Archive for December, 2010

2010

December 31, 2010

The past year stretched me in ways I didn't know I could stretch, but it also provided a wealth of experience and insight. Photo: Tylor Dodge

2010 may be a year that I never forget. In fact, I know I’ll never forget leaving home, coming to Armenia, and some of the struggles and triumphs I’ve survived. Here’s how it went down:

January
I still remember the moment we brought in the new decade. I was at Ross and Jared’s house where they had a nice party. Their old house was one of my favorite places to be in St. Louis. We had a ton of great times there hanging out, drinking Admiral Nelson cocktails, and playing Company of Heroes. I digress. January was nice because I had a break from work, but I vividly remember what a punch in the face it was to go back to work, just waiting on something I couldn’t control at all (Peace Corps invite). I had gotten medically cleared in November, but I still had a wait of almost 5 months ahead of me. If I had known that, I surely would have been committed for depression. The possibility of an invitation arriving every day kept me going. Other than that, I did my normal thing: running, working, running some more, and eating Jack’s pizzas. Peter visited and I went skiing for the first time. I ran a half marathon in Forest Park – nothing special, but just because I hadn’t done any big races in over a year at that point. At the finish line, a man in his early 30s greeted me. His name was Riley Sorkin, and he was the guy who saved my life at the St. Louis Marathon in 2008. He only lives in St. Louis part of the year, so I was amazed that we would run into each other and that he would recognize me.

February
The thing that strikes me about February was the Super Bowl seeming like a milestone. “If I can get past the winter, I’ll be much closer to the coveted PC invite.” The Super Bowl was like a little bright spot in the middle of winter, reminding you that you’re almost there. My dad visited and we went to a fantastic SLU v. Dayton game which SLU won in OT. We also parked at a 90 minute meter and somehow didn’t get a ticket. I don’t really remember much else about February. It’s one of those months I always just want to be over!

March
Okay, more waiting. By this point I was getting pretty antsy about getting an invitation and quitting work. I still thought I would be leaving in September, so thoughts of World Cup, float trips, and other summer things filled my mind. I visited Colorado for the first time to see Kelsey. Looking back, I’m really glad I did because I soon wouldn’t have time to see her life out there. At the end of the month, a group of us went to Ross’s parents’ place to help build an observatory in an old silo. Despite my fear of heights and lack of mechanical inclination, I managed to help a little bit. At this point, I was sold hook, line, and sinker that our group of friends in St. Louis was one of the best possible. Of course, I still feel that way, but that trip really iced the cake for me!

April
Baseball starts. Spring hits. Just as my anxiousness was reaching its boiling point, my world was turned upside down. I got the invite a day before my birthday and turned in my 2 weeks’ notice the same day. Except the invite wasn’t for September; it was for May! Begin scramble to do a million things in one month.

May
Maybe the 2nd most difficult month for me, in retrospect. I had to wrap up my job and hand it off, which is harder than it sounds. The leap of faith had officially begun. I packed up my cubicle, said goodbye to a lot of good people, and walked out of the revolving door one last time. I have to say, when I was in high school and college, I thought it would be cool to work in a big skyscraper. Now, I can cross that off my list. It was cool in some ways and not cool in others. Anyone who has done it will know what I mean. But the experience of working for a Fortune 10 company will be with me for the rest of my life. And of course I was about to jump into a line of work that would be almost the complete opposite of what I had known for the last 2 years. But first I had to get all the junk ready that I would need for 2 years. Multiple shopping trips, lists everywhere, a messy apartment, and a diminishing timeline. I had to make room for goodbyes too, which didn’t seem fair with the little time I was dealt. Packing up my apartment was a surreal moment. So was saying goodbye to my friends, my grandparents, and my parents. I’ll never forget leaving my parents at the airport. I was 24, but crying like a little kid, just like they were. We were all so scared, but also happy. Off to DC to meet the other volunteers, and then off to the other side of the world. I suddenly had no job, no apartment, no home. I had plunged into the deep-end, whether I was ready or not. Luckily, I had stored up a ton of energy over the last 15 months while waiting to join the PC. I would need every bit of that energy and optimism to get me through the next few months.

