The Grinch

I have a new “favorite thing I’ve ever seen”. I’m sure that in the past I’ve said that something was the best thing I’ve ever seen, and whatever it was, it’s been dethroned. By what, you ask? The Grinch. The Yerevan Puppet Theatre version of the Grinch, to be specific.

A few weeks ago, I casually walked by the puppet theatre and saw a new show poster outside. Even though I didn’t understand everything on it, the picture was really all I needed. The Grinch, in all of his green, yarn-haired glory. At that moment, I decided I had to go. Honestly, I would have gone by myself if I had to, but everything is more fun with friends. Plus going to a children’s show solo is even weirder than three grown humans going to a children’s show without bringing any children.

Because how could you not take this picture??

Finally, I got some friends to nail down plans with me. My gosh, it’s hard to get people to commit to anything! My friend Olivia from work and another friend agreed to go. Olivia bought the tickets, and we were good to go! That morning, I sent a text confirming our meeting time with the two of them, and the other friend didn’t respond… Backup plan. Liz, other friend from work, was in the office on Friday, and I re-pressured her into coming with us. She had already said no back when we were figuring out how many tickets to buy, but I told her that it wasn’t going to be long, the tickets were super cheap (only about $2 each), and she would regret not going. Sold. She was in.

This is a horrible picture, but see how some of the seats are folded up for kids and others are down for grown people?

I know that I said Liz would regret not coming with us, but that was a statement based on nothing more than my own expectations for the production. I had no idea that those were actually some of the truest words ever spoken. From the moment we walked into the building, I knew it was going to be good. They were selling popcorn, and kids were running wild. Any theatre that you can eat in is definitely my kind of place… and it was good because I had picked up some snacks for us on the way which we were obviously going to eat no matter what, but it’s nicer when you know you’re not breaking any rules. Also, the seats in the theatre are genius. You can leave them folded up if you’re a kid and need an extra boost, and you fold them down if you’re a grown person.

Okay, the show. How do I even begin to describe the show? We really didn’t know what to expect going in. Since it was at the puppet theatre, did that mean it was going to be all puppets? No. No it did not. A girl with blue yarn hair came running into the theatre to start off the show, and it was nonstop action for 45 minutes after that. Best things about going to something intended for kids:

  • Food in the theatre
  • Audience participation is encouraged
  • Constant high energy because otherwise the kids get bored
  • Everyone speaks clearly because kids
  • The words they use are pretty basic because kids
  • Kids think everything is funny, so the acting is completely over the top

The whole crew

Hehehehe

I’m sure I could keep going if I wanted, but basically, my major takeaway was that I should have started going to kids’ shows a loooong time ago. I even understood what was going on! The music was all the Christmas songs we know and love, translated into Armenian. The story was slightly different for cultural reasons. Here, people don’t exchange gifts on Christmas. That happens on New Year’s, and Christmas is celebrated on January 6th. I like this way much better because I’ve thought for a long time that gifts on Christmas take away from the fact that it’s about Jesus. That’s especially true for kids because as soon as presents are in the mix, they become the most memorable things. I think New Year’s presents are going to be my new approach to holiday gift-giving. Sorry, I know… I’m always getting sidetracked.

Which one am I? I’m such a good copier that I know it’s hard to tell

Anyway, since Christmas presents aren’t a thing, “How the Grinch Stole Christmas” doesn’t make much sense. They decided to go with the much more direct “Who Stole the Gifts?” for the title. The town is obsessed with the new year. They do not live in Whoville. Cindy Lou Who is Dzyun Anushik, aka sweet snow (kind of weird no matter what, but slightly less weird because Anush/Anushik is an actual name). Santa Claus is Dzmer Papik, aka Grandfather Winter. The Grinch hates the new year because he was born green (GREEN! *gasp*) and therefore had no friends, was loved by no one, and never got any presents.

The first song of the show was crazy and energy-filled, and I didn’t even care that they were people and not puppets. Then… song #2… PUPPETS. No clue why they were necessary (they really weren’t), but I’m never going to complain about something like that. The dog, Max, was also a puppet, handled by a puppeteer in a white jumpsuit and hood.

