Saturday, May 5, 2012

Seasons Change and So Do I

After a seemingly endless winter, spring finally arrived here.  But, as with everything here still, the way it arrived this year surprised me.

When I left Gyumri for vacation at the end of March, it was about 30 degrees outside.  A few days earlier, I had spent a couple of hours chipping through the ice outside my doorway, some of it more than an inch thick.  The man next door had spent several days shoveling the snow out of the space between his iron gate and his house (I hesitate to call it a front yard but I suppose that's what it is) and had amassed a pile of snow more than three feet high in the street.  As I headed to the marshutni station, it was the first time in months I had gone outside in Gyumri without long underwear. Knowing I would not need it during vacation I didn't want to have to carry it around and figured I could manage for the short while until I reached Yerevan where it is typically warmer.

Two weeks later, I arrived home and the temperature in Gyumri was about 65 degrees. There was no trace of snow anywhere - even in the places that still did not get direct sunlight.  My neighbor's snow pile was gone as was the skating pond outside my door.  For the first time since September, I didn't need a hat, so sunblock is a daily necessity again.  

The next week, attending the conference I wrote about last time, I saw snow in that village but it was limited and I don't think I will be walking through any more of it in Armenia.

This has been quite a change from last year, when spring eased its way in more.  I recall last March, going for a long walk on roads that were mostly clear but still with pockets of snow - this year, long walks in March were out of the question.  April was mostly rain and gradual warming and May was beautiful.  This year, I went directly from my winter coat directly to the lightest jacket I have (when I even need a jacket, that is) and rain was limited to overnights until recently.  It has rained here every day so far in May.

We still experience significant changes in temperature over the course of a day - afternoons can be in the 60s or 70s, but it still can fall to the 30s and 40s at night.  I am still sleeping in the living room, but with only two blankets instead of three and, starting this week, without having to turn the heat on.  

The signs of spring are everywhere - and not just the flowers and leaves budding on the trees.  Women are outside, cleaning their rugs on the sidewalk or hanging out of their windows, washing them.  I notice people dismantling the heating pipes from their houses and carrying their wood stoves to storage sheds.  Outdoor cafes are starting to reopen, although one on the main square had to delay because their canopy collapsed under the snow this winter and is being reconstructed.  The Ferris wheel in the park is open again.  Cucumbers, spinach and other green vegetables are showing up in the markets again (as is basil, so I made my first batch of pesto this year). And the snow has been replaced by mud.

I am also getting to experience an election season here (the once-every-five-years parliamentary elections are this Sunday but the Presidential election is next year).  All over town, I see what I assume are lists of registered voters at polling stations and crowds around party and campaign offices.

Something ironic about a polling station at a puppet theater
The election date is not a firm one but is "called" within certain parameters, and only four weeks of campaigning are allowed prior to the election date. This past week has seen several rallies for the different parties, but in true Armenian tradition they include singing and traditional Armenian dancing.

Political rally in Gyumri

Next day, same place, different party

Having said that, until what happened in Yerevan yesterday, I had never heard of balloon and cigarette explosions at a political rally before either.  No such excitement at the Gyumri ones.  

Contrast all of that with the two-years or so of campaigning in the US (even with the explosion), and it is downright civilized.  Walking with a young lady who attends some of my programs the other day, she complained that the campaigning is so negative - the candidates don't talk about their accomplishments, they only talk about how bad their opponents are.  Sounds kinda familiar.......

Likewise, I am continuing to change with the seasons.  Although I did not want to do it, and had managed not to until recently, my nearly compulsive tracking of time now focuses more on how much longer I will be here than on how long I already have been (three months left, for those following along at home).  Senioritis has definitely set in, but that is accompanied by some low-level panic about trying to finish things or recruit people to carry on programs after I leave.  

With the nicer weather, I have resumed my weekend walking, continuing to discover pockets of the city that I had missed before or taking repeat looks at others.  In the course of these walks, I also get to see again how the city is evolving.  Domiks disappear as families finally get real housing, vacant stores are under reconstruction, a closed cafe becomes a rug store, another store that was once empty, then a cafe, then a pawnshop is now a pharmacy.  The lions are still in the park, but the cages seem even less secure when there was just a padlock.

Yes, there are two lions in there
Also, I see new puppies on the street who don't make me sad the way the winter puppies do - the current crop are more likely to survive (and maybe bite a future volunteer, but that is another issue).

And, speaking of which, spring means that the new group of volunteers will arrive soon (three weeks from now).  As I mentioned last year, it was odd moving into the "experienced" role as we entered our second year, but to the new group we will be the elder statesmen (okay - statespersons).  We have an online group to provide advice to the new people and reading through it makes me realize how far I have come in two years.  The panic I felt trying to get myself ready then has been replaced by melancholy as I start getting myself ready to go back (other than the low-level panic I mentioned above).  Maybe it is the calming influence of living in a slower-paced society.  Maybe it is getting older.

Or maybe it is realizing that, having seen what people here can live through and still dance at every possible occasion, I have learned a lot.