About a month ago I moved out on my own, into my host family’s old house. It’s been a bit of a struggle so far against the winter, as the house feels (and retains heat) like a rustic old New England lakeside cabin. That said, overall it’s been a positive experience and I’m getting more and more comfortable with the space every day. Some details below on the realities of independent living, in descending order of importance.
I’m choosing to be a woodsy grouch and heat just with wood for as long as possible (I ordered what I was told is enough for six months, but I’ll stress about that until it’s late April and I still have a giant pile of wood left). I have gas and electric heaters I can use, but they’re more expensive and don’t fit as much with my image of what I wanted my independent Peace Corps living to be (which is certainly to my detriment on the evenings when my stove takes a half hour to get a good burn going). I’ve been spending a couple hours three or four mornings a week chopping and am almost halfway through; I’d forgotten how much I love chopping, and am looking forward to doing it under more comfortable conditions next year when I’m able to buy my wood before November.
My living/sleeping space is naturally the room with the stove, and I spend at least 80% of my indoor waking hours at home within four feet of it. It can be a little frustrating to light (though I have a handy wood chips and kerosene mixture supplied by my host dad), but once going puts off great heat and folksy noises. Plus, Lena (our village’s awesome karate teacher) taught me and Kelsey (in town last week) how to make stove-top grilled potatoes, which I’m sure will become a winter staple.
I’ve also resigned myself to wearing long johns at all times for the next four months, and I never have fewer than three layers on up top. The recent shipment of Darn Tough socks from my parents have been a godsend, and I’m considering a hot water bottle purchase. So in spite of some grumbling, I’m staying warm enough.
Food and Cooking
This has been one of the harder transitions, in part because my host family here fed me so well, but moreso because the kitchen is not practical to heat, so cooking and washing dishes can be… invigorating. Most mornings my sunflower seed oil is frozen and I’ve almost wiped out several times slipping on ice on the floor, but on the upside I don’t need to plug in my fridge! And whereas the living room is where I spend 95% of my waking hours right now, I expect the kitchen to take over that role in the warmer months, as it’s a great room apart from the chill.
My cooking so far has been pretty basic – a lot of oatmeal, eggs, bread, and cheese, though I’ve also made a giant pot of beans which kept me going in style for nearly a week. And while I like living alone as a man in part to show that men can cook adequately for themselves, there are definite upsides to the community assumption that I’m incompetent in the kitchen – I’ve already gotten a ton of free food and had multiple people come over to teach me certain dishes (though I should add that volunteers have this experience regardless of gender, so maybe it’s purely hospitality, not doubts about my abilities).
This is where things get a bit dicey. My shower is a water tank with a spigot at the top and a space underneath to build a fire, outdoor in a shed, so it’s safe to say I won’t be testing that for a while. I shave and shampoo a couple of times a week with the water I heat up on my stove, but full-body showers in my house will be limited to baby wipes for the winter. That said, at most every two weeks, generally every week, I’m visiting a place with a shower I can use, so I’ll never go too long, and most Armenians I’ve talked to say they shower once a week in the winter, so in the relative scheme I’m not doing too bad.
Clothes are no problem – I have a washing machine, though the output hose freezes in colder weather, so more often than not I just wash by hand on a sunny morning and throw the clothes out on the line, hoping the sun dries them out before the air freezes them (this time of year it’s a toss-up, I’m sure the air will win out later in winter).
My main worry about solo winter living was getting lonely, but this doesn’t look like it’ll be a problem. Most days Emilia and I work out of her living room (our top priority at this point being renovating a space for the NGO, more on that in a later post!), so I get plenty of goofy time with her and her two awesome daughters and the various relatives who wander in and out throughout the day. I have coffee or a meal with my host folks once or twice a week, almost daily English clubs with kids and adults, and have coffee invitations from all my neighbors that I need to follow through on. And since having my own space I find I have more social energy when I’m out, so the time I spend with folks in town is more meaningful.
As I said above, I have no regrets about moving out on my own, but living alone in an Armenian winter is giving me much more appreciation for the Armenian collectivist/family-centric culture and more insight into how my American tendencies, particularly preference for independent living, can make my life a lot more difficult. That is, part of me wishes I didn’t have the urge to “prove myself” by living alone here through the winter, though I know my desire to live alone goes beyond that to encompass my preferences for how I spend my time, getting to cook for myself, etc. I just keep telling myself that this house and living setup will be perfect April-October and try not to remember that 2/3 of my remaining time in Armenia falls outside those months.
We got somewhere between a foot and a half and two feet of snow in the last 36 hours. Some pictures below!
I’ve yet to knowingly eat it, but I was just told about an Armenian soup, աջապ սանդալ (ajap sandal), that sounds like whatever you’ve got in the fridge thrown into a pot – some meat, a bunch of veggies, some kind of carbs, etc. More interestingly, if you’ve got a lot on your mind (though not necessarily in a bad/stressed-out way) you can say, “there’s ajap sandal in my head”. Keeping the food theme I’d translate this as, “I’ve got a lot on my plate”.
Another great pickup recently was բիզբիզ (beezbeez) which, at least when applied to hair (not sure if you can use it for other things), means “in disarray”. I do my best here with the comb, but this word is still useful for me on a daily basis.