Friday, July 18, 2008

The Spring

after a brief shower, one music weekend in Jessica's village

baby Reuben, the newest addition to the Matinyan family in Gyulagarak, with his grandparents

Eloise, as the ice sheet finally breaks up in Martuni, March 22

On a hike just above Dendropark, near Gyulagarak, with my buddy Steve

with Jason Rhoades in Tsaghkadzor

Martuni sunset, April 20

the gorge below Garni, village with an ancient Pagan temple from 1st c. AD

Saturday, July 12, 2008

Beard Chicken

An important event in Peace Corps Armenia now deserves to be brought to light. That event is Beard Chicken.

Start Date: February 3, 2008

The Rules: No trimming whatsoever (except for the mustache)

The Competitors:

Kevin Gage, "The Pastor"

Jeremy Lovelady, "The James A. Garfield"

Jason Rhoades, "New Orleans Pizza Bicycle Delivery"

Jason Chandler, "The Man of Twists and Turns"

You may be asking yourself a question, and the answer is yes, the ladies love Beard Chicken. See below.

Beard Chicken can and will take you to amazing places.

Above Lake Sevan

Ancient, ancient bridge


Other vols love beards.

It's catching on...

Proof: Beard Chicken is fun for the whole family, a guaranteed good time.

The next generation is already in training
Future Beard Chicken Contestant: Narek Matinyan, age 5.

But most important: wearing a Massive Beard gets you in with the locals, big time.


Green Camp Photos

Now it's time for a day by day tour of a Green Camp. First the kids arrive, we divide them into groups and they get acquainted. This first photo is from Urtsadzor, one of the small groups with their counselors Gnel and Brett on the first day of camp.

Once we get the groups together we line them up in orderly fashion, do a little introduction, go over camp rules, and move straight on to the camp song, entitled "Boom Chick-a Boom".

It's a call and response song, and we sing to open and close camp every day. I lead a number of different forms, jumping around and singing, such as "Rock Star", "Monkey", "Alpinist", or the above: "Frog".

We then split up into groups and do small group games with their groups of ten or large group games with the whole camp together. Each game has an environmental lesson built in, and the kids are encouraged to discuss in the group what they've learned, and also write it in their journals which they keep after the camp. The game pictured below is "Pyramid of Life". Kids on the first level are plants, second level herbivores, top level predators.

The picture below is from the Lejan Camp, a big game of "Trees Loggers and Mudslides" which I explained in the previous post.

At the end of the week, each small group performs a skit or a song as a final presentation for the community to show what they've learned. The kids below did a skit with two trash monsters who savaged the unassuming environmental protectors until enough gathered to drive them away from the river!
And that's a camp in a nutshell. Below is the whole camp photo from the Martuni camp.

Wednesday, July 2, 2008

July, July

Martuni Green Camp was a blast! Highlights from this week: an hour session of ultimate frisbee with an able group of eleven year olds who’d never seen one before, drawing/painting lessons in the forest with teachers from the local art school, the vanishing of the Martuni beach, the American invasion of day three. Four camps in four weeks, and at the last one the new EE Peace Corps Trainees visited one day, a hardy-looking bunch of young professionals bursting with hope and enthusiasm. Actually, they seemed like they’re trying to learn a new language and how to live in a host family with wildly different cultural attitudes and they’ve only been here four weeks. They played one of the whole-camp games with us called “Trees, Loggers, and Mudslides” which is like a mix of rock paper scissors and tag and teaches about erosion and deforestation and the value of trees. The campers were unphased by the group of twelve Americans who showed up with no explanation and joined their teams. Loggers beat Trees, Mudslides beat Loggers, Trees beat Mudslides, and pretty soon tiny Armenians and big Americans were all over the field in a mad race for victory.

Green Camps are wild and fun. It has become clear to me that they can also be a great learning experience for our local Armenian counselors who volunteer their time for the week to teach about nature and environmental protection. It’s like a day camp you might have been to in the states, with plenty of lining up, chanting, singing, performance, but it’s also packed with environmental lessons and experiential learning, something rural Armenian kids don’t get every day. Each kid receives a notebook and writes and draws personal reflections every day about what they learned and what they can do to help the environment. The best camps are when the Armenian counselors are active and have really studied the curriculum, and when the kids actively apprehend the material. The last two camps were especially good in both these respects. The hardest thing is that each camp is five days long, and you have to train both the counselors and kids in that time. There is of course prep work in the weeks before, but when someone comes to a Green Camp to work as a camp counselor for the first time, they have a lot to learn fast. At this last camp it was wonderful to see the Armenian volunteers step up and take the camp into their own hands. I felt myself able to step back more and more from the logistical and scheduling work I usually do and let the Armenians take it over. I believe that our Martuni counselors could definitely run their own camp in the future.

Now I have four pictures tacked to my wall with fifty kids on each of them, beaming and infused with Green Camps knowledge, skills and attitudes. This struck me the other day: Peace Corps Volunteers help administer some of the best summer programs for kids in Armenia, and with these programs we specifically target and encourage rural kids. Aside from Green Camps there is GLOW Camp (Girls Leading Our World, a leadership and activism camp), BRO Camp (Boys Reaching Out, similar to GLOW), a new Human Rights Camp (focused on democracy building), various computer camps, and the International Outreach Camp, a culture and leadership camp which has brought in teenagers from Georgia, Ukraine, and even Turkey in past years. What’s even better is the great training and experience our Armenian counterparts undertake as part of all these camps. They are the people that will continue all this work with kids on responsibility, activism, and leadership, as well as becoming models of these attitudes themselves. Who knows how far it’ll go, but it’s a good start.

Oh yeah, a side note: the Martuni beach disappeared this week. I went down to the lake to swim with friends who are working the camp this week, and we discovered that the lake has risen another two feet and what was once a small sandbar beach is now completely submerged. So much for sunning on the sands, but the rising water level is part of the government’s current plan to restore the Sevan Basin’s ecosystem. In the 1930s and 40s the Soviets drained Sevan nineteen (19) meters to turn some wetlands into pastures. Now finally they’re trying to restore some of that lost ecosystem and bird life. With the huge investment in beachside cottages and the hundreds of acres of trees planted right up to the lake, I’m skeptical as to how much more the water will rise, but it’s a good idea at least.

What else? I’ve been really enjoying the Decembrists’ album “Castaways and Cutouts” (the only one I have, I’d love to get more of them). I’ve been listening to Stevie Wonder too, the Beatles (especially “Good Morning Good Morning” which I hereby nominate for the best wakeup song ever), once again Neutral Milk Hotel, and Old and In the Way. After the second camp in Aygut the old-time music folks all gathered at Jessica’s place and had a rollicking good time, lots of musicatin’, and I tried the accordion for the first time -- really satisfying. When I visit Maine in August I will buy a banjo and perhaps also an accordion, as well as another set of harmonicas, since I’ve worn out several of mine here.

Fatefully, the aforementioned “Old-time music folks” are almost all A-14s, which means they’re leaving in the next two months. Johanna and I are hoping for some music-loving, instrument-bearing newbies to jam with. I’m thinking of renting Jessica’s place in the remote valley up North for music and hiking and relaxation.

Best to all,