Archive for August, 2010

August 29, 2010

8/26/10

I think I am adjusting to my site now. It has been a difficult transition period but now I am feeling a little more comfortable. Why so hard you ask?

First was a traumatic move from my village – saying goodbye to a host family that I enjoyed, all my new friends, my language teachers, and the structure of PST. No more Central Days with the other volunteers and the breaks with little cake squares and Fanta World. No more riding around to the other random villages in PC marshrutkas. No more language class! Plus I broke two water filters during the move, so that was insult to injury.

Plus, I was moving into what felt like total isolation. There really are no volunteers from my group close by. The closest is a 70 year old lady, and while she is sweet, we don’t really have that much in common. There is a volunteer from A-16 (the 16th Armenian group, I am A-18) who is leaving on September 1. There is an A-17 volunteer is a nearby village, but it’s a far cry from Solak where I could walk to 7 other Americans any time I wanted.

I had a lot of concerns about my new village. It’s a lot uglier than my training village. On top of that and feeling alone, I’d been informed that if I complete my service, I’ll be the 5th out of 10 volunteers to make it in Vardenis. There was also the new host family to adjust to, plus a whole new job. Starting a new job is always a bit scary.

The first week was a tough tough one. I knew it would be but that didn’t really help. I was homesick for Solak, lonely, then actually sick, then homesick for America, and just kind of confused/down.

I’m still not totally adjusted, but things are better. There are several things working in my favor. One is another volunteer who came at the exact same time I did. He is from Denmark and is working at the YMCA too. It has been great having him here to talk with and kind of go through the growing pains together. He is here alone so he doesn’t have the support net that PC provides us. It makes me appreciate all the things PC teaches us and provides for us. So we spend a lot of time together. We went on a hike in the surrounding foothills one Saturday afternoon, which provided some beautiful views of Armenia.

Having the A-16 volunteer around, Wayne, has really helped too. I have seen him in action here and it is cool to see his experience at work. He is a great role model for me and I only wish he could be here longer. But I am excited for him to leave too. I kind of get a peak at what it’s like to leave. It looks like the same as when I left the states – lots of loose ends to tie up while the hourglass is ticking away.

We also just got done with a nice camp at the YMCA’s facility near Lake Sevan. It was a weeklong camp for teenagers from all over Armenia. It provided the perfect break from my site to mix things up and also give me something to do (work has been a little slow so far). I lead the leadership day, which consisted of a discussion on the values of leadership, skits, the NASA moon game, and several team games to play. Thankfully Wayne helped me out too! I was worried about filling like 6 hours of time but ended up only having to do about 3, so it was great. Since I don’t have a lot of experience with kids, I had mixed feelings about being at a camp with them for a week, but it went really well. They were a great group of kids and got along surprisingly well considering they ranged in age from 12 to 17. The last day was hard for them, as they were all crying when saying goodbye. I think here they have less of a chance to maintain the friendships they forged than we do in America.

Today it was back to work, where I actually had a busy day. It was nice to get some things done and also line up some upcoming trips. On the 10th I think I’m going to Yerevan for a meeting with a guy from the national YMCA and some other volunteers. Then that weekend there is a get-together in Sevan, which should be fun. Next Tuesday I am going to Gavar for a PC meeting. So there is some travel to look forward to. Even though traveling in Armenia by marshrutka is not fun, the idea of going somewhere or just having something on the calendar is a good feeling.

Overall things are good here. But there are just times when it is really hard to be here too. Yesterday was my mom’s birthday and I couldn’t help having a cry because I missed her and just wanted to be with her. I know it is hard on her and others. I can only hope that the challenges we face now remind us of the bonds we all share and how much people matter. The thing I miss most is not spaghetti, or cold drinking water, or regular showers, or good TV. It’s all the people in my life. So if you are reading this, know that I am thinking about you a lot!

So now it’s 3 months down. I still have so much to learn and do, but now I do feel like I’ve already had a bit of a journey. I’m excited to see the rest of the story.

August 29, 2010

8/4/10
We are done. PST is over. Tomorrow we swear in. Of the 58 original people, it looks like 55 of us will swear in. That’s pretty good.

Monday we had our language exam. It’s an oral exam where you sit down with a teacher from another village and have a conversation. I was a little nervous for mine but thought it went okay. Yesterday I found out I received an Intermediate Mid score, which is two notches above the Novice High we are required to reach. I was really happy with this score, although I still don’t feel at all competent in the language. I can’t understand most of what my host family says, especially to each other. I do have the feeling now of what can I do to keep learning? I know we can get a tutor, but we are definitely on our own now to keep increasing our language skill.

