about language learning and thought I'd post a little about it here.

Eastern Armenian is the official language here, but Russian is also widely spoken. Aside from the standard greetings, polite expressions, and culinary terms I learned before coming here, my vocabulary is increasing every day thanks to signs, billboards, and regular conversations with our nanny, housekeeper, driver, co-workers, etc. We have been focusing our studies on Russian since it will be more useful to us in our future travels, but the signage and everyday language we see and hear is a mix of both, so we're learning both unintentionally.

Anyway, here are some words and expressions to get familiar with (written phoenetically, of course -- the Armenian alphabet in particular is very intimidating) so that you can communicate with the locals when you come to visit! I've also included a few random words I've recently learned.

Russian
zdrahs'douseh = hello
kakhvee = How are you?
spazibah = thank you
bah-kah bah-kah = goodbye (even Nathan uses this one)
dah = yes
nyet = no
sohk = juice
ahptekah = pharmacy
moykah = car wash
soomah = total price

Armenian
bahrev = hello
Eench pesek? = How are you?
yes schnorhagal em = thank you (literally translates to "I am grateful." You can also just use the French "merci"...it's easier and everyone understands)
mek = one
sah eench arjee? = how much is it?
che = no
eench = what/which/how
kahtoo = cat
luys = light

Oh, and something funny...locals assume we are from England when they hear us speaking English. Never thought I'd be mistaken for a Brit!

10 September 2008

Compare and Contrast 2

I realized when I went home last night that most of my comparisons were putting more light on Armenia than it deserves. Surely there are aspects of Yerevan that are far inferior to the stanbdards we are used to in the states.

Infrastructure:
We walk everywhere including down the street to the markets. We may look like tourists when I wear my kiking boots, but that is because I dont want to fall on my face on the very rocky, uneven potholed road. Angela somehow gets away with wearing flip flops but It is really a hike with the steep hills. I do miss regularly re-paved roads and sidewalks.
Downtown is a little more maintained. We have had almost no trouble walking on the extra large sidewalks downtown.

Traffic:
I dont see how it is any crazier than NYC or Washington DC. I dont think there are J-Walking laws. What makes it crazier here I think is that since there are pot holes, it is expected that on-coming traffice will swurve into the opposite lane shifting traffic over and around the hole. But since everyone expects it and plans for it, it doesnt cause problems. I would say people here are not more careless. the contrary, people here are more careful and pay more attention because they may never know when other cars may swurve, pedestrians may cross, stand in the middle of the road. People in the states seem to pay much less attention probably because they expect everyone else to obey the heavily enforced traffice laws. Its funny actually. Fewer things are enforced, but somehow people here get along with society and others nicer. Butsince I am still used to the traffic and behaviors of the states, I do miss enforced traffic laws and maintained roads and sidewalks.

Cost of things:
It is hard to find the trend of which items are more expensive and which are less. Definitely produce is much less expensive, but only produce that is grown here, and especially the produce grown on the roof of the apartment building next door to the markets. Imported produce like kiwi, mango and bananas are outrageously expensive. Bread costs 25 cents for a large loaf, and juice is the same, even if it contains imported fruits. Restaurant prices are slightly less. For dinner at Karma, I spent 8,000 AMD. That is about $25. That is the same as Udipi on Dale Mabry and Trang.
The cafes for lunch will cost about 5,000 AMD for a full heavy meal.
People we spoke to about baby and kid things said first, hey were not accessible here and the quality is poor. I dont know if they never walked around the city before, because we have found osh-kosh quality clothes, Chicco toys, hand-made toys which will last forever, and imported items like strollers, which do actually cost 2 or 3 times more. I am satisfied with what we can get here. I think any limitations on items we want or think we need will just control our consumption. We are very pleased with that. Angela loves having multiple selections for products, but here I am am happy that she is forced to be a little more decisive.

