Friday, April 8, 2011

A Series of Unfortunate Events

In the past couple of weeks, a few things have happened that have made life a little more difficult. I have written before about the exploding water heater, the subsequent (short lived) absence of water and the month long absence of hot water. That is all in the past now. Next was the dog bite. I was on my way to the gym I joined (yes - I found one and a discussion of that as compared to the ones in the US warrants its own post sometime later) and was taking the shortcut I had discovered from my apartment to where it is located. The shortcut goes through a residential area, although one that is a bit more, shall we say, rustic. It passes through an area with "domik" housing and where steps have been fashioned into the hillsides for passageways. Between the sets of steps there are dirt paths that wind between the houses, many of which have irregular property lots. And the area also has a lot of dogs.

It has always been unclear to me about whether the dogs you see roaming around are stray or belong to people. My Gyumri host family's dearly departed Gosha, for example, used to disappear for days and wandered around on his own. You sometimes see people walking dogs on leashes but that is a rarity and I have only once seen a dog on a chain outside its house. So the dogs I pass in this particular area could be guarding individual houses or they may just be stray.

In any event, sometimes I pass through and the dogs just watch me and don't make a sound. Other times one starts barking and every other one in the area joins in. One dog at the top of the hill that sometimes started this chorus I nicknamed "The General" as I seem to recall a kid's movie with a "leader" dog who passed messages through a community of dogs. But I digress. I had been told a while back that the ones guarding a property will usually only bother you if you cross onto their property so I never worried too much as I keep to streets and stay out of other peoples' business. We had also been warned in pre-service training not to look dogs in the eye or you may provoke them. I don't know if the first is true but I can tell you the second probably is. Walking up the hill, the General started barking at me. I was in a bit of a mood so I stared at him to show I wasn't scared. But when I passed, he lunged and bit my calf. I spun around, threatened to kick him and moved my arm is if to throw a rock and he backed off. I discovered the skin was broken in five places even though my pants didn't appear torn. On the way back later, he started again but this time I had a rock, raised my arm as if to throw it and he backed off (and - yes - I walked there deliberately so as to not let him win). Since then, I have continued to walk in that area but have noticed dogs are more scarce since then (although not entirely absent). Some do still make a fuss when I pass but I have adopted the practice of keeping a rock with me just in case. As I have written previously, dogs here tend to be maltreated so the threat of harm to them is usually sufficient to make them back off. I had been hesitant to get into that mindset so as to not perpetuate it but now we see how far that got me. But I also wonder about the reduced presence. I have heard about "round ups" where people shoot stray dogs periodiocally and sometimes (relatively) domesticated ones get caught in one. A fellow volunteer tried without success to save her neighbors' dog who got shot recently. Yes, there is a problem but I wish programs like another volunteer suggested (to neuter strays and create shelters) would be adopted. There is one in Yerevan, but again...this ain't Yerevan. So, I have been receiving rabies shots although they are not as painful as everyone but me seems to have heard about (it's five shots in the arm over four weeks - not 14 in the abdomen). I need to make a five hour round-trip journey for each shot that takes five minutes to administer, but at least I have more dedicated reading time.

Then last weekend, while exercising at home, I managed to spill water on my laptop. Yes - I know it is foolish to keep an open bottle of water next to a laptop but there you have it. I learned that the recommended way to address this is to put the computer into a bag of rice for a few days to absorb the moisture but apparently I learned that too late as I had booted the thing up a few times already since the spill. I had some local experts look at it to see if it can be fixed and am exploring other options (like getting a new one brought to me) while I use the various internet cafes in Gyumri. But I have now heard that the keyboard seems to be shot and maybe more so I need to take another trip to Yerevan to find a quality repair person. As a result, my posting has been (and probably will continue to be) delayed until I can write at leisure somewhere where I am not charged by the hour. And someday, I will be able to file my tax return, but that is an entirely different issue. But, at least I have more dedicated reading time. What is surprising to me about all of this is how calm I am about it. In the past, I typically got very worked up about things, even when there was nothing I could do about it. But it is evidence of the effect that a slower-paced environment has on me that I now do what I have to do and get on with things. There are worse things than unplanned trips to Yerevan. The dog bite is better than the broken ankle that another volunteer suffered recently. I am lucky that I am in a country with internet access and in a city where internet cafes are plentiful although I need to again get used to not having access whenever I want it. I can make an electronic estimated tax payment until I can get my return filed. I was probably spending too much time on the computer anyway. As they say here "vochinch" - which literally means "nothing" but one of the uses loosely translates to "What are you gonna do?" And did I mention that I have more reading time?