Archive for December, 2011

2011: The Peace Corps Year

December 31, 2011

Happy Moo Year

 

Dear readers,

 

What can I say that hasn’t already been said elsewhere on the internet, on TV, or in the papers?  The year is over.  Boom.  Let’s do a new one.  But if you haven’t figured it out by now, I am a guy who likes to take the time to reflect on what has been.  It makes you appreciate what you’ve accomplished, brings a smile for goofy memories, and pumps you up for the future.  So, before we go forth and destroy 2012, let’s give 2011 a hug while we still can.

Disclaimer:  If you’re going to read all this and check out all these pictures, I fully expect you to tell me something about your year in the comments.  Life stories are welcome, but not mandatory.  Just some words about things you did, trials you had, or what you enjoyed about it.  Cheers.

There will never be another year like 2011.  Duh.  But what I mean is that this is the only year of my life that will be spent entirely in the course of Peace Corps service.  So that gives the year a much different flavor than most.  And not only was I in the midst of service, but I was pretty darn well in the middle of it.  That means no ramping up or winding down.  I was supposedly in the flow of things throughout the full year.

They always say that the 2nd year of your service is where you really do good work.  Did I do good work?  Well, yes and no I guess.  When I look back on the portfolio of things I’ve done, it’s quite meager.  Still, I can be proud of it given the circumstances and the stunted expectations.  Let’s see…there was the writing Olympics, poetry contest, countless English lessons, random small helps at the YMCA, Border 2 Border financial work and project planning, HIV Initiative trainings, a camp, newsletters, a brochure, a couple videos, a solar energy project proposal, a dance camp, and PST (pre service training) help for the new volunteers.  That’s all “Goal 1” stuff (we have 3 goals you know).  The other 2 goals are cultural: sharing American culture with Armenians and vice versa.  I did a couple concrete things to share American culture, like a small Halloween celebration and some American baked goods throughout the year.  I also had countless conversations in Armenian about America.  And then 3rd goal work has been done mostly via this blog (hopefully you’ve learned something).  I also visited a 7th grade class while in the US to share Armenian culture with them.  So, successes on all fronts.  What were some of my favorite “work” moments?

Planting trees at Daranak Camp

Border 2 Border took me to sights unseen

Swearing in new volunteers with Solakite Lizzie was a special moment

 

All of that is the main reason I’m here, but it’s only a small chunk of my life.  My personal life had many transformations throughout 2011, some of which will very likely shape the rest of my life.  I made new friends, traveled to new countries, and began living on my own in a foreign country.

 

The year started off in my host family.  At that time I was literally going crazy and straining to hold in some sort of angry outburst while having to deal with things that constantly annoyed me.  Luckily my apartment situation resolved itself in the middle of January and I moved out promptly.  Life on my own was and still is quite a different experience, in a positive way.  I am no longer hungry, no longer subjected to bullshit, and no longer freeze my ass off in my room.  Moving out came with a freedom that I hadn’t felt since America.  It was refreshing and gave me a new strength to get through the winter months and begin to hit that stride that so many people talk about.

 

I used this energy and freedom to accomplish a goal I set for myself early in the year:  visit all of my Solak training village-mates in their new sites.  I’m proud to say mission accomplished.  Gyumri in Februrary, Vanadzor in April, Gavar in May and September, Sisian and Kapan in August, and Berd in October.  I was able to see so much of the country this year, which is something I really wanted to do.  Now I can enjoy the final months of my service and hit up my favorite spots in the country one more time.

 

Not only did I get to travel a lot in Armenia, both for work and leisure, but I also took a lot of vacations.  First there was Georgia in April.  That was a good one to do first because it was like Armenia version 2.0.  Then I really went big and got on an airplane to Poland in May.  After that came a trip to the US in November, followed by Poland again in December.  I even made it to Switzerland, sort of.  These trips really helped make the spring and late fall go by quickly.  They also opened my eyes to life outside the Armenia bubble and refreshed the idea that my life here is indeed temporary, even if it doesn’t feel like that on a daily basis.

