Welcome to my home

Welcome to my home

Friday, October 24, 2008

I’ve Decided That Meat Over an Open Fire is the Best Meat

So here I am, sitting in my room, messing around on my ukulele when I come up with this catchy little blues hook.  So, I push it around a little bit, and start to hum a melody line as I develop a chord progression.  And after a while, the humming gives way to words, and wouldn’t you know it, now I’m addicted to writing blues songs on my ukulele.  Now, I know what you all must be thinking.  “Scott, you are a skinny white boy, playing an ukulele.  You expect me to believe that anything bluesy can come of that?  Last I checked, if you wanted to sing the blues you needed to be a big burly guy with a smoky voice and a steel guitar.  And, if the guitar isn’t steel, there at least needs to be a lit cigarette stuck in the strings up by the tuning pegs.”  Well, my only response is that, yeah, you’re probably right.  But hey, there’s got to be a first for everything, no?  The way I see it, I’m living in a place that insists on calling this thing a small guitar, and I’m not playing it for anyone anyways, so who’s to say I can’t play the blues on it?  Are the lyrics lame?  Probably.  But honestly, unless you’re B.B. King or Jimi Hendrix, what blues lyrics aren’t lame?  If nothing else, it passes the time and usually makes me laugh…at myself, which is probably for the best.


And honestly, learning ways to pass the time seems to be the best thing that I can be doing at this moment.  As I am still fairly new to country, I still have much to learn, and am reminded of that with each passing day.  One thing that has been on my mind as of late (and perhaps you’ve heard my grumblings about this already) is the threat of winter as it swiftly makes itself known.  As of yet, all I know about the winter is what I have been told, so my knowledge is, at best, second hand.  So, I am left to imagine what my life during winter will be like.  I’ve heard horror stories of waking up in the middle of the night with your sleeping bag frozen around you.  Not having anything to eat but potatoes for months on end.  Being holed up in an apartment with nothing but a bottle of vodka and loneliness to keep you warm.  Now, I’m willing to bet that some of these things are exaggerations, but I’m also willing to bet that they aren’t wild exaggerations. 


Winter comes at a time when I am allowed to move out onto my own, no longer under the care of a host family, which would be a first for me in Armenia.  This, of course, offers me a new sense of freedom and independence.  But, it also offers a host of obstacles.  How will I heat wherever I end up living?  Where will I get food? (Remember, grocery stores don’t exactly exist here, and I have not been pickling.)  How will I avoid becoming that volunteer that keeps himself warm with a bottle of vodka and a single light bulb suspended from a wire dangling from the ceiling?  In the winter, because heating does not exist here, the schools shut down.  Apparently, 0 degrees at home is warmer than 0 degrees at school…So, if I’m living on my own, I will now be battling boredom as well.  I know, things just keep getting better, right?  Needless to say, the development of hobbies is a must…cue ukulele and blues.


Now, some of these problems can be avoided if I decide to stay with my host family through the winter.  It’s weird.  For my service in Armenia thus far, I have always been of the mindset that I would get my own apartment as soon as possible.  But, as that day approaches (December 15), I find myself unintentionally leaning towards staying with my host family.  Maybe it’s just doing things like cutting my own hair and having them laugh at me, but then asking me to cut theirs too.  Or sitting on the new couch (which they bought with the money from a cow slaughter) reading a book while my uncle’s three year old son holds my elbow like it were my hand and we were crossing the street.  Or just having a plate of potatoes dripping with oil waiting for me when I get home from work, when I wake up, when I don’t wake up, or when I otherwise turn around, breathe, etc. (yeah, there really are a lot of potatoes here).  Or maybe, I just can’t fight that primordial instinct that humans really are pack animals, and we stick with the pack.  I mean, it’s just what we do…unless you’re weird…which I am.


