Tuesday 21 August 2012

Days 23 and 24

On Day 23, it was a little surprising to see cold cottage pie make an appearance on the breakfast table.

However, this aside, the next and last day of Leader camp included sessions and discussions on ideas for retaining members, building a programme and recruiting new girls.  The day ended with an evaluation and then an immense amount of packing and distributing of spare bread before everyone piled on the bus.

We bounced (literally) back to the hostel as the road wasn’t really a road but more a collection of potholes joined together with rocks.  At the hostel it was all systems go as we had to shower, eat, pack (yikes…) and meet with Anahit and the National Board to discuss the project and talk about aims for the future.

Shower: no problem, meeting: no problem, packing…..I’ll get back to that, dinner: no problem apart from the fact that we’d been given enough bread to feed all our Guides, Brownies and Rainbows for a week.

Packing was interesting.  We all had less stuff than we started with, mainly because we weren’t taking the tents home.  We’d also chucked away bits and pieces as they broke/fell apart/turned out to be useless.  But it still seemed a mammoth task: every time we thought we’d finished and declared that absolutely nothing else would fit, we’d suddenly discover a dozen more things that had to go in the bag.

When we were ready to go, it was a bit of an anti-climax.  We didn’t really want to leave.  We’d had an amazing time and in all the manic packing and organising, we’d not really thought about it.  NUGGGS (the National Union of Girl Guides and Girl Scouts) had presented us each with a framed photo of everyone on camp, a bookmark of the Armenian alphabet and a NUGGGS pin badge, all in a hand-made giftbag.  We were really touched and these will be wonderful reminders of our incredible experience of working with Guides and Guiders in Armenia.
It was heading towards midnight and that meant it was technically no longer Day 23, but Day 24, our last day.

At midnight we were all ready and it was also time for the Olympic closing ceremony to start, Armenia time.  So we settled in the common room of the hostel to watch.  Our taxis to the airport were booked for 2:20am so there didn’t seem to be a lot of point going to bed.
We changed into our uniform and headed home via two taxis, two planes and a couple of airport shuttle buses, and then a mixture of tubes, trains and coaches back in the UK.  Very little sleep was had by all.  And it was sad to say goodbye as one by one, we split off and made our own way home.

But we’re all back and well and even if it is weird to be home and not have to mime every request with giant actions, or consult  5 other people about what colour top to wear, it also sad not to have 5 awesome Guiders on hand to share each experience with.  Team Armenia? I miss you!

And thus ends of the tale of our Armenian adventure.

Team Armenia, for one last time, Over and Out.

Kirsty xxx

P.S. How long until debrief?

P.P.S. It turns out that Rachel is a cartoonist!  She claims she didn't know she was either but drew us all while we were on leader camp. I can't resist sharing these :D

Jade: Team Leader extraordinaire :

Rachel, GOLD cartoonist and official healer of the sick:

Amy, our unparalleled keeper of the cash:

Rachael, hunter-gatherer of all things resourceful:

Tori, the supreme minder of the minutes:

And last, yours truly, the face behind the camera and the voice behind the blog:

Monday 20 August 2012

Days 21 and 22

It was a little strange to get up on the morning of Day 21 and prepare for leader camp as we’d said good-bye to lots of people the night before.  But we did it anyway and made sure we had all the resources we would need.  Which translates as giant holdall and giant Ikea bag.  Everything in the Ikea bag had originally been in our backpacks.  In fact, before we left for Armenia, Rachael had conducted a super-human flip-chart paper squishing operation to fit loads of extra bits pieces in her bag to bring with us.  It is now a mystery to us how it ever got in there in the first place.  Thank goodness we’re not bringing it back.  Next year’s team, knock yourselves out.

We’d been told that we were going to be having leader camp not as a camp but at a Summer House belonging to the family of one of the participants.  And that there would be beds!  Very exciting prospect for very tired GOLDies.

We packed everything up at the hostel, popped out for lunch and then returned to catch up with a bit of the Artistic Gymnastics.  We always seem to catch really bizarre sports and we spent some time debating whether a team 5 synchronised gymnasts dancing and doing acrobatics with a ball is really a sport.  But it was amazing and as they had 5 balls between them, I suppose it must be a sport.

