One family's diary, journeys and thoughts

Wednesday, April 25, 2007

April 24

April 24th in Armenia is Genocide Memorial day. It is observed by Armenians everywhere, as my Californian friends are well aware. Still, it's different in the homeland. With Ararat looming so close, the lands that were once ours visible across the border and ever-present danger of Turkey for a neighbor, it's a very different experience.

This year April 24 was a crazy weather day. It snowed and rained and it was windy and cold and wet and gloomy. Still, throngs of people were walking to the Genocide memorial since the evening of the 23rd and continued until late at night on the 24th. Every age, from little babies to old people, carrying flowers, walked in the rain and snow to lay the flowers around the ever-burning fire and remember once again the things that shouldn't be forgotten. I am sure there was not an Armenian in that crowd who was not touched by the Genocide one way or the other. Murdered loved ones, lost relatives, scattered families, homes and lands left behind - every family could tell you a story. My own grandmother had to run away from her village with her mother after her father was killed by the Turks, while protecting his home alongside other men. They reached Georgia and stayed there, and later my grandma married a young man who also lost his parents to Genocide, so my father was born in Georgia to two Genocide survivors.

Here is the monument, which is located high on a hill and can be seen from every corner of the city. The 13 slabs that form it represent the 13 provinces of historical Armenia. (There is a description of the memorial can be found here: http://www.armeniapedia.org/index.php?title=Tsitsernakaberd)

The wreaths surrounding the monument are sent by different organizations.

The flowers around the fire are brought by individuals. We reached the memorial around 5 pm, and the wall of flowers was already 3-4 feet tall.

There were flowers sold everywhere in the city that day, on every corner. In any weather.

The TV is usually present at the Genocide memorial. They, too are there regardless of weather. Here is another link for anyone who would like to know more: www.april24.net.

Venting Part 2

Did I mention that in my Armenia 2020 there will be a recycling industry which will pay for metal, plastic, glass and paper? With a network of collection centers set up throughout the country, every piece of trash that can be turned into money will be picked out and turned in. There will be no automobile carcasses and brass headboards decorating village landscapes. The plastic bottles and aluminum cans of any shape and size will be swept clean from every trash pile and turned into money.

There will be animal services controlling the population of stray dogs and cats. The undescribably ugly mutts running around the country in packs will be spayed and neutered, the ones that are too sick or too old - humanely put to sleep. Once the trash piles are gone, there will be less stray cats; those will be altered as well, which will slowly bring the cat population to a minimum necessary to keep away the rats and mice.

The police will be busy enforcing laws, not collecting bribes. Their income will not depend on how many citizens they stripped of their money. It will depend on their knowledge, skill and length of honest, straighforward service. (I kind of surpised myself with this one - is it even possible?)

To be continued...

Monday, April 23, 2007

Spring, spring, spring!!!

Everything is blooming in the city - it must be spring! The air is full of the sweet smell of the flowers. I must say, after a long winter one enjoys spring so much more!

Lilacs... I can't wait to see the flowers open. After tulips, they are my favorites!




Wednesday, April 18, 2007


There is a development program in Armenia called "Armenia 2020", where young people are called to visualize how our country will look in the year 2020 and work together toward making it better. I even posted some quotes from those essays way back when. But this is not about them. This post is about how I want to see Armenia in 2020 - or sooner, if possible. Also about some things I don't want to see - starting tomorrow, if possible!

To start with, in my Armenia 2020 no one will throw trash anywhere except into special receptacles. There will be no trash piles along the roads and highways, on the streets and in the alleys, or out in the wilderness where some jerks happened to have a picnic! There will be recycling programs, maybe even special receptacles for different kinds of recyclables. But most important of all - people will realize how bad garbage looks strewn all over the place and will learn to respect themselves and others by keeping their city/countryside/country clean!

Next, there will be traffic regulations, and they will actually be observed. The cars will stay in the assigned lanes, stop behind the lines at the intersections, signal their intentions and not honk needlessly. They will respect the pedestrians by not threatening to run them over all the time and will be in turn respected by the pedestrians who will cross the streets at the assigned crossings. The street lights will no longer be hiding behind the overgrown trees, but will be prominently displayed and visible from far away. The pedestrians will have the right of way and will not abuse it! There even will be no cars parked on the sidewalk, blocking the way.

