Sunday, August 19, 2007
Greetings from Gyumri,
I moved here on Thursday with 2 large suitcases, one small suitcase, one big box, and several bags, all stuffed to the brim. Fortunately, the PC van took us right to the door and I had much help getting all the stuff upstairs into my new bedroom.
I think I have mentioned before that Emma and Albert have a lavash bakery on the first floor.
4 PCVs already reside in Gyumri. With this year’s batch, there will be 8 of us. One of last year’s group is my age (Betty). She has been most generous with her time, taking me all around the city to show me the markets, shops, museums, bus station, etc and has introduced me to the language tutor several of the vols use. I have my first lesson scheduled for tomorrow evening.
Gyumri used to hold over twice its current population. The ’88 earthquake devastated the area. While there is some reconstruction happening, and much that has already occurred, evidence of crumbled buildings are on every block. It lends an air of faded glory to the place. Jobs are scarce. Many former Gyumri citizens joined the Diaspora. Others work in Russia several months during the year to provide an income for their families.
It is a walking city. I can get to about everywhere I need to go by foot, a real treat for me. The market area (shooka) is quite large – hundreds of mom and pop kiosks selling a lush selection of fruits and vegetables. Not to mention many other items for sale from hardware to underwear and lots of shoes with pointy toes and high, high heels.
Right now is about the most productive time of the year for produce and fruits so the stands are piled high. The things that are missing are what surprises me – no celery, tho I understand it is available in the fall. Almost no lettuce. I found one stand out of the hundreds here that had a couple of heads of romaine. Only one variety of tomato – its delicious and I think says something about the culture that the many different kinds of tomatoes available in other countries are missing here. Limited selection of spices. No sweet corn. There is some corn available, but not the kinds that will taste the way our sweet corn does. No anchovies, not that many will care about that.
The city has a historic district dating back to the late 1800s. Many beautiful buildings were destroyed in the earthquake; however, there are still some lovely ones left. I’ll send a pic of a beautiful church that was ruined and is in the restoration process. I have temporarily misplaced my camera. I think I left it over at the house of the PCV who sponsored a welcome to Gyumri gathering last night, but he hasn’t seen it yet. The A-14s (I’m an A-15- get it?) have really given us a nice welcome – many sincere offers of help, both for work and personally.
My host family, Emma and Albert, usually live alone. When I arrived, there were another 6 people in the house, relatives visiting from Russia. We’re down to 3 or 4 now (I’m not exactly sure – there are a lot of comings and goings and its hard to tell who is here overnight). I’ve had one bucket bath and will take another tonite. Its actually not bad. The arrangement is very functional and there is plenty of hot water that Emma heats on the stove and dumps into a wide, deep sink adjacent to the tub.
I’ve bought a length of rope with the idea of teaching the house dog, Gosher, to walk on a leash. I have never seen a dog in Armenia on a leash and my sister has warned me not to make him look foolish in front of his friends.
I’m very excited about work, which starts tomorrow. My counterpart is supposed to be my guide, community integrator and interference runner while I am here. I’ve mentioned her in earlier posts. She has already been a help and I’m sure will continue. More about work as I start to learn more.
Before I finish, I would be remiss not to mention Shahumyan. It was hard to avoid tearful scenes leaving Sveta and Grigor. I have grown close to both of them. I think what saved the day is my promise to come back frequently. I don’t think Gyumri at its very best will be able to take the place of the sheer beauty of those lovely green mountains and the peaceful village pace.
Gyumri’s splendor will lie in the resources the city has to offer. It has several reasonably nice open areas that I am sure were fabulous before the earthquake and ensuing economic disaster. I spent some time at a lovely park just a few minutes walk from my house. Many nice shady benches that are perfect for a book on a warm afternoon.
Now time to start the bathing process.