June
The first days of June were a blur of jet lag, exhaustion, strangers, and strangeness. Who were all these weirdos I was with? Can I be friends with any of these people? Is my “hotel” room really this cold? Uh oh, why do I feel so sick? What is this food? I remember being almost terrified of the Armenians. They stared, and we were told not to stare back. I soon moved to my first host family in what was one of the more surreal moments of my life. Who are these people? Now they are truly my family. I got pretty sick during the first week. I didn’t eat anything for at least 2 days at one point. Language class every day was a struggle. Slowly, I began to become friends with the other PCVs in my village. I got to see a bit of the World Cup. But the pangs for home were incredibly strong sometimes. 2 years seemed like a sentence rather than a privilege.

July
July was our final full month of training. Our village really bonded during this time. Things began to be a bit more normal. I didn’t feel so sick. I could say a few more things. And I was almost used to not having any personal time. The ultimate test was our practicum time when my family’s French relatives were visiting. I have never had so little personal time and so much to accomplish all at once. Somehow I made it through. Still, there were days when I woke up and was just scared. Scared to face the day, scared of the immersion into Armenian language and culture, and longing for something from home. My energy was fading, finally, and my site placement of Vardenis didn’t make things any brighter. I remember making the site visit and being pretty down about it. I tried not to think of it while I enjoyed the rest of PST.

August
I dreaded August. It meant moving away from our village, into the “real world of PC”. I didn’t want to go to Vardenis and be all alone. But it was my fate, so I accepted it. After a memorable swearing in ceremony and sad goodbyes, I arrived at site. I immediately became friends with Morten and saw him going through all the same struggles I had just overcome. The days at work were confusing. My purpose there was not at all clear. I didn’t do much. It was hard for me. We had a summer camp, which was a perfect distraction. It also helped pass the time. At this point, I was counting days and weeks. 2 years seemed like a really long time. I still wasn’t adjusted, I missed PST, and didn’t really like Vardenis. I said goodbye to Wayne and even had some envy that he was going home after conquering the 2 year ordeal.

September
With fall coming, I felt like at least time was passing. Things at work were still really slow. I had gotten used to my new host family by now, but wasn’t really happy with the situation. I was counting down the weeks until I could move out in December. We went to Sevan for a volunteer weekend away. I had a conference where I got quite sick, again. I also got to see some of the country, which was a big morale booster. It seemed like every weekend I had somewhere I had to go, which ended up being a good thing. The last thing I needed to do at this point was sit in my room alone during the weekends.

October
The weather started changing. It was colder. It was Morten’s last month. I had some meetings in Yerevan, which were good distractions. I also visited Yerevan with Morten’s family. We had another camp with the other Ys. All these things added up and meant that October flew by for me. The next thing I knew, it was Halloween, there was a half foot of snow on the ground, and things just felt different.

November
This was probably the first month where I actually felt good about the work I was doing. I felt more productive than ever. Even though that’s not saying much, it was at least a positive feeling. Starting to teach English was a good thing for me. I felt better about myself at work and I think that translated to other areas as well. Vardenis felt more like home. After a trip to Yerevan, it was nice to be back in Vardenis. I visited Solak and realized that my language skills actually were improving at site, even if I can’t understand my host family in Vardenis. We had the big conference in Yerevan. I also celebrated Thanksgiving in Martuni with a bunch of volunteers. I was getting to know a lot of people in PC now, and the more I got to know them, the more I liked them.