The Grinch, Max, and the puppeteer

It had everything I hoped for and more: stupid humor that the kids LOVED, audience participation, puppets, bad lip syncing, hilariously translated Christmas songs, PUPPETS, dancing, and a feel-good ending. And I understood most of it!

Curtain closing. Encore, encore!

Puppet displays

Like I said, the supermarkets are completely swamped. At this one, they had extra stock piled in front of all of the shelves so that they wouldn’t run out of things. One part hilarious, one part brilliant. And also much harder to navigate your way through the store because you simultaneously have more people and less aisle space.

When we left, we all agreed that it was valid to say that missing out on the show was something to be regretted. Thank goodness because I was just making that up to convince Liz to come. It was the perfect way to kick off the holiday season and holiday VACATION!

I’m so excited to have some time off work and to go to Lebanon! Work has been chaotic, and I can tell that I need a break. The construction project is coming along, and they think it should mostly be finished by the beginning of February! I can’t believe I’m going to get to see the finished product! Everyone takes off during the first week of the year between New Year’s and Christmas, so luckily that means I’m only going to miss a week of work for my trip which isn’t a big deal.

Otherwise, the city has been crazy with everyone getting ready for the holidays. All of the supermarkets are swamped, traffic is insane, and there are just people everywhere. I’m excited to experience the New Year’s festivities!

More light pictures! LOOK AT THIS

I think this is my favorite one so far

Inside a light ornament with Liz and Daniel, a guy from my language class

Christmas Round 1 and New Friends

It’s weird being away from home for Christmas. It’s even weirder being away from home for Christmas and having no one around celebrating. In some ways, I think that’s made it much easier. I don’t have to look around here and see everyone celebrating with their families while my family is halfway around the world. Instead, today was just like every other day. People went to work, kids went to school, and stores were open.

Nativity scene on Northern Avenue

When it comes time for Christmas to be celebrated here, on January 6th, I’ll be in Lebanon! I’m going to visit Badveli Nishan and Maria, family friends who moved there this year (shout out to Badveli’s blog for interesting musings on life in Lebanon). They came to Armenia for a week back in October, and we were able to meet up a couple of times. While they were here, they invited me to spend Christmas with them in Beirut! I’m super excited to get to see them, experience Christmas in a new place, and be surrounded by adoptive family for the holidays!

I made some earrings to get into the holiday spirit!

Even though it’s an adjustment not being home for the holidays, I have been making some new, good friends here which makes it easier. It was hard after a bunch of my friends from the summer left, and over the last month or so, things started falling into place again, both with brand new friends and reconnecting with some old ones.

At work, we have a really fun group! Besides me, there are three other people volunteering there, Hagop, Liz, and Olivia. They’re all nice, and two out of three of them are going to be here longer than I am! That means no hard goodbyes with Hagop and Olivia because it’s always easier to be the leaver rather than the left. I’ve started talking more with Yelena, one of the full-time staff at work, and she’s great too. Feeling like I have a little community there makes going to work much more enjoyable.

Ice skating with Zoe

I also made a new friend at church, Zoe. She’s going to be in Armenia for at least a year, so there’s another person who I don’t have to worry about leaving me! We went ice skating together a couple weeks ago, and once you’ve been ice skating with someone, your relationship reaches a whole new level… one hour of skating in circles, trying not to fall or skate over a child, and talking about anything and everything. It’s quite the friendship exercise (both physically and emotionally).

I think it’s cool to have friends from all different parts of life because then you get to bring them together and see what happens! My birthday was a perfect opportunity for that. For the opera, our group was me, Liz, Olivia, Zoe, and Gabrielle who is a friend from my old language class. Only Liz and Olivia knew each other ahead of time, and it was a ton of fun! When we went out for dessert afterward, Olivia and Gabrielle swapped out with Faith and Alina, a Birthright friend and an ex-BR friend who is now working in Yerevan. I like getting to see people connect, and when you’re friends with a bunch of different people, you feel like it’s only right that they meet and like each other.

