When my counterpart Hermonie was interviewed for her position, my program manager Gayane explained to her “You will make or break this Peace Corps volunteer. Whether she stays or goes is in your hands.” As I begin to see other Peace Corps volunteers crash and burn, either leaving the program or essentially giving up on their primary job and searching desperately for anything that they can half heartedly do in their communities, I am starting to wonder how much of Gayane’s statement was true.
My counterpart is my anchor in Spitak. We don’t spend too much time together after work, but whenever I have a problem she is the first person I call. She understands how difficult it is for me to be here, and does her best to explain that to others. She is always on my side, and goes into everything with an open mind. If I want to try something new in the class room, not only does she allow me, but she’s excited for my new ventures. She never seems to be upset that the children flock to me over her; she seems to understand that it’s part of having the only American in town as your partner. She has ran to the pharmacy for me when I was sick, taken me to take passport pictures, gone shopping with me, and helped me find the best lotion Spitak has to offer. It’s all these little things that make life here so much easier on me.
As I have been looking for an apartment in Spitak, she has been so amazing. She has made countless phone calls and is constantly on the phone negotiating deals for me. Because of her calls, my apartment will now have everything I need with the exception of a fridge, this she is still trying to find for me. It’s amazing how all of the teachers at my school have looked after me. She tells them what I am missing and they all put their heads together to see how they can make it work for me. Some have offered to make their children share dressers so that I can have one in my house; others have offered me my pickings in their gardens come summer. From blankets to dishes, I know that I am covered in anything I may need because of their kindness. By February 1st, thanks to my counterpart I will be living in a one room apartment, with a kitchen that has heated water and a shower and a toilet.
Though I am sure in many ways it will be difficult to leave my host family, I cannot help but have a lightness of heart now that I know soon I will have my own apartment. Although, my living alone does make a great number of people very nervous, I can’t wait to cook for myself and eat when I want to eat. I can’t wait to have friends come spend the night and to have dinner parties. To have Sophie Jan sleep inside and not have to worry about her freezing. To be able to sleep whenever I want to sleep and not have to worry about hurting people’s feelings or making them angry at every waking moment.
Last week while I was having coffee with my counterpart, her father in law came to me and grabbed my hands and kissed me on the cheek. “You must not live alone Alyssa-jan. Hermonie, I know a family who has an open room a few houses down, I will look into it” he told us. “No Pop, she lived alone in America and wants to live alone now, she had a family here but wants to be on her own” my counterpart responded. “I will call them, you will see it will be better” he stubbornly insisted as if he didn’t hear her reply. This is Armenia after all and it wouldn’t be true to the culture if no one insisted on me doing something I didn’t want to =) I have to say, I love this place!