An Armenian Tale, Chapter One: The People

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It’s a tad facetious to think that someone as unqualified as myself could summarize an entire culture/people in a few paragraphs on an amateur blog. I’m not pretending to do that... I only took two anthropology courses in college. All of the information to follow is a matter of observation and opinion: don’t hold it against me.
If I were to sum up the people of Armenia in three adjectives, they would be: proud, resilient, and generous. Pride often has negative connotations in religious America- we have the handicap of the English language, which only has one word for pride, be it good or bad. If I were writing in French, the word I would use would be “fierté”. That is righetous pride- pride in family, civic pride, pride for your accomplishments, etc. For example, I have “fierté” that I took some pretty decent pictures when I was 15, so I am not embarrassed to include them here. The Armenians have raging pride in their country and their church: when you step into someone’s home, they immediately search for your Armenian heritage. You don’t have any? No problem, they’ll make you an honorary Armenian. They’ll say “oh, but you have a prominent nose, you must be Armenian.” (I almost got offended at that one) “You speak with such a good accent, you must be Armenian.” “You are such a good person, you must be Armenian.” And so you become Armenian. Some anecdotal evidence: when my brother was a missionary in Armenia from 2002-2004, he was in the home of a family with young children. (Side note: my brother is even blonder than I am.) One of the little girls in the family offered to cut her hair to make my brother a wig, so he could look more like them. Because to them, he is Armenian. A fluid sense of ethnicity helps the matter for us blondies that want to integrate: Armenia was formerly occupied by the Soviet Union, which sent lots of Armenians to Russia, and invited some Russians in. Furthermore the borders of modern-day Armenia are a fraction of what they once were, so ethnic Armenians live throughout the Caucasus region. Not to mention, there are more Armenians living outside of Armenia than there are within its borders.
This pride is a symptom of another characteristic: resilience. The Armenians have been kicked around for centuries. Have you ever heard an old Jewish lady talk about the woes of the Jews? That tirade was nothing compared to what an old Armenian could go on. And rightfully so: Armenia’s Mt. Ararat (now within the borders of Turkey) is traditionally where Noah’s Ark landed at the end of the flood. Armenians are very proud of this history, but can’t just go over and hike this holy mount. Turkey-Armenian relations, for those of you who have been living under a rock, are volatile. Armenia was the very first country in the world to accept Christianity as its official state religion. Christianity has flourished, but between the Pagan invasions and Soviet scorn of religion, the Armenian people had to practice in secret. No matter, Armenian Orthodoxy has survived all of that. There is no wonder that Armenia is the land of many churches... that’s what you see. Everywhere. Carved into mountains sometimes. Literally carved into stone. It’s amazing, and a testament to the ability of Armenian people to flourish under oppression. Take that, Stalin!
I saw a lot of day-to-day resilience too, just in my simple interactions with regular people. Armenia, though once a beacon of scholasticism, has an incredible unemployment rate. When I was there, it was at 74%. We complain during the worst recession since the Great Depression that our unemployment rate is high, but it’s less than 10%. I wonder what the recession is doing to Armenia. People don’t let it discourage them that they can’t get jobs: they go to school, get their PhDs, and do what they can for their country. Teachers in Armenia have a monthly salary of $10, and they rarely get paid. But kids don’t sit at home and do nothing, they still get an education, and they still fight to improve their country. I knew a teacher who went to school and taught every day, but hadn’t been paid in months. Of course poverty is obvious on the streets, with people living in squalor and hoards of children running loose. A rich person in Armenia has running water 24 hours a day. My brother knows much more about the economy of Armenia, as he did research there as part of his Undergraduate Honors thesis. You can get in touch with him for more on that.
Even in the face of unemployment and poverty, I have never been among a more generous group of people. I was regularly forced to eat fresh vegetables and succulent pastries until I was past the point of nausea, even though I had no way of knowing if the family would be eating for the rest of the week. And the food is gooooood. Once, I was writing in my journal at midnight after a long day, assuming everyone was in bed already: “Zara’s mom just ran in very cutely and handed me a plate with 4 apple slices and 4 apricots... it was so cute and kind... how could I say no? I ate all of the apples, which are perishable, and 2 apricots to be polite... AH! She just brought me cake too!!” We were constantly showing up in villages where hundreds of people would be there to greet us, thrilled to see strange faces. We visited a small mountain village, and someone let slip that it was my birthday. I had dozens of roses from strangers by the end of the day, and no idea what to do with them all. They were beautiful.
So, here are some pictures of Armenian people, accompanied by journal entries describing them:
“We again went into the oven to watch the preparation of the lavash, where Joanne got to make one and was absolutely pleased as peaches. I also got to make a cake or two of the kind that we had at Aghod... ohh they’re so good.” (Traditional Armenian ovens are kind of like Indian tandoors.)