Language:
Obviously, language barriers are tough to overcome, and that is certainly something easily taken for granted in the states. My Spanish doesnt help me very much! We would like to make this whole experience worth the time by learning the langauge and being able to use it. Some co-teachers here are our age and have moved from the states to work with the peace corp and they ended up marrying armenian ladies and they live here permenantly. They have been here only a few years and are very well versed in Russian and Armenian. It was most interesting hearing everyone's story that led them here. Everyone had different push/pull factors. We dont feel out of place at all here for ours.

School:
While the educational experience is far superior for the kids here, and the experience for the teachers is much mroe desirable here, the facility is attached to a window/furniture factory and needs much rennovation. We are limited in supplies and I do not have an LCD projector which I was spoiled with my first year.
This year however, a new school is being built down the street. It will be entirely new contruction, with proper yard and its own property. I hope more technology will be used. I do not like chalk boards. I am lucky that I have one of the few white boards in my room.
I havent had problems yet, but parents are politicians and powerful people in society in Yerevan. I hope I do not have parents coming trying to pull strings. So far, the parents are great!

Maybe Ill have another contrast come January when I am colder than I expected. Who knows!

09 September 2008

Compare and Contrast

J here!
I have been working with my 10s and 11s trying to teach what compare and contrast is. All week I have been thinking about it. Since we have moved here we have been trying very had not to compare and contrast, but it is inevitable. It is natural to do so. So I am trying to categorize a few parts of our lives here with things we are used to in the states.

Apartment:
Our apartments, even the nice ones were particle board or plywood and stucco. We could hear everything above, below and beside our apartment. Here, since lumber is harder to come by, more expensive and concrete or stone is readily abundant, it is less expensive and common to build with stone. I have only once or twice heard kids running in the bathroom, probably because there is piping and more empty space between the floors in the bathrooms. There is no carpet. Carpet is a luxury and only in some rooms. I hate carpeting, now with nathan dropping bottles, cookies, and crawling with dirty hands. Also, carpeting is impossible to maintain with a cat. We have a large livingroom rug which nathan plays on and is easily cleanable. There is less dust and mildew with tile and wood floors. This is the nicest apartment we have lived in so far.

Climate:
Sor far, comparing the summer heats, here is it very dry. Thankfully! Because I hate humidity. It was hot, sure, but not sweltering like Florida. I am anxious to experience a real winter. I understand it will be unbearably cold, but then again, that is all so subjective.

People and Culture:
I have yet to come across a rude person. The shadiest-looking creepy guys sitting behind buildings, cab drivers, construction workers, and even Armenian Hip-Hop "gangstas" have been remarkably accommodating, friendly to Nathan, eager to help with directions, and refused tips. Everyone loves babies here! The burliest-looking dude will even talk baby-talk to Nathan and smile as we pass. I am kind of relieved to escape the american hip-hop gangsta culture that is so sickeningly macho, vulger, and sometimes downright scary. The hip-hop here is, I hear, more tame than Will Smith. Armenians are very proud people. They are proud of their heritage and the few things that are known to be Armenian. I tried my hardest to be objective while tasting the majical fruits and vegetables which they say here taste vastly different and more flavorful than anywhere else. The bread is amazing. Only because they dont have all the fillers that commercial breads to like dough conditioners, sulfites, preservatives and milk derivatives...etc. They use water flour salt and yeast. It is amazing how different breads can taste based only on the proportions and texture. Fruits and vegetables, yes they taste different, not better, justy more bold. For some foods, this is better. I tasted a tomato and i thought it was seasoned. It was a fresh tomato and it was far more bold than the blander waterier tomatos that I have tasted in the states. I hate an entire tomato and a half plain. Onions are far more bold. I have to wear my swimming goggles to cut them. I was fine in the states, I could cut an onion or two for a salsa and be fine. Here, a single onion, immediately after cutting into it, it burns and smells so strong of onion. Use less onion!
Fruits don't seem to be that different with the exception of grapes. No grape comes seedless. Seedless grapes are not natural. The green and red and dark purple grapes are amazing! I need to learn what kinds of grapes these are. They are very small round black grapes with a very colorful palate.
I do miss a few food items which we just haven't spent much time looking for like tofu, coconut milk, and a few cheeses that go better in a sandwitch than the farmers cheese they have here. There are two main types of cheese here which unless you are in an imports store, are the only two. A goat's milk cheese and a a cow's milk cheese that is very salty and smells and tastes like the barn it came from with the texture of a low moisture mozzerella. It is good if chopped very small and stir fried with oils and veggies on a high heat. I can not tolerate it in the fresh wraps armenians eat daily with tomato and cucumber in lavash.
Ararat cognac is as good as it its reputation. Very good!

