Thursday, July 29, 2010

Cylinder of Fire and Lavash

A few days ago I walked into the house after model school and saw my host mom in our basement covered in flour and making some kind of dough. Usually she makes dough in the kitchen so it was very strange that she was down in the storage room. I asked her if I could help, and she said a little. As I entered the room I saw a bunch of huge piles of dough, just sitting around. I figured she was just making bread, I know sometimes she sells it. So I start to help her add the amount of flour, eggs and salt that she directs me to add and kneed together a batch of dough. The whole time she is just watching me, making sure I don’t screw up her bread. When my arms feel they are going to fall off I tell her ok, and I leave the room, knowing that she is glad that I wanted to help, but is glad that I am not going to ruin anymore batches.
As I sit down to eat dinner with my host sister some 4 hours later, I see smoke coming up out of the window. I ask her what is going on and she tells me to look. I look out the window and see this round cylinder with fire coming out of it, and my host mom still covered in flour tossing dough like you would to make a pizza. Lavash, my sister says. I sit down and pretend not to care as I finish my dinner, but the whole time I am wondering why I wasn’t invited to help make Lavash. After dinner I think of the perfect excuse to see the Lavash being made, I go down to take my laundry off the line. As I do it, I peep over the corner hoping for an invitation to join. Getting none, I take my laundry upstairs. Then I think of another idea. I grab my camera and run downstairs. I tell my host mom I want a picture of her making lavash, they know I always want pictures of everything so it’s perfect. I snap a few photos and then stand looking around, hoping to be asked to help. I am not. Finally I bust out some Armenian, and ask if I can try. My host mom looks at me and laughs and says as you wish.
So this is me making Lavash. The first one I made was horrible, it’s really tough to roll the dough out, it’s so dry! But the last one I made was all right, although really thick, more like Pita bread than lavash. I told my family it was like Greek bread and they thought that was cool. I worked for about 30 mins, sometimes rolling the dough, sometimes putting it on the cylinder of fire, but after I burnt my finger for the third time, I said thank you and excused myself. I don’t think I am cut out for making lavash, though my host brother said it was very delicious lavash when he tried it a few days later.

