Thursday, October 25, 2012

Don't it always go that you don't know what you got until it's gone?

I have been back here in California for almost 2 months now. For almost two months I have been basking in the beautiful California sun, eating French fries, sushi, tacos, shrimp, chocolate chip cookies and even cereal. Drinking oversized mugs of coffee with cream, and of course indulging in everything PUMPKIN! Pumpkin beer, pumpkin lattes, pumpkin bread and pumpkin pie. California’s attempt at Fall is a heavy dose of taste bud nostalgia. We can’t produce the season, but we sure can produce the taste of the season!!
I have spent my days hiking, going to dog parks, visiting friends, and catching up on American Culture, i.e. watching TV. And most importantly I have been researching, and applying for jobs. JOBS JOBS JOBS. I had no idea what I was in for coming back to this job market!!
As I find a way to fit back into my old culture, learning to give people personal space, say hello to strangers and make small talk, I find a strange feeling inside me that is hard to place and even more difficult to understand. This morning as I poured myself a heaping portion of coffee, I found myself wishing for my jazzve and tiny little Armenian bajak filled with a tiny portion of strong Armenian coffee, grinds and all. How is it that this feeling is so difficult to distinguish back here, when for 29 months I felt that exact same bellyache very acutely in Armenia?
Dare I say it? I am in fact feeling a little homesick. Never once while I was living in Armenia did I consider Spitak my home. It wasn’t the place where I had grown up, it wasn’t the place where my family lives nor was it even a place where I fit in. It was simply a little community that I loved and hated in equal measure. Most of my mornings I awoke not to my alarm, but to a power outage that left me heater less in a freezing cold bedroom. I would wrap my sleeping bag around me, trying to keep any of the remaining heat insulated and make a dash for my freezing cold kitchen to put on a small pot of water with a table spoon of coffee. The whole time degrading stupid Armenian coffee and wishing for a French press, grinder and “normal” coffee beans… As I sipped the bitter, overly sweetened coffee I thought of how much I took things for granted back home. I thought to myself, when I am back home I will cherish everything. And those were the mornings that I had running water!
It’s amazing how much a cup of coffee has come to mean to me. The way it is prepared, the way it tastes and even the cup that it is served in, signify so much. As I sit here and sip on my watered down, automatic fresh from a coffee pot java, I can’t help but to think back on the past two years of my life. I can’t fight the nostalgia that spreads over me; the desire to return that is creeping its way into my heart and taking root. I am not saying that I don’t cherish the bold Latin American infused coffee that is currently sitting in my mug. The fact is I have developed a stronger, more discerning taste for it. However, as much as I appreciate it, every time I take a sip I am jolted out of my surroundings, and my mind drifts back to this home that I used to know and I can’t help but to wish for a trade. This faraway place that more and more is beginning to seem like a dream that I once had long ago. A place where life was at the same time more difficult and simpler. And I miss it. For all the good and the bad, the tears and the laughter I simply miss my other home or my other cup of coffee if you’d have it.

Wednesday, August 8, 2012

Vay Shoonik Jans!!

Looking through my photos I have an overwhelming amount of photos of Armenian stray dogs... I told myself coming into Armenia that I would not get attached to dogs in this country. I knew they were treated horribly, I knew there wasn't much I could do about so why should I get my heart broken? I can remember the first time it happened. I was sitting outside in the tiny village of Alapars with my language class. A small black dog with big sad brown eyes who we named shoonik was sitting nearby, not quite ready to be our best friend but curious enough to follow us and let us give the occasional pat on the head. All of a sudden I hear a group of boys approach the dog. I look up as one boy (the dogs owner) begins screaming at the dog and gives him three swift kicks. I immediately begin to cry and yell at the boy in English, as I didn't speak any Armenian at the time. My language teachers explained that it was just that way here. My heart was broken, soon I became best friends with the dog and haven't turned my back on a single best friend since... And there have been many. I feed them when I can, but mostly I pet them and love them and teach them that not all humans are jerks... so here are a few pictures of my best friends in Armenia and a short story about each of them, because  believe it or not I remember every single one of them! My fiance likes to tease me because I even give names to the dogs in Spitak, when we are driving around he likes to point out random dogs and ask me their names. Sometimes I think the best job I did here was to teach people animal awareness. To teach them that dogs are our friends and that they don't have to be so afraid of them. It's amazing what a difference Sophie has made in Spitak, and how many people know her, love her, give her treats and pet her.