Cake for Zoe’s Christmas Eve birthday

I’ve been trying to be less of a hermit (it’s too easy to let that happen when you live alone), and that requires an active effort which can be a struggle. That’s especially true when work nights are involved because all I want to do on non-language class days is go home and sleep! A couple weeks ago, I went with Hagop and Olivia to a screening of a genocide documentary called “Intent to Destroy: Death, Denial, and Depiction”. I wasn’t sure exactly what to expect, and it turned out to be incredibly interesting. I have seen and read plenty of things about the Armenian Genocide, but this took a different approach than most. It followed the filming of the movie “The Promise”. There were mixed reviews on the quality of the storyline in that movie, but that’s really not the point. The point is that for years, people have been trying to make a major, mainstream movie about the Armenian Genocide, and every time, it’s been shut down somehow due to pressure from the Turkish government. The US has strategic reasons for wanting to stay on Turkey’s good side, so rather than standing on the side of justice, the US government has failed to acknowledge and condemn the actions of the Ottoman Empire 100 years ago and has even contributed to pressuring production companies to abandon projects.

See? Don’t we look like old friends?

This documentary told the story of the genocide while also weaving in other stories: what happened to previous attempts to make a movie like this, people’s individual experiences during the genocide, impacts of the persistent denial, etc. It also gave some genocide deniers a chance to speak, and that was interesting because I’ve never heard anything like that before. I guess I should have known that such people existed considering that there are even people who deny the Holocaust happened, but it was strange to actually hear the voices of denial. They say that it was a war and that yes, many Armenians died, but that’s what happens in a war, and many Ottoman Turks died as well. Forget the fact that a huge number of the Armenians were women, children, and the elderly and that the Ottoman Turks were mostly able-bodied soldiers… Anyway, it was surreal and a little discomforting to hear people questioning something I’ve known as fact for my entire life. I strongly recommend checking it out if you get the chance!

Fountain lights in Republic Square. I love these!!!

I’ve also been making some new friends in my new language class. I haven’t talked about that yet, have I? I’m pretty sure that the last time I mentioned language class, I was raving about how awesome my class was and how well things were going with my teacher and how happy I was. Yeah… so probably the week after that, I was informed that I was switching classes. Devastating. I had the option of staying with my teacher and joining her new class but was warned that it would probably be too easy. After trying to stay with her for one class, I was forced to admit that I needed to get over it and move on. It was kind of cool to see how far I’ve come since my teacher’s new class was at the point where I was probably three months ago, but mostly I was just depressed because I knew that I had to get to know a whole new class and a new teacher.

Now, it’s been about three weeks with my new class, and it’s not so bad. This class is definitely at a higher level than my original class, and it’s pushing me to learn more. That’s good I guess. I’m still getting used to the teaching style and the other students, but I’ll get there. The best part is that everyone in the class can read Armenian which means no more transliterating words on the board. A recommendation for anyone seriously trying to learn a language with a different alphabet – learn the alphabet as soon as possible because it makes everything else SO much easier. At least with Armenian, there are a bunch of sounds that can’t be described with transliterated spellings, so you’re basically learning everything kind of wrong until you learn the correct sounds of the alphabet. Now that I can read, trying to do anything transliterated is a massive struggle because it all just seems wrong.

Anyway, things are going great for me right now. I feel happy and comfortable in my life here, and that’s exciting! It’s also good because I still have two months to go. If I was feeling unhappy, we’d be in trouble!

More Republic Square fountain lights. Don’t these look like Cinderella carriages?

Light tunnel in Republic Square

Lighting Ceremony!

I have one word for you, folks: LIGHTS. That’s right, it happened. Today was the official “lighting of the city” ceremony (I just made that name up, but that’s what it was). My coworker and I were talking about the lights just yesterday, and when I got in this morning, she said that she read they were going to have an event in Republic Square at 7PM to turn everything on. YES.

Me with my coworker, Yelena

From that point on, the day was kind of perfect simply because of the anticipation of the lighting ceremony. That was my go-to topic of conversation with every single person I encountered, and I’ll just say that none of the Armenians were nearly excited enough. They were all like, “Yeah, they do this every year.” SO?? That doesn’t make it any less crazy! Though I guess it’s like anything else where you can become immune to the awesomeness if you let yourself get used to it.