There are a lot of thoughts right now…how am I going to get all my laundry done so I can pack for Friday…will they pick us up with our luggage or do we have to haul it across town…will I enjoy my next family as much as this one…can I survive for 2 years in Vardenis…what will I do at work…PST went fast…I’m going to miss my friends…I miss America…I don’t want to pack…

I’m looking forward to Vardenis, but it is a cautious optimism. The reality is it will be so much different from PST, I just don’t know what to think about it. But this is the experience that I wanted all along. I didn’t sign up just to do PST, even though I enjoyed it. I believe that I can become part of the community there. I know the more language I can understand, the more at ease I will feel. I’ve had a few brief moments already where I felt like I was almost at home here. It is intoxicating because of all the frustrations we face to get to that point.

Overall I feel proud in completing PST, which was grueling at times. I am excited to move on even though I know I’ll miss the way stuff is now. The next 2 years could be awesome or frustrating. Maybe they will be both. But I can say that after 10 weeks in country, I’m glad to be in Armenia. Bring on the next 24 months.

August 29, 2010

7/29/10
Two months already?

The last month has seemingly gone by a lot faster than the first. It feels good to have 2 months down now. It’s kind of like a down payment or something. I feel comfortable feeling uncomfortable at this point.

There are so many times while I’m here that I wish I could record a video and transmit it to people back home. For instance, today I rode back to Solak with just the driver, who is maybe 30. We were listening to Barry White while cruising at 120 KM down the country road. The lyrics were ridiculous and I was trying not to laugh at the situation.

Another one would be the traffic/pedestrian situation in Yerevan. There are so many things happening at once that are illegal in the US, it’s overwhelming. Armenians jaywalk like it is their job. They make SLU students look like total amateurs.

Or sending a perfectly weighted volley to the kids whose soccer ball went astray even though you’re in your dress clothes, and then hearing them praise you.

I am definitely getting used to a lot of the crazy happenings here. Flying through a herd of cattle in the middle of the road in a taxi is still amusing, but it is not shocking. I love that aspect of this experience…that you get to see firsthand what this country is like, rather than just seeing the tourist destinations or something.

Right now I am feeling relieved. I finished my portion of the business practicum today. I taught a 2.5 hour course in time management to junior members of NGOs around Yerevan. I was worried about the timing; I thought I would run short. Thankfully everything went great and it was a good session. Now I am just looking forward to our last 2 central days, a tiny bit of free time (relatively speaking), and swearing in. The final hurdle is our language test on Monday, but I am not too worried.

I think swearing in will be one of those moments in life that is profound. I am really looking forward to it. The other trainees and I have been through a lot of change and stress together. It has been a great bonding experience. Splitting up next week will be bittersweet.

Craziness

August 29, 2010

7/25/10 –
The last 2 weeks have been very busy. Part of that is the PC schedule right now, and the other part is the family life.

This is our practicum time, so every day last week we went to Charentsavan in the afternoon to work in groups preparing trainings for this week. We have to teach NGO staff members various topics. It is a daunting task considering none of us have worked at an NGO before. There is nothing like being taught by someone who hasn’t ever really done your job. I will be teaching Time Management. We have to go to Yerevan every day this week. The lesson is supposed to be 2 hours long. I’m concerned mine won’t fill all the time. I really have no idea what I’m doing. I’ve never taught a class before. And without easy internet access or library access or anything, it has been a struggle to put together a nice presentation.

Our “NGO” teaching group lost a member this week – one lady decided to early terminate (ET). She is the 3rd one of us to leave. Everytime someone leaves it feels a little weird. I can’t help but imagine going home to all the conveniences. I think we all think about that. And then there’s the morbid thought of who’s next. Out of 58 people we’re not going to lose just 3. We will probably end up being around 40 or 45 people when it’s all said and done…

So on top of language every day and practicum, my family has expanded the last 2 weeks. My host mom’s sister and her family are visiting from France. They have 2 young daughters. It is interesting to hear people speak Armenian with a French accent. And for possibly the only time in my life, I can say I have played with little French girls. They discovered my juggling balls (buhball! as they say) and were infatuated for at least 3 days. There has been a bumper crop of family activities since this is such a special visit. At one point I think we partied at Grandma’s house 3 nights in a row, including full feast and cake.

