Break Out the Mithai Y’all!

Guys, I got into grad school.
So, sea lo que sea, when I’m giving thanks this November, I will be thanking the Universe for
1) Keeping Katelyn safe in Egypt. (She comes home tomorrow. Pero la lucha sigue.)
2) Letting me do what I love.
3) Letting me work towards a Ph.D. in what I love.
4) Letting me do what I love in California.

(and obvs many other things, like Twizzlers and you guys!)
Life is good.

I found out around 8 pm on Thursday night.
I was in the apartment alone, after an exhausting day of running around USAC, meeting all the head honchos of the Health Department and being told that as a mujer, a voluntaria, an extranjera, a “persona hermosa”, and the resident expert on gender equity, I have it made at USAC. And I believe it. Everyone was so incredibly sociable and amable and just, you know, smiley, that I’d become sure that I hadn’t done something incredibly stupid and could conceivably do some good for the department.

And then I got my paradigm-shifting news. I’d(‘ve) been accepted into the Ph.D. program in Cultural Studies at UC Davis. YES. YES. YES.

I jumped on my bed a little.
Started to call my dad. Stopped, and called CarGar instead. She jumped in Brooklyn. I jumped in Zone 1. Intercontinental jumping. Best kind. Best kind.
Skyped my dad, who took the news quite well.
(Today he forwarded me a congratulatory e-mail from his boss. It’s just like the good old days, when he was proud of me.)

Ran to the tiendita across the street.
Me: Que tienen que sea dulce?
Carlito: Eso? (he’s holding up a Snickers bar)
Me: Vale! (I have to get rid of this Iberianism soon. I think it’s Oscar’s and/or Mar’s fault.) Deme dos!

Danced on my roof in the dark with a Snickers.
True story.

So wherever you are in your travels right now, when you read this, do me a favor and go eat something sweet to share my happiness.
And if you have a roof, take this with you:

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Posted in Vineeta | 1 Comment

Was that the bus to Yerevan?

We finally got out of Yerevan a couple weeks ago and went on one of excursions we’ve been planning – to Khor Virap, the church that sits on the Turkish border right under Mount Ararat, where Grigor the Illuminator was imprisoned in a pit for somewhere between 19-50 years (depending on which version of the story you get) before finally managing to convert Armenia.

So we went and saw the church, we climbed down into the pit, we watched about an hour of Armenian apostolic church service, the clouds cleared and we took a bunch of pictures of the mountain (all of which was incredible, see this), but the best part of the day came after we missed the bus home and then had one of these quintessentially amazing Armenian encounters (for the Nth time).

The bus headed back to Yerevan came back a different way than we were expecting, so standing a little down the road from the crucial intersection, the 5 of us (my roommate and I, Talene, who does research in Gyumri, and two English teacher friends from Georgia) watched it turn off a side street onto the highway and head back to home without us.

We walked up to the collection of dudes and their parked cars waiting at the intersection to ask for advice. We thought they maybe were taxi drivers but none of them offered us rides so we’re not really sure what they were doing. One pair confirmed that the bus had just left, and if we waited here until 3:30 the next one would come.

OK. That’s just 2 hours to kill in a field. We can do that.

Naturally, we amuse ourselves by trying to find another ride.

We try to hail a marshrutka but there don’t appear to be any that are heading back to Yerevan or that want to stop.
We contemplate hitching for a minute. This is not so uncommon here and according to most sources not a bad idea, but five is a little much to impose on one car.

We get bored. Talene pulls out her iPod and teaches us the one traditional Armenian dance she knows, and we perform it on the side of the road. A car drives by and a guy sticks his head out and makes this fantastic Armenian noise that translates roughly (I think) as somewhere between “What the hell are you doing?” and “What is wrong with you?”

It then occurs to us that 5 people can hitchhike on a bus. Earlier, we had been eyeing a couple of parked buses in a clearing down the road, wondering whether one of them might the bus we were waiting for. It became clear they were in fact two school groups and a bunch of elderly picnickers, but in the absence of other options we go over to ask where they’re headed.

