Welcome to my home

Welcome to my home

Sunday, August 24, 2008

Conrad Meets Paris, Patraeus, and CNN...OMG!!!

FORWARD: I realize that some of this stuff is now outdated… a bit, but I just got to a computer and didn’t feel like changing anything. So, deal with it. When it was written, it was topical, so now it’s just like a time machine.

Living abroad has its difficulties. I can’t precisely communicate my thoughts in this language yet, meaning, I can only communicate through approximations. I don’t have the immediate comfort and support of my close friends and family. My joys, like my disappointments, are things I must deal with in solitude. I now live in a place that only has running water for about two hours every two or three days (yeah, I get it, the implication here is that I probably smell, as showers and laundry are luxuries). And, I wasn’t home when one of my best friends died.

But, living abroad also has its benefits. Sure, you can insert things here like gaining a global perspective, understanding a new culture, or meeting different types of people, and you would be correct. These are all pluses, so to speak, of living abroad. But, thus far, the biggest benefit to living in a culture, more or less, completely dissimilar to my own, is a better understanding of my native culture. If you have read Joseph Conrad, my situation is vaguely similar. Joe wrote books that examined the British Empire (usually not too favorably). But, one of the reasons his insight was so significant, was that he was able to write about Britain from an outsider’s perspective, while everyone in Great Britain thought he was a grand ol’, tea lovin’, Brit. In reality, he was polish. (He took a new name when he moved to England so that he could blend in/get published, kind of like George Eliot pretending to be a man, or me pretending to be intelligent.)

However, unlike Joey, I am not pretending to be a U.S. citizen to gain readership and/or credibility (trust me, I was born and bred a freedom lover). And, unlike bro-seph, my intentions here are not to criticize the United States, although early November might afford me that opportunity, and I do in fact lightly critique certain aspects of the culture later…stay tuned America. But, like Jo-Co, I am privileged enough to have the unique experience of being both inside of and outside of the same culture simultaneously. Oh to live and breath a paradox…(don’t try to understand, it’s too deep, like an ocean trench, I get it because I’m intelligent and I’ll tell you that anytime you want (or don’t want) me to…like right now. I’m smart. And a paradox. A smart paradox? Maybe it’s a paradox that I am and I am smart…) More or less, this has been a classic Scott Moore circumlocution, but, to summarize, living overseas has given me an opportunity to see my culture in a new light, a light that I believe to be more focused, while at the same time, less filtered?

Although I have neither interactions with Americans or access to the internet where I live (the irony here is that this is published on the internet, but let’s not get hung up on that…we’ll just put it in our box of paradoxes (and subsequent rhymes) and forget about it until time brings about its decay…like nuclear waste in the American South West), I am still able to learn about my own culture simply by not being in it. At this point, I could begin to expound on grand conceptions of global communities and international humanity and blah blah blah. Go read Mitch Albom if you want to hear about that…and waste $15 on a book. If you’ve been reading my stuff for a while, you know that’s not the cut of my jig. Plus, we all know I’m not anywhere close to being one of the five people you’ll meet in heaven. At this point, I’m still crossing my fingers for an admissions ticket. But…I do want to touch on a few things on my mind about the good ol’ U.S. of A.

1—Paris says the Cold War is HOT!!!
Ok, so Paris Hilton didn’t really say that. In fact, she probably doesn’t even know what the Cold War was…or should I say IS. (Dramatic music should be playing in your minds right now. I’m thinking Carl Orff’s Carmina Burana.) That’s right folks. Things with the Russians (or as Charlton Heston would call them, damn dirty apes…sorry Allison/Russia fans) are heating up. Here’s the way I see it:

—Fade in—
Georgia: Take off Russia. South Ossetia’s our turf.
Russia: Take off Georgia. Stalin designed this system…kind of, and it kicks ass and we’re keepin’ it.
Georgia: Whatever. We’ll just declare war.
Russia: Well, we won’t declare war, but we will bomb the hell out of you.
(IRONY BREAK!!! Russia doesn’t declare war, but does lots of damage to Georgia. Georgia does declare war, but just gets damaged. Hmm…)
USA: Go Georgia!
Russia: Ugh. These guys again. Go away USA.
E.U.: Go Georgia!
Russia: What is with these people?!
Georgia: G-funk step to this I dare ya!
Olympics: Hey, what’s going on back there? Do I have to pull this car over?
Georgia + Russia: Nothing mom…
USA: Hey Poland, you’re lookin’ good. How’s about lettin’ me put some missile defenses in your neighborhood
Poland: Hey yourself there cutie. Stop on by.
Russia: Whoa, whoa, whoa, I thought we were cool Poland.
Poland: Oh…uh, hey. See the thing is…
Russia: But what about Warsaw? And those summers on the Black Sea? Was that nothing to you?
Poland: I found a new man.
Russia: Whatever. Hey Syria. You wanna piss off my parents?
Syria: Hells yeah baby.
Georgia: Hey. Wait. This was supposed to be about me.
South Ossetia: Can’t you all just leave me alone?
Georgia + Russia: Who are you again?
USA: (Texan giggle)
Russia: What’s so funny?
USA: Now we get to finish what we started…but this time it’s nuclear baby.