Last night we celebrated a fellow village-mate’s birthday. We ate at a nice restaurant in Charentsavan. I blew through a wad of dram, but it was well worth it. It was a much needed time to relieve some stress with the sitemates. We will all be parting ways soon so it was a good bonding experience too. The funny thing to me is it got “real” about 2 weeks ago. After we came back from our site visits my village mates began venting their frustrations about their situations and other people we know. I was waiting for this to happen. ..it has led to a lot of laughs and a closer bond amongst our village.

Last weekend we went to Garni and Geghard monastery. It was beautiful and touristy, you know. We also went to the ski-resort town of Tsaghkhadzor to play kickball with the older volunteers. That little town was very appealing. It’s like a European anomaly inside Armenia.

There is not too much else to report. I did laundry by hand for the first time today. I am trying to enjoy the rest of my time in Solak, but I also have one eye on the future in Vardenis. I am excited to get through our practicum. It will be cool to swear in but sad to say goodbye to everyone. That’s when it will truly be the Peace Corps experience…

Food adventures: “cooked” my first meal here while home alone (reheated something on the stove…a small victory), got to try kachmeruk (sp?) a cheese-filled pastry, tried ttu lavash (sour lavash) which is a dried fruit thingy like a fruit roll up, tried the homemade Armenian snickers which is nuts covered in a rubbery molasses. Have yet to eat anything solid that I dislike. Tan is another story.