The stores and small businesses will want your business. Every employee in every store will want your business. There are many ways of achieving this, and I won't go there. All I know is, they will be happy to see people coming in. They will smile and greet you, listen attentively to your questions and requests, and try to help. They will be ready and willing to get that last can from the top shelf or those elusive raspberry-filled cookies from behind the chocolate-filled ones. They will not be annoyed if you ask too many questions or are not sure what you want. They will be so willing to keep your business, they will make no fuss about taking back items you want to return for whatever reason!

To be continued...

Monday, April 16, 2007

Habitat for Humanity

Everybody knows what Habitat for Humanity is, right? Well, if you don't, here is a very informative link: www.habitat.org.

So, last Friday the 13th Roxy and I had a chance to participate in one of the Habitat projects here in Armenia. My company donated money to the project and sent a call for volunteers. Naturally, I volunteered my entire family - so Vicky would be going too, if she didn't come down with tonsillitis. Instead, Roxy invited a classmate of hers, and the three of us joined a group of my coworkers to build a house for a low-income family in a village called Khor Virap.

We boarded the buses early in the morning...

...and after a short ride arrived in this beautiful place...

...perhaps a little underdeveloped in terms of roads, but - oh well! The mud was first class, the kind you can swim in.

Here are Roxy and her friend Helen wondering what they will be doing.

And here they are already doing it.

We were helping the workers to put the concrete in by mixing the concrete and passing it into the house. So most of us city folks were assigned to the bucket line.

The reporters from TV and newspapers decended on us as we arrived in the morning, taking interviews and filming us at work. Soon, though, they were all put to work - even these two!

We were working alongside another group of volunteers - our very own orthodox monks. Here they are, the bearded ones, looking all orthodox. Actually, really nice guys, and they worked very hard.

Of course, the locals from the village were there, too.

Greeting us from every doorway :)

Here is the happy future homeowner and his wife...

...and his pets. Somehow, the guys who like keeping doves are looked down upon, like idlers, so he was a bit shy about showing off his pets. But the volunteers loved them, and so did the reporters.

Hooray - no more concrete! All done!

My coworkers later told me how much their muscles ached and how they couldn't move the next day. I must proudly report that both Roxy and I were just fine after 5 hours of hauling heavy buckets.

Altogether it was a very rewarding experience - spending a day in the fresh air, doing physical labor, meeting new people, and having fun. The house next to this one was also a Habitat project, and the one down the street was already finished, and the owners were proudly showing it off. There was good food - and a lot of it - for lunch, provided partly by Habitat, and partly - by the villagers. And most importantly - seeing the fruits of your labor right in front of your eyes. I like my work, but I wish I could do this every day instead!

Wednesday, April 11, 2007

So, what furry creature was born in our house recently?

On our big hike last summer, among other interesting creatures, we found a monster of a caterpillar - the size of a grown man's thumb, with spikes and hair, bright yellow with neon blue. This alien-looking creature was crawling across a rocky slope, where it was spotted by Roxy and, after posing in front of my camera, duly boxed and delivered to the city. I knew that if a caterpillar leaves the feeding site (plant) and starts crawling around looking for shelter, that means it's going to turn into a pupa soon, so I wasn't worried about getting food for it.

Here it is getting acquainted with Roxy's arm.

Soon after we returned to the city, the caterpillar started weaving a cocoon. In three days it produced enough silky thread to clothe the people of China! Finally, the cocoon was ready and the caterpillar disappeared from the view behind the fuzzy walls.

This is all we could see from outside.

What happened inside was that the yellow caterpillar turned into a brown pupa - the strangest of all stages in insect's life.

Here's the pupa which we discovered later inside the cocoon.

In this motionless state the caterpillar spent the entire winter. So that the conditions would be close to natural, we kept it out on a balcony - where the temperature was below freezing. If I didn't have a balcony, I would have to put it in the fridge.

In April, we brought it back inside and I warned everyone to keep an eye on it - it was time for it to come back to life. Whatever was hiding inside the cocoon was ready to emerge from it any minute.

