Fall in the Caucasus

The weather has taken a sudden swing for the disgusting. Since Armenia is roughly the same latitude as St. Louis and Decatur, it experiences the same seasons and roughly the same temperatures. That is where the comparisons end though.

About to swear in, with Madame Ambassador in the foreground

Armenia is much drier than the Midwest (although not as dry as the Southwest). The entire country is at least 350m above sea level as well. Actually, most of the country is mountainous, existing far above the 350 mark. Yerevan is around 900m, and Vardenis is 2000m (roughly 6500 feet, or over 1000 feet above Denver). The altitude and location of Vardenis in a mountain range mean that it gets cold here faster, and stays cold longer, than it does in the Midwest. For example, the days here might reach the high 60s or 70s, but the evenings are around 40 or lower. The other big difference is the housing. The houses here are all constructed of stone with no insulation. The rooms are big, the ceilings are high, and the floors are uncarpeted. Windows and doors often look like they’ve missed a generation of maintenance. So the buildings here are much colder than those in the states. Basically, what I’m trying to say is I’ve been sleeping in my sleeping bag inside my bed to stay warm. It happened a little earlier than I anticipated.

Other weather challenges include the combination of rain and the dusty, potholed roads. We have had several days of rain. The roads quickly become saturated. It makes walking home a game of avoiding puddles, Lake Vardenises (big puddles), and mud spots, all the while dodging the usual cow pies. Another aspect of the game is scurrying to avoid the spray from the Kamats dump truck that is barreling in behind you.

So the weather change has been one of the foremost things on my mind. The switching seasons provide another reminder of the passage of time here. When you are somewhere for 2 months but it’s summer the whole time, the passage of time is not obvious. But now that autumn is kicking our asses, there is a sense of “I’ve been here a while now” (the power just went out) that is setting in.

What else has been happening? Last week we had several visitors. One was a PCV from the A-14 group (2006) who stayed in Armenia for 3 years. I was invited to her old host family’s house for a great dinner. It was very insightful to chat with someone who was here for 3 years and really integrated into the community. Also an A-17 volunteer, my mentor, came to visit. Her visit was quite helpful because she went through a lot of the same things I’m going through now. She was also able to give me some tips for the workplace. And it’s always great to talk to someone who can relate to your current situation.

Saturday morning I went to Yerevan for the PC Initiatives weekend. Initiatives are basically extracurricular clubs we can join to become more involved. Normally I am a don’t-get-involved kind of guy, but I told myself I would do this, even if part of me is quite resistant. So I attended the HIV/AIDS meeting, and as a result have a little mini-project to work on. I think eventually I might be giving a presentation or something on AIDS to the local community.

With then-Country Director and US Ambassador. I'm a little bummed this one did not turn out better, but vochinch.

Besides that, the weekend was an excuse to get together with all the other volunteers and have a good time. I stayed in a hostel for the first time in my life. The building was nice, but I wasn’t a big fan of sleeping in a big room with a bunch of other drunkards (who happen to be PCVs). Unfortunately, the weather didn’t co-operate, so we weren’t able to get out and explore too much. The silver lining is that the bad weather forced me to use the local marshrutka system to get back to the bus stop that has marshrutkas to Vardenis. I had been scared to use this local system because I had no idea where any of the vans go. All they have is a little sign with a number (1-120) and a bunch of street names in Armenian. I read Armenian at the pace of a 3-toed tree sloth, so there is no way I can tell where one is going in the time it is stopped to excrete a few Armenians and envelop a few more. At times like these I tend to clam up and just go about my business. But on this very rainy day, I was forced to poke my head out of my shell and use my Armenian to figure out which number went to my bus station. As is the case with most things you psych yourself out on, it was actually much easier than I thought. One more piece of confidence in the back pocket for living in this country.

Monday my program director made a visit. It was a good meeting where we talked with my counterpart about the upcoming months and expectations. I now have a better feeling about my role there and what I will be doing in the future.

Today was a cool day because we went to the camp building to host some partners. Three Americans, 2 from LA and 1 from Chicago, and a Dutchman showed up to tour the facility. They all had ties to YMCA. The National Y here is exploring a partnership with LA area YMCAs, which I whole-heartedly agree with. There are 1 million Armenians living in LA, so it makes sense that they would partner with Armenian YMCAs. They had to leave early, which meant that the rest of us gorged ourselves on the delicious pig khorovats (barbecue). I promise to do a post dedicated to the art of khorovats.

I just called my first host family because it’s the dad’s birthday. Talking on the phone in Armenian is always an awkward, nervous experience for me. But at the same time it’s kind of cool to think of the progress, that I can actually have a 3-year old conversation on the phone. It’s always interesting to see how excited they are when I call. It drives home the observation I’ve had many times here: Armenians really value their guests and become attached quickly. One of my language teachers told me that after we said goodbyes and left Solak, my host dad could barely control his emotions. In an attempt to salvage his manhood, he tried to smoke, but he lit the cigarette at the wrong end. All this from a guy I thought maybe didn’t even like me!

Finally, you may be wondering about the pictures. I just got these from the PC Office. They are from our swearing-in ceremony on August 6th. Aveli lav ush e kan yerpek (Better late than never).

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4 Responses to “Fall in the Caucasus”

  1. Gail the Mom Says:

    Every time I read your blog it makes me smile and I’m always sad to see it end. Wish I could send warm things your way; I hate to be cold!!! Glad you feel more confident about the Y and its possibilities. Miss you every day!!!

  2. icenugget Says:

    Thanks Mom! I miss you guys too. Can we go to Monical’s when I come back?

  3. Peter Says:

    Are you getting any good runs in on hilly terrain, or is it too bumpy/rocky? I imagine you’re limiting your exercise if you’ve already lost weight without it to begin with.

    Good to hear you’ve experienced hostels, I’m glad it was with PCV’s instead of sketchy Europeans (I slept with my backpack in my arms a couple nights so nobody stole anything).

    Lastly, I googled Khorovats and a the first thing that came up was an entry on Armeniapedia.org

    Pretty hilarious

    http://www.armeniapedia.org/index.php?title=Khorovats

  4. icenugget Says:

    Peter,

    Unfortunately, I think I’ve gone for 2 runs in Vardenis and 4 in Armenia altogether. I can give a bunch of reasons why, but the main thing is that until I’m fully in control of when I can bathe, do laundry, and eat, the running will continue to suffer. As for terrain, it is very rocky and hilly in Armenia, but around my town it is pretty flat (unless you run to the nearby mountains).

    The hostel was actually really nice. It had little cubbies where you could lock your stuff up. Bed, clean bathroom, breakfast, all for only $13. Plus we got to crash the hostel’s 5th birthday party.

    I’m glad you found armeniapedia! Thanks for sharing; coincidentally I heard about it today for the first time at work. Seriously, khorovats is so delicious/interesting that anything less than a complete post on the topic is injustice.

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