August 29, 2010

7/13/10 9:30 PM
It is good to be back in Solak. My site visit was kind of a rollercoaster that made me miss my current host family and village.
Friday night I met my next host dad. He was a nice guy and I could actually understand him fairly easily, which is a rarity with me and Armenians. The next morning we met back up with the host families in Aghveran, which is where we stayed our first few days in country. We took a charter bus to Yerevan where we then took marshrutkas to the villages.
Side note – The marshrutka phenomenon is insanity. A marshrutka is like a Ford delivery van with dualies on the back. They normally have like 14 passenger seats inside. There are normally 30 people waiting to get in one. At least 20 people cram into one when it arrives. Of course there is no line system or advanced ticketing, so it is a mad rush to try to get on and get a seat. It’s like when you feed fish at the zoo, those little pellets, how they all rush up to the surface and go crazy. That’s what Armenia is like when a marshrutka arrives. In short, I hate it. The other factor is I’m 6’2”. I am above average by American standards but definitely nothing special. But in Armenia I am a giant. I have not seen an Armenian taller than me yet. They are a tiny people, perhaps bred specifically with that result in mind so that they themselves can fit into the marshrutkas.
Anyway, my new dad finagled us a seat up front, which was cool, but still not comfortable at all. The funny thing was they couldn’t get the thing started, so all the men hopped out and started pushing with random guys who are waiting around outside the marshrutka. They told me to sit inside while this was happening. So here I am, the American, sitting in the front seat by myself while 20 Armenian men heave-ho on the hood of this god-awful construct. Meanwhile a few PCTs were all dying laughing as they watched while waiting for their marshrutkas nearby.
Enough of that…my new city is Vardenis, and it is okay. It reminds me a bit of Phoenix with the mild mountainous background with no trees. It is very dry and dusty. The city has a few nice roads, but the road my family lives off of is in terrible shape. The city is very spread out. There are old soviet block apartment buildings off in the distance as well as a soccer stadium that is literally falling apart. My family’s house is nice though; it has a toilet and a shower, which is always a bonus.
The new host family is fine, but it is impossible not to compare host families. I like my PST family right now a lot more. Specifically, my current mom takes extremely good care of me. She always asks if I’m hungry or if I’ve eaten enough. She wakes up early just to cook me breakfast.
My new family has a much different way of eating. Breakfast seems to be non existent or at least quite light. One morning there was no breakfast. The other mornings breakfast was a bit of bread and a hard boiled egg or two. Lunches were late in the afternoon and the main meal of the day. Then dinner was at like 11 and was like breakfast except lighter: a bit of bread and cheese. I constantly felt like I could eat more, so I’m a bit concerned about how that will work out. I think I’ve already lost weight here despite eating a lot in Solak and not exercising at all. Also, my new host dad is great, but my mom isn’t as great. She is ok, but not sweet or as accommodating as my current mom. She likes to lay down a lot and doesn’t seem that happy. Since the dad will always be at work and he doesn’t cook or anything, having him as my champion is less useful.
After discussing my concerns with the A-16 volunteer who will be leaving in August, he said he experienced the same thing. The main reason he moved out was because he felt like he was paying them all this money every month and they weren’t using it on him. He said he lost weight while he was there while the mom had new clothes all the time. I had the same feeling this weekend. We were told to give them 10,000 dram for the 3.5 days we were there. There is no way I ate even half that much worth of food. In the US I could easily survive 7 days on 10,000 dram worth of food. So if that is par for the course, I will be moving out on December 6th into my own apartment.
Saturday I got to see the other volunteer’s apartment. He lives in a soviet block apartment building. His place was fine but very basic. To me, after living here over a month, the apartment seemed kind of nice. To anyone in the states it would seem pretty bad. There is a tiny kitchen and stove, no refrigerator, no laundry facilities, no TV, no internet, a non-flushing toilet, etc. But I liked his apartment and I think that way of life will suit me. It would be a lonely existence though.
Walking home from his apartment Saturday I began to get down on the situation. The town was a dump as far as I could tell, my family wasn’t as good as my first family, I was frustrated with the food situation, and to top everything off, the A-16 said that Vardenis has had 8 previous volunteers and only 3 have made it the full 2 years. Blegh. Two years suddenly felt like a lot longer than it sounded when I applied. Plus I would basically be there alone without any other Americans. I wasn’t thrilled.
I was hoping my visit to the YMCA on Monday would be the life preserver I needed in my sea of pity. Thankfully, it was. First of all, it’s in the down townish area, and there are actually a couple paved, decent streets with some stores. The YMCA was a nice facility, a renovated old building. The staff and my counterpart were great. They almost all speak English and are mostly women. That means barely any smoking! I was excited about the prospect of working there. I identified a couple areas I could possibly start tackling.
The same day I had 2 positive khnoot (store) experiences and drank a couple beers with Wayne. The day turned out to be a good one and it drastically improved my outlook for this town and for my future there. After all, this is my life and 2 years is a good chunk of that. I still think it will be a tough and challenging placement, but I also think I can handle it.
To give you a small insight into one of the store experiences:
Time: 7:00PM
Scene: Little white shack on the corner of two dusty ass pothole ass roads, 3 old men standing outside
<>
Me: Barev dzez (muttered) = Hello
Old Armenian Men: Brmrmr…something = ?
<>
Me: Hazar mek kilo? = 1000 1 kilo (What I was trying to say: 1000 for 1 kilo?)
Old Man: Ha = Yes
Me: Inch…vor ne konfet aveli hamov e? = What (oops)…which candy is more delicious?
<>
Me: Inch arzhi? = How much?
Old Man: Hazar haryur = 1,100/kg
Me: Uzum em mek kilo = I want 1 kilo
Old Man: Mek kilo??? <>
Old Man: something something tun? = ….house? <>
Me: Ha, yes aprum em Garineh u Nariki het = Yes, I live with Garineh and Narik
Old Man: Amerika eets?? = Are you from America?
Me: Yes Amerikatsi em. Hima yes aprum em Solakum bites heto yes aprelu em Vardenisum. = I am American. Now I live in Solak but later I am going to live in Vardenis.
Old Man: Kani dzamanak? = How much time?
Me: Yes aprelu em Vardenisum yerku tari. = I am going to live in Vardenis 2 years.
Old Man: Yerku tari… <>

So just like that, it felt like I went from being a complete stranger to a valued customer. That is the very cool part about this experience. Sometimes the lack of control over my time, schedule, and food intake can be annoying, but the tradeoff is you get these really cool little mini experiences that mean a lot more to you than any transaction in the states.

August 29, 2010

7/7/10 5:05 PM
4th of July went well. There was lots of good food and everything came together nicely. We had a perfect turnout. We played some games with the kids which led to some interesting photos.
That day I actually got locked out of my house so I walked to the highway to have a celebratory holiday beer. It was a nice bit of alone time in an otherwise crazy period. Then we all ended up going there later after our party! It is a pretty cool place…the walk is long enough that by the time you get there, the beer is well-earned. It’s just a little khorovats (barbecue) stand along the highway that has cold beer. But we are lucky because as far as I know the other little villages don’t have anywhere you can go to relax and have food/drink.
This weekend is our site visit. I am excited but a bit nervous too. I will meet my new family and go through all the awkwardness all over again. We are there for 3 days with nothing planned, so hopefully the weekend doesn’t drag.
I have had some negative reactions from locals when I tell them I am going to Vardenis. They say it is extremely cold and a tough environment. One lady also said it is the opposite of the most beautiful place in Armenia! I’m sure it will be fine, but I guess I am tempering myself a bit more for a possible shitty situation. Two years could be a very long time if I don’t like the town!
Full debrief next time.