Tuesday, July 27, 2010

A little Peace Corps Crush

Life in the Peace Corps can be crazy emotional sometimes. Unfortunately for me that is the only way I can describe the past few days. There was really no rhyme or reason to the emotions, but I just became so completely homesick. We have gone to school every morning, taught every afternoon and lesson planned every night, so for the most part I have been just exhausted. It has got to the point where I have been fainting, I would imagine due to the stress. Yes that is right I said I fainted, like a crazy emotional southern girl straight out of Gone with the Wind or something like that. It was so embarrassing, I felt weird so I tried to rush out of the hot classroom that we had been sitting in for the past three hours but I didn’t quite make it and fainted right in front of the door. No one could go into the class and no one could come out until they moved me!!! Ugh.
Throw on top of that a fight with a best friend, and you have a cab ride home alone crying your eyes out as you hear Katie Perry’s California girls come on the radio. No Joke, I seriously cried my eyes out to a Katie Perry song!!! The cab driver was so alarmed. He felt horrible and kept saying no baby no, ok ok, no cry. Haha I wonder if he has picked up the word cry from driving Americans around for the past few years, because he defiantly didn’t have any more English words stocked up in his repertoire, and that is such a strange word to know. I tried to smile and tell him I was sad because the song was about California and I am from California, but somehow I must have said something different because as the song ended he hush hush hushed me as you would a baby and played the song again! This time looking at me in the mirror and dancing, obviously trying to make me laugh, and when I did he said I should only laugh and never cry. It was very sweet and completely ridiculous at the same time. I felt so stupid, but sometimes you just need to cry your eyes out in the back of a cab to get all the craziness cleansed out of you.
I felt so much better the next day, as if I had been holding everything that has been happening with my family, with my falling behind in class and stressing out to catch up, with getting my feelings hurt by a friend, and with feeling sad to leave my host family and move sites, in and it all just was released.
That day my host family took me to see my brother Garrik, who you may remember from earlier posts is the sweetest and most adorable person I have ever met, at his Army post. As I walked up to the huge barb-wired gates, guarded by about 20 men with guns, I was terrified that they would stop me because I am American and not let me see Garrik. I was so happy as I walked past them, I felt triumphant as if I had snuck in or something. Then I saw him. My Garrik. He looked exactly as I remembered him, only a little tanner and a lot more toned. His family rushed to hug him, and I slowly followed, not sure what the proper protocol would be, as Armenians are very sensitive about boy-girl relations. He hugged his dad briefly, as the rest of us lined up single file behind, me of course last. Next his mom got a huge hug followed by the sister, and it was obvious just how close they are, but as he hugged her, he looked over her shoulder at me and flashed me a huge, sweet grin. He immediately came to me and told me he didn’t see me but now he is so glad that I was there. He gave me a huge hug, a kiss on the cheek, and asked me how my language was. I said it was ok and we began to walk. I tried to fall back so the family could talk to him, they must have been so anxious, but he slowed down with me and asked me about my past month and how I was, and if I liked my classes and if I was happy about where I was placed. We had a whole conversation and for the first time we totally understood each other. It was….. MAGICAL.
We found a place to picnic, and set up a mountain of food under the shade. My sister sat down next to her brother and I was facing opposite of him. We began to eat, and my mother asked my sister to get up and switch seats with me. I think she knows that we are destined to be together =) Either that or she just wants him to get a green card! Ha. In all seriousness, it was a perfect day spent with my host family. I only have one more week with them, and I am going to miss them so much. They treat me as their own, and are always so concerned about me. We just sat around and ate and talked for hours. We laughed, mostly at my expense and snacked on some ice cream that my host father surprised us with. When it was time to go I was so sad. Maybe that will be the last chance I get to see Garrik while I am here. No one knows where he will be posted yet, but if he is posted near the border of southern Azerbaijan, I won’t be able to see him, it’s way too dangerous there and the Peace Corps doesn’t allow us to travel there. I hope for his own safety that he is not posted there. In a perfect world he would get a nice calm Northern border close to me so I can still visit him.
As it came time to say goodbye we took a bunch of pictures. What always amazes me, is how much they include me. They wanted me in every single picture, even their family pictures. I had to beg them to let me just take one of all of them together. What amazed me even more was when Garrik asked for a picture of just the two of us! I think I must of blushed because I looked toward my host mom to see if it was ok, and she urged me on. When it came time to leave, I once again stepped back to let Garrik have time with his family to say goodbye, but I didn’t get too far when I was called for and told to come with them. As a family we walked him back to his dorm room, sadness in the air. When we got to the gate he hugged his father and mother quickly and had a few words with his sister before hugging her. Then he came to me and gave me the biggest hug I have gotten from an Armenian, they are usually quick huggers with one arm. He squeezed me super tight and wished me luck and didn’t let go for quite some time, and I know it wasn’t just in my head because soon his whole family started to laugh. He then kissed me on the cheek, his face red, my face prolly redder and said good bye. Then he went down the line again and gave everyone a kiss, and came back to me and kissed me again, and shyly smiled. So as you can see, we are pretty much in love. I do have to add that he wiggled from side to side as he hugged me, and everyone knows that means love. So in case you couldn’t tell I have a huge crush on an Armenian. Not just any Armenian but my host brother! Never thought that would happen in a million years. It was a good way to end a crappy week.

Friday, July 23, 2010

Am I really teaching English?

This week has been crazy and it’s not even over yet! Every day language, home to stuff my face in exactly ten minutes before I must run to the bus stop and go to model school.