School:
Kids love to learn. The success orientations are so successful in guiding kids to think about others kindly and care about the environment. I have 9 students and every one of the kids is excited about doing the next thing. Not a single behavior problem has occurred with any student in the entire school. I had trouble with kids on the first day last year. I have freedom to design my class structure the way it works for me and my class. I love it!

Accessibility of things:
We walk to the metro and along the way are open air markets and stores with household items, hardware, food, snacks, baby items, and produce. What we cant find there, we continue to go to the metro where underground is a large circle linking all the corners of the large intersection above together where there is an entire mall which has stores for clothes, shoes, suits and ties, coffee, household items, electronics, salons, cd stores, and toys. Central Yerevan has nearly every department store we wish to go into. There is Chicco name brand toys and name brand kid clothes, Fila and Addidas, Apple Center, AG Electronics, and The Music Store with Yamaha instruments. If we decide to stay long, I will have to order a drum set through Yamaha. Not bad!
I plan to have a computer at home by the beginning of December. I am planning on taking care of some other finances first and then after the end of November, we will have internet set up at home where we can more regularly keep in touch with you all.

I have tons of video which needs uploading but I need to find a program which converts my camera data into mp4 and the time to edit it. coming soon!

08 September 2008

Pictures!

I was able to borrow a USB card reader from Josh, the computer teacher, so I started to upload the photos I've taken since we arrived. Internet connection can be unreliable sometimes, so I haven't been able to get everything up yet. Just stay tuned and I'll add more to this entry as I am able.

Nathan and me in Republic Square (formerly Lenin Square), sometime in early August. (The garden behind us is the spot where Lenin's statue stood until Armenia gained independence in 1991. The statue was then promptly torn down and decapitated. The statue and its head now lie in a courtyard behind the State History Museum.)













Nathan (and his beloved balloon) at the amusement park on his birthday













At the Matenadaran, viewing some seriously ancient manuscripts


















This is just funny

















See more by clicking here!

*****

In other news, Nathan weighs 20 pounds -- at last! He's definitely put on more muscle in his legs. Now that he's walking, I guess the next big milestone is talking, and he's getting there, slowly, but surely. We have officially recognized his first word, baby, even though it sounds more like "bee-bee" most of the time. He is also working on hello, book, and Daddy. Everything else right now is "bah" (for ball, bird, goodbye, or bath), "dah" (for down or Mabel, who he still insists is a dog), a quiet "puh" (for balloon), and "nuh" (when he wants to nurse). Oh, and when he wants to say 'drum, he says "boom-ba," in an attempt to mimic "A-BOOM-BOOM-BAP," the oft-repeated line in his favorite storybook about a jazz drummer giraffe named Philly Joe. We are encouraging him to use sign language to help him communicate his needs and feelings, and to help us distinguish between, say, ball and bird, since he verbalizes both as "bah." He's doing really well, and even makes up his own signs when the standard ASL signs are too difficult. For example, Jarred and I have been using the ASL sign for drink, which mimics the action of bringing a glass to your mouth. His version is sticking his index finger in his mouth and sort of sucking on it. Considering that he doesn't drink from a regular cup yet, he drinks from a sippy cup with a straw, his sign makes a lot more sense -- what a smart little monkey!

