On and off for the past two months or so I have been without internet due to some of the financial hardships that all Peace Corps volunteers agree to endure. What it has come down to, for me is internet or heat?!? You see Peace Corps only pays a higher utility bill for its volunteers until February, though technically they would claim that they pay us the higher rate in March as well, but as common sense tells us money given at the beginning of March would pay for February Utilities and not March utilities… Anyways the point is we are still getting snow in Spitak on an off and it is the end of April, so obviously when our utility stipend goes from 20,000 to only 12,000 and there is still snow on the ground, sacrifices have to be made. So I chose to cut my internet.
Weeks without the internet were difficult but I listened to music and watched some movies and listened to ITUNES University lectures from Berkeley and UCLA about the history of ancient Rome and Israel. All in all the sacrifice was most likely more of a strain for my family than it was for me. However over a week ago when my computer broke down, and my IT friend told me I most likely crashed my hard drive, I think I finally became a real Peace Corps volunteer.
My whole world became books and social interactions. I could not even turn my computer on, and after two days, my Ipod died. My life became silent and pretty boring. All I had for entertainment was Sophie and my books. In three rainy days I quickly burned through three books! I took Sophie on long walks and played ball with her at the nearest thing Spitak has to a public park, a memorial statue. As I threw the ball and she fetched it, small crowds began to gather and watch us. Sophie, not being much of a people dog would immediately stop playing and come sit on my lap. People would try to encourage her to fetch again. They would take the ball themselves and throw it, and seeing that it had no effect would mostly walk off. Once alone again Sophie and I would continue our game of fetch. When Sophie would lose interest, I would take out a book and read as she would smell around and chase cats. My days all began to blend into one. I found myself not knowing what to do with myself.
That is when I realized I could work more. As it is I only stay late on Mondays and Thursdays for my clubs. Well out of boredom I decided that I would start a vocabulary word building club for my third graders. I asked the class if they would like to stay Wednesdays after class to play some fun games and practice their English words. They all agreed happily. So I have been spending my Wednesdays with my tiniest little English students. We play around the world, jeopardy, bingo, and many other made up games that have no words. I have also begun to teach them word families to help enrich their reading skills. As the bell rang after our very first club, I kid you not, the kids begged me to stay for one more hour!! They absolutely love their English club, and I have to say I actually love it too! The best part is that after the club the kids all wait for me so that they can walk with me home. They actually live in the opposite direction that I do, but for whatever reason they love walking me part of the way home. I have a feeling it is because it’s the only opportunity they get to speak Armenian with me. They ask me questions about my dog Sophie, America and my family, all in Armenian and only on our walks home, do I answer them in Armenian. Sometimes they giggle because I have a horrible accent, or I say something wrong, but most of the time we understand each other.
I have to say that not having a computer at times was really difficult, but it did force me to work a little harder which in turn showed me how much fun little kids are and reminded me how much I love teaching! It also gave me another opportunity to show Armenians how amazing animals can be. There wasn’t a person who walked by Sophie and I playing that didn’t stop to watch. Everywhere I go with her I hear how good she is and how people want a dog like her. I am happy to say that in the recent days I have seen on two separate occasions how Sophie has affected my community. One day as I was leaving school a group of boys were waiting outside the school gate, with them was a little dog wearing a collar made of leather and with a leather strap attached to it as a leash. They were taking their little dog for a walk!! This is not something that is common here at all, in fact I’m almost positive from all the attention I get, that I am the first person they have ever seen walking a dog around on a leash. A few days after that, as I was walking to school I saw a puppy with a collar on. He seemed to be following an old lady. I stopped to watch as the old lady walked across the street into the hanoot and held the door open for the dog to follow. I stood on the street amazed. After she made her purchases as she was walking out of the store the dog jumped up on to her. I cringed a little expecting to see the dog get kicked, as that is the usual response for this kind of behavior, but instead I saw the little woman bend over and cup the puppies little face. She then reached into her pocket and pulled out a little piece of bread for the pup and they continued on walking home… I don’t know how to express to you how unusual this behavior is for this area. Usually tatiks scold me for petting dogs, as they are seen as dirty. Even when they know Sophie is clean, they tell me I shouldn’t pick her up or I will get sick. While everyone in Spitak treats Sophie with great care and respect, I have never seen them be kind to other dogs, and I have defiantly never seen a situation where they treated their dog like a pet rather than a guard dog meant only to be chained up and bark if someone comes near…. So all in all this has helped me to see that even when I feel that I am not doing enough here in Spitak, the way I live my life does have an impact here. Sometimes it’s very annoying to be watched all the time, and for people to know everything I do, but the other side of that is that sometimes people can learn things that they have not got the opportunity to learn living in such a confined culture. I’ve even had a few people ask me if I will breed Sophie because they want little Sophie puppies of their own!