Model school has been one of my biggest fears. I absolutely hate to be critiqued, it makes me so uncomfortable. So to teach a lesson to a bunch of 9-12 year olds for the first time, as a superior watches on and then tells you everything you did wrong was nerve wrecking. First of all, we were told nothing about our students other than their ages. We had no idea how much English they knew or what we should teach. Another issue is that in the Armenia we do team teaching, which means you teach with a partner. Teaching with another person is always really difficult; you both have different ideas of what will work and what you want to teach. Also you have to figure out the dynamics of working together. Who will teach what part of the lesson, where you will stand, and how not to speak over one another. To say the first lesson was completely trial and error is a major understatement.
As I said in my last blog, Joseph and I went in prepared to teach an autobiographic Taylor Swift song. We wanted to have our theme be biographies. We really worked hard on choosing a song and writing a meaningful and interesting lesson plan. So when we got to our class, we rushed to make our visual aids and set up the class. We anxiously awaited our students, couldn’t wait to meet them. I was nervous but confident in our plan.
As Joseph and I stand at the chalk board discussing our plan in walk our ten students, age 9-12. “Barev Dez”(Hello) they say. Hi I say back. Please take a seat. “Inch?” They say. I look at them in horror. Inch means what. Them asking me what means they do not speak English, like at all… How are you I say. “Goood” one replies, the rest look at me with blank stares. Oh My God, I am thinking. What are we going to do. I look at Joseph and we both laugh nervously before rushing into the hall for a conference. Basically we are screwed.
You can’t really plan a new lesson in the five minutes we had, so we went ahead as planned. Our lesson was way over our student’s heads, and that is putting it mildly. Nevertheless we got through the lesson, the kids loved me, I loved them, had only one disciplinary problem which I took care of immediately by moving the student away from his friends, and we got pretty good reviews for our style and technique, even though our plan was all wrong.
That night Joseph and I quickly re-wrote the rest of the week, and decided to teach the kids foods, likes and dislikes. Our next two days were as smooth as could be. The kids were angles, so sweet and smart and eager to learn. I loved them!
Then comes Thursday, a class change and a new lesson theme. Joseph and I had observed our new class the day before and had seen that they were easy to lose control of. There were two boys who talked and talked and caused others to lose focus. So going into this new class I already knew I would need to change some seats around. The question was should I wait until they became a problem, so they didn’t think I was snap judging them unfairly, or should I prevent the problem from the start. I choose the latter. The kid David was wrestling with the other boy before class began so I walked up to him, took his stuff and told him to come with me. He followed until he saw I was switching his seats. At this point he threw a fit! Started begging me not to move him, telling me he wouldn’t move and finally asking me why (all in Armenian). I told him that he would either sit in the seat I told him to, or he would leave. He kept shaking his head at me and saying no. All of his classmates got involved saying they promised he would be good and I still said no. So then he took to insulting the girl that I was moving him next to, saying he hated her and she was gross. Then once again saying why, so finally I pulled the adult card and used the good ole BECAUSE I SAID SO!. Omg the look on his face! So funny, I wanted to laugh, but I was practicing my being firm. The kid began to argue with me again, and then Joseph walks up and in Armenian says sit down or get out now, so loud that even I was afraid. The kid left….
Ahh, it is really funny to look back on, but boy did it jilt me. I was afraid all of his friends would make our lesson horrible just to be brats. But in truth we gave the best lesson we have yet and the students really loved it. We taught them description adjectives. At the end we handed out cut outs of movie stars from my people magazine and had them describe them. They really did love it and worked so hard on their descriptions. This was the first lesson plan I made by myself and we were told it was one of the best of all of model school, so I couldn’t be happier. I guess I may be a good English teacher after all, even though my English skills are pretty weak, being creative and loving kids is my niche and I am ok with that.

One more week left and we become real volunteers and move to site! Partly I can’t wait but I am so sad to leave all of my friends especially my besties and spread out across the country

Sunday, July 18, 2010

Geghard and Garni

This weekend was such a busy weekend! Saturday after language we went to Garni pagan temple, and Geghard Monastery. Geghard was the most beautiful place that I have seen in Armenia. It was absolutely breathtaking in every single aspect. My words could never come close to describing the beauty nor could my pictures capture it…

The start of the day waiting for our Mushtnis with some of my besties Alex, Ashely and peter