“Another melancholy stop was the deaf school. Miss Karine translated for the principal as he told us all about their school, and how the children come from as far away as Georgia because it’s the only deaf school around. He took us to their sewing classes and their art classes and showed us the students’ work. It was really quite miraculous to see deaf children learning such life lessons from a school that just replaced lip-reading with signing two years ago.”

“A whole bunch of adorable village girls swarmed around us (including three little girls who I referred to as my fan club, for they followed me around waving and blowing kisses for hours) ...”

“Old ladies, I think, were created to bargain. Short, stopped, wrinkled, mangled, toothless, and absolutely brutal. They are absolutely relentless and so hard to haggle with! One would think, what can they do, gum me to death? But oh geez... it’s indescribable. Thus I never get my mother’s tablecloth at Vernisazh market, but I did get two bracelets for myself (from male vendors: pushovers really.)”

“Eventually we got to take showers in the public showers, one U.S. dollar per hour split to 4 people, and it was beautiful to lose all of the grime. Afterwards Will and I played street soccer with the neighborhood boys, who were absolutely nasty! They were so good.”

Finally, a quote that I came across when cleaning my desk, and for some reason didn't throw away (now I know why...): "I should like to see any power in this world destroy this race, this small tribe of unimportant people, whose history is ended, whose wars have been fought and lost, whose structures have crumbled, whose literature is unread, whose music is unheard and whose prayers are no more answered. Go ahead, destroy Armenia, see if you can do it. Send them from their homes into the desert, let them have neither bread nor water. Burn their homes and churches. Then, see if they will not laugh again, see if they will not sing and pray again. For, when two of them meet anywhere in the world, see if they will not create a new Armenia." -- William Saroyan

The MoTab Expands

12:29 PM Posted In , , , Edit This 3 Comments » does the list of celebrities that I am personally acquainted with. This just in from the Newsroom: "The Mormon Tabernacle Choir announced today that Ryan T. Murphy has been named associate music director. Murphy will assume the associate music director position formerly occupied by Mack J. Wilberg, who was appointed music director in March 2008." (You can find the full article here) Ryan "T-bone" Murphy was my piano teacher for a brief stint in 2003-2004, when I decided to take lessons back up after a brief hiatus. Piano is a love-hate relationship in our family... my previous teacher had required an hour and a half a day of practicing. Do the math? That's over 10 hours a week. Add to that puberty and an active social life, and there were blow-ups all the time at my house over the clavier. My mom had a rule that when we started High School we could choose to quit piano, and I did it without blinking an eye. By senior year, however, I missed lessons which forced me to practice and improve, so we asked the new guy in town to be my teacher (and Caroline's too... I think our old teacher may have been pregnant?)
Ryan was an awesome piano teacher. He was really good natured, and very relaxed. I didn't work as hard for him as I had for Cara, probably because I wasn't afraid of him, but I really enjoyed taking lessons from him. Ryan's also incredibly talented at the piano and the organ. My dad and I had the privilege of a daddy-daughter date to see him play the organ with the Boston Symphony Orchestra. That's dope.
Back to Ryan being good-natured: my sister Caroline is "full of life" and "a spitfire." At least that's how adults describe her vivacity. So Caroline also took piano lessons from Ryan, and she would have been 8 at the time. Well, as many piano teachers do, we had these notebooks that would have all of our assignments for the week written in them. Caroline, for some reason, decided to make her notebook a correspondence log, and would write Ryan little notes that he would find before her lessons began the next week. Here's the first (and probably funniest) of the serious of hate-mail Caroline wrote to Ryan:

Basically, Caroline had the same love-hate relationship with piano that the rest of us did, and tried to enlist Ryan's help in getting out of it. "I want you to tell my mom that I should stop playing peano!" After some increasingly violent scribbles in the book, (including Caroline actually writing "I hate you" over and over again in circles on one page) my mom let Caroline off the hook. She just couldn't take it anymore... she was so embarrassed when Ryan showed her the notes in the book! But the rest of us loved it, including our good-natured teacher. Congratulations, Mormon Tabernacle Choir... you've picked a winner! Good luck Ryan!