Sound familiar? Just as soon as we seem to be making significant headway towards pulling out of an insane “finish what we started” mission in Iraq, we are once again, laying plans (or so it seems) to finish what we started. What, do we have a quota that constantly needs to be sated? I realize that they’re only missile “defense” systems, not actually aimed at anyone, just there for the protection of the heartland. And don’t get me wrong, I’m all about protecting the heartland. But still, this sends a message to a very scary, very smart, and very freedom-hating Putin (let’s be honest, he’s never going to not be in charge over in his neck of the woods). So let me be the first to overreact and welcome in the newest Hollywood blockbuster, Cold War Part Deux, tagline—This we finish what Sputnik started. Speaking of Iraq, that leads me to point deux.

2—War and Peace, together at last, Tolstoy please don’t sue me.
General Patraeus said something in an interview about leaving Iraq on CNN the other day (I do get CNN World Wide here, so take that for what it’s worth) that caught my attention. “Our biggest mission is to make things sustainable, and the easiest way for me to see how to do this is to follow advice given to me by General Casey, and ‘walk a mile in their shoes’.” Ok, so maybe he’s not a masterful rhetorician, but I take this to mean that as he is making efforts to withdraw from Iraq, he is at least trying to look at things, not as an American, but as an Iraqi citizen. By doing so, I believe he hopes to see problems that will face them (remember, it’s their country…), and in this way, preemptively strike them (nice right?) as a way to make the progress made thus far sustainable, not just set the scene for destruction in the vacuum created by the exodus of American troops (think balance of power disaster, Europe, post Dubaya Dubaya One).

And, like any rational person, I can’t think that this is a bad strategy. Way to go. But, go ahead and ask me, hey Scott, why is this seemingly mundane comment (and although heartfelt, it was mundane) so interesting to you? Well, I sure am glad you asked. You see, there are a few things that the Peace Corps stresses in every aspect of its operation, and perhaps the biggest point (and one spelled out by JFK himself in the original conception of the Peace Corps) is that all jobs undertaken by volunteers should be sustainable upon the departure of the volunteer. In other words, what good is done by someone who makes changes, if said changes can’t be maintained and independently progress on their own once the person leaves? But, the Peace Corps does this through what they call “grass roots efforts”, meaning that they work from the very bottom up. As for Iraq, it was pretty much a top down operation of shocking and awing the party in power out of power. And, what the hell, let’s throw in a little bit of statue toppling and spider-hole news breaks to kick it up a notch. I’m not saying one way is right, and one way is wrong. I’m not saying one way is good and the other way is bad. I just think it’s interesting that both methods have such similar end goals and dissimilar means…only in America, eh?

3—Putting the CNNicism back in the news where it belongs
So my final comment on what I see about American culture comes from my only source of direct exposure to American culture, CNN. I wish I had the technical savvy to make this whole section appear on a crawl bar or something, but I don’t, so use your imaginations. I was watching CNN the other morning while I ate my runny boiled eggs and bread breakfast and there were two things that I saw that I really feel describe America today. The first came in the form of a plug for a segment on party convention coverage. Now normally, I would love to paraphrase to put my own twist on things, but I feel that a direct quote is absurd enough. “You can count on CNN to bring you two full weeks of Olympic sized coverage of these conventions.” Please stop reading, go back, and read that quote again. Ok, welcome back. First let me say, THANK GOD. How could I ever hope to know what the hell is going on in the elections of the free world (I told you I was a freedom-lover) unless CNN was to cover the conventions with “Olympic sized coverage”. Really? Is this really what the media intends to spin our elections into? I, for one, am happy to know that the elections are no longer seen by mass media as political debate, commentary, and reform, but rather as a large scale sporting event. Sure the presidential election only happens once every four years, but can’t the similarities stop there? Nope, let’s make it into a mini-series, no, a made-for-tv-drama, no, a grand ol’ oprey show if you will…I swear, if they make me stay tuned to see who shot JR I’m going to freak out. I’m still waiting to see who shot JFK.