We take a second to scope out who looks most receptive, and Talene goes to ask in Armenian.

“I’m sorry, our marshrutka is full. But sit down, have some khorovats!”

We sit. We eat their barbecued chicken. The woman asks where we’re from, what we’re doing here. Her daughter comments on my earrings. I’m excited because I know both the word for earring and the word for new, so I can point at the left one and say “New! New earring!”

After a while the woman indicates that she has to go, but first she asks the next bus over, belonging to about forty 14-yr olds and their teachers/chaperones, if they’re going to Yerevan – she says it will be tight, but if we want we can squish in. No one at any point bats an eye at the suggestion of accepting 5 foreigner-strangers onto their bus.

While the kids are still playing, the teachers invite us to join their picnic. We do the small talk again in Russian. “We’ll host in Armenian, but speak in Russian!” says one of the women. Right you are, teacher-lady – eating IS better in Armenian.

We make our way through the sandwich, cheese, fruit, and candy courses, and then the teacher next to me pulls out a bottle of that pre-mixed martini stuff. Why wouldn’t there be booze on this field trip? We take a couple of shots with the teachers and then it’s time to clean up – but the teachers won’t let us help them, because the kids have formed a circle and they say we should go dance with them.

A couple of the kids sing and we dance a bit, then everyone piles into the bus. There aren’t enough seats so some of the kids stand. The bus driver puts on music, and the girl who is obviously the popular girl gets up with some of her friends and they dance in the aisles, for the entire 45 minutes back to Yerevan. One of the teachers makes sure we get dropped of near a metro stop, and we exchange e-mails. We have a standing invitation to visit the school.

The first time this sort of thing happened I remember thinking “My god, what are the odds?”

A month later, I’m pretty sure that if you approach a group of people here to ask for help getting somewhere (or just mistakenly stumble into their bus, as the case may be), it would actually be weirder not to find yourself immediately welcomed and eating, drinking, and singing with them all the way back to wherever you’re going.

Posted in Imogen | 3 Comments

We Awesome

Real post coming soon, but for now I just want to raise a toast to all of us for not being this kid on Postsecret.
Well played Sisterhood.

Posted in Vineeta | 2 Comments

School and home

It’s been two weeks since work started. The kids are great. I’ve had so many “intro sessions,” which involve me talking to a class about myself and the US for 45 minutes. Makes me feel pretty narcissistic, but in a good way. Some of the questions I’ve been asked:
– Do you have a boyfriend? (Yes.)
– Are Austrians and Americans the same or different? (Um…Okay, here’s something. Austrians are really blunt. Americans try to be super polite. American: “Oh, it’s getting late. I have to get up early, so I should probably get going.” Austrian: “I have to leave now.”)
– What do you think of Obama? (He’s better than Bush. He’s got a lot on his plate.)
– Are there really groups of students in high schools that don’t talk to each other? (This is a question referring to cliques. I have gotten this question three times.) (People have groups of friends. But they don’t completely ignore everyone else. I’m assuming it’s the same here.)
– Do Americans eat very unhealthy food? (Sometimes.)
– Do you think a two party or a multi-party system is better? (Oh, shit. It’s been so long since I studied this. Uh…they both have their pros and cons, for instance…)
I’ve been asked grammar questions by the teachers:
– What’s the adverb for trendy? Would you say, “I like to dress trendily” or “I like to dress trendy.” (I would say trendy. Whether it’s correct or not is another matter.)
– When do you say “hid”? “I hid behind the tree” and “I found a hidden clue,” but is it “I had hid behind the tree” or “I had hidden behind the tree”? (Uh…no one cares. Just pick one.)
And my favorite factoid to present:
– Me: How many kids go to this school?
– Student: Around 380
– Me: Well, at my high school there were about 2,000. And at my university there were 25,000.
– Class: *amazed gasps*