This was spence, he was a dirty, happy little dog my PST mates and I met on a hike. He was such a happy dog, the first I had ever seen in Armenia, but also very dirty!
This dog has no name, I only saw her once on that same hike I went on with my friends from pst, but she is just so sweet looking!
This was little ruben, I met him at our local Alapars hanoot. We all fell in love with him and taught him how shake!!
This was my grumpy little sasha. He had an Armenian name too but I couldn't say it. He was a heard dog that I saw every morning on my way to school. He would chase his family's cow out to the field in the morning and then come back and sleep on the path waiting for the cow to come back home. He is the only dog that ever bit me in Armenia, but it wasn't his fault. Another volunteer who he didn't have a relationship with came up to him while he was loving on me and he got scared. It took me a looooong time to win this little guy's heart
This is Shoonik, my first Armenian puppy love. This dog followed me everywhere and would wait on my host family's front porch for me in the mornings to walk me to school. I loved this little guy and so did all the other Alapars volunteers! 
This is Jack, who I have blogged about before. My Papik brought him home for me one day because he thought I was lonely. I spent the better part of a day de-fleaing him
This is little manook (baby). She was another pup that my papik brought me. We had her for 2 months and she never grew. Then one day she died and I went to school crying my eyes out! 
This dog I refused to give a name because I knew if I did I would keep her. As you can see she is already inside my house in this picture, which has been a rule for me never to do here in Spitak. Someone left this lil gal on my front door one night. Luckily I found her a home! The first of 3 dogs to be left on my doorstep while I have been here
This is Tigo or Lion or beast!! He is the biggest dog I have seen here in Armenia but also the happiest, dumbest, sweetest guy ever. Me and Sophie met him on a walk and he decided to make friends with us and follow us around. When I would go into the city center some people would run away screaming, but others already knew and loved him!! Then one day I took this picture and tigo ran away. Later he came back and I took another picture and that is when I figured out the click of the camera scared him and I never saw him again =(
These are the puppies that first broke my heart. I saved one from a well where he was trapped only to find all of them frozen to death the next week 

This is my Sophie jan!! My students had heard how upset I was when manook died so they got me Sophie as a present! Look how tiny she was!! 

This is Rasta. He was a really cool Yerevan dog that hung around our favorite resturant. Me and Ash always saw him and gave him food. He had curly dreads and liked to hump legs! 
My little monster all grown up! 

This is Soph on a mini bus!! I have never really had a problem with her on a bus until just a few weeks ago. On this ride to Yerevan we couldn't get the window seat so she sat by this guy! He loved it until she threw up on his leg!! Even then he was pretty good about it

This is Boris, me and Sophie's favorite dog! He was around last summer and would wait for us every morning so he could come running with us. And he would wait for us every evening when we would come sit out side and read. He never left my side if I was out and about. Eventually my neighbors even started to like him and sometimes would throw bread to him, calling him Boris. I remember once hearing a little girl explaining to her mom "don't be afraid mom, that's Boris, he is Sophie's friend. He doesn't bite" I'd like to believe Boris is in Doggie Heaven now as one day he was the victim of a Spitak dog killing. He along with a number of other dogs was round up and shot... The cool thing is a few months later another dog that looked just like him but female began to come around, Lady. She was just like Boris and was so protective of me. I like to think she was his daughter. Sadly she is now gone too... 

