Thursday, November 24, 2011

The language of friendship is not words but meanings

This morning I took a half hour or so to meditate on all the things I have to be grateful for and trust me there were a lot!!! I could list hundreds, but this Thanksgiving I am most thankful for my Armenian friends. When I first came to Armenia I quickly bonded with a group of Peace Corps volunteers figuring that throughout the next two years they would be the people that I turned to. All during training we were inseparable, going to the nearest town to watch football games and drink beers, and calling each other when we were stuck in the village, and that is almost how we felt, that we were stuck in places when we were not with our American friends.

When I first got to my site, I was the only American for thirty minutes around. I would walk through the streets of Spitak trying to smile at people and make friends, basically to be ignored. I remember hating Spitak, thinking I would never make friends here, and leaving my site the first chance I got to see my American friends. I bonded with my host brother a lot, but could barely talk to him, and other than that I didn’t know anyone other than my counterpart who could speak English. I would often have tea and cookies or fruit at a neighbor’s house or a fellow teacher, but it never felt as if they were my friends, it felt more like I was being interviewed and was on stage, everyone just staring at me, and me doing my best to speak intelligible Armenian. I would like to say that this quickly passed and soon I made some good friends, but it isn’t the case. It isn’t until the beginning of last summer that I finally began to make some true Armenian friends here. I think living in my own apartment really speed up the process because I was forced to do everything on my own which often meant that I needed help and had to find people to help me. This has resulted in me actually trying to talk to people instead of shying away from them because my language skills were so horrible. Soon I became friends with my neighbors, and store owners and random people in the street who would offer to help me when they thought I looked lost.
I also became facebook friends with many of the people in Spitak who speak English, and in this way they send me encouragement and also help me when they see that I am in distress. If I need apricot jam, and write on facebook that I am looking for it, they all rush to help me find it. If the water is not working and I have no idea why, I merely have to write to them and ask what is going on, whereas before I was stuck trying to walk around my apartment complex hoping a neighbor would come out and talk to me so that I could ask what the matter was…  
The biggest surprise for me is that throughout my service, it hasn’t been that core group of Peace Corps volunteers that I have come to depend on for emotional support, it has been the Armenian friends that I have made in Spitak and in Yerevan. Now when I want to get away for a weekend and get out of Spitak, I run to my closest group of friends in Yerevan who happen to be Armenians, not Americans. I never thought this would happen, and I don’t think it is the case with most Peace Corps volunteers. But for me it really hit me when I was discussing my plans to go home for a short two week vacation. My best friend here in Spitak wanted to know how I was getting to the airport. I told him I would take the marshutka and then take a taxi. He immediately wanted to know everything about my flight and told me there was no way he would let me go to the airport alone, so he took me, but best of all he was waiting for me when I got off the plane to bring me back home. I can’t tell you how loved and cared for that made me feel!! So for me I can truly say the people I love most here in Armenia are Armenians, and I am so blessed to have made so many fantastic friends, who I will remain friends with for the rest of my life.  This thanksgiving I give thanks to God for all of the amazing people he has put in my life here in Armenia, because I know without them, this would never have become my home!

But that isn’t to say that I don’t equally love my American friends!!! I re-read this post and I want to make it clear, my American, European, and wherever else friends are just as amazing, and have also clearly been a huge support to me throughout this journey, but for whatever reason, I just felt the most thankful to my Armenian friends today, maybe because it has taken me by surprise how much I have come to love them, need them and turn to them, though our cultures are very different!! 
And now I am off to spend the rest of Thanksgiving having a small feast with my best Armenian friend from Spitak! A first Thanksgiving for them!!! =)

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