There are two problems with work so far. First, the commute. Getting up at 5:30 or 6 two to three times a week isn’t the greatest. Missing a connection because the damn train was late isn’t the greatest. But people have such commutes all the time, right? I’m lucky it’s not every day, and I can’t expect 11-2 days for the rest of my life. (Damn, college was great in that sense.) I am home by 2:30 at the latest, and I have Fridays off, so my schedule is quite decent. Second, coordinating with 10 different teachers about 18 different classes is not easy. Trying to talk to each of them about what they want from me, waiting for them between classes, keeping myself organized – I’m still working on a system. I think email and a binder are the way to go.

Honestly, though, I realize that I’m lucky to have a job, and such a cool one at that. Despite the early mornings, long commutes, and hecticness, I really can’t get over how awesome my life is right now. Something pretty awful would have to happen for me to complain with any earnestness.

One the home front: Nick’s nesting. Cutest thing ever. We’ve been to three different furniture-type stores this weekend (Ikea of course being one of them). He put together the desk I’m sitting at right now. We have a coat rack and a tea pot, so many pillows and a bookshelf for the books we managed to lug across the Atlantic or have picked up since landing. This apartment really feels like home.

You might not be able to tell, but there’s a HUGE mountain standing over this town.

Clouds in Mittenwald

Mittenwald, Germany

The area where we went for orientation was gorgeous. Green down below, snowy up top. Whenever the kids ask me if I like Austria, I talk about how gorgeous the landscape is.

On the way to orientation

Saalbach-Hinterglemm, Austria

Saalbach-Hinterglemm, Austria

Where we live:

Linz

Coat rack?

Coat rack!

Kitchen

Kitchen

Living room

That’s my desk over in the corner, our tea pot on the table, and our books on the shelf.

Living room

If you want to come to Linz, you can sleep on our Schalfsofa. I bought some British dudes a beer to carry it up the three stories to the apartment, since Nick was in the hospital. (He’s fine now.)

Bedroom-ish

We use an actual paint-splattered ladder to get into and out of bed.

Cubbies

Where we keep some of our stuff.

Bed

The Comfort Zone with sweet skylight.

Posted in Farrah | 3 Comments

You grow up, you get a job, you move to Arabkir

So I had been accumulating all these lovely thoughts for a post about the street I live on and then we had this car accident and it’s one of those things you can’t really pass over without mentioning.

We were in a taxi on the way to Mt. Aragats for a hike (at 7:30am, still dark) when a truck cut us off and the front right corner of the car ended up underneath it. My two friends came out with mostly scrapes and bruises, luckily – it’s unbelievable that Sam’s alive when you look at the photos, but Claire’s the one still pulling glass out of her face  – and I ended up with my scalp split open from my eyebrow back to the middle of my head and a (hopefully not) torn MCL.  The taxi driver has an injured leg but is otherwise OK and apparently the truck driver will have to pay for the car because he was at fault – this we learned from a friend who knew the driver and the police officer who talked to us later (side note: the protocol for giving police statements in Armenia is remarkably similar to protocol in America, except of course in America there was no one translating).

The first few days I was on a high of being grateful to be alive and more crucially to have my skull and brain intact, but now (still grateful) I mostly just wish that my leg would work properly, and that those last two pieces of glass would come out of my hand, and maybe that I could go outside without a scarf around my head (but that’s fun sometimes– I went to a bar the other night and was asked by two different drunk people whether I’m from Iran).

For a more detailed account of the actual crash, here’s a link to the blog written by Sam, the Peace Corps volunteer who was with Claire (my roommate) and I: http://www.heyamerikatsi.com/2010/10/crash.html. The only other thing left to add, because he won’t say it in his own blog post of course, is that Sam, on the day, was incredibly selfless and cool headed, and if it weren’t for him (and Claire’s quick thinking at the scene of the crash, and care afterwards, and trips to get Fanta…), I wouldn’t have made out as well.  Thank you.