This Thursday night is Open House at school, and we are busy making preparations to meet all the parents and explain our curriculum for the year. We really like working here so far, and I'm already planning the first field trip for my 8 year-olds. Our second unit in Cultural Studies is Ancient Rome, so we'll be visiting Garni, a Hellenistic temple built in the 1st century BC. You definitely can't see that kind of history in the U.S., so I'm really excited!

Until next time...

02 September 2008

it's the little things

So far, adjusting to our new life in Armenia has been somewhat easier than anticipated. Everyone we've met (both on the streets and at the school) has been incredibly friendly and helpful. It hasn't been a problem to obtain things we need, and there are plenty of familiar brands available, including baby and kid stuff like Pampers, Johnson & Johnson, V-Tech, Legos, Disney, Chicco, etc. By the way, it is truly liberating not to have a car. We walk, take taxis, or ride the subway wherever we need to go, and nothing in Yerevan is far away.

Of course, there are many differences from what we're accustomed to in central Florida, and it's the little things that stand out the most.

For example, on EVERY street corner downtown (I'm not exaggerating) there is a vendor selling refreshments from umbrella-shaded refrigerators and freezers. These generally include bottled water and Coca-Cola products, ice cream, sunflower seeds, potato chips, fruit juices, yogurt, and sometimes coffee (soorj). Also, as you walk along the sidewalk, you will frequently pass shoebox-sized convenient stores carrying "necessities" like butter, chocolates, candy, vodka, and cigarettes, in addition to most of the items previously mentioned. It's kind of funny to see so many little places all selling the same things at a single intersection, but there's definitely nothing wrong with such an abundance of snacks and cold drinks, especially when you're walking around the city on a hot day. Anyway, I suppose it's no different than having a CVS directly across the street from a Walgreens, which happens pretty often in the States.

While I'm on the subject of food, I should mention that Frito-Lay products are widely available here; however, since they are imported from Saudi Arabia, the flavors cater to Middle Eastern tastes. Lay's potato chips come in 4 varieties: Salt, Tomato Ketchup (which is actually quite tasty), Chili, and French Cheese. Doritos come in 2 flavors: Sweet Chili (I don't buy this one because it contains aspartame) and Sizzling BBQ, which has a picture of shish kebabs and ground spices on the front (you could say I'm addicted to these).

Another difference that is very obvious is the people's formality of dress. Ok, think of how most people are dressed when you go to your local Wal-Mart... faded t-shirts, ripped up jeans, short-shorts, flip-flops, baseball caps, and so on... NOBODY here dresses like that! The majority of young women, including many mothers, wear the trendiest clothing, and I can't understand how they manage not to break their ankles as they stroll cracked, potholed streets and sidewalks in their stiletto heels and platform sandals, carrying their shopping bags, sometimes pushing baby carriages and with children in tow. Older women tend to wear more conservative dresses and heels. But no matter their age, most women have gorgeous hair, beautiful mani- and pedicures, and few of them would be caught dead leaving their home without full makeup. As for the men, aside from the three we've counted wearing shorts, they typically wear slacks or dress pants (even if it's 90 degrees out) with a collared shirt and fashionable dress shoes. You can find athletic shoes in just about any shoe store, but I don't think I've seen anybody wearing them. So you can imagine how much Jarred and I stood out when we spent our first few days exploring the city in t-shirts, shorts, and hiking boots, wearing Nathan in the Moby Wrap. One such afternoon, just as we had passed the Parliament buidling, we spotted another couple walking in the opposite direction. They were wearing shorts, t-shirts, khaki vests with multiple pockets, and sport sandals (with socks), and had their city map unfolded in front of them as they navigated their way down Marshal Baghramyan Avenue. It was a relief to know we weren't the only ones, since unlike NYC, L.A., or D.C., tourists are not a common sight in Yerevan. We're trying to blend in more now that we know our way around, but it's not easy when the only Russian phrases we know are "Excuse me," "Do you understand English?" and "No, I don't speak Russian." We'll have to keep practicing!

