Every sport has its finale. The World Series in baseball speaks for itself. The NBA finals is coming into it’s own as of late, as dynasties are broken and more parity takes hold. What can hold a candle to those first two days of the NCAA college basketball tournament, leading to 3 more blissful weeks of the narrowing of the field of 64 to the final 4. And college football… well, I guess not every sport has its finale.
On a much more micro level the Peace Corps in Armenia has their own little finale of sorts. I guess it’s more of a rivalry than a finale and the initial paragraph of this blog should have more fittingly talked of the Iron bowl, Kings-Lakers, Yankees-Red Sox, and Woodland vs. Davis back in the day (my apologies to all non-Yolo county residents.) In Peace Corps Armenia we draw our Mason-Dixon line somewhere around scenic Lake Sevan. This is the separating line of the volunteers from the North and the South of the country.
The Khash Bowl was explained to me as a “not so friendly” flag football game for bragging rights within PC Armenia. With all the pre-weekend discussion and trash talk I believed it. The south won last year and thus had the honors of hosting the event somewhere south of Sevan. They, being a spiteful bunch placed the game far down in the south of the country. By subjecting us to an arduous journey I’m sure they hoped to dampen our spirits and stiffen our shamefully out-of-shape bodies. Frankly, I think it worked pretty well. By the time I rolled out of the 4 hour ride on a cramped and crowded mini-bus I was a bit stiff, to say the least. I have to imagine that my fellow teammates felt the same.
The rules of Khash Bowl are simple; basic flag football. The rules are pretty much interpreted by the referees arbitrarily. My readership might imagine this a problem as the pool of qualified and unbiased American football refs in Armenia, and the Caucasus for that matter is very small (in fact, non-existent.) Thus the referees are taken from our own ranks. Since “our ranks” all live in either the north or the south (how could it be any other way) this also brings up issues. But fate is a fickle and sometimes friendly beast who afforded Peace Corps Armenia quite possibly the most over-qualified volunteer ever. Our referee was a retired Federal Court judge. And from a relatively corruption-free nation like the US, we couldn’t ask for much more.
We (the north) jumped out to a quick lead. I don’t think the south was really prepared for the grittiness of the recently-arrived volunteers from the north. The south began clawing its way back slowly. Two huge plays turned the tide. One being a questionable kicked ball on a fumble that led to a 75 yard touchdown. (Someone who knows these things should tell me if kicking is legal.) When all was said and done two and half hours later, we were left battered and broken and the south had a two touchdown margin of victory, and that portion of the Khash Bowl weekend was finished.
Only a portion of volunteers actually play in the game. Most come to the event just to watch and partake in the after party. Every year someone is foolish enough to agree to host this event at their site and completely ruin their reputation and standing in the community for the rest of their service there. When 60-70 Peace Corps volunteers descend upon one village of people who has seen nary a foreigner, let alone the panoply of ethnically mixed volunteers that the Peace Corps brings, the actions of every visiting volunteer is sure to effect the community’s opinions of the volunteer(s) who hosting the event. And make no mistake, Americans in this culture are always seen as shameful.
We rented out a restaurant (to keep everyone contained and off the streets) and had a helluva a time. One of the volunteers had prepared some amazing chili, and there was a “straight out the village” homemade vodka tasting. Being that I live in a large, very developed site (you might even say a city) I haven’t had the pleasure… or let’s say experience, of tasting the variety of witch’s brews that are produced in various bathtubs, old soda bottles, and random vats in villages across this great country. They were all pretty potent, and I supposed resembled vodka (mostly in color only.) As one might imagine the night descended into debauchery, and was enjoyed by all. Maybe less-so by the hosting volunteers who have to face this community for the remainder of their service.
As my wracked body and those of my teammates piled into our mini-bus for the cramped, uncomfortable and miserable all-day trip home I couldn’t help but be excited for the next Khash Bowl and some redemption for the North. Mostly though I just hope I never have to host this event in my site and subject my reputation to the battering of such a large group of Peace Corps volunteers.