All-Vol and More!

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!


3 Responses to “All-Vol and More!”

  1. Wayne Burt Says:

    Same experience for me. Norik and Anna ganged up on me and asked why I wanted to leave. The cried poor mouth and I ended up staying until spring, when finally found an apartment. Norik is an interesting drunk. Drives that way on occasion too.

    Congratulations on the photo win.

  2. Peter Says:

    Channel your inner Tim Letizia 😉 Be assertive, don’t let other people decide what’s best for you.

    Also, beer does not have decreasing returns.

  3. icenugget Says:

    Wayne – glad it’s not just me! And sometimes they accidentally call me Wayne. Okay, we’re both Americans, but how hard is it to keep Wayne and Kevin straight? After we deal with countless Vahes, Vahans, Vardans, Vans, and more??

    Peter – Great advice. WWTBAD (What Would The Badass Do?)? Guns and buttnah…oh excuse me, I have to take this, it’s my emergency phone…

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