Can we all agree to try harder to live each day with our eyes open? Okay, that sounds stupid if you take me literally. What I mean is that it’s way too easy to get used to the cool things that surround us, and we eventually start walking around without seeing them anymore. It’s even happened to me throughout this year, and sometimes I have to take a second to be like, “HEY! Lara! Wake up! You’re in ARMENIA (/India/Peru/Ghana/fill in the blank) right now. Take a look around, appreciate the awesomeness, and stop being such a goober!” I know, harsh words. No one likes to be called a goober, and the best way to avoid it is to not act like a goober.

Light trees! I don’t think the picture does them justice

Anyway, I need to go on a nighttime city walk now so that I can take a million pictures of all the crazy, ridiculous, insane, out of control, etc etc etc decorations and lights. This place is truly a winter wonderland. Recently, while I was in the middle of some rant about how many lights there are, the person I was talking to said something to the effect of, “But isn’t it like this in the US too?” HAHAHAHA. I mean, yes, there are plenty of excessive holiday decorations, but I have NEVER seen anything on the level of Yerevan. It’s the whole entire city! It’s not just one square or one street or one area. It’s everywhere.

I can’t tell you much of anything about the actual ceremony. Here’s the best summary you’re going to get out of me: It was supposed to start at 7. It didn’t start until at least 7:20. There were some dances and songs that I completely missed because I was too busy yelling at them to just turn the lights on already. Someone sang an Armenian version of the classic “All I Want for Christmas”, though apparently the translation wasn’t even close and ended up being a bit of a love song to the city (shocking… because all we need is another song about Yerevan. If you missed my post about Yerevan’s birthday, just know that there are more songs about Yerevan than about every other city in the world combined). There were people in weird, multicolored animal costumes dancing around.

HUGE tree in front of Opera that is still smaller than the Republic Square tree

With crazy lighting comes crazy wire splices. Can you spot the incredibly safe and waterproof connections?

Walking away from Opera. This is from last night, so all of the lights weren’t even on yet!

Finally, the mayor and his family got up on stage and started the countdown from 10. I was jumping up and down from the excitement of the whole thing. I definitely win the award for most excited person over the age of 8. Maybe even just most excited person. The tree lights were not as cool as I wanted them to be, but THE FOUNTAINS. The fountains are the greatest things I’ve ever seen. I need to do a full post of photos of the fountain sculptures because they’re phenomenal. I didn’t get any good pictures tonight because there were too many people, but I promise I will!

You can kind of see a smidge of the fountain lighting

Some of the fountains. Try to tell me that this isn’t awesome? And they twinkle a little bit in real life. Kind of mesmerizing.

After the tree lit up, the fireworks started. WHY. Why does every event need fireworks? I hate fireworks, mostly because they’re loud and make me want to hide under a blanket. I only used to tolerate 4th of July fireworks because those came along with licorice laces and other candy that gets permanently stuck in your teeth. To make things worse, here they always set them off WAY too close to people. I spent the entire time with my fingers in my ears and my eyes peeled for potential flying firework debris while simultaneously trying to check out all of the newly lit decorations. Why do you need fireworks when the whole point of the event was turning lights on? It’s basically the same things as fireworks except that nothing is exploding.

Anyway, in summary: today was wonderful, fireworks are the worst, and lights lights lights!!!!! I hope you’re not sick of me talking about them yet because I can promise this won’t be the last you hear of them.

The tree! Take note of how well those spotlight beams are showing up… That’s because of the worse-than-usual smog in the city. Hooray, pollution! We were joking that the city worked hard to get pollution levels up just so that the lights would look good for this event. “Okay, everyone. We’re all going to save our trash burning until Tuesday morning so that we can get a nice smog hovering over the city. Those lights are going to look GREAT!”

Republic Square. It was closed off to car traffic again which was so fun! I love walking in the middle of the street.

Websites and LIGHTS

My resume at the end of this year is going to be a total hodgepodge. In Ghana, I was a farmer, math and English teacher, tutor, computer repairwoman, carpenter, mason, and hole digger. In Peru, I was an engineering teacher, lighting consultant, and electrical surveyor. In India, I was an architect, dance choreographer, Bible storyteller, and English literature teacher. Here, I’ve been an AutoCAD teacher, archaeology laborer (aka bucket carrier), architect, kitchen designer, and content editor… and now, you can add amateur graphic designer and marketing consultant to that list.

Winter wonderland!