Sooo…

On to cheerier things. 🙂

Arabkir is the district of Yerevan just outside the center to the north/northwest, and seems to be largely residential plus a couple of main streets with shopping/eating places and about a million car “vulcanization” shops. No, I’m not sure what that means.

We live right on the border between Arabkir and the center, in (surprise!) a soviet concrete apartment building.  It’s a later one, so the inside is very nice and instead of plain concrete on the outside the concrete has slabs of orange (brick?) set in it, the aesthetic of which is actually starting to grow on me.  The guy who helped us find it said it would have been a home for 80s soviet elite. Aren’t we fancy.

We chose it over the others for practical reasons but it was only after moving in we started to discover all these magical little things that have kind of made me fall in love with the place. We had agreed to take it for a month or two while we look at other options but (shhhhh, Claire, don’t read this next part) I don’t think I’ll want to leave.

First, there’s the collection of Russian literature (and English and French and American in translation) hiding in a cupboard that I gushed about on Facebook.  Since the first ecstatic facebook status about this we have actually found a second cupboard with a whole lot of Chekhov in it.

Then, there is the fact that sometimes, if it’s a clear day, I crane my head out the living room window in the morning to say hi to the cats, and see this instead:

Which brings me to the stray cats – I have been very silly in regards to the cats. In addition to naming them (Sona, Naneh, Smee, Catherine the Great, and two lesser players both called Meatcat) I sometimes drop food for them out my 4th floor window. I was heartened to find that there’s a boy in the building next to us who does the same, but it seems like this kind of behavior is only acceptable for children.

Adding to my crazy foreigner image is the fact that I have quasi-adopted the local stray puppy (seen above and just called “Shoon”, Armenian for dog). I played with him once and now he thinks I am his puppy friend, which entails a lot of playful biting, because that’s the only way he knows how to play. In theory I’m training him to play with toys instead, but I haven’t got any toys yet so progress is slow…

The best discovery, easily, is the little community here between our 4 identical apartment buildings.  Every day at 5ish our papik (grandfather) friend stops pushing his granddaughter on her bike and puts out his backgammon table, and then all the other papiks magically appear to talk and take turns playing.  There is the blacktop, which hosts “youth soccer league” (neighborhood boy pickup soccer) games daily and where a lady appears every morning to do what look like soviet exercises (think “The man with the movie camera”).  And there are the ladies who run the shop across the street: one is patently unenthused by us (who could blame her), but the other is friendly and smiles wide whenever we try to incorporate Armenian words into our transactions.

And that is our little corner of the city.

On the schedule for today: Set up an MRI appointment. Figure out where to meet our friend arriving from Georgia tomorrow, to see the biggest chocolate bar in the world (!!!) unveiled on Saturday.  When the water comes back, finish laundry and take a bath.

In theory, I meet with my university next week. Scheduling conflicts between the embassy and the university and unforeseen car accidents have pushed back the work schedule a little. Not that I’m complaining; I’m still not done exploring yet.

UPDATE: The MCL is fine (!!!), I am walking much better now and hopefully will not have any pain within a few weeks. Result!

Posted in Imogen | 4 Comments

Stammtisch: German edition

(Disclaimer: I would have written a post earlier, but could not, for the life of me, figure out how to log on to the website.  Having figured that out, finally, I will commence with the post.)

I’m currently sitting in the breakfast nook of my kitchen, waiting for an apple-spice cake to come out of the oven.  I wasn’t, and am still not, entirely sure that it will come out as expected because I used an American recipe with non-metric measurements.  I think the number one cardinal rule of baking is not to wing it, but I totally just winged it: I used a water glass for my measuring cup, and some spoons for the rest.  If the smell is any indication, though, this cake should be incredible, life-changing, etc.  In any case, the apple-cinnamon combination beats the odor that usually wafts through my apartment on Liebigstraße.  I live next to a Knorr factory (think: McCormick spices), and, regardless of the time of day, it smells either like cream of (insert vegetable) soup or potroast.  But not in a good way.  No one wants to wake up to the smell of pulverized meat.

