21 September 2009

Village Life + Mass in the Armenian Apostolic Church

Last week, the Olsons invited us to join them for a weekend in Stepanavan to celebrate a nephew's 1st birthday and baptism. Jarred declined, but Nathan and I were game, so on Saturday they came by in the Niva to pick us up. The drive up to the Lori region was pleasant, although it was definitely colder than when we made the trip with Maria back in June.

Another Niva in front of us as we drive over and through the green mountains of Lori.


A very pretty road lined with tall trees.


Looking across the gorge of the Dzoraget River towards Lori Berd, low clouds loom over the distant hills.

We stayed just outside of the town with Hasmik's family, in the house where she grew up. They have a charming home where they raise small livestock and grow apples, pears, plums, grapes, and a wide variety of vegetables. Upon our arrival, we were treated to a delicious lunch of Armenian summer salad (tomatoes and cucumbers with herbs), lentils with rice, mashed potatoes, fried zucchini, lavash, and freshly squeezed fruit juice.

Hasmik wanted to show me around town, but just as we finished eating, it began pouring rain, and it didn't stop for the rest of the weekend! Yet we all had plenty to keep us occupied indoors: Hasmik, her sisters, and their mom Laura worked tirelessly in the kitchen preparing meals, including the feast for the birthday/baptism party which was to take place on Sunday; Josh and the rest of the men in the family had the responsibility of cleaning and sorting the meat from the pigs that had been slaughtered the day before; and Nathan and I entertained baby Ari (Josh and Hasmik's son), who is now 6 months old, as well as 2 year-old Laurik and 1 year-old Argishtik, Hasmik's niece and nephew.


Josh flame-grills some vegetables for dinner.

Argishtik, Ari, and Nathan: three little boys in a closet full of toys!

Nathan had been too excited to nap that day, so he and I went to bed right at 9:00. It got very cold at night, but thanks to all the down-filled bedding, we stayed warm and cozy.


Time for bed, little one.

In the morning, we awoke to a crowing rooster and a bustling household. Hasmik was assisting her mom in the kitchen. The sisters were beginning the long and elaborate table-setting process. Hasmik's brother was bringing in enough chairs and long bench seats for the dining room. And Josh was building a fire five times the size of the one from Saturday night so he could begin barbecuing all the meat for the party as soon as we got back from church.

Place settings for 32.

3 hours later, the tables are finally ready to receive hungry guests.

At noon we all rushed out the door and scrambled into our cars as quickly as possible, singing "Get Me to the Church on Time!" - ok, so only I was singing. A few moments later, we were parking in front of Surp Nashan, Stepanavan's main church. Although it doesn't possess an impressive history like so many churches and other structures in Armenia, the place still had an air of ancient adoration. As we entered the richly carved wooden doors, our senses were nearly overwhelmed with sights, sounds, and smells that were vaguely familiar, yet completely different from the American Catholic mass I know.

A mature willow tree stands guard at the gates of Surp Nashan, the main church in town.

First of all, we were completely bathed in smoke from the copious amounts of incense and the many candles burning throughout the church. Secondly, the majority of the women had their hair covered with scarves, not just one or two old-fashioned ladies (if that) like what I'm used to seeing in the States, and of course, absolutely no one was wearing shorts and t-shirts. The priest wore highly ornamental garb, and sang/chanted practically the entire service. As he prepared the Eucharist, an altar boy drew a red curtain, presumably to preserve the mystery of transubstantiation. Once the curtain was opened again, the congregation sang "Alleluia," and everyone lined up to kiss a large Bible before receiving a piece of the Eucharist on the back of their right hand. As people exited the church, they crossed themselves and walked out the door backwards so as not to turn their backs on the altar. The two most devout followers (who also appeared to be the most elderly members of the community) didn't leave without also kissing the paintings, the doors, and the church walls. The weight of wisdom and experience these tiny old women carried with them, and their level of devotion to their faith was awe-inspiring...as Josh put it, "What their eyes must have seen!"

The rituals of baptism, which followed the mass, seemed less strange to me, although honestly, I missed a lot of it because Nathan didn't want to sit in the church any longer, and I ended up bringing him outside so he could run and play in the flower garden.


Nathan tells me excitedly that there is "a man" on the door. I explain that a man with wings is called an angel.



Splashing in a puddle.

At the end of the ceremony, everyone piled back into their cars and headed back to the Ghazaryan family home to celebrate. The cooking fire was lit,

children led the dancing,


and at last, the feasting - and the toasting - commenced!

I can't even begin to describe how much food there was. I've mentioned before how Armenians will stack up the plates when there's no more room on the table...well, by the time they brought in the khorovats (barbecued meats), there were already so many plates stacked on top of one another that the only place to put the dish was to balance it on top of the fruit bowl!

And no, we can't just clear away a few things to make room...the more, the merrier!

With that, our wonderful - albeit brief - weekend in Stepanavan came to a conclusion. Many thanks to the Olsons and the Ghazaryan family for their kindness and hospitality. The party continued into the evening, but Nathan and I returned to Yerevan on a route taxi, a scheduled taxi service that works by reservation and brings customers door-to-door from one region to another. It's a great way for people without their own transportation to visit with friends and relatives in other cities, all for a flat rate of 2,500 dram (less than U.S. $6.75) per passenger.

