Right at home in Armenia
Arpinka lives with her mother and her grandmother in a one- bedroom apartment in Yerevan, Armenia (pronounced Ar-MEEN-yuh). The apartment is cold in the winter and hot in the summer. It's small, but it's neat, with handmade lace curtains on the windows. Decorative rugs hang on the walls much as your family might have pictures on the walls.
Arpinka is 8 years old. Her mother, Liliya, works as a nanny and makes $10 a day – but that's considered a good salary in Armenia, where it is very difficult to find a job.
Before her mother found work, the three of them lived with Arpinka's aunt, her uncle, and her cousins, Katya and Rubik. Arpinka is happy to live in her own apartment now, but sometimes she misses her cousins.
Armenia is a tiny country. It is south of Russia, east of Turkey, and north of Iran.
Like most Armenian schoolchildren, Arpinka speaks both Armenian and Russian – and even a little English. She is in the third grade at school, where her favorite subjects are math and English. The school is close to her apartment, so she walks there by herself each morning.
After school, Arpinka helps her babushka – that's "grandmother" in Russian – make blini, which are thin pancakes, or varenniki – dumplings stuffed with meat and cabbage or potatoes. She can even make an omelet by herself.
Arpinka likes to cook. But instead of a stove, her family has one Bunsen burner – which is like a camping stove. Because of its open flame, she has to be very careful when cooking.
From their kitchen window, Arpinka can see all the way to Mt. Ararat in the neighboring country of Turkey.
The mountain used to be part of Armenia, and for Armenians, it is considered a sacred place – some people say Noah's ark mentioned in the Bible is still somewhere on Mt. Ararat.
The snowcapped mountain looms over her city, and as the day passes, Arpinka likes to watch it seem to change colors in different types of light.
When Arpinka grows up, she wants to be a dentist or a fashion designer. She hasn't decided which yet.
But she won't graduate from school until she is 17 years old, so she has plenty of time to make up her mind.
For now, she enjoys playing with her cousins. Katya, who studies at the music conservatory, is teaching her to play the piano, and Rubik teaches her how to play chess.
On weekends, Arpinka goes to the market with her mother. The market is outdoors, and the vendors sell cheeses, vegetables, bread, and spices – everything you could need for a meal.
The meat at the market hangs on hooks. In warm weather, watermelons are piled up in the road. Tomatoes and cucumbers are stacked neatly together on tables.
Instead of paying a set fee for each item she buys, Arpinka's mother haggles or bargains with the vendors over the prices. Other shoppers do this, too. It is the custom in Armenia. Arpinka's mother says it helps her save money.
The market is crowded, so Arpinka stays near her mother while she shops.
Back home, her mother and grandmother can vegetables for the winter and turn berries into jam. They'll store all of the bottles and jars on their balcony, where it is cool year round.
If the weather is nice, Arpinka can play with the other neighborhood kids in the courtyard of the apartment building.
Sometimes, when her mom isn't working and it's not too hot, the two of them take a bus to the top of a hill overlooking the city. There is an old amusement park there, and they can walk in the shade or sit by the fountains. They can even buy ice cream from one of the vendors.
At night, Arpinka, her mother, and her babushka curl up together to sleep. Arpinka doesn't like to sleep – there's too much she wants to do. But soon they all fall asleep, in the shadow of Mt. Ararat.