 

Poznań, Poland

A much needed reunion, not to mention good beer

I don't remember much of Switzerland but it looks nice

 

The year also saw the long-awaited visit of my family.  I think they had an interesting and enjoyable experience.  For me it was an opportunity to show off my temporary home and all the people I know here.  It gave me perspective on how far I had come in just over 1 year.  But most importantly it was a chance to spend time with them after a 15 month absence!

 

Drinking 90 year old wine with the sister, no big deal

Family + hairdryer

 

In the big picture things in Armenia really didn’t change much during the last year.  That is a sad thing because they desperately need change.  I just wonder when it will come.  The political situation is just as bad as ever.  The environment is still being ravaged.  Education still sucks.  And, most cripplingly, the 2 biggest borders still remain closed.  The only change I noticed was that the price of food has gone up.  Using my SPI (Snickers Price Index), inflation can be marked at 22% since I arrived in country 19 months ago.  They cost 180 dram during training.  Now they are 220 dram.

 

Will things here ever change?

 

One very obvious change has been in the people I spend time with in Vardenis.  At the beginning of the year it was spent with my EVS friends and associated PCVs.  Slowly but surely the entire picture has changed.  My old friends all left, including all the old PCVs last summer.  There was a period of a few months alone at site.  And now I have 2 new sitemates to keep me company.  The same can be said for the YMCA, where I spend most of my time.  People have left, gotten married, moved to other countries, and others have come back after having children.  It’s been a revolving door and my longevity here is noted when I see how much has changed since I’ve been here.

 

One year ago...

January 2011 at the YMCA

Delivery of sitemates, circa August 2011

 

I had a lot of free time in the past year.  While a lot of that was soaked up by activities that take more time here (doing laundry by hand for example or visiting the stores every day), I have been able to pursue some hobbies too.  I got back into shape after a life of atrophy in the host families.  Running takes place a couple times a week in the mornings.  I also do resistance exercises and have some increased strength to show for it (still no Heman but I do what I can).  I feel good and I think I look good (if I can say that without sounding conceited)!  A large part of that is also probably my diet.  It’s very simple, and probably not even that healthy, but limited meat, almost no preservatives, and everything made from scratch has definitely had an effect.  My cooking skills have increased as I could no longer rely on the bachelor lifestyle in America complete with frozen tortellini, frozen pizzas, and other ready-made food.  Having site mates has also been a huge benefit.  I’m not alone anymore and can spend my time with them.  We have fun together…it makes a big difference in being able to deal with the daily trials when someone else is going through it with you.

 

If you cook enough funny things happen

Who would take goofy pictures if I had no sitemates??

 

Okay, let’s take a look at some headshots from throughout the year.  I think they tell a story in and of themselves.

 

Beginning of 2011...the Soviet Stache...you remember this

Then it was clean. The Armenians like this.

Then things got out of control. The Armenians don't like this.

Then things just got weird. This confuses the Armenians.

Coldest run of 2011

Creepiest shot of 2011: "You kids like mountains?"

Most awkward photo of 2011

It’s time to wrap it up.  I’m hungry and there’s some spaghetti calling my name.  2011 was a challenging, transformative, colorful, and interesting year.  There was so much change in my life and yet none at all at the same time.  It really seems to have gone by fast even though there were some slow periods too.  I’m happy at how it went, although I’m also happy it’s behind us.  I’m ready for 2012 and the new challenges and rewards it will bring.  I hope to have a nice finish to my service, spend time with friends and family, and successfully start the next chapter of my life.  I’d love to hear what you’re planning.  Good luck and all the best to you in the coming year.

 

2011 was a great year!

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Czy pani mowi po Angielsku? (Do you speak English?)

December 30, 2011

Yesterday I returned from Poland.  It was a good, although fast, break from life in Armenia.  I also learned a thing or two about another culture.  And I even realized how far I’ve come in my own life in recent years.

