28 January 2009

Language updates for all of us

“Words, words, words! I’m so sick of words! I get words all day through, first from him, now from you! Is that all you blighters can dooooo?!” sang Julie Andrews as the newly refined, made-over Eliza Doolittle in Act II of My Fair Lady. Miss Doolittle may have been sick of words, but we sure aren’t!

Nathan surprises us with linguistic gems every day. Today he said “circle” over and over while playing with his shape sorter, and “pee-pee” when I asked him if his diaper was wet. Some other words he’s working on are

•“bawgh” (ball)

•“veet” (feet)

•“pick” (pickles)

•“tootuh” (turtle)

•“mah-nah” (money/coins)

•“boo…k” (book)

•“pah-tah” (potty)

•“atch” (atch-kee, Russian for eyeglasses)

•“oh-tch” (orange – to identify both the color and the fruit)

•“peeg” (pig)

•and “Poko” (Pinocchio).

Jarred has been learning to conjugate verbs in Armenian, and can now speak some basic sentences, such as “I am learning Armenian,” “I want [insert food/object name here],” and “Please wait,” a line we use frequently with taxi drivers.

And as for me, my Russian is coming along slowly, but surely. I can discuss members of my family, name colors, animals, fruits and vegetables, count to 100 (with some errors), and explain my address and directions to our place – again, useful when riding in a cab.

***
[sigh] Right now we're just relaxing and watching a program on a local TV station with a guy who looks like an Armenian beatnik commenting on black & white footage of the Dave Brubeck Quartet performing. Jazz music is quite popular around here. A couple weekends ago, Jarred and a friend went out to a bar and caught an excellent performance by some well-known Armenian jazz musicians. I kinda wish I could have gone, too, but they were out until almost 4 a.m. and obviously, someone had to stay home with Nathan! Maybe next time...

22 January 2009

The Year Flies By

J here, again.

The year is flying by. It is almost the end of January, the snow is melting, and we are already talking about our plans to Florida seriously now. Nathan is growing and learning fast but yet, I cant speak more than 10 good sentences in Armenian.

For this new quintile's ECA, I suggested an afterschool math homework help which the director liked, so I now help motivate kids to do their homework and also to reteach some if they are having trouble. Also, a student has approached me since he knows I have garage band experience and play the drums. He asked if I could help facilitate his friday afternoon musical group cooperation project. He wants to model the style of Sigur Ros. It's kind of melancholic, but I guess its simplicity will be a good place to start. I am excitd, though. This kid is in high school and is trying to make use of some of the extremely talented elementary students. So, I suggested that he take initiative as a leader and establish that leadership in a meeting with the kids to share is vision and layout his plans. I think they could be quite productive with a definite leader. I think with False Impression, we all seemed to be peers and we had no real leadership. That made way for a lot of "noodling", arguing and unproductive jams.

We are trying to organize a party for this weekend. A fellow teacher's husband will be out of town and she will be at home with two kids with whom Nathan loves to play. So I suggested a Movie Night! With that idea in mind, it grew with some additional invitations to an official Kids' Party. There will be two phases. One, downtown at Pinochio in the play room with the slide and ball pit. And phase two will be in the evening with snacks, finger foods, wine and cheese and a Pixar movie. If everyone shows, there will be 8 grown-ups, 6 young kids, and two unborn fetuses and a whole hell of a lot of running around. Of course, as always, pictures will follow.

15 January 2009

Eureka!

J Here.

Nathan can read! Well, it is just simple phonetic awareness but isn't that the fundamentals of reading? He brings to me every night his ABC book and we look at the pictures and sound out the beginning of each word by its first letter sound. I spend more time on the first 3, A, B and C. Tonight, I pointed at the letter A and he said Aaa like the A in ax. I turned the page and covered all but the letter B and pointed and he said Bh. Next, I turned the page and showed him C. He said Kh. I was so impressed he remembered what the letters look like and sounded them out by their phonetic name like we read them. So, I tried to mix it up and I started with C..."Kh"...A..."Aaa"...B..."Bh". He read out loud CAB. It was like a kid in my class who can't pronounce a word and I say "Sound it out" "Kh...Aaa...Bh." Sure, he may not know what CAB is, but he knows what a TAXI is for sure when he points outside and says "Beep Beep!" I dont care what you say, Phonetic Awareness is stage 1 of reading. Officially, he read his first word at 9pm-ish on January 15, 2009.