AMERICA

August 29, 2010

7/3/10 10:43 PM
Today was our prep day for the 4th of July celebration we’re putting on for the village. We didn’t have school today so it really felt like a Sunday.
A group of us went to Hrazdan this morning to gather supplies. The Peace Corps gave us money to spend for the celebration. It was nice shopping for once on someone else’s money! We tried to cater our menu to the American classics you would expect, but some things just aren’t sold here. For instance, yellow mustard is impossible to find. So are hot dog buns or hamburger buns. For meat we got some hot dogs and ground beef, but most of the meet is chicken which will be barbecued Armenian style (khorovats). We got chips, candy, watermelon, cheese, bread, pickles, ketchup, mayo, soda, and more. After that trip (which we successfully talked the local cabbie down from 3000 to 2000 dram for the ride back…small victory) I assisted a couple other volunteers in making the Griesedieck cafeteria size potato salad. Another volunteer was then going to make a massive cake with her host family, so hopefully that went well. I am quite excited about tomorrow. Hopefully the community tries some of the food. The rumor from years past is that the villagers don’t like to try new food. Even if they don’t, more burgers for the rest of us. At this point, I think I could eat 3 burgers plus everything else.

Nestle For Men - Found during our Hrazdan shopping excursion. We gave some to the girls and so far, no testicles.

It was a big week besides the 4th planning. We had a mini language exam on Tuesday, which went fairly well. I messed up a lot but they said I did well. I am in a good place with the language but I have a LONG way to go. I will need all of the 2 years to become somewhat good at this language.
Wednesday was our central day, which was big for 2 reasons. First, we presented our community projects. Our group didn’t identify a speaker ahead of time, so we were faced with one of those moments where you look around and realize no one wants to do it. So I did it and it went really well! More importantly, we learned our site placements for the next 2 years. My site will be…..
VARDENIS!
Name recognition: 0
Potatoes: Infinite
It is a town of 15,000. I will be working at the YMCA. Seriously. It sounds like a great fit actually. They need help with financing, IT, business writing, software skills, PR, fundraising, and more. I am excited and nervous to get started in a month. I also got some info on my host family. Like my current family, the kids are older. There will be a tatik (grandma) in my house this time too. The other difference is that my next mom works outside the home. That will be an interesting dynamic to observe, to see if she still has to do all the housework or if the husband pitches in a little bit.
My village is near Lake Sevan, which is an area known for cold winters and lots of potatoes. Potatoes will be my primary food source, especially during winter. Right now I eat potatoes almost every day, so I can only imagine eating them for every meal. Along with potatoes comes vodka too of course.
I did get a more isolated post. My city is near the Azeri border, and there really aren’t a lot of surrounding villages with volunteers nearby. There is a volunteer in my village at the moment but he’ll be leaving in August. Luckily I got to speak with him on Wednesday, and he was extremely helpful. So I will be slightly cut off from the rest of the volunteers, relatively speaking. Some other volunteers are in my situation, but lots of them are stationed in a city with another volunteer or close to several other volunteer villages. However, I think I am well equipped to deal with this challenge and thrive in my environment.
I will end with a quick anecdote. Last week at the community project there was one lady who was gung-ho. She was going to town with the shovel, then stopped for a photo-op with me (her idea). After the photo she planted a wet one on my cheek. Today I was walking down the street with 3 other volunteers and we ran into her again. She insisted we come into her backyard to see her rose garden. That spiraled into more photo-ops, sitting on a bed with football Astroturf comforter under a tree in her yard eating random berries from her trees (one type of which had a meat-like flavor), and her telling the group that I am a good boy while pinching my cheek. We left soon thereafter. It was one of those experiences you get here that is so totally random and ridiculous, yet since it is our daily life it almost seems normal.
Happy 4th of July everyone!

