ArmeniaNow.com - Independent Journalism From Today's Armenia
April 09, 2004


Adjusting: Teacher becomes the student of rural ways in city life


In all of her 54 years, Russian language teacher Silva Martirosyan has never known rural living. She lives in the town of Tchambarak and for most of her life “farming” was a matter of going to the market.

But a lot of lives continue to change as Armenia moves from what it was to whatever it will be.

Silva ties Yeghnik's "fly swatter" then starts the process.

Sometimes city girls learn country living. Sometimes teachers become milkmaids.

Silva and her husband live on the second floor of a four-storied apartment building in Tchambarak, about 80 kilometers northeast of Yerevan. And their cow, Yeghnik, lives in the garage out back.

“I was always afraid of cows,” Silva says. “But it is not possible to live only on a salary anymore, so we had to start keeping a cow. Butter, milk, sour cream, matsun. All is ours and we get that thanks to that cow.”

Every morning at 7 o’clock, before going to teach, Silva goes into Yeghnik’s garage-turned stable, changes into to her “cow” clothes – the ones she leaves in the stable because she doesn’t want the smell of cow tending to follow her to the classroom.

Before starting to milk she ties the cow’s tail in a bow to keep Yeghnik from swatting dirt into the milk. Then she puts a special board under the cow so that white milk pail doesn’t touch the dirty floor. Then she covers the bucket with gauze to protect the milk from dust and hair in the dirty stable. Finally she starts pulling on Yeghnik for the payoff that makes it all worthwhile.

The stable is reached below the garage.

“Before I used to milk this way,” Silva demonstrates her first steps of becoming milkmaid very awkwardly pinching the cow’s udder. “Later I became more experienced. Nobody taught me I learned to milk by myself, slowly. But anyway I don’t get skilled. If a professional milkmaid had been here she would have already finished milking. I milk slowly as my hand gets tired.”

She pauses to rest her hand, then, with a deep sigh she finishes the ritual task, explaining that if she doesn’t get every drop of milk, the cow will not feel well.

If Silva is sick, her husband takes over the milking. He is a teacher, too. And not as good a milker as Silva.

When she is in the house she empties milk into another bucket once again filtering it through gauze. And at 9 o’clock she is already in school. “I am never late,” she says.

In the evening at 7 o’clock she repeats the entire process once. Every day she gets 10 liters of milk. In summer when Yeghnik goes grazing with a herd Silva will get 15 liters of milk from her.

The chore of cow-tending also includes cleaning the stable. Silva’s husband installed a water pipe and a sewage drain. Cow dung is removed and laid I the yard to dry. When the couple run out of firewood, they burn the manure for fuel.

Out of "cow clothes" and up the stairs with the payoff.

Yeghnik is their second cow. They slaughtered the first one when it got old and couldn’t give milk anymore.

This year Armenia is reducing the number of teachers nation-wide. Silva fears becoming one of those effected by “optimization”.

“What can I do in that case?,” she asks. “I would like to keep one more cow but we have no possibilities to buy. The cow maintains a family.”

Silva has two sons who live in Russia. And her daughter, a student in Yerevan, is fed from Silva’s skills as a milkmaid.

The town-woman teacher has learned to make sour cream using a separator and a friend’s father taught her how to make cheese, using a special device her husband made. She also churns butter from a mixer also made by her husband.

During Soviet times two plants were functioning in Tchambarak: a cheese plant and a plant making parts for radio. After privatization, the parts plant is closed and the cheese factory works at reduced production.

A final strain makes the milk ready for use

Residents of Silva’s building are former workers of the plant, state employees and teachers. For being able to exist many of them keep different animals in their garages such as hens, sheep and cows. When it becomes warm about 90 cows will be taken to pastures from the district where Silva lives.

“Before moving to Tchambarak I was living in Dilijan,” says Silva, who has been a teacher for 35 years. “We have always been intellectuals. We used to travel through the entire Soviet Union. But now we cannot even go to Yerevan. And if we had no cow then we wouldn’t be able to live and exist at all.”


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