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
Republic of Armenia