August 29, 2010

6/27/10 4:00 PM
Right now I am tired, but relieved.
We successfully completed our community project this morning and afternoon. After a series of meetings with the mayor, we agreed to renovate a bus stop. The plan was to meet at the bus stop at 10 this morning. All the Americans showed up at 9:45 (we had a couple host children with us too). At 10:15 our teachers and the mayor still weren’t there. We started picking up litter with a couple makeshift bags, but without paint and tools we couldn’t do much. It turns out the mayor wanted us to renovate something else.
Quick sidenote: Wow, my host mom just brought in a glass of limonat (think warm banana flavored soda), 4 apricots, gata (that sweet bread I mentioned before) and cake. We just ate lunch like an hour ago. I really don’t spend much time at all in my room, but when I do, she always brings in snacks!
Anyway, the project turned out being completely different from what we were anticipating. Instead of painting a rickety bus stop, we were in another part of town weeding and painting curbs as well as the “bus stop” the mayor had in mind, which consisted of a couple benches near a building. It was all good, because when we showed up to the new location I was happy to see at least 10 other villagers, the mayor, and the priest scurrying around getting things done. The idea of the project was to involve the community, which is hard to do with the language and cultural barriers. But we cleaned the area up nicely with the assistance of the villagers as well as our teachers. It felt good to finally do something for the community, even if it is small in the grand scheme.
Project day was the cap of a busy week. Maybe all our weeks are busy, so I should instead say an interesting week. Wednesday we had central day in Charentsavan. I got a haircut at lunch from a guy with a shop in an alley. It was about 3 dollars, and it wasn’t too bad. My existence is easier with short hair here. That evening I managed to watch some of the US v. Algeria game, and was elated to see us score in the 90th minute. It was a funny moment between my host dad and me, where he was excited for me and didn’t really know what to do. I went over to him and we did an awkward handshake thing where one of my fingers was jammed into his wrist.
I think the day before was my Uncle’s bday. We went over to his house kind of late. It was 11 and I was about to get ready for bed when he stormed in and made the drinking gesture (flicking the middle finger against the upper throat). I was excited but a little nervous to have my first drinking experience with Armenians. That went pretty well – the vodka actually tastes just fine to me. Plus, it is very acceptable to just take a little bit. There was no pressure really and it was a nice thing to watch the sincere toasting that goes on before each drink. Drinking here might be a bit more meaningful than what we do in the states. As the night turned to morning, my uncle began telling me he was actually 17, not 48, that he was Christopher Columbus, and a myriad of other peculiar professions.
Friday was the 3 year anniversary of my host father’s mom’s death, so the whole family went to the cemetery. In our village, many of the graves have pictures of the deceased etched on the headstone. Some people think it’s weird, but I think it’s nice. Whenever I’m in a cemetery I want to know who all these people were…the picture at least gives an insight. I was standing in the back, giving the family space, but they wanted me to sprinkle some incense with them. They set flowers on the graves and then sprinkled incense granules into a bowl with smoldering chunks of wood.
On Saturday we went to Yerevan for a big PC outing. There were several museums to choose from. I chose the Genocide Memorial. I wanted to see the monument as well as get a better understanding of what happened. The monument was beautiful. The museum was intense, revealing, and a sobering experience. I couldn’t help but wonder why some people’s fate on earth is to be marched into a dessert to starve or experience some other gruesome death. I still don’t fully understand the Armenian mindset that their country expands much further than their borders, but visiting the museum put me a small step closer to being able to understand.

Genocide Memorial


The rest of the time in Yerevan was free time. I ate lunch at a restaurant with volunteers from different villages. Then I went through the open-air market, which is quite a trip. The beginning is like the minor leagues, just a bunch of guys with a blanket and a bunch of random shit they are selling. We’re talking Russian VHS tapes, to plumbing hardware, to American coinage. Yes, you can buy pennies and nickels. I should have asked how much they were. The major leaguers are more refined, offering jewelry, shirts, flags, and everything else you could imagine in a mini tent/canopy city. After that a couple other Solakites went with me to our teacher’s parents’ house. That was a great experience to meet her family and get to interact with them. Let me say that Yerevan is a different world from what I’ve been experiencing. It’s very modern and progressive, unlike the rest of the country. It was nice to visit there, but I am glad we get to live the village lifestyle right now. I know what it’s like to live in a city, but living amongst livestock is a whole new trip.
When I got home there was another party to go to. This one was for my uncle’s granddaughter, who turned 1. She is truly the pride of the family. We arrived around 6 or 7. To my surprise, 2 other volunteers were there. Their host families were related to the little girl too. It was nice to have a couple people to communicate with! There was a ridiculous amount of food present (and vodka). I gave my first Armenian toast at the request of the uncle. It was short, simple, and to the point: Arrogch, yerkar aprel, shat lav! (Health, long living, very good!) They enjoyed my toast despite the lack of a cohesive sentence.
The funny thing about living with another family without really speaking the language well is that I never know what the next 12 hours will entail. I have my own schedule, but when I get home, it might be a quiet night of studying and watching TV with the family, there might be a guest visiting, or I might be eating and toasting into the wee hours of the morning.
We are now a month into this journey. It’s cool to have a month behind me. It makes me feel like I can do 2 years. The next week is a big one: interviews, language assessments, central day with project presentations, and a 4th of July party to plan. Oh yeah, I get my permanent site announcement on Wednesday too.
Okay, like the US national team, I’m out.