We took taxis with all our stuff to meet the rest of the leader camp crew.  This was more complicated than it sounds and as we only knew our meeting place was near HSBC, we had a couple of issues.  A very kind (and patient) member of the hostel staff gave the driver some directions and then Anahit, the Armenian GOLD coordinator spoke to him on the phone.  This confused our poor driver and he went to fetch the hostel lady again and told her that the two sets of directions had been to different places.

The thing about GOLD though, is that little potential disasters happen all the time, but they all always work out in the end.  It’s uncanny.  And after living in perpetual confusion, apprehension and panic for an initial couple of days, you learn to let go and just accept that what will happen will happen.  And probably in its own time.  And that’s all good :D

Armenian taxi drivers are a menace though.  While they deign to drive on the road, the emphatically ignore lanes, other cars, seatbelts, traffic laws, passenger safety, common sense and most of the laws of physics.  They often chat on their mobiles with one hand, smoke with the other and somehow shimmy the car through the traffic.  We couldn't see how they did it with our hands over our eyes.  They are the only cars where the last person to call shotgun has to ride in the death seat.  I mean passenger seat.

We survived the journaet and we all piled onto a bus that came to pick us up. It was yellow and magic schoolbus style and we crawled and jolted 50m up the road before stopping to pick up food.  This was wedged in around us and once a watermelon was parked not-at-all securely under my seat, we set off.  We were warned that the journey would be very bumpy and indeed it was.  There were no seatbelts or barriers in fron of our bench at the back of the bus and much hand-eye-foot coordination was required to keep self, stuff, pot bag and watermelon in place.  Much as it pains me to offer you substandard photography, this picture shows you exactly how still I was able to hold the camera.

It did make us laugh though and we were cheerfully bouncing around when Anahit staggered down the bus to inform us that the bumpy bit would start now as the road wasn’t very good and the summer house was remote.


We formed a quick danger plan, the basis of which seemed to be that if I fell off the seat first into the stairwell, that the others would try and fall on me, or at a pinch, on the watermelon.

We eventually arrived at a little after nine, unloaded and were taken on a tour of the house.  The place was enormous with a huge garden for us to do trainings in and with five bedrooms for us all to crash in.  Luxury :D  Once we’d settled in, dinner was laid on in the form of barbequed pork and veg and potatoes and piles of salad and bread.  Once we’d stuffed in as much as we could, we conducted operation washing up and retired to the world’s most enormous sofa for tea and cake.

We spent a lovely evening getting to know all the leaders and asking lots of questions about Armenian culture and history.  Particularly interesting is the Armenian language which is quite unique and has its own rather beautiful alphabet.  The alphabet invented in the 5th century to unite the country’s language and dialects and Armenians celebrate its creation every year.

As the wee-small hours started to become not-so-wee-small, we headed for bed amid much yawning.  We debated with the Armenians what time they wanted training to start on the morrow.  They suggested getting up at nine and breakfast at ten and this was met with disbelief.  We agreed that it would mean starting training quite late.

As it turned out, that wasn’t the problem.  They thought that was far too early to get up.


We think nine is a nice lie-in so we were all ready and downstairs on Day 22 for breakfast by ten.  However, Armenian time doesn’t run like normal time and you have to add on anything between one and four hours which we’d forgotten to do. So half eleven found us sitting down to a lovely breakfast of eggs, sausage, bread, salad, yoghurt, cereal, cheese and olives.  Every meal was like a feast and we were all very full when we sat down to begin the days training.
We did this outside all seated in a circle on various forms of garden furniture.  A brief skirmish granted Jade and I the swinging chair.  Excellent.  The weather at the summer house is much cooler and it’s very pleasant outside in the shade.  There was a bit of a breeze and the altitude we’d climbed to meant that the airless quality of the capital was missing.

