Checkpoint!

One year remaining. Better hurry up!!! -said with the Wave Race 64 announcer’s voice.

In one more year, a mere 365 days, I will turn in the government passport and end my Peace Corps Service. As crazy as that sounds, the even crazier thing is that tomorrow I will have less than one year of service left. Wow!

I can feel the implosion already. The familiar faces will all be gone. My group of volunteers, our staff, and the people I work with at the Y will all be scattered like that fuzzy ball thing that dandelions have. These are the people that make up Armenia and Peace Corps to me. The experience is because they are.

Coming in tow with the 1 year left thing is a 1 year anniversary of arriving in Vardenis. On this day a year ago, we walked across a stage, shook the ambassador’s hand, posed for a photo, and sat back down in our seats as PCVs. The next day I was the last one remaining in the PC-driven marshrutka going to the end of the line, aka Vardenis. I can remember it vividly. The feeling of a brave new world. Not knowing what to expect. Dreading having to start all over with another host family. Depressed in being apart from my village-mates. The marshrutka pulled into my host family’s driveway, where we were greeted by Norik the taxi-driving-host-dad. He let the PC driver clean his vehicle with the always-on tap in the garden. Then we went inside and ate watermelon with the driver. He bragged to them how good my Armenian was compared to the others in the marshrutka that we dropped off (I was competing with a 70 year old woman who could barely speak English), unknowingly setting them up for disappointment as I would never be able to decipher their barbar. Then he left, I went to unpack, and found myself sitting alone in my room thinking, “Now what?”

To be honest I am really happy I’m at this point rather than back to the first day in Vardenis. I’ll always remember it as a tough time, as I’ve so often mentioned here. Maybe it’s true that tough situations challenge you to look deep within yourself to assess what is really important in your life. And those who get through tough situations can be commended for surviving. But when I think of “surviving” the first year in Vardenis, luck and random circumstance played just as big a role as any mental perseverance on my part.

Wayne and I have discussed it -making it in Vardenis- before. One of the things he told me before he left was that if I made it, I would be the 5th out of 10 to do so here. At the time I think it elicited an audible gulp and a mental note of, “Oh shit!” It seemed that this place was some barren wasteland where volunteers were sent to ET (early terminate). Since then it has become apparent that I will probably make it and it’s entirely possible for anyone else to do so too. Just as I attribute a good first year to a lot of luck, I think the 50% ET rate is equally based on randomness and crappy luck. There is nothing you can do if you have a sick family member. If you are the crazy party guy, you’re gonna get kicked out no matter where you live. Vardenis is a barren wasteland, but it’s just the same as most other sites. Not German-engineered for ETing.

Vonts es deemanum? (How do you bear it?) – My coworker Tatev upon hearing it was my 1 year anniversary in Vardenis

One thing that I can appreciate about my time here is how they have accepted me as a foreigner into their community, taken care of me, and included me. A sad example took place yesterday. My counterpart’s husband’s mother died. After work we all went to her house to be with the family. As I was mimicking the other men (best way to avoid cultural disasters) sitting in the room with only the men and the casket with the dead body in silence, I had some time for introspection. Okay, I have lots of time for introspection. Rather, I had a unique setting for introspection: Being a foreigner and participating in something as intimate as a wake in a conservative village. I don’t think it hit me when I was coming into this experience just how close you get to be – to them, their culture, everything. Much of the time I feel like an observer, not fully understanding everything that is going on. But there are other times like yesterday where you feel like part of the family and you feel that they care about you whether or not your auxiliary verbs always agree with your personal pronouns. That feeling of family or community is able to transcend many of the lonely moments in an odd way. I spend more of my time feeling like the only western mind here, with no one to relate to, but that feeling does not prevail over the fleeting feeling of being considered one of them in crucial moments like a death in the family. It is so strong, so powerful, that it is able to carry you through the threadbare moments where you wonder if you might just fall through.

So, I would answer, aydpes (in that way).

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