Monday, August 6, 2012

And so it ends

I did it! I finished my 2 years and 3 months service in the Peace Corps!!! It was a pretty unremarkable event. Basically I went to the Peace Corps office in Yerevan and signed a bunch of different papers and that was it. It was actually very disappointing but anyways it’s all over now. It’s such a strange feeling to be in Armenia and not be a Peace Corps volunteer now. I think most of my time here I have been a pretty independent person, in fact when I went into the office on my final day so many people remarked that they hadn’t seen me since I swore in and there were even a few staff members I had never met!! I felt it was really important to stay in Spitak and not get sucked into the city life. The funny thing is I did that in order to better integrate so that I could serve my community better, and yet I feel that only recently have I really even started to make a dent into integration, and so it seems now I am actually a spitakcian and not just a strange volunteer who is living in the community but really apart from the community.
The sad thing is that soon I will have to say goodbye to that and return home. I can’t even begin to express how sad that makes me or I will spend the night crying my eyes out. So instead I choose to laugh at the adventure that I have had. I want to go back in time and share some of the best moments that I have had here, and where better to start than with my first day in Armenia! Lately I keep thinking back to my first day in country and how I came here with a dislocated jaw!!  You can read about it here: HERE
My first impression of Armenia was a cold, dirty soviet hospital with a Russian speaking doctor who smoked as he examined my face and yelled at me if when I winced in pain… I remember a  russian sounding Peace Corps doctor talking to the other Russian doctor and being very confused as to what country I was in. Sinks were water stained and rusted and the water in the hospital was leaking. The whole place smelled like urine and I remember thinking what on earth have I gotten myself into.Then I remember finally being able to get in a taxi to go meet up with my fellow PCV's at the hotel we were all staying at. The doctor shut the taxi door on me and I was alone with this taxi driver who didn't speak a word of English. Twice on the drive up to the hotel we had to stop for the cows to cross the road. I was so amazed by the greenery and the simplistic idea of it all. I remember being so glad to be back among English speakers, but also so embarrassed that I wanted to hide my swollen, wrapped up face in my room.  Here is what I think is a previously un-shared photo because let’s face it, it’s really ugly! But now I see it as a badge of honor and accomplishment. I made it!! Even after this:

Monday, July 30, 2012

Hello!! Goodbye!

If describing one’s life were as easy as making a colorful cardboard collage, I would post a bright blue, green and pink hodgepodge of magazine cutouts of people I don’t even know to express to you how I am feeling right now. Unfortunately those things are best left as classroom projects and the only adjective I have that is really coming close for me, is overwhelmed! I have three days left of my Peace Corps service. 3 DAYS!! Yet I will not be leaving Armenia for some time as I will be traveling with Sophie Jan and I fear the August heat will be very bad for her health, so there is a part of me that doesn’t really even feel as if my service is about to be over.
In fact just the other day I was walking around Spitak and I thought hey I have a great idea for a new project for the young women’s group. We can host an art exhibit at the cultural center in Spitak that seeks to define who Spitak women really are. We can give cameras to our girls and have them capture Spitak women in all different positions in society and also we can ask the schools to participate in an art contest simultaneously submitting paintings of the strongest woman they know… I kept building and building on this idea in my head and thought how great it would be for the group but also for the town to walk around and see these powerful images of the growing role for women today. Then it hit me, I won’t be here for the next Woman’s day. In fact, I have only a few days left, not even enough time to try to throw in this project at the last minute.
Yet I continue to think of my life here in Spitak, not able to even imagine coming home to the US. It has been so long since I have lived in my own country, a fast paced, ever changing country that the truth is I am absolutely terrified to come back. America is no Armenia, in America things change, quite rapidly at that. I could leave Spitak and come back after two years to the same town, the same neighbors, the same school children shouting my name and feel welcomed. But the US is different. There is no place in society open and waiting for me, everything will have to start over. I can’t just fit back into my old life. My apartment is inhabited by strangers, my family home has been sold off, my trusty Nissan has been sold and my last position was filled a month after I left it.  Life in America as I knew it is gone forever, and if I try to grasp on to that old life I will inevitably fail.
All of this is not to say that I have delusions of staying in Spitak forever. In fact lately I have days here where would if I could, I’d hop on the next plane and just leave here forever. After two years and three months here, I have learned that no matter what I could never really be a spitaksian. If Peace Corps volunteers were scored on how they integrated into their community I believe I would really be at the top of that list. I have worked really hard to stay inside my community and live as an Armenian. Unlike many of my fellow PCV’s , I refuse to travel to the capital every weekend for my fix of ex pats, cheeseburgers and freedom. I make a labored effort to stay in Spitak and be seen in Spitak.  I have never wanted to be the American that blows in and out of town on a whim, because there isn’t a single Armenian here that could afford to do that. So I stay, and I play with the neighborhood children, clean things and shop the vegetable khanoots trying to find the best cucumbers in town. Yet, as much as people here may be used to seeing me, they will also be looking at me as an outsider, a stranger who is in fact very strange to them. Hard as I may try I will never wear the right shoes (I can’t live without flip flops) nor can I force myself to share their gender biases. There is a large part of me that will always be fighting against their culture and clinging onto my own.
I have loved being a teacher and a mentor here. I have loved the relationships that I have made with my students and some of the neighborhood girls who feel they can confide in me their problems. I love the peace I feel in Armenia, always knowing that there are no time limits, and no one is pushing deadlines on me. I have loved being able to dream of a project, plan it and make it happen all according to my whims and even when those projects have failed, it has only meant a lesson learned in life, not a life changing tragedy. I have loved short days of work and long days of eating bbq and laughing with a number of extended family members that I have made here. And I have even loved the hard work that comes with washing my clothes by hand, scrubbing my floors with bleach on hands and knees or cooking a meal with no short cuts. Believe it or not saying goodbye to all of this makes my heart hurt, more than coming back to America brings me fear. It has been such a difficult journey and there have been times that I have hated my town, my neighbors, the gossip and the judgment, but this Peace Corps life I have lived has truly changed me and it is so hard to say goodbye to it. I have one month left before I come home. I hope to travel to Georgia for some time and relax at the black sea, but mostly I hope just to spend time with everyone I care about here and say goodbye the Armenian way, one tiny cup of coffee at a time….