An Armenian Tale

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My favorite thing to do is travel. My second favorite thing to do is relish in my travels... look at photographs, chat about cultural experiences, and generally brag. I really like maps with the pins in them for that reason. Much to my chagrin, however, I haven't been able to leave the country since my London Study Abroad in 2006. I know I shouldn't complain about that... but I do. Luckily, (and definitely not by chance) my friend Laura was called to serve a mission for our church for 18 months in Armenia. I spent 3 weeks in Armenia in 2002, and so now I get the chance to reminisce, with the excuse that I'm educating Laura about her future home.
The time that I spent in Armenia has meant the world to me. I learned a lot about the world, humanity, and myself in the short time that I was there. I also learned about the way God works when my brother was assigned to serve a mission for our church there in 2004. It seems like it must be pretty common to go on these missionary excursions to Armenia if I know two people now to do it, but to give you an idea: .5% of all missionaries assigned per year go to Armenia. That's right, one-half of 1%. It's one of the smallest missions in the world. And when the church assigned my brother to go there, they had no way of knowing our family's connection already. I will never be able to deny the hand of God in that.
So why the heck was I in Armenia as a 16 year-old? Well, it turns out that one of the cities with the most concentrated Armenian Diasporas in the world is Boston. Growing up, I thought that everyone was Irish Catholic or Roman Catholic, and knew at least three Armenian kids. Boston is a funny place. So a large group of these Armenians in Boston set up a sister-city gig with Yerevan, the capital of Armenia. And the Cambridge-Yerevan Sister Cities Association (CYSCA... don't laugh if you speak Russian, it was an accident) was born. CYSCA is involved in education, outreach, relief efforts, etcetera, and they came to school and made the call for hosts for Armenian exchange students, as well as the opportunity to be an exchange student. Being culturally aware even at such a young age, I eagerly signed up. Our efforts were funded jointly through the State Department, and we were given the aim to promote "Democracy and a Civil Society" through our efforts with our Armenian counterparts. This little program was deemed so important by the State Department that they funded the Armenian students' entire trip to the U.S., and gave them each a computer for their schools. They also funded half of our trips. There were about 30 students in all, I believe: 15 American and 15 Armenian. This was no small endeavor. (Here's a link to the CIA World Factbook information on Armenia.)
Having the students in our home was fascinating. We weren't allowed to take them to normal malls (in Boston, the Burlington mall was forbidden, and Chestnut Hill would have been punishable by death) for fear of extreme culture shock. They came to school with us, lived with our families, and did some fun excursions of their own. My exchange student, Zara Tepelikyan, was very shy at first, but eventually opened up, showing us her sweet, fun personality. I could share a lot about their trip to the United States, but I'd rather focus on the outbound side of the journey, in the name of educating Laura (and her friends and family) and generally bragging about how awesome my life has been.
This has been a very long prologue to my Armenian Tale, and has taken much longer than I expected. So instead of continuing on with Chapter One right now, I'm going to sign off and give y'all a break, transcribe old journal entries, and scan my old negatives from 2002 and make some pretty pictures for the next post. Stay tuned!

Are you afraid of the dark?