This is Geghard Monastery
The Monastery has a number of caves and prayer rooms surrounding it. Me and Alex found quite a few of them
This is an old bridge at the monestary that leads you across the small stream to a series of caves
Symbology in one of the monasterys huge Prayer rooms. You can't really see but at top is an Ox, then two lions and and I'll assume the Bird is an Eagle, which would mean they represent the Apostles... Though differnt Armenian historians would argue otherwise
Aremenian khatchkar, their style of the cross
Another Armenian khatchkar
The beautiful mountains that sorround the monestary, which is carved into a cliff from the inside out.
Ashely, Marissa and I in front of Garni temple.
At the Sacfrice alter, Marissa is my sacrafice
The temple was mostly restored after an earthquake brought it down, but in some parts you can see the original stones
We now have two intense weeks left of training. Every day we will have language for two weeks and after practicum, which for most of us means model school. I have to say I am super nervous for model school. I have never really taught a class of students before. I have taught small groups of fourth graders, or ESL to Adults, but never a classroom full of kids. My first three lessons believe it or not, are about Taylor Swift. Yep I am bringing some country music to Armenia. I am going to have the kids listen to BEST Day, and fill in the past tense verbs. Then we are going to talk about the song in terms of being autobiographic. The next day Joseph and I will give them Taylor swift biographies to read and discuss. And on the last day they will write their own biographies as if they were famous for something. I think it will be fun! I actually really love lesson planning, just not technical teaching.

Anyways since this week will be so intense, it was perfect that we ended the weekend with an A17 vs A18 kickball game. We had so much fun just letting loose and running around with the older volunteers.

Wednesday, July 14, 2010

My new Spitak home is the average Armenian home. It has a tiny kitchen, a huge dining room, a pretty large tv room and two bedrooms and a bathroom. Thank God for the bathroom. The house is currently being remodeled, I think they are adding a porch, my host mom said I will be able to drink coffee there. Spitak is surrounded by mountains in every which way you look, and my house is not too far from one, so I am hoping to take some good hikes.

The tiny little kitchen has two working burners that really are on a hot plate that sites above the Oven. I have never seen an Armenian use their oven, they always have a small toaster oven that they use to bake in instead.
Spitak has a beautiful park with benches that overlook the river. This is where I met to speak to my school director and counterpart. For the most part it is pretty serene, although it happens to be a favorite place for kids to hang out. I was told that in Spitak boys are allowed to swim but girls are not. On my last day in town I will start a gender revolt and will go for a swim in the middle of the pool in a bikini. Maybe I will have a few friends join me. Girls can’t swim!!! Haha can you imagine if I really did do that?

My amazing new Spitak family. They are such an interesting bunch. It’s amazing how my host mom looks after my host dad. One day while sitting for dinner the cell phone rings in the bedroom. The mom who has just spent hours cooking, jumps up and runs to get it, not answering it, but running to bring it to the dad. Then when he is finished, she takes it back to put it on it’s charger. Ten minutes later and the scene is repeated. He doesn’t even attempt to get up and answer his own phone. But he is amazing, and so kind to me. This is a completely different host father experience, and I am glad he was around. He makes it so much easier for me to understand what is going on.

My Tatik the day I went for a walk and she drug me home. She says that she will marry my grandfather in America if he has a little money and she can get a green card! She is too funny and I love drinking my hot chocolate with her and talking about a bunch of nothing and just laughing when we know we can’t understand a word the other is saying! When I first learned I was going to Armenia I was the most excited to have a tatik, since back home I lost my grandmother. It’s nice to have one again.

Monday, July 12, 2010

Finally I have a tatik!