December
The flash mob was a success, phew. Finally a couple weeks to rest on the weekends. I got sick again. Then Varditer’s father passed away. Work wasn’t the same for a couple weeks. When she returned, I did some trainings for the staff, which felt good. I started feeling a little homesick again for Christmas. I enjoyed the season as much as possible, spending time in Gavar with other Americans. And now I’m amazed that the month is over, and so is the year. Soon I will be celebrating Nor Tari for the first time. I’m pretty happy with where I am. I’ve overcome a lot of challenges, learned a ton, and am actually surviving and maybe even beginning to thrive in Armenia. The next year is looking good.

The year is over. But I can look back on 2010 and be proud of what I accomplished. It was a year of progress for me in many ways. That’s really all you can ask for from a year.

Now, 2011. I’m not sure exactly everything I want out of 2011, so I’ll keep it kind of vague. I want to really hit my stride in Armenia. I want to keep progressing in the language, having interesting experiences, and doing meaningful work. I also want to see more of the country, visit some other countries, and enjoy the only full year I will have here.

I hope your 2010 was a good experience as well. Best wishes to you in 2011, and remember, it’s yours to do with what you want.

Gavar, Workshops, and New Year’s Prep

December 30, 2010

It’s that magical time between Christmas and New Year’s. There’re leftovers in the fridge, bowl games on TV, new gifts to be tinkered with, and New Year’s Eve to look forward to. But in Armenia, people are just now gearing up for the biggest time of the year. Upon my return from Gavar, I was surprised to find that it felt more like Christmas, even though my Christmas was over.

First, Gavar. I stayed 2 nights in my friend Chris’s apartment, with 6 other volunteers. It was quite a sight to see – all 8 of us sprawled in his bedroom/living room, sleeping bags everywhere. I was the youngest at 24. The oldest were in their early 60s. You are never too old for Peace Corps! It wasn’t just the 8 of us though. There were about 25 total, spread out over 4 apartments. We came together on Christmas Eve and Christmas Day to share meals together. The hosts did an excellent job. All the guests really had to do was help pay for food. It was nice to not worry about making something and then trying to transport it.

Most of our time was spent just sitting around, listening to Christmas music, chatting, and enjoying the company. It was a good opportunity to get to know some of the volunteers better, especially from the A-17 group. There really are only a handful (or less) of chances left to see them, as weird as that sounds. We did a gift exchange too. I brought a set of silverware. I received a handwoven soap holder and tooth brush cup. But then it got stolen, because we were playing “Dirty Santa”. I hate the stealing gift exchange games. I grabbed another present and it was a cheese grater, potato masher, and a funnel. So I got some useful stuff in the end.

Mom, Dad, Kelsey, Daisy!

Christmas morning we went to the church in Gavar. It was the most beautiful church I’ve seen in Armenia so far (I think the churches I saw in Vienna on the way over here ruined everything I could possibly see in Armenia). We lit some candles, explained to the candle selling lady why we weren’t all married, and headed back to the apartment. Overall it was a great time, a great distraction from being away from where you really want to be on Christmas. Did it feel like Christmas? Honestly, no, not at all.

The day I returned to Vardenis, my family was decorating the Christmas tree. It was such an odd feeling to decorate a tree the day after Christmas. It was also pretty funny. My host dad, who is usually pretty stoic and manly, was really into the decorating. He was leading the charge as far as ornament placement, tinsel stringing, and putting stuffed animals into the tree. Yes, since next year is the year of the rabbit, he felt it was necessary to place 3 stuffed rabbits onto the tree branches. His pleasure bubbled over when he looked at me and said, “They’re watching us!” But it didn’t stop there. Next, he found a stuffed rooster and artistically placed it on a low hanging branch. The rooster crows 3 times if its motion detector goes off. That has led to some funny scenes when one of the family members is stomping through the house, and then the rooster starts crowing randomly. But besides the tree, I didn’t have much time to think about the holiday, as I was busy helping with a workshop.