With the construction underway on the project at work, I’ve been dabbling in some other tasks. One of the other volunteers and I are determined to broaden the reach of the organization so that they can get more donations. They’re doing awesome work, but it’s not well publicized. If you want people to donate to support your work, you need to show what exactly it is that you’re doing. You need to promote your activities so that more people hear about your organization and are motivated to help. You also need to have a way for people to donate… ideally one that’s functional.

Disclaimer: I’m not a marketing expert. I didn’t study business. I don’t have experience specifically in this field. However, I do have experience with selling things… it started with Girl Scout cookies and led me to every merchandise committee in existence in university. Selling merchandise is all about making products that people will want and then alerting people to their existence. This isn’t so different. We already have products that people want (aka an organization that’s doing good, effective work). Now, we just need to spread the word. Maybe it sounds stupid to equate selling t-shirts with fundraising for an NGO, but seriously, there’s plenty of overlap in skills and thought processes.

Isn’t it just the perfect amount?

Our first project is the website. There’s a lot of information there already, but some things about the way it’s organized are confusing. We’re going to try to reorganize a bit, plus add more information that will hopefully answer some of the questions a potential donor would have about the logistics of the different programs. Anyway, I’ll let you know when it’s finished so that you can critique our work and offer suggestions (because what could be better than crowd-feedbacking? It’s like crowdfunding for ideas).

I also got placed in charge of designing the Christmas card that they send out to all the donors, so that resulted in a full day of me squinting at my computer screen and trying to come up with an idea that wouldn’t be too stupid. I don’t know, I think it turned out okay. I also didn’t have all of the graphic design resources that I would ideally have for a project like this, so I had to get creative with powerpoint and free editing software. It was a fun adventure… and by fun I mean that if I could afford photoshop, I could have finished the whole thing with about 10% of the effort.

The card…. Shh! It still hasn’t been sent out yet, so feel honored to be one of the first crew to see it.

In other exciting news, it snowed here!! It was about a week and a half ago, and it was the best kind of snow… it happened overnight, there was only about an inch, and it was all melted by the time I was walking home from work. You get all the beauty of snow with none of the annoyance! If only the whole winter could go like this… I know that’s not going to happen, though. It’s okay. I’ll enjoy the mild weather while it lasts!

Everything is so pretty under a layer of snow

Just enough to hide the litter on the ground and make the world look clean

I was on my way to work when I took this, but if I hadn’t been, I think I would have insisted on taking a quick frolic through the snow.

The city is getting even more out of control with the lights. I’m sure you’re probably sick of hearing my rants about the insanity of this city, but you’re going to have to put up with them a bit longer, sorry. They are STILL putting up new decorations. They started when I was home for Thanksgiving, and every time I think they must be out of places to put more lights, I’m proven wrong. There are lights everywhere. Everywhere. EVERYWHERE. Do you understand yet? No. You couldn’t possibly.

2018! Almost!

There are at least two ginormous Christmas trees, one in Republic Square and the other in front of Opera. Northern Avenue has lights strung up over the entire street like a light canopy. There are light sculptures in every fountain. There’s a Christmas Village on Northern. There’s a light tunnel in Republic Square. There are these massive light arches there too. In front of Opera, besides the huge tree, they have a giant light ornament that you can walk inside, plus big, light-up castles. There are light shapes hanging from the trees, and lights and lights and lights to the point where you think that if they ever turn them all on, all of the villages in the rest of the country are going to have to have their power cut in order to accommodate them (that’s a depressing joke, but it’s also one of those things that unfortunately wouldn’t be surprising).

Using a bucket truck to string the lights over Northern Ave

Northern Avenue with only some of the lights turned on… It’s going to be crazy once they get the overhead lights going.

Random concert on Northern!

More decorations

I still can’t figure out when all of the lights will get turned on, but I am the MOST excited. It’s another one of those situations (like Yerevan’s birthday party) where I think the whole thing is completely ridiculous and beyond crazy, but it’s happening no matter what I think, so why not enjoy it? I have some pictures, but I promise that as soon as more things get turned on, I’ll take so many that your eyes will be permanently damaged from all of the lights shining in them. Okay, maybe not your eyes but DEFINITELY mine. Even with the limited number operating so far, I think I’m permanently seeing spots.

Christmas Village on Northern

Lights lights lights!