What a strange feeling it is to wake up one day and suddenly find yourself immersed in another culture, in a foreign country. I woke up this morning amazed that I would get up, bucket bathe and explain to my new host mother what foods I like and do not like. It was only two months ago that I was sitting at the same desk every day, doing the same ole work and never once using a single brain wave. Now before I leave my room in the morning my brain is exhausted trying to script a semi intelligible conversation so that I am not taken by surprise and left stuttering and murmuring chi gitems (I don’t know). God has given me the opportunity to live a dream that I dreamt long ago as a small girl who sat closed in her room reading books about faraway lands. For so long I thought those dreams were wasted, something that got me by as a child but that had no room in my adult brain. Now I see, dreams can only be wasted if they are forgotten.
I was so nervous to be shipped off to Spitak all alone with a women and her son who I had only known for an hour. Now I see that adventures involve a little bit of risk and a lot of trust. I am so lucky that my family turned out to be amazing.
Yesterday when I arrived in Spitak my mom stopped by the local store to buy all the food we would need for the next few days. She was like a little bee, who buzzed about, weaving in and out of a dense Armenian grocery store (if you could call them that) traffic. She snuck in and around people grabbing a bag to stuff tomatoes, cucumbers, onions, eggplants and peppers in. I stood by watching half in wonderment and half horrified. I can just imagine shopping in America and running in to her, I’d probably try to trip her for cutting in front of me and pestering about. After a few minutes the crowed was too much for me, and it was plain to see that I was just in the way. So I went outside where I stood with my new little brother, one of the Vagh somethings. As I stood and people watched I couldn't help but smile at my luck. My town is so modern and new, the people dress relatively the same as they would anywhere else in the world. They bustle about as people often have a way of doing in bigger cities, far different from the leisurely pace of the Villages here. Soon my momma number 2 was out of the store with three bags in her hand which my brother ran up and grabbed from her. I picked up my bag thinking that we were going to be on our way, but was told not yet, a few more minutes. My mother darted back into the store and in five minutes returned with a few more bags, this time of meat that my brother again rushed to grab. Once again I was told to wait, as she went back in. This happened a few more times as my mother made her rounds to each section of the store. There are no carts in the store, you grab what you want and pay for it at each counter, one for meat, one for candy, one for fruit, one for vegetables and so on.
I can’t help but to be constantly amazed by Armenian women. They are the backbone of this society, doing everything that needs to be done. I thought that there was a possibility that my new host mother would be a little bit different because she is so young, but the truth is I think she works even harder than my village host mother. I’ve only been here two days but I’ve never seen her stop moving. Even though today is her birthday she barely sat as we had people over for dinner. Always up and down, getting whatever anyone needs. Even though she has this hard thin face, and piercing cold blue eyes, she is sweet and kind and when she smiles she looks five years younger. She has two sons and a husband, which as an Armenian women means she gets no help with the domestic chores. She cooks, cleans, gardens, and mends cloths all by herself. Men and boys here leave the table as soon as they are done eating, not even clearing their plate. I can’t even imagine the pressure on her. My new host father told me yesterday that it was a hard day because Rozana was not there and he had to milk the cow himself!
My host Tatik, is probably my favorite Armenian that I have met here. She is so animated, talking to her guarantees a fit of giggles. When first meeting my Tatik I couldn’t help but notice the mop of grey hair on her head, her gold teeth and rugged face, but now all I can see is her huge smile and the flash of light in her eyes before she makes a joke. To be honest she is the only Armenian that has made a joke that I understand! She constantly focuses her attention on me, telling me what a good girl I am, and what a pretty girl I am. If she has nothing else to say she will look at me and say Alisa Jan, lave agchica. Yes Sirum em Alisa Jan. Shat Kiratzi, which means Alyssa dear, you’re a good girl. I love you Alyssa dear, you are very pretty. I just sit there with red cheeks and laugh. It’s funny because I don’t understand much they say and as she talks along and I sit there pretending to understand, she sometimes throws in random English words that she learned during her childhood in the Soviet era. Yesterday she was blabbering along and all of a sudden mustered out a happy birthday out of nowhere. It was so funny, we just sat there and laughed! She also knows the words for mother, sister, brother, dad and boy and girl, which is helpful because the way they say those words in my family is completely different then I have been taught. This morning I decided to take a walk around my town to take a few pictures, as I was walking down the main road I saw my tatik walking toward me, she sees me and gets a huge smile on her face. Alyssa Jan, why are you out here, she asks. I am walking I say. Where to Alyssa Jan? I don’t know, just walking, I respond. Alyssa Jan did you eat yet? No not yet tatik, I like to walk and later eat. No no Alyssa Jan, you shouldn’t walk out here alone; I am scared you will get scared. No tatik I am not afraid. Yes Alyssa Jan you are afraid come back with me. Ok tatik I will walk back with you… I hope sooner or later I learn to say no… but she is just so cute, I don’t want her not to love me anymore!
One difference here than in Alapars is that I have a host father and I met him right away. My host father has grey hair, but a black beard and kind brown eyes. He is neither young nor old, but years of hard work in Ukraine have taken a toll on him. His stature is large and tough yet his face is kind and gentle. He is the complete juxtaposition to my host father in Alapars, who is neither kind, nor young. Interestingly enough, my host father is the person in my family I understand best. The very first thing he said to me after meeting me was that he has two sons and is happy to now have a daughter. It was really sweet. Last night we actually had about an hour conversation in which he told me that he was born in Russia and moved to Yerevan to become a Veterinarian. For years that was his occupation but because of the economy for the past few years he spends 7 months in Ukraine doing manual labor and the rest here selling milk from his cow, and fruit from his garden. He explained to me that Armenian is not his first language either, and he finds it very difficult, which may be why I understand him. He told me about the Spitak earthquake, and I told him about earthquakes in California. I hate to say it but I am so glad he is here, and am very sad that he will leave in August just as I am ready to move in here. I told the Peace Corps I wanted to be in a family without a host dad, but now I see that having a host dad can be nice.
I also have two brothers at home, but as of yet, I don’t have much to say about them. They are 16 and 17 and for the most part they just sit and stare at me. They don’t say much but I always feel their little eyes watching me. It’s pretty funny actually.