Tuesday, July 17, 2012

You know that you have been in PC Armenia for too long when...

So lately I have been feeling that it is my time to say goodbye to Armenia. I can just about hear my mom and dad's sigh of relief right now... It's not that I don't love Armenia, I do, it's just that I love my country too and I understand my culture better and I have come to a point here where I have realized that I can't magically fix things which makes a person feel a bit jaded. Good thing that I only have 17 days left of my service. I think people don't realize that most Peace Corps volunteers are not in PC for a cool vacation, (trust me after my first 3 months, nothing felt like a vacation anymore) but most of us really believe that we will be helping the community that we live in. For the last three months I have been in the position to evaluate my service, and the number one question that tugs at my heart is, did I really help anyone?? I know that I have influenced people, heck just the other day I was running at the park with Sophie when I saw a 9 year old boy running around the lake with a little white dog on a leash. I caught up to him and he told me that he got his dog after he saw me with sophie one day a year ago. So I do know that my way of living has influenced people, but what really matters to me is that I was helpful and that is more difficult to answer. It may take years before I can see if I had an effect on my students lives, if the young women's group that I started will continue on and finally move into a stage where real issues are discussed. I did the best I could do as a teacher and I am proud of my work as a teacher, but I can't help but to think of my time here and to feel as if there was more I could have done if only I had been braver.

So anyways as I have been talking to my mom in these past few months she has pointed out to me the numerous strange things I say or do now that I have been here for so long. This has got me thinking about all the indicators that it is indeed time for me to return home. So I made a silly list, that I hope will make you laugh. This is meant as a joke, though most of the things are true, I say them with a smile on my face and in my heart because I do love and respect Armenian people very much...

