Thursday, May 26, 2011

Happy Anniversary Armenia!!!

Happy Anniversary!!!

Today is my one year anniversary with Armenia. One year is a pretty huge milestone in any relationship, and to me it signals the end of the honeymoon phase, well at least as far as shorter relationships go. This anniversary is especially important to me because one year and five weeks ago I sat on my best friend Betsie’s living room couch. It was a Monday, and I hadn’t even received my official invitation yet, but I had found out on Friday that I would be leaving in just over a month’s time. I had known for about two years that I was going to be in the Peace Corps, but my official invitation always got delayed or rescinded so at one point it stopped being real to me. When I was told that I’d be leaving so soon, I had expected to leave in September; I just about had a panic attack. Fear overcame me, and for a few days I just shut down completely. I remember Betsie and I talking about the future and me admitting to her that I wasn’t sure I could leave. I had a “what the heck am I doing” moment, and was frozen with fear. With only about a month to get my affairs settled, and say goodbye to my job and my family, I really didn’t have time to freak out. So together Betsie and I decided that I would go and give it a try, worse comes to worse it would just be a vacation. Even in the best case scenario we decided that after a year I would most likely come back home. I just remember thinking, I can give up everything for one year, but two years and three months, it’s just too much!

So today is the mark of when I told myself I could quit if I wanted to, I have officially been in Armenia for one whole year. I haven’t seen the faces of any of my friends or family for a whole year!! For a girl that went home to see her parents every other week, and would call her sister and brother on a daily basis begging them to come hang out, this is a huge deal to me. It’s hard to even remember what the life that I use to live was like.

The one that included taco Tuesday’s with my co-workers, fro yo date nights with my best friend, weekly dinners and game nights with my sister, concerts with my brother, movie nights with my dad, lunch with my mom, and unconventional date nights with my boyfriend. I remember that I use to complain that I was an obsessive compulsive planner. All I would want was a day where I could stay home and read but somehow I always ended up making plans.

Now here I am in Armenia a year into my service and I see Americans about once every other week, sometimes once a month. Pretty much after Sophie and I go for our evening walk at about 5 all face to face social interaction is done for the day. I interact with students more than I do with adults now, and most of my conversations take place on facebook chat. My life now is about as different as could possibly be from my life a year ago. And while there are days when I miss my family and old life so much that every breath feels labored as if all my love for them is on top of me, putting pressure on my chest, suffocating me and forcing me to feel their absence, most days I am perfectly content here. People always ask me why I am here and don’t I get bored here, and the truth is of course I get bored but sometimes it’s nice to be bored when you compare it with the overload of activities that keep us constantly moving back home.

So here I am one year into my service and I am surprised to discover I have absolutely no intentions of going home anytime soon. I’ve been told that the second the plane set down in Armenia other volunteers had a bet that I would soon go home. I think it mostly had to do with me having dislocated my jaw and being completely miserable my first week in country, but the truth is the moment I got here I feel in love and have never looked back. I feel blessed to be able to live the life that I am living now, to have made the friends and family that I have made here, and to work where I am working now. The truth is I can leave at any time I want to, but as I have recently found out, even if I was asked to leave, I would fight with everything I have to stay here because this is my home now, at least for the time being.

So thank you Armenia for being an amazing place for me to call home in this past year. The memories I have made and will make here will never be forgotten.

Wednesday, May 18, 2011

War Dogs

Anyone who knows anything about me knows I have a passion for dogs. I love dogs of all kinds, even the mean stray ones. I really believe a dog is truly good unless trained to be otherwise, and by trained I mean kicked, and ignored and abandoned. Part of my work in the Peace Corps is to introduce and educate my community about Americans and one of the ways I do this is by taking Sophie with me everywhere. I am not so comfortable when people in my community ask me in depth questions about my own life, but I light up any time I get to share about Sophie. And through time Sophie has turned out to be quite a popular pup, I even think it's getting to her head a bit, as now she barks at me whenever I am not paying attention to her.

Every day I take Sophie outside my building and let her run off some pent up anxiety that she gets from me leaving her at home while I work. While many people see her and run the other way, she has made friends with a lot of people from the building. Most notably the bottom floor neighbor. This neighbor just adores Sophie, and always comes out to say hello to her. She brings her water when she is thirsty and bread when she wants to spoil her.