Let’s make no mistake that life as a Peace Corps Volunteer is one that is chosen.  Along with that comes benefits and repercussions.  We all know when signing up that you miss out on things like the holidays.  For us, it’s worth the sacrifice.  However, that doesn’t mean it’s easy or fun.  Two years is a long time, especially in a foreign culture.  Some volunteers might be revered in a small village in southeast Asia, while others might be subjected to steely looks and suspicions in post-Soviet countries (ahem).  Both situations take their toll and have positive and negative characteristics.  We choose our fate in that we decide to join Peace Corps, but the fabric of the experience is largely up to chance outside of our control.  So, with that we live our daily lives, trying to integrate as well as possible without going completely native, trying to have some sort of impact on just one person in the community, and trying to maintain sanity while doing the aforementioned.  The keyword here is trying.  It takes a lot of effort, much of which is subconscious and is the reason you find yourself exhausted at 9 p.m. even though you “didn’t do anything today.”  One of the best, most confusing, most difficult, joyous things you can do is take a break from the daily trials and go somewhere completely different.  Best because you need the time away.  Confusing because you are likely going to another foreign culture and not your own.  Difficult because you do, at the end, have to go back to your cold apartment, or hot hut, or whatever it is you have, and try to shift back into the gear you were previously in without stalling the engine.  Joyous because life is a journey and you’re lucky to be a PCV and an American.

If I can make a sweeping statement based on 2 years away from home for Christmas, it’s this:  Christmas never feels quite like Christmas when you’re in a foreign country.  I do believe there is a sliding scale.  That is, you can approach a feeling of Christmas if you’re in the right country and it is similar to your native land.  In Poland it felt a lot more like Christmas than it does in Armenia.  Let’s do some comparing.

Decorations

Armenia (RA):  Crappy tinsel, cheap santa faces, and a few random lights appear in the middle of December.  Trees in homes appear right before the new year.

Poland (PL):  Basic lights adorn a few houses in a very reserved way.  Candles can appear in the windows.  There may be a Christmas tree seen in public places, like a train stop.  I’m not sure when people start decorating.

America:  Say no more http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=rmgf60CI_ks

Stores

RA:  The crappy decorations start appearing sometime in December.

PL:  You can see some Christmas cheer, but not always, and it’s very…how to say…tastefully done

US:  You’re lucky if they wait until after Halloween to start bombarding you with cheer

Gift Giving

RA:  Dzmer Papik may or may not give a very small present to people.  There is virtually no gift exchange.

PL:  Gifting can be done while singing songs and is usually something like chocolate, books, and personal care products

US:  Again, say no more http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=pFlcqWQVVuU

I could go on, but I won’t.  I think you get what I’m getting at here.  In America we do things to the extreme.  I always kind of knew this but never really realized it or understood it.  Okay, sometimes it is awesome to do extreme things.  For example, we don’t just send a couple volunteers to Canada for a few months.  We send them to the armpits and buttcracks of the world for 2 FREAKING years!  No one else in the world does that.  And if they do, they copied it from us!  We didn’t just launch into orbit.  We reached the moon.  We didn’t just invent computers and the internet – we revolutionized the world with them.  Our extremeness flows into almost everything we do, from extreme eating to extreme working (workaholics).  It’s kinda just the way we are.

But SOMEtimes I think the extreme goes too far.  And if I may (please don’t label me a heretic or accuse me of treason) I think we could tone it down a bit for Christmas and be okay.  It has this life of its own that is a little bit scary.  Anyway, I digress.