Sure enough, on April 3rd Roxy called me at work and told me that there is a moth with folded wings sitting on the cocoon. Just as we expected, the monster caterpillar turned into the largest moth in Europe - a Giant Emperor (otherwise known as Giant Peacock) Moth. It was a female, with not-too-large antennae and a very large belly.

Here she is - a headshot. Fuzzy, isn't she?

It took a while for the wings to unfold completely. For several hours the moth was sitting motionless and upside down, letting the blood flow through the little veins inside the wings. We took advantage of it and shot as many pictures of it as we could.

Here is a perfect example of protective coloring - with wings folded as they are the moth resembles a face of a large animal. Stay away!

Roxy admiring the gorgeous creature perched on a wooden spoon handle.

Finally, the wings spread out and the moth was getting ready to fly. The only problem- she was in the middle of a big city, and all other moths of the same kind were 50 kilometers away, in a river gorge by Garni village. I am sure she would have no problem flying that far if only she knew she should - but she wouldn't know. Besides, there are too many dangers for such a large moth in an urban setting.

So, Roxy and I took a bus to Garni, which is about an hour away from Yerevan. It was really cold, and actually snowing there - but we hoped that our newborn will survive a few days until the weather gets better. Here is the moth's home as it looked that evening.
We out her in a tree by the gorge, where she could hide away until it stops snowing. I took one last picture of the moth and we returned to the city. I hope to go back next summer and see those magnificent creatures flying around at night. maybe, we will find another caterpillar, too.

Monday, April 09, 2007

Easter trivia

This year, surrounded by so many people observing all the Easter traditions to the letter, I asked myself where some of those traditions come from. Here are some facts I found on the Internet - I think it's interesting to know.

Christians celebrate Easter to commemorate the resurrection of Jesus Christ. Some aspects of modern Easter celebrations, however, pre-date Christianity. According to the Venerable Bede, Easter derives its name from Eostre, an Anglo-Saxon goddess of spring. A month corresponding to April had been named "Eostremonat," or Eostre's month, leading to "Easter" becoming applied to the Christian holiday that usually took place within it. Prior to that, the holiday had been called Pasch (Passover), which remains its name in most non-English languages (including Russian - MO).

In Medieval Europe, eggs were forbidden during Lent. Eggs laid during that time were often boiled or otherwise preserved. Eggs were thus a mainstay of Easter meals, and a prized Easter gift for children and servants.
In addition, eggs have been viewed as symbols of new life and fertility through the ages. It is believed that for this reason many ancient cultures, including the
Ancient Egyptians, Persians, and Romans, used eggs during their spring festivals.

Hares and rabbits have long been symbols of fertility. The inclusion of the hare into Easter customs appears to have originated in Germany, where tales were told of an "Easter hare" who laid eggs for children to find. German immigrants to America -- particularly Pennsylvania -- brought the tradition with them and spread it to a wider public. They also baked cakes for Easter in the shape of hares, and may have pioneered the practice of making chocolate bunnies and eggs. ((c) www.factmonster.com)

In Russia (and Armenia) Easter baskets are decorated with beautiful cloths and filled with foods that symbolize Christ's resurrection and new life. Every basket must have kulich, a tall, dome-shaped bread that has become the symbol of Russian Easter. Accompanying the bread will be paska - which means Easter in Russian. This sweet, creamy "cheesecake" which takes at least two days to make, is usually formed in the shape of a pyramid. In Russia, it is made with a soft farmer's cheese, heavy cream and eggs. The basket also is likely to have sliced meats, a bottle of wine, and a hard-boiled egg - dyed red using onion skins - to represent Christ's tomb. After the blessing, the food is eaten as part of the Easter celebration. People greet one another by saying "Christos voskrese" or "Christ is risen." The reply is "voistinu voskrese" or "truly he has risen."