Smells aside, I’m completely head-over-heels in love with this new life here.  Imogen said something in her post that really seemed true to me, too:  “I think the weirdest part about all of this is how not weird it’s all been.” Yes!  That’s completely it.  Despite having never been here, to this little city in Baden-Württemberg, I feel like I’ve kind of come back home.  Sure, there are definitely things that I miss about the United States– saying hello/smiling/nodding/waving when passing people, strangers, in the street; the quality and quantity of produce at the grocery stores; the disregard for blue laws.  But, that said, I am really taking to this European life.  It seems very normal to me, already.

25 more minutes on the cake.

So, let’s see: the city.  My first train ride into Heilbronn from Stuttgart left me with a good impression.  It’s absolutely breathtaking.  The rail is surrounded by acres of vineyards, which don’t lie flat on the ground, but rather are sloped with the steep hills.  It’s beautiful, really.  Upon entering the city, one can see the Neckar River.  Heilbronn is very cute.  Not as provencal as I had expected– probably because so much of it was bombed during WWII.  But, still, the town is unbelievably cute: two very old churches, a beautiful city hall, and a very picturesque pedestrian zone that is lined with cafés, restaurants, chocolatiers, H&Ms… the usual European suspects.    (Oh!  There’s an incredible mineral spa up the street!)

My apartment: cute, and efficient.  That is, it’s not especially updated, but definitely sufficient.  Our apartment is on the second floor.  Directly behind the front door is the WC (which is currently inhabited by a huge spider), and on the left of the hallway are Uli’s room and Anna’s room.  (Uli is my roommate until January, when he returns to the Uni in Stuttgart.)  Across from Anna’s room is a door to the kitchen in which I’m sitting now, a bright room with small appliances, a table, and such.  Off of the kitchen is the bathroom, where there is a shower and sink.  And on the opposite side of the kitchen is the door to my room.  So, at night, I kind of have this part of the apartment all to myself.  As if I’m living in a studio apartment.  I love it.

Having now stocked my room with the essentials from IKEA, I completely feel at home in my room, and in my apartment.  My roommates (Evgeniy from Uzbekistan, Uli from Deutschland, and Anna from Ukraine) are wonderful.  I really lucked out.  So friendly, so sweet.  We’ve taken the Heilbronner Weinfest (the city’s annual wine festival) by storm, twice.  Our mutual love for wine is much appreciated.  (Also, the price of said wine is appreciated– so cheap in Germany!)

Because the city is pretty small– only 120,000 people– I’ve seen most of the city.  I know the route to the Deutsche Bank especially well: I got totally fucked with banking, but am glad to say that I now have more than the 40 Euro that were in my wallet.  (Whew.)  But, you know, even with the banking catastrophe, I’m learning to just keep on keeping on.  I’m not too worried about… anything.  Things will work out.

Not having a care in the world is kind of liberating, right?

I’ve definitely been bitten by the travel bug.  So, to those of you who’ve done Europe before: give me suggestions.  I just got back from München (more on things with Tom, later hahaha).  This weekend I’m going to Heidelberg.  And, I’m currently planning an elaborate European extravaganza for my fall break: six cities, eight days.  In order: München (briefly), Salzburg, Linz (Farrah, we’ve got to talk!), Vienna (Farrah, we’ve got to talk!), Bratislava, and Budapest.  Thoughts on any of this?  Suggestions?

