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!

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