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!

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