Now that the school year has begun, we are keeping busy with lesson-planning and our daily routines. Every day when Jarred and I head off to work, Marina takes Nathan to a playground across the gorge for a couple hours before it gets hot, where he takes his morning nap, then enjoys the swings, slides, and making new friends. The other day she informed us that he wanted to hug and kiss everyone in the park! He is learning at a startling rate. All of a sudden he can point to his tummy, feet, teeth, and hair, he knows what the dog and the cow say, he can flap his wings like a bird, and kick a ball -- one week ago, he couldn't do any of those things! I can't wait to find out what he has learned today while we were at work. Also, he and Mabel are getting along fine. She sometimes comes up to him and purrs, wanting him to pet her, and he does, even though it's more like hitting than petting, so we are working on being gentle, but she tolerates him surprisingly well.

Time to go...looking forward to reading more emails from friends and family. I have lots of pictures that I'm working on posting...thanks for reading!

20 August 2008

Here we are! (The post you've been waiting for)

The Blackmer family made it safely to Hayastan, known to the rest of the world as the Republic of Armenia, on August 5 at 4:00 AM after a long and tiring journey. Sargis, one of the assistants at QSI Yerevan, picked us up from Zvartnots International Airport, where we had no difficulties in obtaining our visas and entering the country. The airport officials were very understanding of the fact that we had a baby and did not make us wait in the line at passport control, which would have taken at least 30 minutes. Outside the baggage claim area was a swarm of people jammed together, craning their necks and jumping from behind each other to see their arriving friends and family. As soon as Sargis saw us, he pushed his way through the crowd to greet us and help us with our things. The people cleared a path for the baby stroller and made a big fuss over Nathan, who was wide awake and smiling at everyone. They all fawned over him in his stroller and someone even shouted, "America is here!"

We loaded into the school van: Jarred and myself, Nathan in his car seat, Mabel (our cat) in her carrier, all our carry-on luggage, the stroller, and our 5 enormous duffel bags weighing 100 pounds each. On the way to our apartment we passed through a neon-lit area Sargis referred to as "Armenian Las Vegas." Yes, there are casinos here, but according to our guidebooks they are not too popular.

We spent most of the first 3 days sleeping and unpacking, sleeping and unpacking. Nathan needed a week to fully overcome his jetlag -- in the beginning he would wake up around 3:30 AM ready to play (and since he couldn't go back to sleep, we would have to get up and play with him through the dawn until he was ready for a nap at 7 or 8 am), then sleep for long periods during the afternoon. It was a little confusing for all of us!

Since then, we've spent a great deal of time exploring our new city and getting to know the people with whom we will be working here: Alla, our housekeeper; Marina, our nanny; Doug Shippert, the director of QSIY; and all the other faculty and staff at the school. Downtown Yerevan is beautiful. It is urban, yet not overcrowded, full of tree-shaded parks and open-air cafes, and with so many amazing historical and cultural sites we didn't know where to start! Some of the highlights so far include the Cathedral of St. Grigor Lusavorich (Gregory the Illuminator), the Matenadaran, the Vernissage, the Cascade, Victory Park and the Mother Armenia statue, which overlooks the entire city. Photos will be up soon; please be patient!

That reminds me -- we do not yet have internet at home, so for now we can only check email while we are at work. In a few weeks we will have a new laptop and internet all set up in the apartment so we can post photos and videos, and communicate via Skype. In any case, our email addresses remain the same, and if you would like to send us any mail or packages, please address them to

Jarred and Angela Blackmer
QSI International School of Yerevan
P.O. Box 82
Ashtarak Highway 2A
0088 Yerevan
Republic of Armenia

About our apartment... we have 2 bedrooms, 2 bathrooms with shower stalls, a large kitchen and dining area, and living room with fireplace. There are 4 balconies overlooking the Hrazdan River Gorge, and we have all tile and wood floors, with a big area rug in the living room. In our opinion, it is the nicest apartment we have ever had! We have A/C, thank goodness, as it is very hot right now. Our hot water gets very hot, and the cold water gets very cold, which is great. In case you are wondering, none of us have gotten sick from drinking the water, but we still boil water to be used for consumption as a precaution.

