After reading Anna Karenina for two hours last night I went to sleep at 10:30, well, I might be exaggerating a little, it was probably more like 10:15. The interesting thing about going to sleep that early is waking up before it’s even light outside. I woke up this morning just before 7 and my room was still completely dark. When I pulled the blankets down from my face I felt the autumn-cool air that circulates around my bedroom in the early hours of the morning, air so cold you’d swear you were outside. The upside of this frosty atmosphere is that it feels incredibly fresh and I often feel like I’ve got to brush the dew off my face or something. The environment is actually pretty conducive to retaining dream-imagery as well, in the fresh darkness, wide-awake I often feel like I’m still dreaming.
Eventually, I decamp from fairyland and face the real world of my brutally cold room. Before I pull the blankets off myself I do a few sit ups in bed to get the old blood flowing, then after I feel a little warmer I immediately roll onto the floor and do a few more, as the shock of greeting the morning air first thing after waking up requires some kind of palliative measure. I think I’ll try and arrange my camera so that I can get a picture of my face during these a.m. calisthenics, as I’m pretty sure I’m making some ridiculous facial expressions.
The other day I hiked up to the most prominent peak in the surrounding area. I’m still not really too sure how I managed to make it to this crazy place. It must’ve taken me about six hours to get there, almost up-hill the whole way. On the way back I remember passing some mountains I had trod up and trying to imagine how the hell I had managed to walk up such a lengthy and severe slope. I’m not saying all this to brag about my incredible mountaineering skills or anything, if anything all the labor I expended was only the result of not knowing what the hell I was doing; no, I was impressed on my death march back home by the things we are capable of when we’re not paying much attention to the immediate situation. This crazy mountain I had decided to climb was a long ways away, but it didn’t look so far so I just kept going. After so many hours I just kept telling myself, “I’ve already come this far, I might as well keep going.” Not finding a distinct path anywhere I was continually walking up and down mountains and valleys. Almost every time I’d crest some lengthy climb I look over the side to find that I had to go all the way down and back up again. It got to the point where, toward the end of the climb, when I was climbing up the final peak, I had to stop and rest after every few steps. That may have been due to the air thinning out as well, but I really think I may’ve been that tired. When I finally got to the top and rested for a minute I began to get cold and for the first time became conscious of the fact that I was surrounded by snow. The winds up there were also treacherous as hell and, as tired as I was, I had to start moving again in order not to freeze to death up there. I was so sweaty I might as well have been sprayed with a hose and there I was sitting there in an arctic gale trying to rest.
On the way back down I realized that it was much easier going up. Every step I took seemed to throttle my kneecaps and my thighs was starting to ache, it felt like I was jumping down ten feet every time I put my foot down. There were few level places to walk but when I got to one of them I strolled like a fop walking through Piccadilly.
By the time I began to get close to the first village the sun had almost set. As I walked on I realized that I had been walking, nay, climbing all day, since I had left the house around 9 am. I was a nice thought to keep me going as I dragged myself back home. Of course there had been a cattle trail that led about half-way to the mountain all along, this still wasn’t easy to walk but it was better than having to transverse all those damn mountains again, if I had to go back the same I came I really don’t know how the hell I would’ve gotten home.
When I got back to town I really hoped I wouldn’t run into any inquisitive kids, since I wanted to get home and eat as soon as possible. Inevitably I did, but I was able to keep our exchange short.
“Inch ka chika?”
“voch me ban”
“ur es ganoom?”
“heru te mot?”
(Hello, Jon. -Hello. -What’s up?-Nothing.-Where are you going?-Home.-Is it near or far?-Near)
I stopped into a store and bought some of this anonymous mango juice they have. I say anonymous ‘cause I have no idea where the stuff comes from. The label just says it’s produced in Yerevan, no hint as to where the mangos come from, since they sure as hell don’t come for Yerevan. I bought the largest size they had, damn the cost, as I had told myself while shuffling through the arid mountains. I drank about half of it on the way home, trying to enjoy the flavor of what must’ve been mangos and soap.
When I finally hobbled through the door, seeking nepenthe in a warm meal and a soft bed my host-grandmother immediately began upbraiding me for not calling.
And I know, you’re probably thinking “serves you right you dumb lout. Leaving at the crack of dawn telling them you were heading for the mountains and not coming back in the door until 7pm, without calling or anything, probably scared everyone half-to-death, you should’ve gotten a sound beating.” Or at least that’s what you’d be thinking if you were an English governess or something. Regardless, it’s not a bad opinion to have, but after living on one’s own such a long time one of the hardest things about the Peace Corps, at least for me, is not so much the cultural adaptation or the isolation but the reintroduction to family life. I’ve actually worked pretty hard at this and every time I leave the house I now tell them, as I also do upon reentering. I thank the family profusely for every meal and try to be cleaner than I’m used to being, but it seems like no matter what I do I’m constantly overlooking some nuance of family life and acting like a buffoon.
Regardless, next month I’ll be able to move out and I can’t begin to describe how excited I am to be able to listen to music and cook at the same time. I’ve only cooked about 3 meals the whole time I’ve been here, and all of them were back in the first village I left in August. So hopefully I can find an apartment and by mid December I’ll finally get to use this Thai chili paste I’ve had since I got here.