So, it was nice to experience a Christmas with an amazing family in a foreign setting.  The coolest traditions that I saw were very fulfilling.  The first was going around the room to each person, shaking his or her hand, and sharing some personal wishes for that person while you grasped each others hands.  It often ended with a hug or kiss and the sharing of your little Jesus wafer things.  The second was the way gifts were opened.  Rather than ravaging through a mountain of packages and then wondering if that pile of moving wrapping paper on the floor is your trusty dog, your little cousin, or perhaps a toy with a mind of its own, they take turns.  The whole thing is very deliberate.  Before opening a package, you should sing a carol.  Carol books were distributed so everyone could sing along.  Even I was able to make a good stab at it despite it being in Polish.  They were surprised that I could sing in Polish.  It’s cool what you can do when the alphabet is the same.  Anyway, I sang some songs in offkey shaky English which was appreciated.  It was nice to take a long time opening things, and really I began looking forward to the singing after every song.  Once I was in the bathroom upstairs while they were continuing.  I could hear them singing together through the walls and it was a beautiful thing.

Opening gifts with Aga from one of her sisters: "Smacznego" or Bon Apetit - A sunnyside up egg made from candles!

Now you’re wondering, “Gee Kevin, do you hate America or what?  What’s so wrong with our Christmas?”  No way!  Actually, I love our Christmas.  I love all the movies, the plethora of songs, and the excitement.  I just get a bit tired of the commercialization of the whole thing and think that there are some cool traditions they have in other countries that perhaps do a better job of capturing the spirit and meaning of the season.

I had a great time in Poland and felt rested, relaxed, and (kind of) ready to go back to Armenia.  As I said goodbye and sat in my train alone, I stared out the window reflecting on the week that passed.  After an hour the conductors came to check our tickets.  There was a bit of a snag apparently.

Due to my lack of Polish language skills, I was nervous when I handed my ticket to the conductor.  He looked confused.  Then he began speaking to me in Polish.  I used a couple phrases I know to explain to him that I don’t understand and don’t speak the language.  Another younger conductor informed me in broken English that I was actually on the wrong train.  I wasn’t headed towards Warsaw, where I needed to be to catch my flight.  Instead, I was heading to the German border.

There are many possible reactions to this situation.  I fear the Kevin of a few years ago would have been on the verge of tears and not known what to do or how to escape the situation.  But luckily I have been in Armenia for almost 2 years now and am so used to things going wrong or just not going at all that it was just like, “Okay, what can I do?”  I had no phone to use, no language skills, no idea where I was, and no idea exactly what to do.  And I had a plane to catch in 7 hours on the other side of the country.

I got out at the next stop.  It was surreal to find myself in some little Polish village, all alone, not able to speak.  I trudged into the train station and stared at the train schedule.  Confusing is a good word for it.  I have only ridden a handful of trains in my life.  Reading a train schedule in Polish was a bit above my skill level.  I went up to the cashier and asked her in Polish if she spoke English.  A curt “no” was the answer.  I braced myself and dug down deep into the gesturing and communicating skills I have gained in my time here and we had a nice little experience where I got the time of the next train to Warsaw, decided I wouldn’t make my plane, and then bought a ticket back to Poznan (where I had come from).

I was fairly certain during the whole thing that I was going to miss my flight.  Actually, I was 100% sure of it.  There are only a few trains from Poznan to Warsaw.  And I needed to get there in time to take a bus to the airport, go through security, and get on the plane.  The train I was supposed to be on was the perfect train for me.  I didn’t think there would be another one leaving Poznan in time for me to make my flight.  Sadness, nervousness, and a bit of anger all tried to come flooding in to my body.  I tried my best to just block those out and think as clearly as possible.

When I got to Poznan I ran through the train station to the ticket windows.  I found the youngest cashier (young = most likely to speak English) and waited in her line.  Sure enough, she spoke English.  It was 5:27.  As I looked up at the schedule, I saw a train to Warsaw leaving at 5:30.  My heart sank because I knew I didn’t have enough time to make it.  If only I had been there a few minutes earlier…

“The next train to Warsaw leaves in…just a moment!!  Go to the platform and ask the conductor for a ticket!  You don’t have time.”  Thank God she spoke English.

