Saturday, June 14, 2008

My host grandmother, the agronomist

After reading Why Credit Cards are Getting Away With It
and The Cure for America's Chronic Recession
off Robert Reich's blog and this week's This American Life on the topic of the mortgage/credit crisis, I made an awkward effort to explain my "tsk tsks" and the general situation to The Sultan (my host grandmother). Turns out the woman is a pragmatist. NOW IS THE TIME FOR ACTION, she indicated.

My mother (that is, American mother) is in China, on an educator exchange program through her district, until the 20th. My host grandmother said, "Does your mother have access to email? Quick, write her before it's too late. Tell her to bring back with her four to five sacks of black Chinese soil, and I'll match it with four to five of our good Javakheti soil. You'll have 10 sacks, and can plant your own potatoes. Ekonomika mekonomika, retsessiya metsessiya (Armenian for economics schmeconomics, recession schmecession), the rest can starve. You'll be fine." She laughed loudly, and said "Your mother will think my 'chauffer has left the car' [gone crazy]. SEND IT!"

That's that: I think we're opening a subsistence potato operation in Tucson.


Thursday, June 12, 2008

Marshrutkas could haul a rocket and host grandmothers are great things to have

I just got back into Ninotsminda last night very late (the first time I've been on the road after dark, and I've gotta say... Georgia is DARK at night) last night, in a marshrutka carrying me, the driver, a commercial convenience store style refrigerator, and hauling another broken marsh in tow behind us through Javakheti's mountain range gave me lots of time to just zone out and think.

I've been out here for just about a year, and I don't even know what poignant thing to say about that, other than that I have. I'm surprised at how long it's been and how short it's felt, as well as how short it's been and how long it's felt. Mostly it just doesn't feel foreign or disconcerting here anymore, but that's part of the adventure.

The new volunteers are coming, and we're about to become the "veterans" in country. It really does seem like forever ago that I arrived here.

I'm not going to try and force an article in here that would sound forcibly self-righteous and overly philosophical. That said, I'll just upload a picture of my host grandmother I've been meaning to post for a while. This is right after she and I did some digging in the garden for more potatos. I think it's easy to say Tatik Manya "The Sultan" Zalalyan and I are the closest. I love this woman. I'd been going through some host family issues lately, and through it all, she'd been there for me without a budge. She still tells me she'll "break my fingers" if I don't make my bed, but I promise you it's endearing.

Saturday, June 7, 2008

Barf means snow

I remember a class I took a long time ago it seems (but not really) my sophomore year in college – this intro class to international business. We of course hit on the entertaining topic of internationally marketing a product – that there is a critical need to do your homework with regard to possible misunderstandings in naming or advertising your product in languages with which you might not be completely familiar.

The professor brought up a few examples: In the Spanish speaking world, when Chevrolet brought its new Nova car to a Spanish-speaking country – Mexico, if I remember correctly, it hit on a nice little embarrassment – I'm taking her word for this, as I know about as much Spanish as I overheard passively while living in Tucson - "no va" means something like "doesn't go." Bic advertised a click pen, saying it won't leak in your pocket and embarrass you, unfortunately using the Spanish verb closest to "embarrass," which has less to do in Spanish with feeling sheepish as it does with being impregnated. Zipping over to Germany, some kind of multinational cosmetic company introduced a hair curler or straightener or something (what do you folks do with something like this?) called a "Mist-stick" with the unfortunate downside of such a product being linguistically associated with, well, poop.

Making the same leap as I did in my final leg of the journey to where I am writing this, Germany to Georgia, I bring you Barf. This wonderful Iranian product is the local "Tide with colorsafe bleach," it cleans my clothing in the washer with the utmost of effectiveness, leaving all my absolutely gross reworn clothing (remember, I also only take a bath, if lucky, weekly) as spic-n-span as detergently possible every Sunday.

But Barf, as we all bemusedly know, should not be introduced to already soiled clothing. Seems like a frying pan to the fire kind of deal.

This would have been an endearing marketing misfortune, but it seems the folks in Tehran are on to us. On a bottle of their Windex-equivalent line, I recently noticed an addition. Written in the tiniest of letters, right under the product name, an almost legalistically fine-print bailout: "Barf means snow."

Needless to say, I appreciate this attention to customer concerns. On a side note, I've gotta say, it's in my head-trip column along with a long list of other things that my detergent is exported from the "Axis of Evil."

Happy summer!