For those of you following the news about the Russia-Georgia conflict, don't worry, as it does not affect us here. QSI does have a school in Tbilisi, and a couple weeks ago they evacuated their teachers there and put them up in hotels in Yerevan. I suppose once everything is deemed safe they will return to work in Georgia.

And now the really big news: NATHAN CAN WALK! He celebrated his birthday on Saturday, August 16, and took his first steps by himself on Sunday. Daddy couldn't get it on video until Monday, and of course we will post that as soon as we are able. For his birthday, we took Nathan to a small amusement park downtown where he and Mommy rode the carousel and a Dumbo-type ride, but with swans instead of elephants. More than anything else, though, Nathan loved the balloon a clown gave him at the park. He held that balloon and smiled all day long! We showed Nathan all his birthday cards and the drawings in his Birthday Wish Book created by family and friends at his party on August 2. Our gift to him was a toddler-sized table and chair (Pooh and Friends), and some Crayola art supplies (chunky crayons, finger paints, drawing paper, etc.) we picked up at local stores. He loves sitting at his table for snacks as well as creating his masterpieces. He's such a cutie, and he is admired everywhere we go, especially when he's in the Moby wrap.

Whew! I've got lots more to share, but it will have to wait for another day. Thanks for all the emails and phone calls over the past few weeks. We miss you all and will keep you updated.

27 July 2008

some blogs about Armenia

We couldn't be more excited about the fact that we are departing for Armenia in one week! We are really looking forward to the challenge of teaching grade-school students in an international setting, as well as the adventure of living abroad. We've been in touch with Marina, a nanny who comes highly recommended, and we can't wait to meet her so we can make all the necessary arrangements for Nathan's care during weekdays.

In all our reading, we came across a few blogs about Armenia that we thought were worth sharing with those who might be interested...

Haulin' Notes --> several detailed posts about Yerevan and the surrounding country by an American tourist who visited Armenia in June 2008

Kazarians In Armenia --> a fun-to-read blog by a family of 5 that moved to Armenia from CA in February 2008

Kyle's Journey in Armenia --> a Peace Corps volunteer in Armenia until Aug 2008

Travel Armenia --> mostly in Russian/Armenian, but lots of great pictures

The Armenia Blog --> a very interesting "blog of all things Armenia!" started in 2006

AND for some really amazing photographs, check out Armenia: the Epic Land.

20 June 2008

New photos up

It's mid-June already -- and that means Nathan is now 10 months old! He loves attending Bright Beginnings. He is in the infant room with 3 other babies -- Seth, 10 weeks; Emily, 13 months; and Aden, 12 months. It feels great being able to spend my lunch break with him and knowing I am right there in case anything was to happen to him. Nathan has recently been practicing standing by first holding onto something like the coffee table or his push-toy, then doing a quick "Look, Ma! No hands!" His teachers all believe he will be an early walker...oh, joy. Even a Dad at the mall playground with his kids saw how active Nathan was and said, "Wow! I feel sorry for you, but wow!" LOL.

Anyway, I finally uploaded more recent photos, including pictures of Nathan's first couple days at day care, Ryan and Andrea's brief visit, some cute shots of Nathan with his BFF Chloe in Orlando last weekend, as well as many other miscellaneous shots. This is one of my favorites of the batch:


See them all HERE...and stay tuned for more updates to come.

