In Defense of Winter
I returned to my site after a four-hour marshutka ride (marshutka is the most popular type of public transport in Armenia), and feeling down, I called up my counterpart so I could pick-up my mail. She said “come over” and I walked the 10 minutes to her house. She greeted me, gave me the two envelopes and we chatted quietly so not to wake her five-month old granddaughter. She asked me how the training had gone and if I was tired from the travel. I recounted the last few days and she shared hers. It was 8 pm and she asked if I had food at home. I said yes, that I was going home to cook eggs. Upon hearing that I would eat eggs for dinner, she said, “no no, that wasn’t good” and that she had potatoes in the oven. She said, “come, have dinner.” Appreciative for the invite, I walked into their living room, and greeted her husband who was soothing his now awake granddaughter. Nina instructed me to sit down in the stern, “I’m an Armenian woman of a certain age” way and I promptly followed directions. She removed a handful of hot potatoes from the nearby wood-burning stove and set them on the table along with bread, cheese, pickled green tomatoes and a huge chunk of butter. While I ate, Nina and her husband entertained their granddaughter. They played and sang with her, rocked her back and forth and bounced her around. I-while sitting near the stove, eating hot potatoes, and observing the joy of grandparents caring for their grandchild, absorbed the warmth and kindness of this household. In that moment, I thought to myself, “this is Armenia: hospitality and family.”
It wasn’t a new idea to me or a new experience, but at times something I’ve forgotten. That evening I needed the reminder. I was tired from travel, on the cusp of Armenian winter and American Thanksgiving was in a few days. I was a little homesick. Thankfully I got the reminder I needed that evening when I showed up at my counterpart’s house with very little warning. I was treated like a family member and received the simple message that I needed to hear: that one doesn’t have to be at home to feel it.
The winter season is a challenging time to be in Armenia. It’s dark and cold. Yet, as I reflect on my time here and think about my favorite moments, what they have in common is food, warmth and wintertime. As I’ve anticipated my second winter in Armenia over the last couple months, I’ve had to reconcile my discomfort when getting out of my warm bed in the morning and my annoyance with frozen olive oil with the fact that many of my favorite memories from my service have been during the winter. I fondly remember huddling around my neighbor’s stove last winter eating bean soup and practicing my Armenian. I laugh when I think about English clubs in my house last December, and the way my students and I all crammed onto the furniture closest to the stove. More recently, I felt at home when I had dinner at my student’s house and was repeatedly told that this winter I should come to their house whenever I wanted, as I was a part of their family.
I grew up in New Hampshire and have always loved the winter and snow. Now Armenia has given me another reason to love this season: for the way it inspires and creates community, warmth and togetherness. Armenia is a different place every three months, and the dark and cold of wintertime, although unfriendly on the surface, has proven quite hospitable.