Well the cutest thing happened today. As Sophie was off in the distance smelling things and doing whatever it is puppies do, she looked up and saw my little old neighbor. She bounded across rocks and debris and came running up to the neighbor. “Sophik, my little favorite” the women greets Sophie with a pet on the head. She then tells Sophie to go run off. When Sophie gets too far for my comfort, she pats me on the hand and tells me not to worry. That house doesn’t have dogs, Sophie will be fine.

She then tells me that a few nights ago she cooked a whole chicken for her family. When they were done with the chicken there were parts that they didn’t eat such as the stomach and the bones. At the time she had thought to give them to her little Sophie but it was too late in the night to come knock on my door so she threw them away. She then asked me if Sophie would have liked them!!! It was honestly the sweetest thing ever. I have to admit the way to my heart is through my dog. If you are good to her I will love you forever!!

So anyways I thought about all this tonight because I saw this article:,0

I can't wait to print these out and use them in a class next year about animals.

Thursday, May 12, 2011

Happy Victory day

Last Monday I was told we were going to have the day off. It’s an Armenian holiday I was told, but no one ever told me which holiday it was. Monday morning my counterpart called me and told me to be at the park by 11 am to meet all the teachers. So I got Sophie ready for a walk thinking my school was going to have a small picnic. When I stepped outside my door I noticed that a lot of people were heading in the same direction so I decided to follow them. Turns out they were going to the park too, and that they all knew a shortcut that no one had ever told me about… good to know.
When I got to the park I immediately ran into a group of my students who told me where our teachers were. There were a couple hundred people standing by a monument. I walked over just in time for the Mayors speech. What he said I have no idea because I was trying to make sure that Sophie didn’t scare any small children. Soon dancing began and I was trying my best to get a view when an official looking man grabbed my arm and gently lead me to the front of the crowd to watch the performance.
After a few songs and dances we were told to move to the main stage for the concert. I still really had no idea what Victory day was but I figured it must have something to do with Russia since most of the songs were in Russian and the monument we were standing near was also in Russian.
The rest of the day was filled with Armenian folk dancing and music. It was a great way to spend my day off in my community and to make some new little friends!
I never really understood what the day was until I went home and googled it! Thank God for Google where it states the following: Victory Day[1] or 9 May marks the capitulation of Nazi Germany to the Soviet Union in the Second World War (also known as the Great Patriotic War in the Soviet Union and all post-Soviet states)

a beautiful armenian folk dance... makes me want to learn how!!!

This little boy sat in front of me the whole time. While he kept staring at me he never seemed to notice Sophie on my lap until an hour into the show. At which point he yells "pop that english girl has a dog on her lap" The popik must of though he was making up stories cause he shooed him away. The boy moved closer to me and called his cousins over. They began to talk about me and Sophie. My counterpart interrupted them and asked how he knew I was an English Girl. He said because I was speaking English and I didn't look like one of them. I told them I am not English I am American and they came over to pet Sophie. All of sudden the pop yells out, Get away from the dog it will bite you" I answer in Armenian that she doesn't bite. He looks at me for a long time and then asks the son who I am. He tells him that I am an English girl....

My co-workers daughters are both in this little dance number. When the oldest one saw me she yelled out Maam Miss Alyssa is here and began to jump up and down! You can say I have developed a soft spot for her!! She is in the first grade at our school and she always runs up to hug me every morning! Maybe she can teach me to dance!

This little girl was as cute as could be so I turned around and she smiled at me so I snapped a picture of her!

Me and my counterpart and Sophie! She watches Sophie whenever I leave town and she thinks Sophie is adorable but she is afraid to touch her.

These little boys were awesome!

Thursday, May 5, 2011

Cross Cultural exchanges are cute!

Peace Corps has a program called Coverdell World Wise schools that it likes it's volunteers to participate in. Basically this is a program where a class from the US connects with a volunteer. The premises of the arrangement are left completely open to the volunteer and corresponding teacher. A while back I had emailed all the teachers I knew in America to see who wanted to be a part of this program and a girlfriend from college Tawny replied that she would love too. We were both so excited for our students to be able to learn from each other.
Well today I just got my first batch of letters from Mrs. Paino's class!! I am so excited to share them with my students and have them write back immediately! Kids are so cute, and I have been cracking up reading the letters. I thought I'd share one with all of you.