The purpose of the weekend was to share ideas with the Armenian leaders and we based our sessions around the nine points of the Armenian programme.  In the morning we took on the points entitled Learn Yourself, Homemaker and Healthy Lifestyle.  We also asked each participant to decorate a balloon baby and look after it for the weekend.  The session continued amidst much saddening popping of children.  Apart from babies belonging to myself(baby Carrie, since you ask), Rachael and Rachel, all of whom were safely tucked up in bed.  Win!

A wonderful lunch was dished up to us and we sampled some more Armenian delights before moving onto a session of crafting ideas for the afternoon.  Amy and Rachael shared a variety of projects based on the Armenian Guiding point World of Art and everyone got stuck in with the paint, scissors, glue and sequins.

In the evening, we split ourselves up to share a variety of songs and games with the leaders while Jade, Rachael and Amy pulled off a Great British Bake-Off in the kitchen and rustled up Cottage pie for everyone.  How did Armenians like our signature dish?  Well, there was no bread and it didn’t actually go down all that well.  But a cheerful evening was had by all and by 4:00am, everyone had gone to bed.

Wednesday 15 August 2012

Day 20

Alack and alas, the time has arrived for team Armenia to wend their merry way homewards.  Not all that merry actually partly because we didn’t want to leave and partly due to its being the middle of the night.  But I shall continue my tale of adventure, excitement and guiding in a desperate attempt to live vicariously through my own experiences.  And also to avoid leaving you hanging and wondering what became of our escapades.  And now that I’m no longer squabbling for internet access at the hostel, I can take my time and really share the details of the thing.  Remember the posts so far have been short :D

I shall resume our tale at the water park.  We queued for our tickets (and enforced our UK queuing attitudes quite firmly on some local lads) and were admitted to the land of slides.  Ditching our things on some sunbeds, we set off to explore.  And then we ran back to retrieve our flip-flops as the floor was incredibly hot.

There is a silver lining to every cloud though and the searing ground seemed to remove the layer of grime from our feet that we have not been able to budge despite our best scrubbing attempts.

We tested out a couple of slides including a huge steep yellow one.  I think I held my breath the whole way down and had no idea where I was going as the spray was everywhere.  I didn’t appreciate how this must have looked until I watched Jade descend amidst a display of facial gymnastics that would have put team GB to shame.  Sadly, I didn’t have my camera but rest assured I had to lean on something while I laughed.

Next we tried the zip-wire.  This was suspended over a pool and you hold onto a bar and leap off a tall building.  Then you hold on as long as you can sliding down the wire until either you fall  10 feet into water or you hit the end and the impact causes you to fall 6 feet into water.
Of course, we had three goes.  I think we felt a bit like naughty schoolchildren skiving school to go and mess about for a day.

We had a bit of a swim, some lunch and a lovely lounge around before taking on the next slides.  One of these was a particularly menacing enclosed black tube affair and Rachel and I opted to slide together.  We waited for our inflatable figure 8 (a bit like 2 rubber rings stuck together), hauled it to the top and prepared for our doom.  It was amazing and we shrieked the whole way down.

Once we’d used up all our energy and dried out in the hot Yerevan sun, we tootled back to the hostel to get ready for our Goodbye Gold Team outing.  We met up with lots of our new friends from camp and trainings and our terrifically talented translators and they conferred in Armenian about where they should take us.  The verdict?  We should go to that place.

We followed on placidly enough and that place turned out to a bar called That Place that was in an underground car park beneath one of the main roads in the city.  It was pretty quiet when we arrived but the Armenians love dancing and we had barely sat down before they jumped up and persuaded us to join in the dancing.  We had a lovely evening and it was a great chance to say goodbye to everyone.  We’re really going to miss their friendliness, hospitality and good humour and it’s been amazing to spend time with so many wonderful people who share our interest in Guiding.

After briefly exploring the interiors of the local Irish themed pub and the Lord of the Rings themed pub (seriously, why?) we hit the sheets for a good snooze after our day of fun.  Ah, bless.