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Much to my mother's dismay, but taking strongly after my father, I'm a bit of an adrenaline junkie. Whether jumping off of bridges on Martha's Vineyard, cliffs in Hawaii, or hopefully someday jumping out of a plane, I love to push the limits of my fear. (That also explains my love for scary movies, although unfortunately most don't scare me anymore.) I started noticing my tendency to scare myself for fun when I was a kid: my favorite movies that I always begged my mom to rent at VideoPlus were Planet of the Apes and Edward Scissorhands.
I also had nightmares about the Ring Wraiths in the Lord of the Rings, but was still totally fascinated by them... because I was a cool kid and read those books in elementary school. Yeaah. Around this same time with the weird Sci-Fi and Fantasy movies and books (I think it was a period between 7 and 9 years old) I also really liked to look at books about spiders in the library, because I was really afraid of them. Most kids are scared of things and avoid them at all costs... I would flip open to the page of the meanest, biggest, hairiest spider in the book and stare at it. Then proceed to have nightmares. I'm really admitting to some weirdness here. Either way, I was totally fascinated by these weird, crazy, scary spiders! Now I'm not afraid of much... I'm really only afraid of things that are poisonous. Hence, some spiders still put the fear of God in me, though not the kind you find around the house. To get to the point, I was looking at National Geographic today at some of the new species that scientists have discovered in Papua New Guinea (where all the good beasties are) and I found this awesome jumping spider:
It's almost beautiful, isn't it? Its body sparkles and shimmers like it's been made out of plastic recycled from princess jewelry! So I was enjoying how innocuous this spidey seems to me, when I scrolled to the second jumping spider they found:
This one scares me! It stirs emotion deep in my bowels, even though it's a 2-dimensional picture on my computer screen. The spiders are probably both harmless, and come from the same family (because they're both jumping spiders, or something) but it still makes me nervous just to look at the picture. So which one do you think I'll be spending more time looking at tonight?

save some green and simplify your life!

10:22 PM Posted In Edit This 0 Comments »
So... I love to organize things. Everything. A lot. When I was kid, I used to have sleepovers with a girl in my class (who I won't name.) She had one of the messiest bedrooms I've ever seen, and I would spend the ENTIRE sleepover cleaning and organizing her room. As like an 8 year-old. It turns out, my best friend at the time would also sleep over and do the same thing. I guess neurotics stick together? Anyway, any shows on T.V. about clutter-busting or organizing definitely catch my interest, like today's episode of Oprah. Part of the joy was, of course, an offer to spend your hard-earned savings on things to help you organize! I thought I'd share the love... since I really love the Container Store. If you need anything, this coupon should make you pretty happy! It's valid as many times as you want to use it for almost a month for 25% off at the Container Store! That's huge!

a wee bit o' the Irish in me

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Happy St. Patrick's day everyone! In honor of the rowdiest holiday on the calendar, I thought I'd share some of my Irish roots. This, on the name "Carmack" (my mother's maiden name):

The original Gaelic form of the name Carmack is Mac Cormaic, derived from the forename Cormac.

The scribes who created documents long before either the Gaelic or English language resembled their standardized versions of today recorded words as they sounded. Consequently, in the Middle Ages the names of many people were recorded under different spellings each time they were written down. Research on the Carmack family name revealed numerous spelling variations, including Cormack, MacCormack, McCormack, McCormick, MacCormick, Cormac, Cormick, Cormyck, Kormack, Kormick, Cormach, Cormich, Cormiche and many more.

First found in Munster where they held a family seat from very ancient times.

Suffering from poverty and racial discrimination, thousands of Irish families left the island in the 19th century for North America aboard cramped passenger ships. The early migrants became settlers of small tracts of land, and those that came later were often employed in the new cities or transitional work camps. The largest influx of Irish settlers occurred with Great Potato Famine during the late 1840s. Although the immigrants from this period were often maligned when they arrived in the United States, they provided the cheap labor that was necessary for the development of that country as an industrial power. Early immigration and passenger lists have revealed many immigrants bearing the name Carmack: Daniell Cormack who settled in Virginia in 1643; Christopher Cormack settled in Annapolis Md. in 1731; Patrick Cormack settled in New York State in 1804.

I found another family crest similar to this one, but it had a motto on it: Sine Timore, which, being translated, means "Without fear." Pretty legit.

In closing, this week's episode of 30 Rock had one on the best quotes about St. Patrick's day I've ever heard: "Passing out and cursing on St. Patrick's day? Is nothing sacred?"