You know you’ve been in Armenia  too long when…

You can’t remember what the most important meal of the day is, all you know is that no matter what time of day it is Bread is the most important part of the meal
You can’t wait to eat last night’s dinner for breakfast in the morning
The minute you feel a cold/fever/sneeze/ anything irregular whatsoever you reach for the yogurt
Worm in your Apricot? Pick it out, keep on eating
A midnight snack is more like a midnight smorgasbord!! Tea, compote, cake, fruit, candy, honey and of course bread!!! 
You have forgotten all the old rules about eating after 6 pm, in fact two of your most important meals of the day come after that time, dinner and supper 
You can drink vodka almost as though it were water and in fact sometimes throw some in your water just for good measure 
Hot dogs have become sausages and can be added to just about anything… hot dogs and scrambled eggs, yummmo… hot dog pizza, why of course! 
Privacy, what’s that? My neighbor’s door is unlocked so of course she wants to me to walk in and have a cup of coffee with her
Drinking coffee 4 times a day is nothing! In fact let’s have a cup before bed!
You now recognize that we are going on a “small Excursion” is slang for we will kidnap you for a minimum of ten hours
Anyone not from your village or town is an “outsider” and it’s required that you stare at them intensely in efforts to gather information about them that you will later share with your neighbors
Upon seeing this outsider it is not uncommon for you to ask very loudly “who is that” forgetting that the said outsider may understand English and would consider it very rude for you to stare at him and ask who he is
You learn this so called “outsider” is a European or another American; you are equally excited to see them as you are annoyed that they are in your town.  
You hear water turn on you jump up and immediately begin washing things. Who knows how long it will stay on, and you have been deceived by its promises of longevity far too many times
You see something gold and shiny and think, yeah that really is nice
In fact “nice” has become the most prominent word in your vocabulary. Pretty girls are nice, things taste nice, weather is nice… it’s a one size fits all kind of word
You have learned all the grammatical rules of English and yet have somehow managed to speak English as a foreigner does. You often leave out articles, deciding that they are unnecessary for comprehension 
You have forgotten the words good and delicious, everything is tasty or not so tasty. 
You make weird sounds in conversation to express agreement, annoyance, surprise or just comprehension. In fact you are not really sure if you can actually speak Armenian, or you have just learned to imitate sounds. 
You can’t help but to wonder if that tickle in the back of your throat is due to the fact that last week you went outside without your socks.
You get into a random taxi from the street and without you saying a word he takes you to your house. In fact, you are not even sure if that taxi driver was from your town, still not strange. 
At one time you had a bus schedule for your town memorized, but now you can’t remember what the official times are, you just go when you feel like it
Standing in a van full of people for a 45 minute drive is nothing unusual 
You no longer reach for a seatbelt that is never there 
You don’t think it’s strange for people to watch you do mundane things. Getting a haircut is not a spectator sport? Could have fooled me 
You no longer try to create lines out of chaos. You need to pay your bills? Squeeze in front of the twenty other people standing in a crowd at the teller, then make yourself as big as possible by holding your elbows out, and throw money at the teller. Don’t make eye contact with anyone, and don’t show weakness. 
You’ve jumped onto a crowded bus and without even thinking hand your purse over to a stranger so you can grab onto the back of someone’s chair
A mother enters a crowded marshutka and there are no seats. You offer her yours, but she refuses and instead plops a baby onto your lap. You tell the baby that you want to eat it and smile as if this is the most normal thing in the world, and in some way it really is...

Tuesday, June 5, 2012

Second Year Memories

I've made it!! I have survived 2 whole years of the Peace Corps and I have this video to prove it!!! Here is a look at my second year in the Peace Corps!! In two months from now it will all be over and in three months from now I will be back in beautiful California appreciating all of the freedoms and luxaries that come with being an American, and man will I be grateful but I will always carry this experience with me, remembering how difficult it is to live in a developing world.

Sunday, May 27, 2012

All Adventures Must Come to an End

These last few weeks have been so busy! I am sad to say that they were my last weeks at my school. May 25th was the student’s last bell which is an awesome tradition that I want to share with you but first I want to tell you how I chose to end the year with my students. I decided that just having a final test with my students and simply saying goodbye wouldn’t be enough. So I held a jeopardy like competition to find out who my best student is. I invited the parents of my students and also told them to bring some goodies because after the competition we would have a party to celebrate their accomplishments and I would bring a cake for them.