Team Armenia, over and out

Thursday 9 August 2012

Days 18 and 19

We returned to sunny Yerevan for the second half of Day 18.  It has hit us that we have less than a week left on GOLD and so we took ourselves out for some traditional Armenian food.  There was some confusion over finding the restaurant as it turned out to be on the second floor of a building.  The woman on the ground floor seemed perplexed by our desire to eat.  Much miming and rubbing of tummies ensued.

When we found it, we opened the door to a blast of music and masses of traditional Armenian paraphernalia hanging or resting from every available surface.  We sidled past the music group and were seated in huge carved wooden chairs. Awesome.

We used the time-honoured method of food ordering when you don't speak the language or read the alphabet: pointing and hoping.  We selected a variety of things on the basis that we could share and by the law of large numbers, something must end up being delicious.  And it was a win!  Everything turned out lovely!

We munched on stuffed cabbage leaves, roast vegetables, green beans with omelette, toasted lavash stuffed with cabbage, fried cheese and something called Julian which turned out to be chicken and mushrooms and cheese in a little pot.  We also had mash and chips and slices of jacket potato and, because we're in Armenia, bread.  We also ordered Armenian lemonade which turned out to be purple fizzy cherry-flavoured drink.

We didn't manage all the bread.  But we put paid to everything else and it was delicious!  Definitely the best meal we've eaten out.  The setting was great and we listened to the music and saw some traditional dancing too.  We went for a stroll after that to watch the fountains dance along to 'Under the Sea' from the Little Mermaid as well as Carmina Burana.

Day 19 dawned a toasty 33 degrees.  It's not been as hot as I'd feared (or as some hoped) but it's definitely warm.  We ran our errands and sorted out all the things we needed to do in the morning, got lost in a market and visited a lovely church.  It was quite new and it had a beautiful, clean style which was light and peaceful.

We trawled back to the centre for lunch and enthusiastically ordered some more Armenian lemonade.  And it was bright green and tasted of aniseed. Yuck.  We weren't sure why it wasn't the same as previously.  After lunch we popped to the supermarket and Rachael and I resumed the mantle of milk-purchasing.  We made our cups of tea with much trepidation.  The result?

Once it was a bit cooler, we went out for the evening.  We were met by two friends from camp and we all went bowling.  It turns out that Rachael is a secret bowling genius, getting 7 strikes across 2 games.  Let's just say that the rest of us are not secret bowling geniuses.  It was good fun though!

Then we walked through Yerevan to Lovers' Park.  It was very pretty and we found a picnic bench and munched our way through ice creams and some baklava.  And some tropical fanta.  Slurrrp.  This reminded us of the Armenian lemonade so we enquired of the Armenians who sniggered at us and said the Armenian lemonade just means a cheap fizzy drink and you get whatever.  That's us told then.

As I write this, it is day 20.  Terrifying thought indeed.  So we are off to a water park to cool down, slide down some slides and enjoy our day off, as tomorrow we head off to leader camp which promises to be GOLD fun of the most manic variety.

Much GOLD love to all,
Kirsty and Team Armenia

Days 17 and 18

On Day 17 Rachael and I woke to discover that the bathroom didn't really do water.  Opting to not use our loo or shower, we tried the one down the corridor.  It did water but just cold.  We put on our camp faces and showered cold.  We had to keep reminding ourselves that on camp there had been no shower or toilet.  We've become spoiled, alas.

We had a go-with-the-flow sporadic sort of day.  We bounced along to training to find that there'd been a bit of a mix-up.  No one really knew the date or time so the powers that be scrambled around to get the participants to arrive in a few hours.  No worries.

In the meantime, our venue was a theatre so we entertained ourselves playing Charades, tinkling around on piano and generally making a nuisance of ourselves in a pleasant way.  We also popped to the shops for chocolate.  But I didn't think I could manage a whole watermelon.

A few people did make it later in the afternoon and we adapted our training and shared our Guiding experience.  The girls we met seemed very enthusiastic and were very keen to create more opportunities for girls in Ijevan.

