This is the true story of a Puertorican who joined the Peace Corps in June 2006. This blog chronicles my misadventures in the Country of Georgia and in NO way represents the Peace Corps, its mission or its views. It is my personal blog!

Saturday, April 14, 2007

Pictures from Armenia

Who Hid my Easter Eggs?

Last month I held the local Writing Olympics competition in Gori. We had a great turnout with 200 students from Gori and nearby villages showing up to participate. Nationwide we had a record-breaking 1,800 entries from students in grades 6-11. For only the 2nd year of this competition it was a great success! For 9 hours the Writing Olympics committee judged the entries. Talk about a mind numbing experience! After about hour 3 all the essays seem to merge and say the same thing! We read and selected regional and national winners. I'm proud to say that 5 of the regional winners are from my school!


For Easter break I went with some friends to Armenia . For those unfamiliar with this small country it lies south of Georgia and also borders Turkey , Iran and Azerbaijan . There are currently 3 million living in country. Armenia was the 1st official Christian nation ( Georgia is the 2nd). Another claim to fame is that the band System of a Down is Armenian.

Sooo.....after a perilous 7 hour marshutkha (van) ride I arrived in Yerevan . The first site I came upon was the Blue Mosque. The Blue Mosque is the only mosque in Yerevan and was restored after the Soviet period with help from Iran . It serves as a Mosque and school offering courses in Persian. I visited several museums including the Genocide museum which was a very sobering experience. It recounts the genocide carried out by the Turks against Armenians during the early 20th century. Over 1.5 million people died. It's amazing that to this day Turkey refuses to acknowledge that genocide ever took place. I also visited the Cascade- a monument commemorating 50 years of a Soviet Armenia. Aesthetically pleasing it was not. Very, very Soviet Architecture. But it did provide a great view of the city and nearby Mt. Ararat . Does the name Ararat sound familiar? That's where Noah's Ark is rumored to be. It was very imposing in the background. Near Republic Square (formally Lenin Sq) was the Cathedral built in 2001 to celebrate 1,700 years of Christianity in Armenia . Inside it differed greatly from Georgian churches. The walls were bare except for 3 crosses by the altar. The only paintings were those of the 13 Apostles. There were no icons anywhere- something very prevalent in Georgia .

I also had a chance to visit some sites outside of Yerevan . In Garni I saw a Roman temple dedicated to the sun god Helios. I also visited the Geghard Monastery which is famous for its cave churches. The church once housed the lance that speared Jesus' side. On Easter I went to Echmiadzin which is the Vatican for the Armenian Apostolic Church . It's where the Catholicos (equivalent to the Pope) resides. In the compound are 5 churches. The main church is where the Church Treasury is located which houses thousands of religious artifacts including the lance. Nearby the church is a monument commemorating Pope John Paul II's visit in 2001.

So of course no trip is complete without some sort of cultural blunder, misunderstanding or just some ridiculously awesome story to tell. Well I won’t disappoint you. One night a big group of us decided to do downtown and party. We came across a back alley and with red neon signs beckoning us. Like flies we were drawn to it and our eyes lit up as we saw “CCCP Karaoke Nightclub.” CCCP is Russian for the USSR . To set it up for you the club is located in the basement. In front of it is the neon sign and to the side is a huge sickle and hammer with the Soviet flag proudly waving above it. I felt like I was caught in a time warp. So we rushed down the steps and flung open the door which had a huge picture of Lenin on it. Inside it was dark and smoky with obscure Russian pop music playing. We make our way to the back booth. As I’m looking around I notice that there’s no karaoke equipment, but there is a pole and a chain link swing. Hmm well I guess we’ll have to improvise…maybe Armenia doesn’t really get ‘karaoke.’ Then the waitress brings us the menus and I hear a gasp. On the menu of course are your typical bar items but then…”Private dance for 10,15 or 20 minute sessions….consummation with dancer….” Yikes! The music changes into this weird techno and this blonde Russian woman comes out bearing all. Whooooooooooooops. So yes if you’re looking for Commie karaoke I have the perfect place to recommend!


Easter traditions in the Caucasus were interesting to experience. During Lent, the faithful engaged in fasting. Dairy and meat products were not allowed to be consumed. Most people's diet just consisted of potatoes and bread everyday since fruits and veggies are hard to comeby. During this period each family grew a plate of grass. For Easter week they decorated it with dyed red eggs. On Easter children went door to door in a "trick or treat" like manner asking for sweets and eggs. With the red eggs they played a game where two people would challenge each other. They'd each have an egg and then smash it against each other. I should mention that these eggs were hardboiled. Anyways the egg that cracked would be the the loser. This is similar to our wishbone tradition. After each competition they'd eat their eggs. By the end of the day all the children's hands were stained red.

The day after Easter was a day of remembrance for the dead. People visited cemeteries to pay their respects. Then families would feast in the cemetery and pour wine over the gravestones so that the dead would be able to enjoy it.