Sunday, September 9, 2007

August 1

It has been dry and hot for many days, but today the telltale cumulus clouds build over the southern peaks, colossal elephants slowly marching into view over the horizon. Wind-tossed butterflies, white and yellow, dip and float among the knee-high flower stalks -- all that’s left after the cow’s grazing. At night, a huge sallow moon stands in the southern sky, its light spilling out yellow, covering all, keeping the dogs restless all night.

Our neighbor, Rosa, pauses and wipes her brow with the white apron she wears. After a moment she bends again, pulling weeds from around the cabbage and corn. She gathers them all in a sheaf, wrapped in a piece of fabric, and hauls them back towards the house, lost to my sight under the low branches of the apple and pear trees. She deposits her load behind the house and heads back for another.

Sunflowers stand tall and bright in the garden. Old ladies sell little folded paper cones of their seeds on the streets like popcorn. The bean plants have grown six feet upwards in the past month and a half, twining around their six-foot poles, spreading their heart-shaped leaves for the sun. They are blossoming and forming their first tiny fruits. The potatoes have survived so far without any significant damage from beetles, and the first row has been harvested. A tractor pulling a rickety, empty cart rumbles by on the dirt track. Hay sits in the loft and in a tall pile behind the onions, blue and white plastic stretched over the top, a huge pile, the sides bare.

The four year old Narek brings out a tiny bag of sunflower seeds (it’s like one of those grape-bags, with little holes in the bottom, and the seeds fall out). He asks for a swing in the hammock, and wants to know the English word for arevatsarik, which is “sunflower”. He knows a few English words, including “notebook”, “tractor” and “film” (both the same in Armenian), “ace”, “okay”, and the recently acquired “egg”. He loves playing cards, and has been learning numbers by playing War (or Everlasting, as my family calls it). Now he points to a number, 5, in my book. He cracks a big grin, and says in a low voice, “Ohhhh...Heeeng.” Soon he is pulling on the lowest branch of the apple tree, stretching to grasp the small green fruits. Later, his mother Lucinae brings out a plate of watermelon for me.

Garnik (the grandpa) with Narek and Maretik

They have been very good to me here in Gyulagarak, and we have two weeks left together. I plan to return for a week at nor dari, new year’s, the biggest and longest Armenian holiday. It is the biggest event of the year. The men are back from Russia, everyone’s around, and the tables are set (laden, stacked, overflowing) in every home continuously for two weeks. The families start saving money in February so they can let it all hang out for this holiday, and I can’t wait to see it.

After one rough night and five days of antibiotics, the giardia in my system has quieted to a whisper. Thank goodness -- now they will let me sit outside again. I have been playing the harmonica a departing volunteer gave me, which is fun, plus no Armenian I’ve met has ever seen one before. It feels right, too, in the village, on a lazy afternoon or when the wind’s picking up in the evening. Blowing on the harp.

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