A Conservative Pundit’s Plus-Size Remark

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I read this column in the New York Times, and I was shocked, appalled, and then bolstered by the awesome remarks made by Meghan McCain in response. Some of you know that I've struggled with my weight a bit over the past 3 or so years due to a hypo-active thyroid. I've lost 30 pounds since my peak, and I'm feeling pretty good about myself... sometimes. When I'm in Los Angeles, the land of skinny, plasticized women, I feel pretty fat. Like even though I buy my clothes at regular stores in regular sections (not the plus-sized racks) I'm somehow disgusting. The conversations at work always center around diets, and I often receive unsolicited advice about how I should eat to lose weight. I didn't ask for your advice, but thanks, I'll remember that. This weekend I was in Boston, land of liberal intellectuals and rowdy Red Sox fans, and I felt great about my body. Yeah, it's on the chubby side for me, but it's not disgusting, it's just how I look, and it's not that important. In fact, I thought about the way I looked much less in Boston than I do in L.A. Maybe that's why people are so wicked smaht back home...
Anyway, it's upsetting to me how obsessed our culture is with body image. I know I'm ranting here, I'm almost done. I recognize how dangerous obesity can be for one's health, and think that the world's (and especially country's) problems with obesity need to be addressed. But being a healthy weight, like Meghan McCain, who isn't even overweight in the strictest sense, and still being subject of public humiliation, is disgusting to me. I'm really glad I don't listen to Conservative radio, it would probably give me bloodthirsty rage.

Here's the article, and photographic evidence:

Criticizing a woman’s weight is one of the “last frontiers” of socially-acceptable prejudice, says Meghan McCain, the daughter of Senator John McCain.

Ms. McCain, who calls herself a progressive Republican, was responding to remarks by conservative radio host Laura Ingraham. It all started when Ms. McCain, 24, criticized Republican pundit Ann Coulter for her extreme views in an online column and an interview with talk show host Rachel Maddow. That enraged Ms. Ingraham, who responded on her radio show by mimicking Ms. McCain, using a caustic “Valley girl” voice. (The blog ThinkProgress has the audio.) Among her remarks:

"O.K., I was really hoping that I was going to get that role in “The Real World,” but then I realized that, well, they don’t like plus-sized models."

Ms. McCain, who would be considered normal weight by most standards, responded in The Daily Beast with a highly personal column called “The Politics of Weight.”

"I have been teased about my weight and body figure since I was in middle school, and I decided a very long time ago to embrace what God gave me and live my life positively…. I am a size 8 and fluctuated up to a size 10 during the campaign. It’s ridiculous even to have this conversation because I am not overweight in the least and have a natural body weight.

But even if I were overweight, it would be ridiculous. I expected substantive criticism from conservative pundits for my views…. My intent was to generate discussion about the current problems facing the Republican Party. Unfortunately, even though Ingraham is more than 20 years older than I and has been a political pundit for longer, almost, than I have been alive, she responded in a form that was embarrassing to herself and to any woman listening to her radio program who was not a size 0.

In today’s society this is, unfortunately, predictable. Everyone from Jessica Simpson to Tyra Banks, Oprah and Hillary Clinton has fallen victim to this type of image-oriented bullying. Recent pictures of Pierce Brosnan’s wife, Keely Shaye Smith, on the beach in her bikini raised criticism about her weight and choice of bathing suit — as if the woman should be wearing a giant muumuu to swim in the ocean. After Kelly Clarkson’s recent appearance on “American Idol,” the first commentary I read on the Internet was about her weight gain instead of her singing.

My weight was consistently criticized throughout the campaign. Once someone even suggested I go to a plastic surgeon for liposuction. Afterward, I blogged about loving my body and suggested critics focus their insecurities about women’s bodies elsewhere. On the other side, my mother was constantly slammed for being too skinny, so the weight obsession of the media and our culture goes both ways. It also goes to both parties. Hillary Clinton has consistently received criticism for her pantsuits and figure. Whatever someone’s party, these criticisms are quite obviously both wrong and distracting from the larger issues at play.

The question remains: Why, after all this time and all the progress feminists have made, is weight still such an issue? And in Laura’s case, why in the world would a woman raise it? Today, taking shots at a woman’s weight has become one of the last frontiers in socially accepted prejudice."

Meghan McCain is hot! Look at her, all technologically savvy... I still won't vote for her dad, but I'm loving her! You can find Meghan's blog at