The second gripe I have with American culture, as reported on, and documented for all eternity, by CNN, ring master of afore mentioned circus spectacular, was a feature piece on ‘Barack Obama’s vice-presidential selection’. Naturally, I assumed that with a headline like that, the topic would be about Barack Obama’s vice-presidential selection. What the hell was I thinking? The entire thing was about Obama’s intention to announce his v.p. running mate, drum roll please, via text message. WHAT?! What the hell has this world come to where the candidates are now making major political announcements via text message? The next thing you know, we’ll see the state of the union address written out on the crawler in Time’s Square with nothing more than emoticons and crappy acronyms like: Sustainability, now, in Iraq makes me lmao…which means laugh my ass off…but more importantly, it’s an anagram for lamo. That’s right. I said it. Lamo. Shame on you CNN. Shame on you Barack. Shame on you text messaging. Shame on me for ranting.

Also, to go on the record, I have lost the hair bet…my new site is too hot for a natural sock hat in August.

Thursday, August 14, 2008

A Very Short Story

I'm moving tomorrow, and I'm not sure when my next post will come. I don't have internet access where I'm going, but I'm hoping that I'll still be able to get to a city at least once a week. As I am leaving my host family, friends, and everything I've come to know about Armenia, I thought it would be appropriate to write something on the value of saying goodbye. But, an essay or post just didn't cover it. So, I've decided to post a short story I've written on the subject. It is rare that I will post stories or poems that I write on the blog, so if you don't like this genre, I'm sorry. But, tough luck. It's all you get for now. In the famous words of my 92 year old grandmother, "Life's a bitch and then you die." I think that means deal with it. But, she's still kicking, so who knows. Anyways, here it is.
And My Dog

Sometimes the easiest way to say goodbye is when a person leaves too fast to actually say goodbye. Then, if you’re the type of person that would have to say, “I’m no good at goodbyes,” you don’t have to worry. You don’t have to worry if you never know what to say. You don’t have to worry if you know you always cry. You don’t have to worry if you don’t know whether to shake, hug, or something in between. You don’t even have to worry about saying goodbye only to realize that you’re going the same way a little longer. But I don’t think dogs know this.
My dog walks me to school every day. Every morning when I go through the gate, he is on my heel. And as we walk, he paws out a zig-zag pattern of excitement, a non-linear trail of sniffing here, peeing there, and charging after things that move—geese, cats, leaves, it doesn’t matter. Sometimes he will chase down other people walking on the street, but he’ll only do this if he knows I’m watching. He’ll draw a bead on them and then run them down with a chorus of snarls, barks, and snaps. And at some point, he’ll look back at me because he knows he is small; he’ll look back at me to say, “Did you see me being brave? I was brave right there.” And if no one had been hurt or offended, which is usually the case, I will continue walking, trying not to praise this kind of behavior, but secretly being proud of his devotion. And he will come tearing after me with his tongue hanging out and his tail beating furiously. And together we will continue on to school, where I will say goodbye at the door, and he will play outside my window until it’s time to go home.
Today I did not have school. Though I did leave on foot, and in the same direction, and at the same time; I did not have school. My dog did not know this until we stopped just short of the final hill. Here I would wait for the bus, and my dog would sniff the others’ bags on the ground as they waited patiently too, returning to me every so often for a pat down. When the bus finally arrived, I waited until my dog was away at a bag, and slipped into the bus, not knowing how to tell him, “This time I won’t be back.” When my dog returned to where I had once been, his nose hit the dirt and he sniffed his way to the door. I had made it to the back of the bus, and though his two front paws were on the bottom steps, his scanning eyes couldn’t see me through the crowd. The doors closed, the bus pulled away, and he sat in the dirt. And as I was thinking, “It was probably for the best,” my neighbor tapped me on the knee and pointed out the back window over my shoulder. And there was my dog, running as hard as he could, trying to keep up with the bus. And he did for a while. He ran hard for about three fourths of a kilometer. And I watched him. I watched him until the bus rounded a curve. And then he was gone.

Tuesday, August 5, 2008

In case you were wondering...

I would like to start this entry by formally dedicating it to my habitual readers. Many of you have expressed some interest in knowing what I do on a day-to-day basis, aside from going to class and teaching. Well, as I have neglected to discuss many of these smaller details of my life in Armenia thus far, I would like to take a moment (a.k.a. this entry) to spell out some of the more minute moments of my day that get me by.