Our trainings trained, our translators Agnes and Lina cooked a meal for us at the hostel.  It was probably the best meal we've had so far.  They made us pasta and a sauce out of tomatoes, cheese, bacon and herbs which was delicious and creamy and wonderful.  And with this they served us a mighty salad of tomato, cucumber, cheese and herbs tossed in oil.  And because, let's face it, we're in Armenia, there was bread.  We hoovered it up rather emphatically and Agnes wondered aloud if we always ate in silence.  Given that the answer is a resounding heck-no, we paused long enough to point out that excessive chatter means less eating.  We were paying them a compliment :D

We checked in with Team GB again only to encounter the strange and terrible wonder that is Greco-Roman Wrestling.  If you haven't seen it, go an Wiki it now.  You won't believe it.

Before bed, I performed a creepy-crawly execution.  We've been plagued by some milipede-esque creatures a couple of inches long with a decidedly unnatural quantity of legs.  They can run very fast and seem to make no distinction between running on the floor, the walls, the curtains, the beds or the ceilings.  Having squished one, a second nippier specimen got away, much to our chagrin.  Hopefully, it told its friends not to mess with the GOLDies.

Day 18 dawned: our last day out in the regions training.  We overcame more training mix-ups with aplomb and were all ready to go back to Yerevan.  We meandered around the market once more and a chap gave us some plums.  People are very keen to give us fruit so perhaps we look massively malnourished.  I prefer to think that we are something of a novelty as tourists in our matching tops and neckers.  The Armenians seem to be very proud of their fruit, which is frankly delicious, and also quite keen to engage us in conversation.  It's as good a way to spread the word about Guiding as any.  

A minibus arrived to pick us up, we loaded up and the driver swung onto the main road and stopped.  Engine trouble.

We melted quietly in the sun while he called up some mates until eventually with 4 men poking under the bonnet, the bus started.  Winner!  The journey back took around three hours and every so often the driver stopped to poor various things into the engine and tinker with bits of machinery.  More credit to him - the bus made it back.

And so we returned to our home from home in Armenia and did this with all our stuff.

We're now back in Yerevan for a bit and I'll let you know what we get up to.  Then we're off to Leader Camp.  Where is it?  Well, no one has really told us yet.  So we'll figure it out as we go and we're looking forward to leading sessions with the Armenian Guiders!

Kirsty and Team Armenia xxx

Wednesday 8 August 2012

Day 16

On Day 16 we were all packed and ready by nine and so we shimmied down to the lobby to catch up with a bit of the Olympics in Russian.  A friendly member of staff gave us a run down of the results.  How he knew the English for pole vault is a mystery to me.  So many people claim to have a little English but in reality have a level that I would describe as fluent.

We ambled round to the second day of training after breakfast carrying a giant backpack on our backs each, a rucksack on our fronts and between us some birthday cake (must keep upright), some balloons and our holdall full of resources.  One of Amy's balloons wriggled free of its restraints and made a break for freedom.  Quelle horreur!  The cake and I moved as one Guider and dashed after it bravely at a slow walk, dodging a stationary car and retrieving it in an act of heroism the like of which has scarce been seen before.

Sadly it popped before we arrived at training.  I can't prove that Amy did it on purpose but it brought my heriocs to naught.  Sad face.

Amy kicked off the day with a training of forms and safety.  This is quite a dry subject but and important one and Amy has created a session that's interactive and informative and all the participants got stuck in.  Our translators are brilliant and have been a godsend, but there are always things that don't come across.  First Aid has been redesignated First Help for instance.  And risk assessment definitely got lost in translation, so we have coined a new phrase: DANGER PLAN!!!!!

Amy can very properly say Danger Plan and Danger Form without sniggering.  Yours truly is somewhat less mature.  Next year's team note: in Armenia, we do Danger Plans.

In fact, risk assessors of the world unite!  Use a DANGER PLAN!!!!  It's much more exciting.  Maybe it will catch on.

The local telly popped in to interview Jade - you can see the clip a couple of posts below - and the trainings ran smoothly.  Tori encouraged teams to plan possible fundraising events and Rachael shared her expertise on the subject of resources and got everyone to create new games and ideas with very little to go on.  All the women at the session were lovely and there was so much enthusiasm.  They were particularly pleased to be able to attend as usually events like the training only run in Yerevan, the capital, so it was very important for the local community to benefit.  We handed out certificates and badges again, took lots of photos and said our goodbyes.