August 29, 2010

6/20/10
Another week of PST is in the bag. It was a very good week. I am realizing that it is fun to be a student again. The language is hard and at times discouraging, but we are definitely making progress at a quick rate. It is hard to appreciate the progress of just 3 weeks when you are living in the language and still not able to make much sense of what people are saying. But bits and pieces are intelligible now. I have never fully learned a language but I think patience and baby steps are the key. We can now talk about food, family, time, as well as make future and past statements. We have also now learned the entire alphabet, which is a great feeling. Now I can actually look up words in my dictionary and try to pronounce them for my family. Sometime I will do a separate post on the alphabet because I think it’s cool and worthy of some limelight.
What else made it a good week? Well, the food has been awesome! My mom is a great cook. She made pizza yesterday with tomatoes, yeshik (think bologna), egg, and cheese. She also made this thing they call gata (I think) which was like a thin dense bread with a magical layer of icing near the top. I have no idea how they get the icing in there because the whole thing is only an inch thick or less. But that stuff is awesome. She also made some sort of pancake bread which was thick but sweet. The closest thing I could relate it to was cornbread. On the downside, I had tahn for the first time and am not a huge fan. It’s a yoghurt drink…involving water, yoghurt, and salt. The yoghurt here is sour, not sweet. It’s fine by itself but when you add salt to it and make it watery it’s not my favorite. But, I drink it when they give it to me because wouldn’t it be rude not to?
I also got to watch some World Cup soccer, which was a miracle after thinking I wouldn’t be able to watch any. Last Saturday night was sad for me because I missed out on England v. US, but Thursday they switched to the antennae at our house instead of the dish (“sputnik”). I watched Greece and Nigeria play. Then on Friday I got to watch the US game! So glorious. I didn’t see the beginning but I saw Slovenia’s second goal. I knew we would be okay, and sure enough, we came out blazing in the second half, scoring 3 goals. I’m not sure why the 3rd goal was disallowed, but it cost us 2 points in the standings. That’s 2 controversial goals disallowed in the last 2 World Cups for the US, a swing of 4 crucial points. I’m just hoping we can beat Algeria on Wednesday and that I can watch some of it!!
Yesterday we went to Hrazdan, a nearby city of probably 20-30K. It has a very nice central boulevard with some shops. We went to a bistro and had beers. Then we went to the internet café to get us some internet. That is always a battle against time. I always have a bunch of really good emails from all the people in my life, but I can never respond to them like I want to due to time. I hope that at my next site I can get an internet connection going so I can have better correspondence. If you’re reading this blog, then that has already happened. I digress…Hrazdan was very nice. It was much nicer than the main drag of Charentsavan.
The weather here right now is very comfortable. It can get a bit hot during the day walking to school in dress pants, but it is much more comfortable than I imagine the Midwest is currently. The absence of humidity has been huge in adjusting to the lack of showering.
I guess the takeaway from the past week is that I am grateful to be here. I am grateful for the opportunity to see the world like I am. I am thankful that the US is in a position to send volunteers to other countries to share in culture and provide skills. I feel more comfortable here…I feel a little more like part of the family. I am enjoying the challenge. And I am optimistic about the future while cherishing the moment.