Saturday, July 10, 2010

Hip Hip Horray

Ok so no one back home is awake right now to talk to, so I thought I’d blog instead! This week we have sight visits, the week we have all been waiting for, or in my case trying to hide from!
I met my new momma Jan yesterday, and let’s just say momma Jan is a stretch. Rosanna is young! Young and tiny!! Like as tiny if not tinier than Brianna! She immediately grabbed me and hugged me. I could tell she was actually really excited. She introduced me to my new little brother, Vahank not to be confused with my other brother Vahe or my dad Vahaghn!!! HA, I plan just to say vah and whoever answers I will talk to. Speaking of which I had a major realization, I don’t freaken speak Armenian, like at all. I am lucky enough to have a sister in Alapars who speaks English, and I’ll be honest, I haven’t had to try as hard as the others because of that. Also the families in Alapars are use to Americans; they have adjusted their speech so that we can understand. They speak slowly and use the vocabulary words that we know. My new momma Jan, speaks Armenian on caffeine, very fast! My language teacher had to tell her to slow down like 5 times! So after meeting her and speaking with her for an hour and only understanding 5 sentences at most, I had the epiphany that I don’t actually speak any Armenian. You see the Peace Corps tricks us into thinking that we are actually decent at it, but then you get to the real world and people speak differently and have more than a 200 word vocabulary and you are screwed.
So today was the big travel day to Spitak. My trip basically started in Yerevan with my host mom grabbing my wrist to guide me across the street, as cars are flying by from both directions. I am trying not to scream as I see a number of cars coming at us and yet for some crazy reason my mom is pulling me amidst them. Somehow, don’t ask me how, my eyes were closed in prayer, we make it to the middle of the road, and all of a sudden there are cars surrounding us going every which way. My mom again waits until it seems certain we will get hit, and then drags me across the other side of the street. Luckily I came out alive and unscathed.
So we get to a street where dozens of Marshutnis are lined up. Marshutnis are like big vans that take people from town to town. We find the Marshutni for Spitak and get in and sit down. The thing is you have to claim your seat as soon as possible or you are going to be squished the whole way, but the other thing is that marshutnis are vans without air conditioning that sit outside disgustingly hot Yerevan for hours at a time, so they are hot, really hot. So after about 15 minutes of sitting in this van as people pile in, I counted at least 14, I felt like I was going to die. After 20 minutes I thought forget dying I’m quitting the Peace Corps, and at 30 minutes we finally took off, thank God because I don’t know what I would have done. So then we traveled about an hour and a half north to my new little town, Spitak. The drive was not too bad at all actually. When we pulled into Spitak I gazed around in wonder, I have never seen a place like this in Armenia. It’s brand new for one; the store that we stopped at to buy food had air conditioning!! But more than that, it’s like half city and half village. Where the stores are is very city like, with apartments and vivacell stores and even a coffee shop, but when you get off the main street you see big houses with gardens and chickens and cows. I actually kind of live in the middle of the two, on a huge property! Our garden is the size of 2 alapars houses! I am about a fifteen minute walk from the school I will teach at, and maybe a 25 minute walk to the big store in town. My bed room is great, it actually has two beds, which means Ashley and Marissa can sleepover whenever they want! My only complaints are that I think I have mold, the bad kind, however I think my momma jan said they were fixing that. And I don’t have a lock on my door, which Peace Corps rules state I must have. I actually barely ever lock my door in the Alapars house, but I feel better with one. On the positive side my internet here rocks! I will no longer have to wait an hour for pictures to upload! This means my two years in Armenia will be filled with facebook and email and blog postings with Pictures! Thank God!