*****

I'm almost finished uploading all our August and September photos to Photobucket; I'll update the photo links on this blog when I'm done. As for July, I don't know what I'm going to do because combined with the photos from Maria's and my mom's cameras, I have over 1,000 photos from our trip to the States, and I don't know how much I want to upload them all! I think I already shared all the best ones in my post about our trip, so maybe I'll just select a few to put in a Photobucket album in case anyone wants to see more.


For more information and photographs of Stepanavan, click here.

11 September 2009

From the city Opera House to the school's Open House

Last Friday night we attended a concert by the Shoghaken Folk Ensemble at Aram Khatchaturian Concert Hall (the official name of the opera house) downtown. The music was wonderful, but after only a couple of numbers, Nathan began crying "Want to go home!" so of course, we had to leave. I guess we thought he would enjoy the music...we just forgot to consider whether he'd enjoy the sitting still part. At least we got to see the inside of the opera house for the first time...it was very beautiful, with loads of marble and sparkling chandeliers. Amazingly, few other concert-goers were as formally-attired as we were. And I thought Armenians dressed up for everything!
Nathan apparently picking his nose as a sign of protest in front of the opera house after we left.

Later that weekend, Maria and I went shoe shopping at the so-called Bangladesh Market, an enormous shuka in the Malatia-Sebastia district of the city, just a 15-minute bus ride from home. It's a great place to buy all sorts of clothing and accessories at affordable prices, as well as housewares, electronics, and more. There's also a food section where you can buy all your produce and fresh foods. I ended up with a pair of low black heels for work, for which I paid 6000 dram (about U.S. $16); Maria found a stall with fancy sandals on sale for 4000 dram (less than U.S. $11) since it's the end of the season. Afterwards, we went to Republic Square for lunch and to pick up some school supplies at Noyan Tapan book store.

Tip of the iceberg: locals shopping at Bangladesh, a vast flea market-style bazaar.

Maria tries on shoes in one of countless stalls in the shoe section of the market.

Lunch at Pizza di Roma: the pizza's no good...go for the salad bar!

*****

On Thursday, QSIY held its annual Open House event so parents could visit their kids' classrooms to meet the teachers and attend the first PTA meeting of the school year. I handed out copies of my welcome letter and curriculum unit schedule, reminded everyone to sign up for their extra-curricular activites, a little chit-chat here, a little networking there, yadda-yadda-yadda. All went well, and I'm really glad to have the support and involvement of two lovely moms in particular -- one from Argentina, and one from France. I know they'll be there to assist with field trips, class parties, and special events throughout the year. If you recall, I recently posted a couple pictures of Jarred's classroom -- well, former classroom. That's right, he was there a whole 3 days...unfortunately, he had to move back upstairs because he really had too many students for that little room. In any case, it's only fair that I get to show off pictures of my classroom now.

The above photo was actually taken before school started, but the only difference is that now the children's names are above their jacket hooks.


*****

And finally, your Cute Nathan Photo of the Day:

03 September 2009

A little bit o' mush

Now that I have been abroad for over year, I have come to realize I am beginning to miss some things. Still, I am nowhere near homesick, partially due to the fact that for the past 4 years I have felt so up-rooted and without a stable ‘home’ from which to grow sick. However, I still feel that I have become detached from a few things that have revealed a strange emptiness inside.

I have missed the good times I hold close to my heart with my brother. The many thousands of miles between us, both before my move and now after, the worst of times were still the best of times. Heaven or Hell, he will always be my best friend.

I miss our parents. Thank you all for finally coming around. I am glad to hear now that we have your support. I do miss the good times. Missing diving and boat trips with Mom and Jack, casual lunches or dinners out at some amazing Chinese or Pho’ joint with the Infantes, Cali, and Holly have left me feeling rather reminiscent.

I miss our friends. I have too much to say to begin.

Band days and Bulls games will forever be hard to let go. College years were precious and I feel like a creepy grownup for wanting to go back to the dorms and hang out in the Marshall Center. Ping Pong with Aaron, Crossroads, MOTL, USF Gym, SEC events, picnics on the Mall, and the Library are all things I think I took for granted. Having grown apart from USF makes me most sentimental. It really is my Alma Mater. I feel congenitally detached since I discovered who I was in college, and now that I know who I am, I wish I could go back and relish the parts that transformed and cultivated me.

I miss kayaking at River Front Park. Alligators, snakes, birds and the lush Florida wildlife.

I miss Disney at Christmas time. I feel my Christmas is most complete with a trip to EPCOT for Candlelight and Illuminations between my birthday and Christmas. Lunch at Morocco and dinner at France made my holiday. A walk through America, England and Canada remind me of Angela’s 16th birthday party (Yay Crunchie Bars), Illuminations and the parade remind of high school going with Jen and Steve, and Spaceship Earth and souvenir stands remind me of childhood.

I miss smoke-free areas.

I miss baseball diamonds. I miss being able to play softball, even if it was corporate softball, but just fielding a ground ball is so elemental and raw to me. I felt at home on a baseball field. I had a most romantic love and passion and honor for the game, for the white side-lines, for the batter’s box and pitcher’s mound, for the grass, the divots in the infield, and sliding with your spikes down. A pat on the ass, rally hats and encouraging-slang only understood by other baseballers.

While I have since missed my dad, I still feel comforted knowing that the waters of the world have carried his ashes from the Gulf which encompass me wherever I may be living. But I am still missing something.

Time to move on from this overly sentimental mood and on to dinner! Ajo!