August 29, 2010

6/13/10
I am now 2 weeks in country. It sure feels like a lot longer than that.
Things have been good, but I am definitely missing home too. The idea that my job, my apartment, and a lot of my belongings that make up the idea of “home” are all gone is a little troubling. I don’t even want to think about not seeing my family and friends for the 2 years. At times it’s a little much to think about. But at the same time, I am now living what was once a dream. The next 2 years may not be filled with the comforts and conveniences of home, but they will be filled with all sorts of experiences and challenges I would never have otherwise.
I think part of what I’m going through is the growing up factor. There is always a part of me that just wants to be a kid living with my mom and dad. Every time I get farther away from that it is a little weird. Case in point: the Ben Folds lyric I’m currently listening to, “everybody knows it hurts to grow up.”
Enough of that for now. Let me share what the daily life has been like here. I wake up at 7:45 and sneak into the bathroom to wash my face/use the facilities. Then I sneak back into my room (the family sleeps with the doors open) to get dressed. I actually dress up every day here. I have school at 9. My host mom makes breakfast sometime in between there. Breakfast is lavash (thin bread like a tortilla but chewier), panir (salty cheese), jam, butter, eggs (usually hard boiled, sometimes scrambled, and today sunny side up), and milk (which is served at magma temperatures with cocoa). Lately the breakfast has been ready at like 8:35, so it makes for a hurried walk to school.
The walk to school starts on a craggy road between village houses. The way is littered with animal poo, which I am used to after living in downtown STL between the horse and dog shit. But here the volume of poo is higher. After winding through a good quarter mile or so, the walk goes uphill the rest of the way. A bit after halfway to school I merge onto the main road of the village. This road is much nicer as it is smoothly paved. But it also has traffic, so I maintain my vigilance, again, as if I were in St. Louis with the crappy drivers. Then I get to school (dprots) and meet up with the other volunteers outside while catching my breath. We then march into the school through a sea of Armenian children who sometimes say Barev dzez (hello), sometimes say “hallo!” and sometimes just laugh.
I have language from 9 until 1:30 most days. There are a couple 15 minute breaks in there. The school day actually goes faster than I thought it would. Some days I am on top of my game and feel good about what we are learning. But there are also days where I struggle to keep up and the whole thing seems overwhelming. I try not to think about how much we don’t know. For 2 weeks I guess we have learned a lot and are doing pretty well.
After language I go home for lunch. Lunch is usually soup with potatoes and random vegetables in an oily broth, lavash, tomatoes, cucumbers, and panir. Some days we have technical training in the afternoon in a different village, Alapars. On those days I have to go back to our school to get picked up with the other business volunteers in a taxi. When I don’t have tech training, I usually study in the afternoon. One day in the afternoon we went into Charentsavan (the larger city that is central to the 7 villages where all the trainees are dispersed) for a free cello/violin concert.
In the evening I am again studying in the family room while the family watches TV or hanging out with them in some form. There is a huge communication gap so I am usually reading. Right now I can tell them I am going to school or that I like potatoes, but real conversation is a distant idea. Sometimes there is dinner at like 5, or sometimes it is at 9. Dinner is usually lavash, tomatoes, cucumbers, potatoes, maybe some form of meat, and panir. There is a theme going here if you haven’t noticed.
Most nights I go to bed between 10-11. I am exhausted after each day. I think not understanding the language and being in someone else’s house are hidden stressors that just wear me out.
This past week was pretty good. I was over my stomach ailment, which several other volunteers were dealing with this week. A couple of interesting things happened. First, I tried to mail a letter at the village post office. I went into the wrong building and ended up meeting the mayor of my town. It was surreal because I was sitting in this office, listening to this burly Armenian man tell me that they are great friends with America (through a random translator girl that happened to be there too). I just wanted to mail a letter. I handed him the letter and he would not let me pay for postage. At this point I thought he WAS the post office, but I later learned I just went into the wrong building. So then I felt bad about that later. But it ended up being a good thing to meet him because we needed to meet with him anyway for our community project. The next day we all went in with our language teachers and had a good meeting. And now I know where the post office is too…
Also, last night I had my first “out there” food experience to date. So far everything has been pretty familiar. Potatoes, cheese, bread, vegetables, stuff that most people can handle. Even the scalding whole milk and homemade yogurt weren’t bad. But last night my mom brought out a plate that had a chicken leg (not a wing, a leg) with the talon intact, a skinny long dark thing (the neck I think), and a couple other unidentified hunks of meat. She told me they were delicious. I ate my meal nervously while eyeing the plate with the feet and innards. At the end of the meal no one had touched the plate. Then my mom insisted I try some of it. So I got half of what was maybe the gizzard. It was very smooth meat and very dry. Not very good. Then she insisted I try the neck thingy. I picked at it and ate some of the meat off the bone. Again, kinda dry and not that good. But I ate it and everything was okay. I was extremely relieved to not have to try the leg. It was definitely the least appetizing thing on the plate. I’m sure that won’t be my last exotic food experience here.