The EVS (European Volunteer Service) volunteers put on a photo workshop for the youth in Vardenis and Stepanavan the last couple weeks. First, kids from Vardenis went to Stepanavan for a weekend. On Monday and Tuesday, the Stepanavan kids visited Vardenis. Since it was at the Y, and I’m friends with all the EVS people, I was happy to help out. The kids were between 10-17, and there were 20 of them. They wrote a story that they would then create using photographs. Even though they were crazy, it was fun to work with them and help them make something creative. It reminded me of my days at MacArthur where we would have so much fun making stuff for video production class. Kids here don’t have those same opportunities, so it was great to see them make something fun and use their imaginations. My group’s theme was freedom, and they made a story about getting arrested and then breaking out of prison. They really had fun with it. They even got the local police force in on it, using an officer in some photos to help tell the story. Besides the actual workshop, there were meals to prepare for the kids, cleaning up after the meals, and other random tasks to do. Plus, the Y didn’t have water for those days, so we also took turns making trips to this random outdoor bathtub that had constantly flowing water nearby. All in all, it was fun to help out, and even better to see the kids’ perspectives broadened a bit between the traveling and the new ideas of using photography as a medium.

Thus, yesterday was my first day off duty for Christmas break. We’re shut down until the 17th I think. I really felt the upcoming holiday celebration’s imminence as the family bustled about preparing food and buying things. My host dad said once that they spend $1500 on New Year’s. It’s especially ridiculous when you consider how little they make in one year. I saw that money at work the last couple days. 30 kilos of meat, a mountain of lavash, and the ingredients for 5 large cakes, among other items, have flowed in lately. I wasn’t surprised when my host mom asked for next month’s money a couple days early. I said no problem, but also explained that if I move out, they have to pay me back. I wonder how smoothly that will work…

So now I am excited for the upcoming days. I am a bit apprehensive because I envision a lot of craziness and no down time to recover. Plus, they tend to want me to be a camera man at all times during celebrations. But the amount of food and drink to be had is enticing. And just to see the way they do everything. I have heard that it is a competition for guests. People will stay home and wait for others to come to their house. So it becomes a cat and mouse game, where everyone is waiting on everyone else. They also don’t formally invite you over, you’re just supposed to barge in (so I’ve heard). That is a bit uncomfortable for me, but I have to get over it. One of the girls at work explained that to us, and said, “I hope you will come to our house.” And I’m also not sure if you’re supposed to bring gifts with you when you visit or not. Observation will guide me. Besides my family, I will definitely go to my language teacher’s house, and the girl from work’s house. Other than that, I have no idea what will happen. Of course, a full debriefing will follow.

Okay, until tomorrow, when I will post my year in review.

Merry Christmas from Vardenis

December 24, 2010

With kids from the Y after the Christmas show

Happy Shortest Day of the Year

December 21, 2010

Ah, solstice. Every year I enjoy this day, because it doesn’t get any shorter than this right here!

Interesting to me, and maybe less so for you, is the difference between America and Armenia as far as daylight goes. Check it out:

As you can see, Armenia gets light almost an hour later. And it gets dark nearly an hour later. That doesn’t sound like a lot, but when it’s 8:00 a.m. and it’s still dark outside, you feel it. The getting dark at 5:30 thing, I could get used to that in the U.S. But do note that our days are like 9 minutes shorter than yours.

So yeah, daylight is basically shifted an hour later over here. So what? Well let me tell you. The culture of time in Armenia is much different. The world doesn’t wake up until 8:30 or 9:00. And things don’t really get going until 10:00. You can walk down to grab the first marshrutka to Yerevan at 8:30 and the place is a ghost town. It’s such an odd thing when you think about the traffic you can see on the interstate back home at 6:45 a.m.

Also, the opposite applies. People go to bed pretty late here. During the summer, it’s definitely later, but even now a bedtime of 11 or 12 is very normal. My tatik is often still up at midnight watching TV, or at least trying to (cataracts be damned).

