Later this afternoon I will travel in the bumpy backseat of a spring green Lada to meet the young women of Halidzor, a village about 20km from here. The taxi comes courtesy of a former resident of Halidzor who asked me to run an English club in her village. She speaks fluent English and now works in Yerevan. Narine wants the young people coming after her to have the chances she has made for herself—and the girls, (for most of the students are girls) are all keen to learn. These teenagers, who already speak elementary English, are like the flowers of spring, fresh-faced and beaming. They are full of life and hope and imagination. Last week we were discussing ambition and professions and I asked them to mime career activities so the others could guess what their dream job was. We had dentists, and lawyers, and nurses, and teachers, a guitarist and a journalist. It was all enormously good fun. I have a pack of playing cards in my purse. Each card is illustrated with a photo of an Irish landscape and so each student will be asked to describe the picture on her card. Lots of talk of rivers, lakes, mountains, castles, grass, sheep, mist and rain. The vocabulary is as useful here as it is in Ireland. Next week we are discussing feelings and actions. I sense a rendition of “Brown Girl in the Ring” in my near future.
Younger children come to English clubs too. Every Sunday in Goris I read stories to a group of kids aged 7-10. To check their comprehension of the story, I ask them to draw a picture as I read. We have had three little pigs and their various houses, and Raggedy Ann, found in the attic with only one button eye. Again, the students are usually girls and are very concerned to get the details of the picture just right. Left to their own devices, they will copy the picture from the book, but I do my best to encourage a more freeform approach to illustration. Last week we had a sudden influx of boys who I could tell were tiring of the details of Raggedy Ann’s attire. The story explained that the little girl who found the doll had been climbing over old chairs and tables in the attic. Time for a challenge to see who could move around the room without touching the floor. The boys loved it. Anush, who’s probably 8, looked rather disapproving.
My organization hosted the Goris Write On contest a couple of weeks ago, so I had a chance to read some of what the students produced. Write On is an international creative writing contest administered by Peace Corps. The students are given a prompt to spark their imagination and then an hour to write their story. Access to phones and dictionaries is forbidden. On student wrote an allegory about a monster and the insects clinging to its back–a government and its people. We had the invention of a season of opportunity, and a dystopic world where robots ruled. I could not have written any one of these stories in Armenian. I suspect that stories written by kids of the same age in the UK or in the US would not have had the uniform high moral tone–exhortations to love one another, be kind, and work hard. Students here are educated to please, not shock.
Earlier today, I coached a 10th form girl–16 years old–who will recite May Sarton’s poem “For My Mother” at the Goris poetry recitation contest on Saturday March 10. Nane does learn English at school but her teacher is not involved with her decision to enter the contest. This is something she does all by herself. She is a previous 2nd prize winner at national level. She was word-perfect today and so we worked on emphasis and emotion, and a hand movement or two. She is amazing and a pleasure to work with. I am so proud of her.
The visual arts are flowering too in Goris. We have not one but two art schools and a an art gallery–the resident artist there also tutors proteges. My organization came up with a good idea: we asked some of the most talented young people to paint locally themed paintings and framed these up in colorful sets of four. Local businesses will be given the opportunity to buy the paintings for display in their offices–a wonderful way to show their link to both the landscape and the community. The money raised will help local families get over various bumps. I want one of those paintings myself…
Watch the 90 second video below and marvel at the talent of Goris’ Most Talented. The sale of pictures will take place at 3pm on Friday March 2 at the Art Gallery. Phone bids will be accepted. The music track on the video is written and performed by one of our young, local musicians. If you can, join us for the poetry contest in Goris on Saturday, March 10 from 12 noon. It’s at our local theater–yes, we do acting too.