We loitered outside waiting for the bus to our next location: Ijevan.  We killed time entertaining the local populous by making a GOLD video with music and everything, and then disappointed them by quietly sitting and playing Uno.  

We arrived in Ijevan in the early evening and were glad to meet up with our new translators, Agnes and Lina, and to ditch our bags.  We had a stroll around in the evening and took in the town.  It's much smaller than our other two venues but quite pretty with trees lining the streets and a fountain in the square.  We went to the "best" cafe in the area.  There wasn't a menu but we were told they did sandwiches (cheese), pizza (ham, mushroom and olives) or lamajo.  Nope, no idea.  So we ordered some.  It turned out to be flatbread with minced beef and herbs inside.  Pretty good :D

We hopped into bed tired but looking forward to the next training. And we have been practising our new Armenian songs with actions very carefully.

Team Armenia living the dream,
GOLD love xxx

Day 15

We made it down to breakfast rather late on Day 15 as our training had been pushed back a couple of times so that we didn't start until half eleven.  Really not a problem and a chance to catch up on sleep!  Breakfast was the now-expected bread-jam-cheese combo but with the surprise addition of an omlette!  No milk, but given the yumminess of the eggs, we are prepared to overlook this.

The trainings went well and the participants were enthusiastic; we feel that there is some real promise for the future of Guiding in Armenia and that really inspires us to deliver better and better training.  One of the challenges the participants had was to create a game or craft using just balloons, just string or just newspaper and we've come away with some ideas we may bring back to our own units.  We played a rather terrifying (and therefore ideal for Guides and Brownies) game involvng popping balloons and the group with string designed some lovely friendship bracelets and let us keep them.

We also had an epiphany.  A rather precocious ten-year-old on camp named Nane had taught us how to introduce ourselves in Armenian.  We thought she had taught us to say "My name is..." and then we would tack our names on the end to get "My name is Kirsty".  It turns out actually she taught us to say 'My name is Nane" and so we have all been cheerfully introducing ourelves as "My name is Nane Kirsty".  We have proudly been showing of our Armenian for the pas fortnight...


This explains the indugent smiles and sniggering.  We only worked it out (yours truly in an act of stellar detectivism) as one of the participants introduced herself in the session and didn't say the Nane bit.  Siranouche and Marianna found the whole thing hilarious.  We are somewhat humbled.  And yet amused.

After training we walked into the centre of town and were guided to another branch of the pizza restaurant we visited in Gyumri.  We have in fact eaten more pizza in Armenia than most of the rest of our lives put together.  But it was yummy and we made short work of it.

After lunch we shambled along to see the town square with the obligatory and very pretty fountain and then we strolled down to the park.  There's a funfair in the park and we debated some of the scarier rides.  While we were pondering the inadvisability of being flung upside down straight after lunch, Siranouche appeared with candy floss all round.  Sticky :D

However, once we laid eyes on the dodgems, there was no pondering necessary. At 400 dram a go, it was definitely worth our while and we cheerfully ousted our pent-up frustrations in the same way we Ousted our hoodies to get rid of the eau-de-camp.  A few spectacularly thrilling head-on collisions later and we emerged new women and pottered back to the hotel.

We were too full to have a proper tea but we did chase the candy floss down with some apricots and plums to cancel out the naughtiness.  We then spent a quiet evening in as all the town-hopping and training (and sugar-crashing) is making us weary.   So we undertook to catch up on our journals and reading and postcards and the like.  Siranouche and Marianna joined us later and had a birthday cake and balloons in tow for Amy.  We all sang again and had cake to round off the evening.  The cake perked us up somewhat and we mirthfully bemoaned our poor Armenian language skills and our depressingly multilingual translators mocked us mercilessly.

Alas, I am become more and more loquacious and yet more again.  I shall endeavour to arise tomorrow morning with a more finely attuned sense of all that is proper in my mode of address and with a keen eye for the whimsical.  And above all, I will try and be concise.

GOLDies over and out xxx