So I guess my message here is a simple one: your daily routine is individual, yes, but also heavily influenced by your culture. It may not feel like culture (“I decide when I wake up, Kevin,” you might be thinking), but it is! Culture determines when the typical job starts, or when school begins, which impacts when you have to wake up. It’s a small piece to the puzzle called “Why Things are the Way they are in Your Neck of the Woods”. Cool huh? Or maybe I’ve just spent too much time thinking about time…the last 2 day’s trainings were on time management. I digress – more soon.

December Rambles

December 19, 2010

T-6 days. The big man is getting ready. People are wrapping things up at work, or are already done. Heck, a year ago I already had my Christmas bash by now! In many ways, these days leading up to the main event are the best.

I’m not sure what I want to write about here. Nothing groundbreaking has happened, really. I’ll just go randomly like I normally do.

Varditer came back to work on Thursday. It was great to have her back. The office is a better place with her there. And I also realize that she is one of my best friends here too. She does a great job of including me in the staff’s conversations when I don’t understand what is going on (most of the time).

Work has been pretty good. I’m still teaching English classes twice a week, and I’m enjoying it. The students are older, which works well for me. By older, I mean they are mostly in their late teens. It’s fun to teach them words, phrases, and subtleties of our language. There are so many oddities that we don’t think about. For instance, try explaining why we can’t say “I want 3 breads.” But wait, you can say “I want 3 loaves of bread.” You can count a loaf, but not a bread. The more I think about it, the less sense it makes. So in those ways I feel sorry for the students! Also, this week we will be beginning a training series for the staff. I’m doing presentations on Time Management and CV Writing. I’m glad to be doing this, as it is my first real attempt at building capacity across the whole staff at the Y. The training series will continue after the winter break. I will also begin work on the strategic plan, which might be a big undertaking. There are a couple other ideas I have too that I would like to begin working on soon.

Yesterday I got to talk to my parents and sister, which was great. It was like we were all together again, even though we are in Colorado, Illinois, and Gegharkunik. I miss them a lot, and sometimes it is hard. But I also knew that when I signed up for this it meant missing things like Christmas for 2 years. On paper it seems like a small sacrifice in the big picture, and it is, but in the minutiae of day to day life, it’s a big loss!

Speaking of that, I will be heading to Gavar next weekend for a PCV Christmas celebration. I’m really looking forward to this. I had a good time celebrating Thanksgiving with PCVs, and I’m sure Christmas will be the same. There’s something fascinating about spending time with all these people you have little in common with. But there are two traits we all have in common, and they allow us to get along great. We’re all American, and we’re all in Armenia.

On the apartment front, my hopes have been rekindled. The apartment that I originally submitted paperwork for and then found out was going to be rented to someone else, well it’s free again now. The guy who was going to live there got stationed somewhere else, so no one ever actually moved in. So I filled out the same paperwork again (PC is still part of the government) and submitted to PC. The big hurdle is getting someone from PC to come out and approve the apartment before it gets snatched up by someone else. Wishfully thinking, they will come this week, leading to my move-in after the Gavar Christmas as a late present. Reality says that it might not be this week, and that I still need to temper my hopes at improving my living situation. Since I’ve done my part for now, I just have to sit back, relax, and not think about it too much.

It never did snow last week. The weather has been odd. It’s ominous every other day, but nothing happens. If the snow can hold out for my weekend travels, I will be a happy man in Armenia.

We are approaching the shortest daylight day of the year. With the extra darkness, coupled with the cold temps indoors (seeing my breath is a normal occurrence now), I have been going to bed earlier. Part of that was a response to feeling crappy after my flu shot. But then those symptoms subsided and I still found myself yawning and head-bobbing at 10:00. I have been getting a hearty 8-10 hours of sleep a night. It’s probably the most sleep I’ve ever gotten consecutively in my life. Still, I kind of have a cold now. Healthiness seems to be a moving target here that I just can’t quite hit. Regardless, I know the foreign culture and language, even if they do seem more familiar now, tire me throughout the day. As one volunteer said, back home you might have to wear your armor at work, but here you don’t get to take your armor off until you close the door to your room to go to sleep.