I ran as best I could with my suitcase through the crowded station.  “Do Peron 2,” the sign read.  “To Platform 2,” I thought in my head.  I reached the platform and saw 2 identical trains.  Both silver, large, and with “Berlin Warsaw Express” painted outside.  I frantically started asking if the first train is going to Warsaw.  No.  Then I ran to the next.  It was going to Warsaw.  I got on, in disbelief, hesitantly.  Getting on the train meant making the decision to go wherever this train was going.  If it was wrong, I would miss my flight.  I asked another passenger frantically, “Warszawa??”

“Nie…Poznan!”  No, no, no.  You don’t understand me.  How can I make it more clear…then I remembered the curt ticket lady saying “Do Poznanu” and also the sign with “Do Peron”.  So I tried “Do Warszawa???”  “Tak!!”  Phew.

I found the conductor.  Somehow he spoke English too.  And he said it was no problem to buy a ticket on the train later.  So I found a seat and sat down.  Literally within 2 minutes of getting on the train, the whistle blew and it left the station.  Later he came to our compartment and explained he would only take Euros.  I had Polish money and dollars.  Uh oh.  But, he took credit cards too.  And my credit card went through without problems.  The final hurdle was cleared.  I would make it to Warsaw on time, catch my flight, and save hundreds of dollars not having to buy a new ticket.  All this by a factor of 2 minutes.

The combination of shock, slight panic, running around, and then again shock that I was going to make my flight was intriguing for me.  I don’t know how, and I got pretty lucky along the way, but it all worked out.  I attribute that to my time in Armenia and my experience here.  I don’t see it everyday but there has definitely been a transformation in the way I think and behave in abnormal circumstances.  It’s also funny how when you lower your expectations you can be grateful when simple things go your way.  There wasn’t a happier person on the train, on my bus, or on the plane than I was.  I just couldn’t believe I was actually there.

Come visit again tomorrow for a recap of the year 2011.

Seeing the tree at Chopin International was the biggest gift of all

Merry Christmas!

December 20, 2011

Merry Christmas to all of you out there in cyber space.  I’m off to Poland to celebrate.  I hope you get to spend time with some people who are important to you.

This is the 2nd straight year away from home for Christmas after a streak of 23 with my family in Decatur.  Last year was a strange experience as the season is just not the same in Armenia.  No over the top commercialization, no Christmas lights, and no one who considers the 25th a special day.  It bothered me the first year and it bothers me some now too, although I’m more used to it and prepared for it now.  There’s only one thing to learn from this experience:  there’s no place like home for Christmas.

I’ll be doing some reflecting while traveling and thinking about the year that just flew by.  Expect another year-end wrap up, and I’ll expect to hear what you thought of your year.

Until we meet again, go enjoy the true meaning of Christmas:  tricking your kids with crappy early Christmas presents and filming it.  Thank you Mom and Dad for never doing that to us, but man it sure is funny to watch.

Moving Pictures

December 19, 2011

Due to strong demand (Wayne), here is the link to a video that I prepared of the TenSing dance camp:

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=pzldv7exrHo&feature=g-upl&context=G2ce809dAUAAAAAAAAAA

 

 

Dancin’ Fools

December 12, 2011

Over the weekend a travelling dance camp came to the Vardenis YMCA to teach the kids some new techniques.  My friends Matt, Alex, and Maggie taught a choreographed dance routine to an Usher song and b-boying skills to the kids in the TenSing group.

TenSing stands for Teenagers Singing and is a phenomenon started in Norway.  It is widespread across Europe, with big TenSing festivals and everything.  It combines dance, drama, singing, and most importantly, empowers its members to lead and be good people (as it is member led, member directed).  When I first came here the concept didn’t really make sense, but I’ve since seen how it works wonders here in Vardenis.  The kids have so much fun with it.  Those who participate are definitely more free and open than some of their peers.  They absolutely love to dance.