1— Get born. Having a birthday party is a great way to pass an evening. I recently had one, and it worked out pretty well. About 15 Americans and 10 Armenians came into town to have what’s called a “khoravats”, or an open-flame barbeque. This type of cooking is pretty standard for any celebration, and my family and I decided it was best to just buck up and have one to celebrate my birth. Great idea, right? I thought so. Anyways, we cooked a bunch of chicken and prepped a bunch of veggie dishes and threw back a bunch of vodka. Although there were many epic moments, I believe the high point of the night was when 16 Americans around the dinner table around about midnight belted out the Start Spangled Banner.

2— Get twisted up. You all know that I have language class everyday for 3.5 hours. Although these are incredibly helpful/important, they have a tendency to get a tad bit tedious. 3.5 hours is a long time for anyone to sit still and be attentive, especially when there is a fabulous view of Snake Mountain (I’ve decided to stick with it…for irony’s sake) right outside the classroom window. So, when I’m not taking notes (98% of class time falls in this category), I have to think about things to keep me from going insane. One thing that has been fairly popular with, well, me, has been to come up with nonsensical tongue twisters in Armenian. I work pretty hard on these in my head, and then, when my teacher calls on me for an answer on whatever it is that she’s talking about, I proudly recite one (much to the pleasure of my classmates…or so I like to think), thereby successfully derailing class for at least ten minutes. I have decided to type the translations of my two favorites here. I would type them in Armenian, but I don’t have the right kind of keyboard, nor can any of you read Armenian…unless you can, and then you would know what they sound like. A: Spicy cat secretary
B: Accountant counts cow-leg soup
Awesome, right? Yeah, I’m mature, I get it.

3— Enter an obscure bet. Jay, a close friend of mine here, and I decided early on that the best thing to do would be to not get a haircut while in country. My last haircut was about the third week in May. Lest one of us should wimp out, or Peace Corps administration should intervene, “Hello August 2010.” It’s the return of the curls.

4—Keep track of obscure English phrases that many think are proper English. Although English classes begin in the third grade here, not many people really know English. (I guess when the Russians were in charge they didn’t take kindly to that kind of talk.) Anyways, even the kids learning English in school seem to know an amalgamation of interesting English phrases. For example, when I walk down the street, I am frequently greeted with a friendly “Hello Moto,” not as a joke, but in sincere belief that that is a proper greeting in the English language, which it is.

5— Influence small children. My family currently has extended relatives that have been staying with us for about two weeks now. The father is away on work, but the mother has three boys: 12, 11, and 2. Although the 12 and 11 year olds are entertaining to watch beat each other up, the 2 year old seems to be my main source of familial entertainment. I have recently taught him to growl like a bear every time he takes a bite of food. It’s pretty awesome. Also, we hunt flies in the house with matching fly swatters. This is entertaining and practical, as 5 pigs and a passel of chickens (and a nameless rooster) live directly below the house, and our 10 goats live in an adjacent pen.

6— Get a dog. My family has a dog named Alex, and he is stellar. I love the little bugger, and wish I could take him with me to my permanent site. But, as I am living in an apartment there, I cannot. So, I have to get all of my dog time in now. However, now is probably a good time to mention the Armenian outlook on dogs. I am the only one in the house who doesn’t kick the dog. This is not to say that they don’t like the dog. But it is to say that their outlook on animal treatment is different. It’s a tough life for Armenian canines. The result of this type of treatment is obedience, but not affection. Because I feed, pet, scratch, and play with the dog, the dog returns affection, and, as of late, protection. I don’t need protection, but Alex has taken it upon himself to walk me everywhere (kind of like Mary’s lamb). However, if he is the lamb to me, then he is the tyger (see William Blake’s “The Lamb” and “The Tyger”) to anyone near me. The result of this is that my host parents have started to tie him to the tree in an effort to prevent him from attacking neighbors, whom he believes intend to do me harm.

7— Get a deadline. After much reflection, I have decided that I need to give myself a deadline in order to ever finish my book. I intend to have a completed manuscript by Spring. As a method of holding myself accountable to this deadline, I have decided to make it publicly known. So, if I do not have a completed manuscript by Spring of 2009, feel free to mail me a brown paper sack of burning fecal matter. Or, if you happen to be in Armenia, just leave it on my doorstep, knock real loud, and run away. I made this resolution about a month ago, and since it’s implementation, I have been fairly productive. So, so far, so good. (60% of the words in the last sentence were identical.) I’m excited at the idea of finally getting it finished, but nervous about sending it off for review. But, stay tuned for an update on that.

If you have any suggestions for day-to-day activities, please leave them in the comments. Also, Allison, shoot me an email with your blog address so that I can find you. These computers won’t let me search.