But, come December, my host dad moves back home because it’s too cold for him to work until spring.  And, mom is due to have a baby pretty soon.  (On that note, I’m not exactly sure where people go to have babies around my village.  And, I don’t know anything about midwifery [midhusbandry?].  In fact, sometimes I wake up in the middle of the night scared to death that it’s going to be time for the thing to fall out and I’m going to be the only one around.  So, I know that a few of you reading this are nurses.  Any words of advice are more than welcome.  I’ll tell you what I know.  There’s something about breathing.  The thing needs to have a cord cut.  Odds are the mother will probably hate me just because I’m standing near her.  And I think I saw a doctor slap the baby once in a movie.  But that’s it.  Seriously, what do I do?)  Now, as the apartment stands, with mom, boy, grandma, grandpa, and me, we are at full capacity.  Add two, and that makes for one awkward feeling.  “Hey guys, don’t mind me.  I’m just going to hang out and take up room that you could be using to be comfortable.”


What do I do?  Move out and risk becoming fond of a hermitage to the point of becoming an alcoholic, growing a nasty beard, and writing a manifesto?  Or, stay in the pack, but constantly feel emotions of guilt?


[At this point the topic changes without any attempt at segue.]


One of the things I’ve found myself thinking about often is me as a little boy.  I wonder what I would have thought of myself, if I had had the ability to see me now, then.  I remember back in the day when I just wanted to be the weatherman, then the garbage man, then back to the weather, then on to sillier things like writing.  Never, really ever, did I imagine that I would be where I am, or dealing with the things I’m dealing with now. I just finished reading this book, and I think it relates to my own situation quite nicely.  It’s non-fiction, but that doesn’t mean that metaphor cannot be read into it.  It’s all about this guy who has this grand idea to walk the Appalachian Trail, and so, without much hesitation (you know, aside from waiting for winter to pass), he sets out to do just that, starting down in Georgia, with every intention of hiking all the way through to Maine.  Needless to say, he, like 90% of the other hikers that start out with intentions of completion, did not end up hiking the entire trail.  But, that’s not to say he didn’t give it a good try.  Anyways, there’s a quote that I really like from it:


“All I know is that from time to time I end up a long way from where I want to be.  But it makes life interesting, you know.”

--A Walk in the Woods by Bill Bryson


mom said...

people should live in packs. it is proven that those with a support family are healthier and happier even if circumstances are not ideal. does moving have to be a concrete deal on dec. 15? are you allowed to change your mind later? doesn't sound like winter is the time to move into a hovel alone. it might be a good idea to refrain from calling the new baby "the thing". sounds like a creature from a B rated sci fi movie. you will be in demand since you have nursery experience. mom

Dad said...

Scott, once again I am hamstrung by modern technology. I tried to vote, but no matter how I try to hit all the possible spots on the screen with that little hand as a pointer, I cannot get my "NO" vote to register. So, just add up the tally and add a "No". Not sure why I get so flustered with new fangled inventions like computers, internet and blogs. The old (analog ways) I think are better, not sure why we need to change. In fact change is probably the downfall of civilization. If the Greeks had resisted change, we wouldn't have had to study Latin in high school; all the Catholics would be Greek Orthodox; it would have saved 16th century England at least 5 queens; and would have probably meant that Dan Brown would have never written "The DaVinci Code". Change is so bad that, without it we would not have to sit through all those boring Presidential campaign adds on TV and the candidates would have to use more imagination to come up with real issues. Yea, I'm against change. Hey, do you think I'm really Armenian?

Alli said...

I have to agree with your mom here, Scott. Particularly until you get one Armenian winter under your belt, it seems that you've got enough cultural adjusting to do without having to worry about where to get your potatoes or how to heat your hovel. Aren't Armenians pretty sociable - as in, the more the merrier? In any event, it seems to me that springtime might be a better time to strike out on your own. What does your host family have to say about the matter?

For how long does school close in the winter? One month, two? And PC doesn't have you working on anything else during that time?

Petersburg winter is shaping up nicely as well. Sunny-ish, warm-ish early fall has turned into cold, windy, rainy, dark late fall. I'm just hoping it won't drop too far below freezing before New Years - somehow psychologically easier to handle the super-cold when I know that, at least in theory, we're moving towards more sunlight every day rather than less.

By the way, if you ever get a chance to record, I'd love to hear how the blues turn out on the ukulele.

Hang in there. Winter'll go faster than you think.