Combine that enthusiasm with a trio of PCVs who really know how to break it down, and you’ve got a very effective, basically free little project.  In fact, they’ve done this camp before at the Vanadzor Y, and I wouldn’t be surprised if they do it later at Spitak.

They did 3 days of teaching, most of which centered on the Alex-created choreography to Usher’s “DJ’s Got Us Fallin’ in Love”.  Matt mixed it up by teaching them some stuff about b-boying (otherwise known as break dancing) like b-boy stances and 6 steps.  Maggie was the lynchpin that held it all together, giving the majority-girl participants a peer to look up to.  My friend John also came and helped run the music, take pictures, and even learned the dance.

My job was just organizing the thing with the Y and then hosting the dudes.  After several days of hosting in my apartment (you’ve all seen the pictures), I am ready for my next vacation!  Seriously, I’m going to Poland in 10 days.

Matt and John b-boying

Alex teaching his choreography

Great success!

The Re-entry

December 7, 2011

Going to America for a bit and then coming back to Armenia:  an interesting experience in its own right.  Since I’ll probably never know this feeling again, let me wallow around in it.

It’s good that I didn’t write this entry the day I got back home because it would have been a much different tale.  Let me paint the picture for you…

Soft, clean clothes.  Huge beds!  Delicious meals.  Driving, family, friends.  My own language.  Two whole weeks of it!  Enough to get used to it all.  That bubble was cruelly popped as I waited on the side of Abovian Street in the middle of Yerevan, the cold cutting aggressively through clothes which had kept me toasty warm in America.  “Here comes the number 45 marshrutka,” my constantly running inner dialogue mentioned with hope.  It pulled up and my heart sank as it was packed to the gills with standing Armenians.  There was no way my tall frame, plus backpack and suitcase, would fit into that struggling machine.  And so I waited.

The next one, due to the craziness of Armenian bus stops, didn’t even see me trying to hail it.  And so I waited more.

The cold got to a point where I decided I was getting on the next 45 no matter how many of Armenia’s 3 million residents were already smashed inside.  Ten minutes later it finally arrived with several surfers (what I like to call people who must ride while standing due to no available seats).  I piled my way in, barely getting the sliding door shut behind me as I frantically searched for a place for my bags.  The driver started barking at me to go to the back.  Ah, of course, there was one tiny seat in the very back.  Not being able to even move my legs, I just stood there and said nothing.  Welcome back to Armenia.

Now, to Armenia’s credit, I could have taken a taxi to my bus station.  But I’m not that guy.  These are your tax dollars at work, readers!

I somehow managed to drag my greasy, sleep-deprived, hungry ass to my bus station that cold morning.  I dropped my stuff into the Vardenis marshrutka and sat down with a crappy shwarma that I bought.  I began eating and ignored the Armenians’ looks of bewilderment and shock that a.) I existed and b.) that I had the audacity to eat a shwarma INSIDE the marshrutka.  At some point you just stop caring.  We sat there for over an hour before the thing finally decided to leave.  I was smashed to the nth degree, ferrying 2 laptops among other personal belongings.  But it was a nice kind of smashed at least.  The fat lady next to me was kind of like a pillow, and at least it was warm.  It was easy to fall asleep, which I did almost all the way home.

I stepped out of the marshrutka in the Vardenis town circle and did a quick survey of my surroundings.  Snow everywhere, late model soviet machines rumbling around, and old men standing everywhere.  Exactly as I left it (besides the snow)!

On the walk home I wanted to just disappear, to self implode.  I just came from this heaven where I could basically wear anything and not stand out to a place where the fact that I had an orange backpack and a rolling suitcase made me look like some kind of freak.

I cracked open the door to my apartment. I had visualized this at some of the airports when it felt so far away.  I stepped inside.  “I live here???” was my only thought.  “This place is a dump.  It’s really cold.  And dark.  And lonely.”  I went back into my all purpose room and saw the sad little table for what it really was.  At that moment, it wasn’t a nice place to eat, prepare food, read, and use the computer.  It was just a little piece of shit table with a stained red and white tablecloth on it.  The apartment looked pathetic, with some of my clothes strewn on the floor from my rush to pack and go.  The condition of my condition was apparent to me, and I didn’t like what I saw.