More from me later.  I’ve got a cake to tend to.  And dinner to cook: Maultaschen mit Rotkraut 🙂

Oh, is anyone reading anything good?  I’m almost finished with Vonnegut’s Dharma Bums.  I’ve been making a point to buy a new (or used) book in each city I visit, so I’ve got a nice stack next to my bed– Harry Potter auf Deutsch, Gone With the Wind auf Deutsch, Herodotus’ Histories, etc– but I’m always looking for more to read.  Let me know!  Oh, and I definitely recommend Dharma Bums.  It’s the perfect book for the spiritual-hippie-travelers that we are.

Prost!

Posted in Mary | 4 Comments

Where do you buy spoons?

We were supposed to be moving in to the apartment in Linz on Friday, but turns out it won’t be ready for another week or so, so instead we’re squatting in another apartment owned by the landlord. This apartment, however, is not as well-equipped in terms of (a) cutlery and (b) washing machines. (Cool furniture, though, kinda ’70s retro.) Which brings me to two topics.

Topic 1: Knowing where to buy stuff

I am definitely not homesick (which is vastly upsetting to my father, but that’s a different story). I do, however, miss being a local/native/whatever you call it. It took me a while to feel at home in Rockville, and then four years later, a little while to feel at home in CP. But I think one of the things that helped me feel that way (aside from friends…miss you guys!) is knowing how things work. Knowing what bus or metro line to take to get you from A to B. Knowing what times things are open. How restaurants work (do you seat yourself? how much do you tip?). And knowing where to buy things. Like spoons. The States is pretty much the best place ever, in terms of being able to buy something anywhere. Need a spoon? Try CVS/the grocery store/wal-mart/target/7-11. But maybe I just think that because I know all that already. Finding stuff in other countries seems a bit more difficult. For instance, back in Munich, I needed some contact solution. First I tried a pharmacy. Oops, pharmacies in Germany are for actual medicine, silly. So then I walked into an eye check-up place. Bingo! Contact solution. Bought it, realized I had just paid way too much for contact solution. Kept walking (now with a resentment-inducing bottle of contact solution weighing down my backpack) and passed a DM. Kind of CVS-y, but without the pharmacy. That’s where I should have gone. Lesson learned. But back to spoons. Moved in to this temporary apartment, bought cereal and milk, had bowls. But…no spoons. So while I ate some bread and cheese, Nick, being at the moment either more desperate for cereal or more adventurous than me, proceeded to eat his cereal with a shot glass. (I know…shot glasses but no spoons?) So yesterday, we went on a spoon-search. First place: grocery store. Plenty of paper plates, no plastic cutlery. You’d have thought the two go together like PB&J, but nope. Second place: DM. Good for contact solution, not so much for plastic spoons. (They did have paper plates, though.) Third place: another grocery store. They had individual stainless steel knives and forks on sale, but apparently had run out of spoons. So I wandered off in search of Coke Zero. Just cuz. And Nick miraculously finds some plastic spoons. Yay! So now I know where to buy spoons in Linz.

Topic 2: Laundry

Living a nomadic lifestyle seems to involve stretches of time not knowing when, where, or how you’re going to get you next load of laundry done. Back in Pergkirchen, my landlady’s mom does the laundry. Which is awesome (I’ve never seen such perfectly folded t-shirts in my life), but she has total control on when she does it (Sundays or Mondays so far). Which has led me to believe, several times, that I’d be running out of clean underwear (hasn’t happened yet, thank god). Current (temporary) apartment has no washing machine. And there doesn’t seem to be a laundromat in the area. And then I’m going to Munich and then orientation in some mountainy place. So it seems I won’t be getting clean clothes until I’m back in Pergkirchen on October 4. Which puts me at three weeks with no laundry. In my attempt to pack lighter, I assumed I would be able to do laundry every week. I’m sure you see the problem. Looks like I’ll be re-wearing clothing a lot and heading to H&M or somewhere for underwear. (Hey Vi, remember that time you didn’t want to do laundry? So we went to the sketchy mall? It’s kinda like that.) The plus side: not having to put daily effort into figuring out what to wear, and going to H&M.

Posted in Farrah | 3 Comments