24 May 2008

Bright Beginnings

Last week I accepted a full-time teaching position at Bright Beginnings Preschool (about 10 minutes from here), and gave my 2 weeks notice at the Montessori in Tampa. I am sad to have to leave -- even though I've only been working there since November, I really love the teachers and families of students to whom I've grown so close during the past few months. On the bright side, though, this means that I will no longer be commuting an hour each way and paying $22 in tolls every week. Plus Bright Beginnings has an opening for Nathan in their infant room so he can come with me to work, leaving Jarred free to find a summer job.

Our family pediatrician has been somewhat concerned about Nathan's tiny size (9 months old and still only 14 lbs -- just double his birth weight), so he gave us the go-ahead to "fatten him up." Don't worry, we won't start giving him donuts and french fries! Nathan eats fresh, homemade foods, of course, so we will simply be enriching his vegetables with olive oil and his fruits and cereals with coconut milk and maple syrup. We have also introduced YoBaby yogurt made from whole cow's milk (all other yogurts are low fat) and scrambled eggs. Blood tests have ruled out the possibility of congenital hypothyroidism, so it's most likely just a genetic thing and he'll catch up eventually. Besides, the pediatrician said many babies who were heart patients have some difficulty growing. I'm taking a relatively laid-back attitude towards the whole situation -- it's easy to freak out over little things, especially as a new parent, but honestly, after what we went through during Nathan's first month of life, nothing is too scary.

04 May 2008

Weekend Update

For the past few days Nathan has had a mild fever on and off, a runny nose, and has been drooling A LOT. Those were the same symptoms he exhibited just before his first two teeth (lower) came in about a month ago, so it seems very likely that his top two teeth will be making their debut very soon.

Yesterday was our good friend Ben's birthday, so we're spending the weekend in Orlando to hang out with him and his family. Jarred and Ben have been watching the Godfather films (and eating cannoli) since yesterday, and today they are playing golf. Meanwhile, Nathan and I have been having fun with Ben's wife Cynthia and daughter Chloe, who will turn 1 year old later this month. The 4 of us went shopping yesterday, first at the Florida Mall, then at the Premium Outlets in Lake Buena Vista. Nathan got an adorable new pair of shoes from Oshkosh with shoelaces and everything. Now he looks like a real boy!

Jarred and I have been looking for summer work in Spring Hill lately because my daily commute to Tampa is both exhausting and expensive. Even though I work 4 10-hour shifts to cut down on the number of driving days, it means Tue-Fri I spend 13 hours each day away from Jarred and Nathan, and that's just too much for me.

I'm also starting to plan Nathan's birthday pary for early August. It's a lot of fun to think about. We're going to go with an airplane theme...and I already saw the most adorable sweater-vest at Gymboree that had a propellor plane on the front. On second thought, it will probably be too hot for that, so I'll keep on looking.

05 April 2008

life is like that

I've been wanting to set up a "family web page" since Nathan was born, and now, nearly 8 months later, it's ready. And that's only because I have a week off work for spring break. At least I've been able to keep up with my photo albums -- that's probably more than most new mothers can say!

It's been kind of rainy here in Tampa the past few days, but sadly, the rain has not brought much relief from the heat we are already experiencing less than 3 weeks into spring. Seriously, it was 84 degrees yesterday. I guess summer's coming early this year.

Nathan got his first two teeth within the past week, and he is finally learning to appreciate books for something besides chewing. Grandma Michele and Grandpa Jack gave him a "touch and feel" book for Easter. It has pictures of farm animals and textured areas with various fabrics that feel like the animals' fur. He loves "petting" each one while Mommy makes the animal sounds!

We'll be spending most of the next week selling some stuff on craigslist, visiting with our parents and friends, and just taking it easy. Maybe Minay and Grandad wouldn't mind babysitting Nathan so Jarred and I can go out to a movie for the first time since last July -- I'm not exaggerating! The funny thing is that I will probably start to miss him when I get in the car to go and see his empty car seat. I love my little Doodle so much...