On a separate note, I lost 2 students over break. I now have a total of 6 students in class, 4 10-year-olds and 2 11-year-olds. While that sounds nice, it is still tough teaching two classes simultaneously. It is projected that next year, we will not have the minimum of 5 students in one of the two grade levels which means I have been reappointed to teach the same two grade levels again next year. At least they think I do well enough to keep me around another year with two grade levels.

I was supposed to accompany a few other teachers to go up the mountain to try my legs at snow skiing. Plans fell though, unfortunately, so maybe next time. I was excited about that! They make fun of me because I add the qualifier "Snow" before "skiing." Only someone from Florida would do that!

Till later...

13 January 2009

National Geographic

We received a surprise Christmas package from our good friends Matt, Jen, and Lily today. Among the many gifts was the March 2004 issue of National Geographic, which features an article titled "The Rebirth of Armenia." Author Frank Viviano documents beautifully the turbulent history of this land and takes readers into the very lives of its resilient people. And in classic NG style, there are stunning photographs on every page, some lively and colorful, others intimate and bittersweet, all of them breathtaking. The story of this nation and its citizens is incredible and inspiring.

It took a bit of searching, but I found the article online, though unfortunately, the impressive images do not accompany the text. If you'd like to read it, click here!

EDIT: Ok, I did a bit more reading and searching, and found some related photos and notes. Check it out...lots of really neat stuff!

06 January 2009

It's not exactly Times Square, but...

...the people in this country sure know how to kick off a new year! I've already written about how we spent New Year's Eve, but that was only the beginning.

On January 1 we celebrated with our friend Maria Karapetyan and her mother at their apartment. Mr. Karapetyan was out visiting other relatives and friends, but the ladies had a blast playing with Nathan, and the food was delicious. As is the tradition, the table was loaded with dishes of dried and fresh fruits, various salads, sliced meats, nuts, cheeses, bread and lavash, candies, cakes, and more. Maria and her mother were so helpful whenever we had questions about language, food, customs, etc. I don't think I've mentioned yet that Maria actually spent a year in the U.S. as a high school student and speaks excellent English, and is familiar with the typical American lifestyle. She is quickly becoming a good friend to our family. Anyway, although this was a small gathering, we had a wonderful time.
***

On January 3 we were invited to continue the party with Eric's family again, since it also happened to be his birthday. This time the celebration was much more traditional, since even more of Rada's relatives were visiting. The table was covered with food, as usual, and every 10-15 minutes, literally, the toastmaster -- by custom, this is the head of the hosting household, so in this case it was Eric -- led the group in a toast. We've read in books, and now experienced firsthand, that in Armenia, toasting, birthday/anniversary congratulating, and the like are taken very seriously. There is a certain order that toasts must follow, and on this night it went something like this:

First we toasted the new year -- that everyone would be successful, prosperous, and healthy.

Second we toasted Eric's birthday -- another year older, another year wiser, and about to become a father again.

Third we toasted the oldest generation of Eric and Rada's family, including those members that weren't present -- to their health, happiness, longevity, and so on.

Fourth we made a toast to parents; next aunts and uncles; then siblings; then children; then friends. After all that, we made a special toast for Rada's brother Rafael, who was flying to Portugal the next day to begin a mathematics PhD program (on a side note, Rafael already has 2 doctorate degrees in other fields of mathematics); and finally, we toasted to a big, happy, healthy family, especially for Eric and Rada, who recently announced that they are expecting their second child.

Now, Eric's Armenian is not too bad (he had to take intensive classes when he was in the Peace Corps), but he still needed some help with translation, so each toast took about twice as long as it should have. Nonetheless, we had a good time -- keep in mind that with each toast, everyone is supposed to drink an entire shot of vodka!
***

On January 4 the mother of one of my students invited us for lunch at their home. They are an American family, and both parents work at the U.S. Embassy, so this lunch worked out to be sort of an intermission between all the Armenian-style partying we did. They had prepared a turkey for themselves, their 3 little boys, and the two young missionaries who were also invited; and a big batch of 'Moros y Cristianos' (black beans and rice) and salsa for us vegetarians. As it turned out, everyone -- carnivores included -- loved the beans and rice so much it was completely gone by the end of the meal! Then came the desserts...orange jello with whipped cream, chocolate-frosted brownies, vanilla ice cream, a homemade tropical fruit cake, and OREOS! For a couple brief hours, it really felt like we were back in the States.
***

