It was a gloomy, drizzly day. The sky was overcast, the air cold, the people sad and grey. Everything practically begged you to be depressed… except for one thing. The date. December 20th, 2017. The day when, twenty-something years ago, my life changed forever. SURPRISE! I’m talking about the day of my birth!!! I know, that was unnecessarily dramatic. But December 20th this year truly was a cold, gross, drizzly day, and if it wasn’t my birthday, I probably would have been as seasonally depressed as the rest of the city.

Work birthday balloons

If you know me, you know that I take birthdays VERY seriously. Not just my birthday, though that is one of my favorites, but anyone’s! Everyone’s! I love them. The fact that everyone has a special day where people just celebrate the fact that they exist is kind of awesome! People say, “Happy Birthday!” but they mean, “I’m going to have an awesome day because thanks to this day, you exist! And since I’m happy about that, you should be happy too! So happy day of your birth!” Okay, maybe that’s just me who thinks that… but that’s how I give my “Happy birthday”s in my head, so that’s how I’m choosing to receive them as well.

Anyway, my day started out with balloons at work! They got me balloons! But wait… that’s not all of the excitement that work brought… the ceiling was feeling jealous of the sky, so it decided to start raining too! Yup, that’s right. We sprung a ceiling leak about 15 minutes after I got to work. You know how people say it’s good luck when a bird poops on you? (Lies.) I think they also say that it’s good luck if the ceiling starts to leak on your birthday. (Completely made up.) If that’s the case, I’m going to have some incredible luck this year! Once the one leak was under control, a couple hours passed and ANOTHER one started up! It sounded like there was a downpour inside. I have no idea what happened, but they’re doing construction upstairs and chances are good that they messed up some pipes. I guess that’s one danger of having an office in a basement.

I don’t know how well you can see it, but there were two nonstop streams of water coming from the ceiling. I usually work in the room through that door.
This ceiling incision with a kitchen knife confirmed that there was, in fact, water above the ceiling in our actual office also

We also had a huge humanitarian aid distribution where something like 100 people came in to get packages, and after work, we ate cake! It was the birthday of someone else at the organization too, so there was a little joint celebration. Side note, I don’t think that birthday candles exist here because they basically just stick fireworks in the middle of their cakes. Okay, slightly dramatic again… they’re more like giant sparklers. But definitely not the kind of thing you’re supposed to blow out, unfortunately.

After work, I had the rest of the night planned. There happened to be an opera, so I figured, why not? Opera isn’t my favorite, but it’s still cool to go to the show and see the costumes and watch people fake die on stage. The storylines are also always completely ridiculous. This one was “Il Trotavore” (The Troubadour). It was kind of fun because there are subtitles to help you follow along… but they’re in Armenian. I got some good reading practice, and I completely understood one line in the whole opera! It was incredibly exciting.

As promised, here are some more pictures of the lights around the city. These ones are on Northern Ave
More of Northern
On the way to opera!

Here’s my attempt at a brief summary:

There is a gypsy woman who sneaks into the house of some rich people and weirdly stands over their baby’s crib. The kid starts falling apart, so the gypsy is burned alive for supposedly cursing him. She yells for her daughter to avenge her as she dies.

I also got a rose at work!

The daughter tries to do just that by throwing the rich people’s baby into the fire too, but she accidentally grabs her own kid and he dies instead. She keeps the other baby and raises him as her own.

Fast forward some number of years. The princess is in love with the fake gypsy boy (man?) aka the troubadour. The count, brother of the kidnapped kid (aka the now-grown gypsy man/troubadour), is in love with the princess. They don’t know they’re brothers. They get into a fight one night, and the princess hears a false rumor that the gypsy man was killed. She is devastated and does what anyone else would do in that situation… she decides to become a nun.

Gypsy man hears about this and goes to rescue her from the convent. He breaks her out, and off they go. Meanwhile, the count captures gypsy mother (fake mother of gypsy man). When gypsy man hears, he declares a war. He loses, and he and the princess get captured.

Christmas tree inside the opera house

The princess promises to marry the count if gypsy man is freed. The count agrees, and the princess poisons herself with some poison she had in her ring (is this a normal thing to have??). The poison is incredibly slow-acting because she stays alive long enough to go see gypsy man, tell him what she’s done, have a fight with him (why is he fighting with her?? She’s already definitely going to die), and spend at least five minutes singing about how she’s dying, she’s dying, yeah, yeah, yeah so just do it already! (I’m sorry, I don’t think I’m cut out for the opera. Things take too long to happen.)

Princess finally dies. Gypsy man is devastated, but that’s okay because he gets beheaded just minutes later when the count sees he’s been duped. Gypsy mother wakes up just in time to hear that her “son” has been killed, she tells the count that he killed his own brother, he falls to the ground in grief, and she cackles about the fact that her mother has finally been avenged. The End.

After that incredibly uplifting show, we went to this dessert restaurant that always results in a full-on sugar coma. I ate a brownie with ice cream on top and a chocolate shot on the side, and it was phenomenal. And I wanted to die afterwards, but that’s the way it’s supposed to be.

Zoe, Olivia, me, Liz, and Gabrielle with the opera poster
Some of the decorations in front of the opera house
Note the giant, red ornament that you can walk through
More opera decorations
Olivia the ice sculpture eskimo
Ready to inhale my dessert

The day was pretty perfect. There was some excitement at work, plus balloons and cake, we watched a bunch of people fake die while singing, I ate enough sugar to power me through the rest of my life, and I got to hang out with my friends. I have a bunch of friends who didn’t know each other, and it’s always fun when you can make your worlds collide. It didn’t seem like anyone hated each other, so we’ll call it a success! Anyway, it definitely wasn’t like any other birthday, but it was great!

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.

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!