So far Spitak is pretty cool, though I still really do wish I had another American here. This blog is pretty long already so next time I will tell you about my crazy tatik who is so excited that I am here, and the rest of my new family.

Tuesday, July 6, 2010

Independence Day in a far away land…

It’s a strange thing to be in another country on a holiday. The strange part is you wake up and you know it’s a holiday but the day feels like nothing out of the ordinary. There is none of that electricity in the air that excites you. You don’t have that nervous anticipation that just seems to scream that today is special, today is a holiday. Instead you go to class just as you do every other day, and you learn your lessons.
Even though I knew we were having a Fourth of July party for our village, I just didn’t feel the same. Independence Day is one of my favorite holidays. I really love bbqing and swimming in the pool and being with my family. Needless to say the swimming was defiantly not going to happen over here. But I did get a bbq and I did get to spend time with my Armenian family. After school I went home to make moms famous potato salad as my American dish for the party. The potato salad had a bunch of hiccups along the way, such as the Russian mustard was more like horseradish sauce, the mayo was like a miracle whip, and some people just have an inability to let people do things their own way. But all in all it came out pretty decent and I have to say bell peppers are an excellent substitution for celery, thanks mom!
At 6 we gathered to celebrate with our families. There was so much food, we had chicken, bbq sauce, hotdogs (with lavash buns =( ) Fruit salad, potato salad, macaroni salad, French fries, and even chocolate chip cookies. We also had tons of Armenian dishes, and more dessert than anyone could ever eat! The problem is none of the Armenians wanted to really try the American food. They would try what their host student made, but that was it! Not even the chocolate chip cookies!!! How could they not like cookies?!?! So as Joel, Mike, and Greg played any song they knew with the world America in it, I walked from group to group and grabbed the kids, in very Armenian fashion, and dragged them to the table to get cookies. Whether they wanted to or not they were going to eat our food, just like they make us. It was pretty funny to reverse the roles! Later when I was walking around a group of 13 year old girls called me over to them and asked my teacher to tell me that they wanted a picture with the pretty American girl. Haha it was pretty sweet and it made my day.

So yeah that was all there was to our Fourth of July. Not so special when you are not in the States as it turns out. Sorry this blog is not so un-inspired, my heart isn’t much in it, but sometimes writing helps even if it is crappy writing. PS I have not showered in 3 and a half days, this is a new record for me!

