Wednesday, January 23, 2008


This Christmas, a marine friend of ours organized a toy drive at the US Embassy, planning to distribute the toys with help from some volunteers. David and I were lucky enough to receive all the toys from this drive for the mancapartes (pre-schools) of Martuni; there are four. We thought there would be a couple dozen employees at the embassy -- turns out there are about eighty, and the toys the marine brought washed into David’s tiny apartment like a tide. There were hundreds of stuffed animals, toy cars, puzzles, games, robots, nerf bow-and-arrows, you name it, covering the beds, the couch, the table, piled in huge boxes on the floor. The marine promptly left, didn’t want to see the schools or participate in the event, I guess. David and I sorted it all into four parts, and the next day set out with our friend Johanna and some mechanical assistance for the pre-schools.

This was December 23rd, I think. We made it to all four schools in one day, a marvel considering at each place we watched the kids’ Christmas show complete with costumes, dancing, songs in Armenian, Russian, and even English, and of course an appearance by Dzmer-Papik (Santa) and Dziun Anoush . Dzmer-Papik is literally "Winter-Grandpa", and in Armenia (I imagine this idea is from Russia) there’s no sleigh, no chubby Santa sitting on his ass while the mules do all the work. No, Santa carries a colorful walking stick -- he walks those presents all around the world on his own two feet. His sidekick is Dziun Anoush, a beautiful snow fairy (Dziun is "snow", and Anoush is a common girl’s name that means "sweet"). The kids’ shows were just great. At some schools the kids dressed up, girls in white, boys in black, and did great choreographed dances and songs and merry speeches. At others, the kids dressed up as all manner of animals and characters, any fairy tale fair game. There were lions and crocodiles, clowns and frogs and even guys with a standard sport coat on but (the Twist!) bright red tinsel for a tie. The pre-schools are bright and colorful, with animals and fairy tales painted all over the place, little beds or mats for napping, and great, lively women taking care of the little ones.

We joined the Mayor, who was also doing the rounds on this last day of school, giving presents to the kids and making speeches to the crowd after the performance ended and the kids filed out. The embassy’s presents that we brought were to be kept by the schools themselves, so that kids could use them at school (and so that the toys wouldn’t just ‘disappear’). Kids spend eight hours a day at school, anyway. After each show we ate and drank at a fully laden table with the school director, a teacher or two, the TV guys who followed the whole escapade, and the Mayor and his clan. We ran back to David’s place in between to haul new loads of toys. It was a great day, exhausting, and wonderful to peek into such a bright part of the Martuni community. I’m sorry our friends at the embassy missed the celebrations, and we can’t thank them enough for their generosity.

These are pictures from a toy drive we did at our school under the auspices of reducing trash. We encouraged kids to bring in their old toys that they don't use anymore and donate them to the local preschool. Then Lala and I went with a group of kids from our eco-club to deliver the toys. As you can see, the Martuni TV station showed up and interviewed Lala, myself, and the kids! What a cool opportunity for them.

Wednesday, January 9, 2008


Hey everyone, I've been assaulted over the past few weeks by the pincer movement of sinus infection and the Armenian New Year Celebration (and as for the latter, it is a DOOSIE). Trapped in the house, wrapped in blankets, forbidden to shower for fear of chilling aftereffects, and yet called to the table every hour for vodka shots with numerous known and unknown family members, our intrepid hero finished Dostoevsky's "The Brothers Karamazov" (incredible, highly recommended), Life of Pi (another great and much quicker read), and fought (or encouraged?) bitterness and apathy by playing hours of ancient sega games on his laptop. We're past the storm now, and what's more, NANCY CHANDLER, that unstoppable weed-picker and soil-digger, flies in this evening. We'll begin a whirlwind tour of Armenia, complete with cross-country skiing and tables, tables laden with bountiful hospitality. Many stories to be told next week, I'm sure. Stay tuned...