On January 5 we dined with Hamlet Poghosian (our driver) and his family. This time we got to sample some Georgian food as well as Armenian, since they are originally from Georgia. Hamlet led the toasts this time, and shared some drinks with Jarred. Hamlet's wife, also named Angela, speaks some English, but not as much as their daughter Inge, who works at the U.S. Embassy. We've met her on several occasions in the past, and she is just a really sweet person -- a very gracious woman who is always happy to help when there are language barriers blocking our communication with her father. We cannot thank all of them enough for their generous hospitality and kindness to us, and for making us feel so welcome.
***

Today is Christmas Day as observed by the Armenian church, though it's really more of a day to start wrapping up the New Year's festivities than anything else. Grandfather Winter (tsoo-MER PA-pi) brought Nathan a little gift: a toy steering wheel that makes LOUD "laser" noises when he pushes the buttons. The weirdest thing about it is that there's a big blue goat on it. It's not meant as an insult Nathan, it's just funny!

One last toast to all of you for good health and a joyous new year: KENATS!

04 January 2009

This morning we found a house centipede in the kitchen sink. I thought I had seen every creepy-crawly household invertebrate known to humankind after living in Florida, but surprisingly, this one was new to me. Here's a picture from Wikipedia:



I put him/her in a glass jar and released him/her outside in the garden. I'm sure that with all the snow, it won't be long before she/he is back inside. Oh, well.

03 January 2009

Snow!

As it turns out, I enjoy the snow! I never thought I would like it, being from Florida, but it's wonderful. The slush of course is not so beautiful, but it covers the trash on the sides of the road nicely, so it is still more beautiful. I said I would not like living in a snowy climate because I'd have to shovel snow from the driveway every morning, scrape ice from the car, and drive on slippery roads and tread through snow soaking my clothes. But here, I dont have to do any of that. We have no drive way, I have no car, our driver is far more experienced driving in snow, and I don't walk far in it. Hooray for 4 seasons!

01 January 2009

Welcome, 2009...and let it snow!



It snowed quite a bit this week, and it's still coming down. Our coworker Eric invited us to spend New Year's Eve with his family, so we went to their apartment for dinner and conversation...oh, yes, and a 20 year-old bottle of Armenian cognac. Eric was also drinking his favorite beer -- I believe it was called Kotzah, a Russian word that means 'goat' (don't ask me why anyone would name a beverage after a farm animal). Anyway, in Armenia, to call someone a goat is to say that he is a stupid idiot, so most Armenians wouldn't want to drink this beer...but Eric loves it just the same. The family of Eric's wife Rada attended the party, too, and we all had a great time, including Nathan and Eric's 2-year-old son Alex, who played together very well despite the fact that neither of them had done any substantial napping during the day. By the way, Nathan really loves black olives and pickles -- what a strange baby!

We didn't turn on the TV until about 10 minutes before midnight. In sharp contrast to what we're used to seeing on American television on New Year's Eve, we first saw the Catholikos (head of the Armenian Church) giving a speech, followed by the president addressing the nation. Apparently, the Armenians who were in the room with us are not very fond of President Sarkisian and they told us all about how he is not a true Armenian and how he stole the election. We still have much to learn about Armenian politics, I suppose. Immediately afterwards, an image of a clock striking midnight appeared onscreen, and the fireworks began outside. Many people were shooting fireworks from their balconies and everyone's car alarms went off. From the kitchen window, we could even see some of the fireworks display put on by the city (Eric's building is about a 5-minute walk from Republic Square). The kids loved all the commotion! Eric, who is from Indiana, joked with his father-in-law that since Armenia was now in 2009 and the U.S. was a year behind, Americans were the "bloody savages" for once. Then Rada's brother Sam reminded him that Australia is ahead of us, so we're still the goats after all!

Finally, we called for a taxi and headed home...Nathan passed out immediately and slept hard through the night.

Today we've been invited to celebrate the New Year with our friend Maria at her parents' home, just a few streets away from our apartment. We are looking forward to more delicious food! These festivities should continue for several days until Armenian Christmas on the 6th. During that time, most stores and businesses will remain closed, so a couple days ago we stocked up on diapers and essential food items, just in case we can't go shopping for a while.

Happy New Year...or as they say in Armenia, (be sure to roll the Rs) shnor-haVOR nor TAri!