Dear Friend,
Hello Friend! My name is Judy Lee and I am living in America but I was born in Korea. I am in 5th grade and my teacher's name is Mrs. Paino.
My favorite thing about school is that you get to learn a lot of facts and that I get to make good friends. My class just celebrated Valentines day on February 14th, 2011. I passed out chocolates to my class and I think they liked it! I hope so =) Maybe next year I would be able to send you one, too! We are going to celebrate Read Across America day on March 2nd. It is a day that you celebrate Dr. Seuss' birthday and read books.
What do you learn at school? What do you like to do with your family?
Your American Friend
Judy L

Ok, so honestly isn't that so adorable! I love how kids are so excited to learn about other people and share about themselves. I also love the fact that all the letters talk about Read Across America, as I helped the children to celebrate Dr. Seuss' birthday here too! Wait, so does that mean Read Across America day went global this year?!?! It's kind of exciting.

Thank you Tawny for sending the letters, sorry they took so long to get here, turns out we had a huge mail problem with anything that was sent in March! I promise your batch of letters will get to you before school ends, or so I hope!


A few weeks ago I was invited to go to two Spring performances. One from the music school and another from the kindergarten. I have to say that around 80 percent of the time I can forget that everyone is staring at me and I almost feel as if I blend in, but not at these two events. At both events I have to say I felt almost like a celebrity. Everyone stared at me as I walked in, and all the kids cheered or jumped up and down and were excited that I was there to watch them. The truth is my favorite little girls were preforming and I was only really there to watch them