Things could always be worse, right? Right?!?

Luckily, these dark thoughts didn’t last that long.  In an example of what the human mind does when you place it in a difficult situation, I pretty quickly snapped back into normal Armenia mode…becoming thankful that I had my heater installed, that I had my own place, that I had privacy, instead of cursing the imperfections.

That was really my physical reaction to being back.  I got used to the lumpy bed, the wobbly table, the cold, all that stuff very quickly.  The psychological part is another story.

Frozen clothes: either funny or annoying depending on your outlook

You can’t help but draw a lot more comparisons than usual when you have just been dipped in some America and some of it is still dripping off of you.  Armenia seemed very sad to me the first day or two I was back.

I also, for various reasons, now have my eye on the finish line like never before.  It’s like it can’t come fast enough now.  I’m ready to get out of here.  I ran a 5K during my stint at home, which I think offers a nice analogy.  When I run a 5K, I usually punish myself.  I run at a pace that I normally don’t in hopes of getting a good time.  A 5K is 3.1 miles.  The first mile is exciting and a bit nerve-wracking.  You don’t want to start too fast, but by God you definitely don’t want to start too slow.  You’re in this huge pack of people.  Some of them are in your way.  Some of them run way out in front of you.  Other people you begin passing.  Slowly the field begins thinning and there is always a point where you find yourself alone or almost alone when you near the first mile marker.  The second mile, well, you better keep your speed up.  Now you know your time, you know how you’re doing, and you have an idea of what you’re capable of for the rest of the race.  I try to just focus on the 2nd mile and not the third.  It’s likely that you feel really really good during the 2nd mile.  Your legs are pumping like cylinders, both warmed up and yet not fatigued.  Your lungs feel good because the briskness of your pace is like an exciting happening in the normally-sedate world of walking and sitting that your lungs experience.    But most of all, you feel good because of the adrenaline your body is producing in response to the event.  It’s exciting and you’re doing it.  Your body is working at a high level because it’s a competition and you want to do the best you can.  Your mind is pushing your body to a level that you don’t normally demand of it.  And then you see the 2nd mile marker.  Now your possible finish time is much clearer to you.  You only have 1/3rd left to go.  And for some reason, I can never avoid the thought, “Can I keep this up and finish strong?”  Your legs are suddenly heavy and your lungs are burning.  You don’t know how much you have left in you and it becomes a test of your will.  How strong is your mind?  And oh yeah, that last .1 of a mile can seem like an eternity.

So the same goes for my PC service.  It started out with tons of excitement and vigor.  I was surrounded by everyone else in my group going through the same things.  Then I finally hit my stride when I moved out on my own.  Life was (and still is) good.  But I have 8 months left now.  That’s a bit less than a third of my total time.  I’m feeling some of the fatigue and wondering what the last 8 months will be like.  I’m getting tired of some things and find myself dreading some parts of the culture rather than learning about them and accepting them with wonder like I did before.  My motivation to learn the language is plummeting.  There’s a long winter ahead.  And I just want to be done sooner rather than later.  The option of a 3rd year seems laughable and so do all those who pursue it (even though some of my close friends are doing that – the idea seems almost crazier to me than my own idea to join PC did to everyone back home 1.5 years ago).

Don’t get me wrong.  I’m not all of a sudden this gnarled grumpy volunteer.  I am still happy.  But I have observed a change in how I feel about being here, especially after coming home from the states.  It’s not a depression or resentment at all.  It’s just a feeling that I’m ready for this chapter of my life to end.  And I think that’s a good, healthy thing.  I felt the same at the end of the SLU years.  I felt the same during the last months at my job.  It’s a sign that I’m ready to start something new and change my life again.