Thursday, September 13, 2007

The First Club

My counterpart Lala (a biology teacher at School #2, a wonderful woman) and I decided to try the first meeting of the environmental club with 8th and 9th form kids: fourteen year olds, or thereabouts. Some of them had worked with Eric last year. Eric was the EE volunteer who requested that another volunteer be placed in Martuni this year with this school and this counterpart. We met when I first visited Martuni in mid-July. The ease with which I have slid into place here is largely due to his efforts.


And so we found ourselves on a Friday afternoon walking to the forest with thirty-two teenagers of various shapes and sizes, all talking, laughing, pointing out things, me trying to talk about nature and what we could see and hear and smell as we walked down the paved and potholed road that leads gradually downhill to the forest and the beach. We pass a pine forest before bardis(poplars), great tall leafy ones, start rising on our left. All of these trees were planted in Soviet times, I believe, after the forests that once surrounded Lake Sevan had been cut. Chichran bushes, with sour berries that have turned bright orange in the coming fall, stand in a thick clumpy wall between us and the rocky bed of the Martuni river. The lake, a deep blue window, rises between stands of bardis in the distance up to a perfectly straight horizontal line. That line, in turn, gives way beyond to a big dreamy range of mountains, my current hiking fantasy. Can I swim the ten miles...with my pack...and make it back for dinner?

The place I had chosen for the excursion is the first place along the road that you can walk in and feel like you’re in a forest. The bardis are sixty feet tall, and the magpies and smaller birds have plenty of high hiding places up there, with more forest to fly into should they so wish. We stop under a couple of trees that stand together by the road, one of them with six trunks shooting upwards and out, leaving an easily climbable space in the center.

We eat some food and the kids run to the nearby water hole for a drink. Along the river here are places where pipes come out of the ground and produce drinkable water, all the time. These ever-flowing faucets seem to be everywhere in Armenia, at any elevation, often coming out of a nicely carved piece of rock along the roadside. The long-distance bikers who travel through love it. After a week and a half of cold, rainy weather when I arrived here in August, it has been beautiful and sunny for several weeks. It is a hot, clear day.

What's all this then?

When we’re done eating, Lala and I gather up the kids. These kids have been asking me insistently every day, “When are we going to the forest?” They’re either really excited about environmental protection or they really want to see what I might do. I hope it’s both. I say to them, “I’ve heard you guys are interested in environmental protection. But I don’t know you all quite yet, and I want to know if you’re really serious. I want to see how much trash you can pick up in the next ten minutes.”

These girls brought gloves.

You see, the start of the forest is also a big picnic zone, both for Martunetsis and folks who visit from Yerevan. There is one small gazebo in this big clearing, but there is trash everywhere. I hand out a bag to each pair of kids and they take off like horses out of the starting gate. They’re running, stuffing bags full of trash, and coming back for more. Within fifteen minutes we’ve got thirty plastic bags filled and piled by the road. Their energy is incredible.

This was the triumph of the day, the good deed. We played a couple of games from Joseph Cornell’s Sharing Nature With Children (thanks Mom), including one where we form a big circle with one blindfolded person in the center, and the kids a few at a time try to sneak in silently and steal the treasure (a bag of grapes). Joseph Cornell calls it “Sleeping Miser.” This was great fun to watch, and though the kids were eagerly whispering to me (“put me in, coach!”), they stayed pretty quiet and we had some good drama in the circle.

When we were done we walked back up the hot road, this time hauling our bags of trash. Lala did a great job -- I could never have kept all those kids together. We stopped for a photo op...

And when we reached a pile of building supplies near the highway, the kids started hurling their bags into the pile, scattering trash all over the place. I got a little irritated, but this was one contingency I hadn’t thought of. I figured we would bring it to a dumpster in town, but maybe it’ll get picked up from where we left it -- I don’t know yet. Nor do I know where the trash goes from town, although I have my suspicions.

My current conflict is that the students are so excited about the club, and so am I, but Lala’s time with us is limited, and I talk like an eight year old. Other than that, we’re rolling. I’m excited to learn what ideas these kids can come up with to change things in Martuni.

the Second Club

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