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!