A regular school day

Here is my current routine in Yerevan:

6 am –  harsh neon of my alarm clock stares me in the face. I turn it away to shine on the wall. Warmth of a nearby Gazprom fuelled heater makes the walk across faux hardwood to the shower very comfortable. The whirr of a water pump is activated every time you turn on the water – nice hot water, bolshoe spasibo Gazprom (which now owns 100% of natural gas in Armenia as a “strategic cooperation”).

6:30 – My strategic cooperation continues, this time with some Armenian coffee – finely ground beans in boiling water, and unwashed eggs cooked in unpasteurized New-Zealand imported butter, maybe with some incredibly salty cheese. All dairy products from Armenia have a slight “goat” flavour to them. I grab a piece of mouth watering brandy flavoured sausage.

7:00 – News.am: the US assistant secretary of state is visiting, the disputed Nagorno Karabakh region with Azerbaijan is heating up, and drama between the ruling Republican Party president and the opposition is waning. Armenia is gearing up for the 100th anniversary of the genocide April 24th, and  Turkish President Erdogan says he is willing to acknowledge facts put forward by an impartial panel of historian, and schedules a remembrance of Gallipoli for the same day.

7:30 – Jane and I put on light jackets, and triple unlock the heavy front door of our apartment. Jane presses floor “0” in the elevator – the ground floor. Ashot, our taxi driver is waiting in front of the grocery store.   “Vonces Jane?” he asks “Good” she says. “Lav Em,” I say. On the ten minute ride to school, we discuss how there is no snow this year, the economic situation in Armenia, and some travel options for the long weekend. He recommends raspberry tea to get rid of my cold. We discover that a decent “middle class” salary in Yerevan is 300 to 400 American dollars. I am paying him half of this every month.(“This jobs in Arrmenia is nothing doing”)Our ride takes us past some of the most imposing “borg” like clusters of Soviet apartment blocks. About eight or nine 15 story buildings rise from the rock strewn landscape – they are so tightly packed that no light comes through, making them look like one massive alien imposition. The taxi slows down for the traffic cameras on the highway.  At our turn-off on one side of the highway (north to Georgia) is a gaudy classical “greek” style house, complete with statues of hoplites, built by the guy who owns a monopoly on all construction materials in Armenia.

You would think the guy who has a monopoly on all construction materials would have a little more taste.
You would think the guy who has a monopoly on all construction materials would have a little more taste.

On the other side is the “American style” community of Vahakni – a gated community of huge houses with the token lawn (finally exposed as the wasteful and frivolous expanses they are) We drive down a pot-hole ridden back road to the school. Last year the owner of the front “road” to the school blocked it and asked $100,000 ransom. The slow winding path and white mini-vans reminds me of school in Colombia.

Vahakni - a couple square miles of Illinois prairie - strangely transplanted in the Caucasus. (Ararat in the background)
Vahakni – a couple square miles of Illinois prairie – strangely transplanted in the Caucasus. (Ararat in the background)

8:00 – I greet my Iranian co-worker at the main doors. On a clear day, the double peaks of Ararat loom in the distance. Aragatz and other snow-capped ranges surround us. Jane is off to school smiling and doesn’t look back. Today she is going on a field trip downtown and using the metro to go to a fire station. I go to the staffroom and try to figure out a hot water dispenser with Russian writing on the buttons. In the hallway I chat with the director about his 30 years experience in international schools. I write an email about an upcoming school ski trip.

9:13 – Desks in a rectangle shape, I have my 12 year old class re-enact the battles of Marathon and Thermopylae. They’ve been assigned Ancient Greek characters from Plutarch’s Lives and they will have to discuss the Persian and Peloponnesian wars from their perspective.

10:00 – On break, I walk down the 100ft. high school hallway and greet the Spanish, Russian, and Armenian language teachers. The Russian class made a doll they will burn to bring on the Spring season (like “old man” filled with fireworks in Latin America). One of the math teachers has a PhD and works as a researcher at the university in the evenings. Loud yelling by the Cuban-American ensures everyone gets to class on time. The British and Canadian teachers say “excuse me?”

11:08 – In Literature (13yr old), we discuss superstitions in literature class and stage some “tableaux” scenes. I wonder whether To Kill a Mockingbird with strike a chord with the eight students in my 13 year old class. The cross-cultural discussions are always stimulating, as I learn just as much from them.

11:57 – My Armenian students are chatting about the worst of Eurovision, and playing “Rabiz” music for me on their laptops. I try to discuss prejudice toward Turkish and Azeris. I discover that one of them read Pride and Prejudice for fun last year.

12:30 – Ashot takes Jane home with Rachel and Alasdair. The police have visited Rachel and fortunately not asked for copies of our passports.

12:45 – I eat lunch with Armenian colleagues. One is a refugee from Syria. She has been here for 2 years. “The rebels started kidnapping Armenian kids to support their war against Asad” she says. When I ask her how her relatives survive, she says “by stealing”. She explains that she would like to go back, but that the religious tensions have been raised due the war, and Christians are no longer seen as equals.

1:20 – Religion in Rome and the rise of Christianity. I’m fascinated by the discussion about Jesus’ teachings – only of my students is familiar with them. None of them agree with loving your enemy – especially not the Azeris or Turks.

2:15 – read Greek Myths.

3:00 – I’m impressed by this 12 year old class. However, most of them are embassy kids and will be leaving after their 2 or 3 year terms. We plan persuasive speeches based on characters from Plutarch’s lives.

3:45 – school’s out. I mark assignments and then read some news from Canada.

4:00 – Ashot picks me up. He knows people in the army but is reluctant to talk about Nagorno-Karabakh. I stop by the supermarket and change some US dollars into Drams. The local fruit-seller rips me off, but I don’t argue with him. I pick up 25 cent bread and then take a look at the selection of Armenian brandy – Winston Churchill’s favourite.

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Garages

4:30 – My kids jump all over me, play hide-and seek, and then we have a wonderful supper from Rachel – rice and baked chicken, and a lovely pudding made of chocolate imported by Rachel (with a slight tinge of goat in the milk). We Skype with family and friends from Canada. I read the kids stories.

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7:30 – Kids are in bed. Rachel is watching a hilarious episode of “Outnumbered”. I check out some possible destinations for the long weekend next week.

Geghard, or "spear" monastery, founded by Gregory the Illuminator in the 4th century.
Geghard, or “spear” monastery, founded by Gregory the Illuminator in the 4th century.

geghard portal

geghard

garni
Garni Temple, down the road from Geghard Monastery.

I’m trying to slog my way through Gibbon’s Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire, which is more enjoyable than I expected (and is technically part of my planning, which is what I love about teaching history).

Various forms of eastern techno music interrupted by dogs barking outside. Time to walk back across the hardwood floors to my Gazprom heated room.

10:00pm – right now it is 12 noon Winnipeg.

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