2011: The Peace Corps Year

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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2 Responses to “2011: The Peace Corps Year”

  1. Wayne Burt Says:

    My year in review written mainly in the words of Kevin:

    When I look back on the portfolio of things I’ve done, it’s quite meager. No really, it’s quite meager. Let’s see…there was the, and the, oh yeah and then I did that too. And then 3rd goal work has been done , one presentation to my church friends as part of a Fellowship pot luck supper night. I made spas, hulva, and dolma.

    My personal life had one transformation throughout 2011 which will very likely keep me in shape the rest of my life. I went to my 40th class reunion on Thanksgiving weekend and met up with a woman who liked hiking. We have hiked weekly since then and will continue as long as the weather is still good. I feel good and I know I look good (I can write that without sounding conceited because my words don’t make a sound)!

    I had a lot of free time in the past year. While a lot of that was soaked up by reading Kevin’s blog, I also got into reading Ev’s blog. I love the stories and the pictures. They bring back the memories and many times leave me saying “gee, I wish I had done that”

    I’m ready for 2012 and the new challenges and rewards it will bring. I hope to spend time with friends and what I consider family in Armenia sometime in the spring. No promises.

    Kevin, good luck and all the best to you in the coming year.

  2. icenugget Says:

    Kudos to you on the 3rd Goal work. I think that’s hard to do, especially as an RPCV when you don’t really have to do anything if you don’t want. Also congratulations on meeting up with your old friends and finding a new hobby and friend to enjoy it with. That’s great!

    If you choose to spend some time in Armenia this spring, know that you have a place to stay here in Vardenis for as long as you want. I will have a guest in July but other than that I’m free. This ain’t no Pasyilok either…hot water ka, as much as you want.

    All the best to you in 2012 Wayne.

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