Adjusting: Teacher becomes the student of rural ways in city life
April 09, 2004

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

By Vahan Ishkhanyan
ArmeniaNow reporter

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

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