During the Lenten fasting season of 40 days before Easter, Armenian families put lentils or other sprouting grains on a tray covered with a thin layer of cotton, and keep it in a light place of the house until Easter when sprouts appear. These green sprouts, symbolizing spring and awakening of nature, are the “grass" on which people place colored eggs to decorate the Easter table. ((c) www.armeniainfo.am)

Abovyan Street and the Republic square

Abovyan is one of the oldest streets in Yerevan. It used to be the main street, the first street where a little horse-tram was operating in the beginning of the 20th century. It was also the street where my great-great-grandpa had his fancy 2-story house. Now, much changed but still charming, it is a street of hotels, cafes, souvenir- and artshops, a promenade for tourists and locals. Here it is at night.

And the Republic square, built during Soviet times with all the characteristic grandeur. It was made of the best "toof", the pink volcanic stone that is so abundant in Armenia. The buildings that line the square house the government, the main post house, Armenia Marriott hotel and the History Museum.

Sunday, April 08, 2007

HAPPY EASTER!!!!!!!!!!!!!


And that is why we - each one of us - can have eternal life. If that's not good news, I don't know what is.

Friday, April 06, 2007

The know-hows

Wanna know how to make chocolate-chunk blondies? make water in the desert? Wanna know what an outdoor market in Armenia smells like?

Visit http://howtosayyes.blogspot.com/ to find all that and more, including some exciting stories contributed by highschoolers of various ethnic origins.

I highly recommended it.

Another new arrival

Another baby animal was born unto us! Stay tuned for details!!!

Thursday, April 05, 2007

Philosophising, or where did all the science go?

My recent experience with hiring first a driver, then an IT Manager for the company I work for was a chance to make some rather sad observations. Most of the people who applied to those jobs were way overqualified. Engineers, geologists, people with law school diplomas sent their resumes for the driver position. For the IT Specialist, along with the recent graduates from the Polytechnical University, we had a PHD in physics, several other physicists, university professors, mathematicians and even... a trombone player apply for the position.

What, then, is happening in the country that makes people to lower their standards and expectations so? Well, the thing is, during Soviet times there was something of an exchange going on between different countries that were part of the USSR. To the common pile, Ukraine was contributing bread, Azerbaijan - oil, Kazakhstan - cotton and Russia - most of everything else ( I wasn't very attentive during the economical geography classes, so that's all I remember). Armenia, having few natural resources, had chosen to contribute in scientists and highly educated specialists. I do believe that at some point in 70s Armenia had the highest percentage of people with higher education among the Soviet republics. There were several very important strategic research centers and plants here in Armenia like the Physics Institute and Mathematical Machines Institute. Accordingly, the colleges in Armenia prepared a steady stream of young specialists to supply those organizations.

Then the Soviet Union collapsed, an earthquake destroyed several important industrial centers, the war started, with the blockade closing the borders. Armenia was left separated from the other former Soviet countries to survive pretty much on its own, with plants and factories closed, with nobody interested in research and nobody paying for it. The best scientists and specialists left looking for jobs elsewhere, and those who remained had to do anything they could just to survive and feed their families.

All this happened in the end of the 80s - beginning of the 90s. Now, almost 20 years later, there is a budding new stream of scientists working on various projects, requested and financed from abroad. But there are still very few of them, and not much work to do. The older generation, those who do not speak a foreign language and are not computer literate, have no chance of going back to their old professions, no matter how good they were. The higher education is still popular, but now it is more a question of a personal status, than a way to a future career. Which is why we now have a driver that has a lawyer's diploma and might end up having an IT manager who will be a PHD is nuclear physics.

Perhaps in the greater scope of events 20 years is not a long time. Perhaps there will be a time again when the science, the education and the research will be in high esteem in Armenia. For now, our best scientists are still abroad, in Europe, in USA and Australia, wherever there is enough money to pay for science. And the rest, if they weren't lucky or persistent enough to land a contract from a foreign company, are driving cars and fixing computers.

Sad, isn't it?

Tuesday, April 03, 2007

Early morning in the city

It was raining all night, and in the morning the air was so fresh and fragrant! Here are a few pics I took while walking to work.

Can you tell it's 8:00 am? It's early for Yerevan, the hustle and bustle won't start for another 1/2 hour yet...

The banner across the street says "Armenian Army - 15 years". That's about how old our independence is.

Fresh bread delivered to the store.

The umbrellas have landed and will spread their wings soon. The open-air cafe season is starting!

A puddle, or a piece of sky?