Thursday, July 1, 2010

Site Announcment

Yesterday was site announcement. If you follow me on facebook at all you know that this was the day I have been dreading for the past few weeks. Site announcement is when you find out where you will be living for the next two years of your life. Right now I am training to be a Peace Corps Volunteer so I am living in a village with 8 other Americans and near 5 or so villages that host other groups of Americans. We are all incredibly close and see a lot of each other, because we have training seminars together weekly. It’s really exhausting because we go to school for about four hours a day and then have technical training as well as home work and other projects that we have to do. But to be honest, this is like Peace Corps vacation. This is like the shiny new period where you feel like you are at a summer camp, an education one, but nonetheless summer camp.
Well I wasn’t ready for summer camp to end. Site announcement day means that summer camp is coming to an end, and they are going to give you a glimps into what the real work will look like. Tuesday night I couldn’t sleep a wink, actually I don’t really ever sleep at all here but that is besides the point. Every time I drifted off to sleep I’d have a dream that we were all standing on the map of Armenia and I was up North and everyone else was down south. My worst nightmare was to be put by myself. I even mentioned this to my coordinator. I told her I’d take anything she gave me as long as I had a site mate. And she actually seemed really receptive to that, and told me it shouldn’t be a problem. So I told myself I’d be fine, and not to worry. Too bad my subconscious refused to listen.
So Wednesday they bused us all to charentsaven for a central day. They lectured us for a few hours about stress management and some other stuff, then sent us on an hour lunch. I have no idea what transgressed at lunch. I literally sat on the steps staring at the big map of Armenia, split into regions and prayed, and worried and prayed some more. From my earlier blogs you remember that I said I would be happy if only I had Ashley, Marissa or Alex in my region. Secondarily if only I just had a site mate. So when I prayed and worried, it wasn’t really like I was aiming for a particular region, or city, I was just hoping not to be alone.
After lunch, they had our whole group line up around the map with all the existing PVC’s standing behind us near there region. We were given a speech of some sorts, I have no idea what it was and then a region was called. The first Region was Lori. It is one of the Regions of the North. From what I understand from rumors is that most volunteers are placed in the South, especially the younger ones. Well what do you know it, but I was the first name called to go to the region of Lori. I was so shocked, and I must have looked terrified. I just thought to myself I am as North as you can get and there is still this whole map to go, there is no way any of my friends will be near me now. I was given a paper that had the name of my city, Spitak, and my school, and then directed over to the spot on the map where my city was. Some wonderful A-17ers from the Lori region welcomed me and practically jumped into their arms for a hug thinking that there were actually people in my region so I am sure one of them will be my site mate. So I asked, turns out I don’t have one. I will be all alone in Spitak. My heart broke a little.
So my region gained a few more people, none in my town but I was assured that I was really close to a lot of other people’s sites, and that it would take me only twenty minutes to get to Vandadzor which happens to be a pretty big city and hosts a few volunteers. The next region had begun to be called and I hoped and prayed just one person I was close with would be in that region, just one was all I needed to feel a little bit better. Well it turns out that God listened to me and I got two! Both Marisa and Ashley are in the neighboring region! And even better than that, they are super close to me! Sometimes you can be in a neighboring region and be a few hours away. We really lucked out in this aspect because Marisa is in Gyumri, another big city which is about 40 minutes away from me, and Ashley is in Artik which is about 20 minutes from Gyumri. So all in all I am relieved.
What I know about my city is that they have not had a TEFL volunteer there, so I will be the first. It has also been some years since they have had a Peace Corps volunteer in general. Some people think this is awesome because no one will have expectations of me. I have mixed feelings, this means I have to find all of my own contacts and make my own path which is a little scary. My town has about 18-20 thousand people, which is way different than I expected. I thought I would be in a village. I was thinking a thousand people max and prolly more like 300. I still don’t know how I feel about this. Part of me is excited because it means there will be more to do and better food. Part of me is nervous because I am the only American and being a woman can be pretty scary in a city when you have on one to look after you. So I guess I just need to keep an open mind and try to make as many Armenian friends as possible so that I can feel safe in my new home.
Oh and as for all the younger people getting placed in the South, I think it is mostly true, most everyone I know and am friends with is in the South. I’m not going to lie, it sucks. The Southern most region is hours away from where Ashley and I are and a lot of our peers are down there. In my mind this means that we will never see these people. That they will all get together on weekends and holidays and we will be left out. I am not saying that there are not awesome people in my region, because there are and two out of three of my best friends are there, but I am defiantly sad that everyone we have done our training with is so far away. People always say they will visit but when it comes down to it, who wants to take a 6-8 hour bus ride when most everyone is south anyways? =(

All in all I feel basically everything that it is possible to feel. I am scared, excited, anxious, sad, annoyed, angry, frustrated, happy and thankful all at the same time. I go for a three night sight visit next Friday, so everyone say a prayer for me that my new host family is as amazing as the first and that I like my site!

Family I am really starting to miss you all so much! Hugs and kisses!