The Re-entry

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.

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4 Responses to “The Re-entry”

  1. Wayne Burt Says:

    I’m confused about that picture with the frozen spoon.

    What a difference it must have been getting on the plane to return than when it was when you first took off 19 months ago. Keep up the good work!

  2. icenugget Says:

    You’re right, it was a much better feeling to get on the plane 19 months later. It felt like I was going home.

    The spoons were frozen in some water that was left soaking in a bowl near my window.

  3. Aunt Kim Says:

    OMG, glad Wayne got that clarified for me. I thought I was looking outside the window and couldn’t quite figure out what was going on. It was soooo good to see you and meet Aga. She’s fabulous.

  4. icenugget Says:

    That is a pretty confusing picture now that I look at it again! It was great to see you too. And she is fabulous, isn’t she?

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