Wednesday, May 4, 2011

A charming Easter in Armenia

Everyone has been talking about Easter for a few months now, so I was expecting some huge ordeal. A month before Easter time I was practically begging my counterpart to invite me to her Easter dinner =) And by begging I mean dropping hints that possibly only Americans would understand. Finally one day she was talking about her Tatik making the trip from Gyumri to Spitak for Easter and I told her I would love to meet her Tatik, because I had heard so much about her. Finally my counterpart either caught on, or the idea just came to her but she told me I should spend Easter with her. Mission accomplished!
A week before Easter I began to think of different dishes I could make to bring to my counterparts for the dinner party. Every day I would come to school with a new idea, but when I would run the idea by my counterpart she didn’t seem too excited. One day I finally asked her if it was appropriate to bring a dish, she explained to me that it is not so common for Armenians to do, so I explained to her that it’s something we usually do in America. I think once I told her this, her hospitality didn’t feel threatened and so she was more excited about the idea. I decided to bring Lemmon bars! I have never made them before but I had a craving for them, plus I have never tasted anything like them here in Armenia.
So the day of the event, I wore my most colorful dress, and nicest shoes, which isn’t saying much as I didn’t really bring nice cloths to Armenia. I Also tied a cute little pink bow on Sophie’s neck. I cannot tell you how many compliments Sophie got as we were walking through the city center to my counterparts house. We were quite the Easter parade!! When I got to my counterpart’s house I left Sophie with her dog and walked in. My counterpart was nowhere to be seen and there were 5 women sitting on the couch who I had never met. I didn’t really know what to do so I said hello and sat down. No one really talked to me, I think they were very confused as to who I was. Finally my counterpart walked out and exclaimed to her grandmother “tat this is the American I told you about”. The tatik looked so surprised, turns out she had no clue and assumed I was just a different looking Armenian, score one point for me! She immediately demanded that I come over to her so she could kiss me. She told me her name is Hayastan… which means Armenia. A pretty cool name I think. We talked a bit and they introduced me to a little boy named Hyke. I believe he was five years old. They told him I was learning Armenian and he came over and brought me his text book. He isn’t even in kindergarten yet but he was reviewing all the letters with me. We became fast best friends.
Soon it was time for our meal. We all sat down to eat but there was no room for our hostess. Not surprisingly she refused to sit, the whole time she walked around serving people and making sure everyone had what they needed. As I have learned this is pretty common in Armenia, and the hostess never seems to mind. Just another way Armenians show great hospitality to their guests. The first order of business was to play the egg game, I am not sure if it has a name. Basically everyone gets a bolied egg that is dyed, just like in America. You then hold your egg while someone else crashed their egg into it. You want your egg to be the egg that comes out not cracked. I have to say I was feeling pretty confident when I got a green Jesus sticker egg. I was pretty sure that even though I had never played the game and didn’t know if there was a strategy to it, that Jesus was on my side =) And as it turns out he was… for awhile anyways. I went four of five rounds without a single crack in my egg. I was so excited, as tradition has it that whoever is the last man standing with an un-cracked egg, is the person who will receive the most luck in the following year. Then cute little adorable Hyke came to me and wanted to play. The truth is I had already seen him crack an egg or two, so I knew he was a little cheater, but I thought there was no way he was going to beat me. And then he did! My precious egg was cracked. I guess if you had to lose, it’s best to lose to someone whose whole face lights up when they beat you. Soon it was only Hyke and tatik left. Tatik crashed her egg into Hykes and sent cracks all throughout. I have to admit that a little part of me laughed, I mean the kid did cheat, and who better to beat a little kid than a little old lady? And so came an end to our egg wars and the eating began.
As it turns out Easter in Armenia isn’t so different from Easter in America. We ate some pretty good salads and what is called Easter Pilaf which is sweet rice with raisins in it. I actually think the pilaf was the highlight of the meal, though there were many other delicious foods. Soon the meal was done and coffee was brought out. At this point my counterpart brought over four different cakes. She didn’t bring out my lemon bars, but I didn’t want to say anything in case there was a reason. Everyone wanted me to try each type of cake and even though I was stuffed I didn’t want to hurt anyone’s feelings. After coffee we sat around talking for a bit. Mostly I just listened, but when I laughed a joke they realized I understood more than I spoke so they began to ask me questions. Soon my counterpart came out of the kitchen where she was washing dishes and asked me if I would like to take a walk to the church with her cousin. As it turns out her cousin who was to my best guess about 24, understood a little bit of English and had overheard me tell her earlier that I had really wanted to go to the church service in the morning but was too nervous to go alone. Although it was very sweet, it made me too nervous to go and my stomach was honestly killing me, so I declined. I looked up and saw him waiting in the kitchen and felt horrible. But this guy had more than one trick up his sleeve. About fifteen minutes later little adorable Hyke came to me and asked if I would like to go with him and his uncle to the church. It was usually just the kind of suckering that would get to me. I am helpless when it comes to telling adorable kids no. But at this point I was feeling pretty sick, so they went to the church without me. As they left a tray of fish was brought out. Turns out dinner wasn’t over yet! I sat for awhile and declined to eat. Soon another round of coffee came out and this time my lemon bars were brought out. Everyone who tried them said they loved them, but I’m not so convinced.
I excused myself and told them I wasn’t feeling well and had to get home. I thanked everyone for an excellent Easter and left taking Sophie with me. As I walked through the city center the church was playing beautiful Easter music. As I approached the road of the church, which also happens to be the road to my house, I saw Mkirtich walking with little Hyke. He approached me and asked where I was going in English. I could tell he was really shy. I told him I wasn’t feeling well and was walking home so he asked if he could walk me. I honestly have to say it was the sweetest thing ever. I can’t recall an American boy ever asking to walk me home. So we began to walk and I could tell he was searching his brain for his unpracticed English to come back to him. I decided to let him off the hook and asked him where he was from in Armenian. He was so relieved! He began speaking to me in Armenian asking all about me. He honestly was such a sweetheart. Soon Hyke aware that he wasn’t the center of attention put himself in between us and held both our hands. It was adorable! I thought that he would walk me only up the road but he insisted on walking me all the way to my building. As we were walking a girl he knew approached us. She looked shocked to see him, and they began to have a very awkward conversation. It was painful to see how shy he was, or embarrassed, I’m not really sure. I could tell she was thinking why the hell are you all the way in Spitak from Gyumri with this American girl. He quickly said goodbye. When we got to my building he told me it wasn’t good that I lived alone, and that I must get sad. I told him I had Sophie so I didn’t get so sad. He laughed a little and invited me to come visit him in Gyumri. I told him I would and he made me promise. It was all very sweet, and I have to say it was nice for once not to be the one with a red face.
The one thing I will say that Armenian men have that American men don’t have, is their love for children. Armenian men are so affectionate with kids! It’s the sweetest thing to watch them dote on them! It was adorable to watch my counterpart’s cousin take care of his nephew. I even had a lesson once in my 10th form where I taught them the phrase to look forward to and then asked them what they are looking forward to. The worst behaved student of mine stood up and said that he looked forward to being a dad one day soon. I didn’t really believe what I was hearing so I asked if he was telling me the truth, and he said yes. I looked at the class for help and they all said that yes, he really did talk about how he wanted to be a father one day and all the boys agreed that they took couldn’t wait to be fathers one day. I just cannot imagine American boys saying that, and I think it was actually really charming to hear. I have to say, I now have a soft spot for that student even though he is one of the worse behaved students at our school!!