Oh yeah, the Polish girls adopted 2 street dogs last week. It’s one of those things that kind of makes you, as a 3rd party, cringe because you know what the outcome will be. Short term outcome: Pooping, peeing, and restlessness in the house. Long term outcome: Dogs will probably die. I haven’t shared much about the animal life here because it’s just depressing. But the dogs that survive are tough. People just don’t have pets here like we do back home. The puppies are adorable, but I’m glad they aren’t mine. Seeing them brought out the American germ-a-phobia that I had suppressed so well during my time here. Black stuff under my fingernails at all times? No problem. Didn’t wash my hands before this meal? Whatever. Two showers so far this month? Doesn’t bother me. Hanging my clean clothes to dry on a line that is in the direct path of smoke from a trash-burning-fire? The newfound smokey flavoring of my undershirts probably masks my BO. But watching the puppies find, and then run up to and sniff a dead dog in the junk pile behind the Polish girls’ apartment? Hmm, they’re not that cute anymore.

If you are still reading, congratulations on navigating through a series of completely unrelated paragraphs. Your resolve is firm. I wish you, reader, a very Merry Christmas and Happy New Year. If you are bored over the holidays, come check out my blog, since I am planning several more posts. I want to get one up midweek actually. But I do know that it’s quite a busy time, so please be safe and enjoy your time with family and friends!

Howdy Ho!

December 11, 2010

Christmas is only 2 weeks away. Are you ready? Normally Christmas can be a stressful time – trying to wrap up work before a long break, buying the “right” presents, the traffic, the crazy people everywhere, and the media bombardment. Here, I am learning that it is up to me to create a Christmas environment for myself. Not only is December 25th just another day to these people, but I’m pretty sure that they celebrate their own Christmas (Jan 6th) in a much different way than we do.

So yesterday I decided it was time to get Christmasy. I shuttered myself in my room and watched the original Mr. Hankey South Park. Usually I watch the Mr. Hankey Christmas Special (from season 3), but to watch the original was a great reminder that catapulted me into a Christmas mood. I quickly watched some other Christmas stuff I have, scoured my CPU for music, and made a sweet snowman background in Photoshop.

What else makes it feel like Christmas for you? For me, the weather is a big factor. It’s been downright cheery here, which isn’t quite what I think of when I imagine Christmas weather. I think we’ve had over 40 days straight of sunshine now. I am pretty blown away – yes, it’s been cold, but not as cold as I thought, and much sunnier. For anyone who has seasonal depression, perhaps Armenia could be a good location, assuming the trash and lack of infrastructure don’t get you down. With that said, the buzz around town has been that it will snow tomorrow. We’ll see. I’m kind of hoping for some just to have a change from the dustiness that has prevailed in recent weeks.

Besides thinking about Christmas, it was an interesting week. Unfortunately, it started on a terrible note, as my counterpart’s father passed away. Going to the wake was one of the more profound experiences here, and one that I will probably always have with me. Needless to say, the apartment search with my counterpart has been put on hold. I decided that it was time for me to try to do something about it on my own, lack of language and local connections be damned.

I got Wayne’s old landlord’s contact information and gave her a buzz. We met one day, which actually turned out to be pretty funny. She wanted me to meet her at her job, at the polyclinic. I got there, she sat me down at her desk, and started asking about a business plan. What? Where’s the apartment, lady? Next thing I know, we’re in the director’s office. There are like 7 ladies in white coats and me. “What do you want?” I want an apartment. To salvage this situation, I asked if they wanted a PCV. I can bring you an application if you want one. But I thought this meeting was about an apartment. After saying goodbye to my new unwanted acquaintances, the landlord finally took me to the apartment. It looked great, especially compared to a couple I’ve seen. The killer is that they want 5000 more for it than Wayne paid. Or they could do it cheaper, but without signing the housing agreement. No thanks, guys. So I went home and paid my family for the rest of December (have I mentioned that it’s awkward to tell your family you’re moving out, and then you actually don’t move out? Yeah). Now I’m prepared to just wait it out a month or two more here.

Walking to my language lesson one day, I got stopped by the grandfather of a child at the Y. This man met me once, mind you. He became very excited when he saw me. He grabbed me by the arm (men here often walk holding each others’ arms) and walked me into his house nearby. His idea of drinking coffee included vodka shots, which was a way I’ve never tried before. Having tried it, I can say that it makes language class more fun. I would recommend it to you during a break at work, but I understand people might look at you strangely if you have a bottle of vodka next to your cup o’ Joe. One of the unfortunate differences between Armenia and the US.
Finally, today I met a lady who randomly called me to work on her English. I got to go see her work site, which is a mental hospital in Vardenis. They take patients from all over the country. The patients live in the facility for life. It’s all funded by one of the government ministries. It was nice to see that there is a pretty decent facility for the disabled people of Armenia. Looking around town, you wouldn’t guess they would have any sort of decent place to put mentally ill people. But this place had a nice cafeteria, activity rooms, and a nice outdoor area too. Plus, I now have another contact in the community. I can really understand now why we are here for 2 years. I have been here for over half a year and am just now slowly making contacts. It takes a lot of time to become a member of a community, especially in a foreign place.

Okay, drop me a comment and let me know what is new in your life. Thanks for reading, and expect some heavy posting near the end of the month, when I am not working!

All-Vol and More!

December 4, 2010

I have returned from our All-Volunteer conference in Yerevan. I am exhausted, perhaps for a couple reasons. But there were many adventures during the conference, as well as a flash-mob, and some interesting things upon my return to Vardenis…

Generally, being in Yerevan is exhausting. It is the big city for us. There are people everywhere, cars everywhere, volunteers everywhere, and I usually walk everywhere. We stayed in the Hrazdan Hotel, which is a nice tower-style hotel. I slept in a room with 3 other dudes, so you can imagine that my sleep schedule was messed up. On top of that, the constant socializing took a toll on me. I am a dude who can only handle other people in small bursts, so 5 days of them drains me. I think the other reason I am tired is that we got flu shots. I have never gotten one in my life, and I don’t think I’ve ever gotten the flu. But now I am having flu-like symptoms from the flu shot. Go figure. My back has been killing me, and last night I went to bed at 8:30 because I was just achy, sleepy, and my head hurt. Hopefully this will subside in the next day.

So what was the conference? The first day was language training. We had many choices, things like slang and gestures, subjunctive mood, toasting, small talk, and more. These were taught by the language teachers we had during PST. It was cool to study some different topics with other volunteers. It’s also interesting to see the progress other people have made in the language. The next day was early service training for the A-18s. We had talks with the admin and safety people. Then there were sessions we could choose from in the afternoon. I chose TEFL for Non-TEFLs, since I am teaching English now. That night the A-17s showed up and we had a thanksgiving dinner prepared by some of the volunteers. There was some really good food, including pumpkin pie. I gorged myself and felt the repercussions the rest of the week. But I would do it again given the chance. After dinner was a talent show. A couple guys in my group did a guitar duet that was literally genius. They wrote original songs about Armenia, including a cover of a popular soap-opera theme song. They had the whole crowd cracking up. The next 2 days we had more activities, including a speech by the US ambassador, a movie about a PCV in Nepal in the 80s (makes me feel like a spoiled brat), and a thing called FutureSearch, where a bunch of NGO directors are invited to have group discussions with PCVs. I facilitated a FutureSearch session, which was interesting.

Of course, when all the volunteers get together, things can get crazy. I guess last year All-Vol had some drinking issues. This time most people were on good behavior, because the staff made it very clear to us that they wouldn’t tolerate much. I was happy that it wasn’t too crazy. There was plenty of other stuff to keep us entertained anyway. There was the 18 v. 17 basketball game. I made the starting lineup due to a total lack of players. Having not played basketball competitively since 6th grade, I was a tad rusty. The 17s boasted more size and bulk, and maybe better teamwork too. As a result, they won 19-15. I was a respectable 1-4 from the field with a few rebounds. There was a lot of shit talking before the game, and I thought the game might be pretty rough. But it was a respectful affair; I think the 17s were just happy we fielded a team, because last year they had no one to play against.

There was also a photo contest. There were 6 different categories and we could enter 1 picture in each. I rummaged through my photos thus far and found a few worthy contestants. I entered 5 photos. When I saw the photos on display in the hotel lobby, I was blown away by some of the quality. There were some really interesting and well done shots. We all voted on the pictures. Some of the categories’ pictures easily overpowered my amateur shots, but I had hope in 2 categories. Still, with all the Nikon/Canon SLR-wielding PCVs, I wasn’t expecting to really compete. I was shocked when my name was called as the winner of the Environmental category! The prize for winning is dinner with the new country director. I was pretty excited, and proud, to have won something against the other volunteers. I was going to save this photo for my article on khorovats, but now I have to put it up.

Award winning photography - I know, I spoil you reader

On the last night of the conference the HIV/AIDS flash mob took place. I was definitely a little nervous about this thing, since I was quasi-in-charge, and had never done anything like it before. Everything went according to plan, fortunately, and we had about 100 people freezing in place in downtown Yerevan to raise awareness for World AIDS Day. It was a great feeling, especially when I was standing frozen for 1 minute, as pedestrians confusedly walked by. Everyone enjoyed it. If anything, I think it was a success just to get all the volunteers together, doing something, regardless of the HIV/AIDS impact. It was so cool to be in the big group of people with the same goal. Hopefully I’ll have some pictures soon I can share.

Besides the conference, I have also been trying to wrap up my housing situation lately. I turned in my paperwork for my new apartment before the conference. I told my counterpart to tell the landlord I would live there. Everything was cool. Then, when I got back from the conference, the landlord apparently rented it out to his grandma or something. So now I have nowhere to live. I also already dropped the awkward bomb of telling my family that I will live alone soon. I did that before the conference because I didn’t want to be dreading it for a whole week.

Last night, I got home from work and language tutoring, feeling all flu-like, just wanting to relax for a while and go to bed, when my host dad called me over to sit next to him. He started asking why I was going to move out. I could tell he was drunk. I explained to him that I lived alone for 2 years in America and that I like living alone. He kept asking why, saying that the family loved me, and telling me I should stay there until the spring. I was wondering why this is the first time he’s ever wanted to sit down and talk to me and try to say nice things. Oh yeah, it’s because his cash cow wants to leave. Then the mom came home and kind of rolled her eyes at the drunk dad. I thought she was going to tell him to shut up, but then she joined in on the sales pitch. I will cry if you leave, she said. Also, winter will be very hard for you. Stay with us until the spring. Wayne stayed until Spring. Don’t go, you’re our son, don’t you love us? This went on for a good 10 minutes. They kept asking why and I kept telling them the same thing. I have to say that my patience has served me well here, but there are times like these where it is stretched dangerously thin. I am not in total control of the situation (i.e. I have to wait on my counterpart to find me an apartment), and now I have to deal with this family too. Sometimes you just want to be left alone. I placed the incident on the bookshelf of “Reasons why this family shouldn’t host another volunteer.” The shelf is getting crowded…

So yeah, I suffered a minor setback in the housing department, but hopefully I can find something this month. I’m not surprised the apartment fell through, honestly. That’s just the way things work here. Despite that, things are good in general. The weather has been really warm; it’s weird. There hasn’t been rain in over a month. The sky is sunny everyday. Also, I received two great packages, one from my friends in STL, and the other from my parents. Thank you, thank you, thank you! I have received incredible support from the people back home, which makes it so much easier to be here. Thank you for everything.

That’s about it for now. I hope you find yourself warm and anticipating the upcoming holidays!