So if you recall, all year my 5th grade class has been having a sticker book competition, where every time they do something great in class they get a sticker and the student with the most stickers would receive a special prize at the end of the year. So going into the end of the year competition I knew that my top students were really close in their race for stickers, each having about 50-55 stickers. So to make the  competition have more meaning I told my students that the winner of the competition would receive 10 stickers, meaning basically that whoever won, would also win the year long class competition.  To my Fifth grade class this was a huge deal.
The night before the competition my boyfriend brought me over the most beautiful surprise, a cake for my class with both the American flag and the Armenian flag, it was really so perfect and I couldn’t wait to show my students!!
The class party went perfectly; all the students had bells or sticks to hit their desk with when they knew an answer and they were all so eager to answer every question. It was great for the parents to be able to witness not only how awesome their children are and how far they have come in English, but also to see how classes can be fun and educational. I had so many parents tell me that every day their child talks about how fun English class is and they don’t understand why, so I wanted to share this with them. After two rounds, we had two winners and I couldn’t bear to take away the win from one of the girls so I gave them both the ten stickers, but in the end my little nune was the winner, the one with the most stickers, so she won the prize which ended up being a Hodge-podge of everything my parents have sent me for the past two years, stickers, candy, English books, a pair of gloves, markers and I have no idea what else. After the game we ate cake together and talked about the two years that we have spent together.

I can’t tell you how sad it made me to think that it would be the last time I walked into a classroom and saw their adorable little faces. The last time they would all rush up to me yelling Miss Alyssa , trying to tell me a something before the rest of the class got the opportunity. The last time that we would giggle about language mistakes that I make in Armenian, or they make in English together. I know teachers are not supposed to have favorites but really this class has been my rainbow on a cloudy day. They have always made me feel respected, but also loved. As an outsider in a small town, it’s sad to say they have been some of my only friends at times and in a way, I love them like they are my children. I have grown to know their personalities, their families, their goals and even their shortcomings. I can’t imagine not being in Armenia come next September to welcome them back to school. It really was a great way to spend my class with them but also a really hard day for me because it’s basically the end of my journey here. Sure I am not officially done with Peace Corps until August 3rd, and I have some summer camps and such, but this is the end of what I came here to do, and though it feels amazing it is also very frightening and sad at the same time. Part of me is ready to go home, I miss my home and Americans so much, but a big part of me wants to stay here and is having trouble moving on… 

Monday, May 7, 2012

Dance Dance

So the last week has been super hectic!! Not only  have I been preparing for our last 3 weeks of school, which means final tests, review games and just cherishing my final moments in the classroom, but I have also helped to organize a dance camp at the Spitak YMCA where Peace Corps volunteers taught a choreographed hip hop dance... and by helped I mean a little something like this: Hey Peace Corps dance camp volunteers you should come to the YMCA in Spitak and do the camp PCDC: oh really when?? Me: Hey YMCA we want to do a camp when should we??  YMCA: this week would be best ME: Hey PCDC come on these dates, this is how you get to spitak.... =) oh yeah and also I cheered and pointed out where people needed help and provided an encouraging smile! Also I cooked dinner for the volunteers one night, and it was pretty much amazing.

So anyways the camp was three days long and mostly kids from the YMCA attended but I also had two of my students go. 4 PCV's pretty much did everything on their own, teaching dance moves, B boy styles and a routine. Each day was about 3 hours long and on the last day the kids preformed for the YMCA.
 Please follow this link to watch this amazing video that the Spitak YMCA prepared!!! You can catch a few glimpses of me on the sidelines!! =)

Friday, April 20, 2012

Girls Leading Our World Camp

Hello Everyone!
I just got back from my close of service conference where I heard some alarming news. This year our GLOW camp, an amazing Peace Corps sponsored camp that teaches young women about career paths, leadership training, and gender development issues is in serious trouble due to lack of funding this year. If you remember last year I nominated three incredibly intelligent young women who attended this camp and came back with so many ideas that they have already put to action in Spitak. This program is really empowering for young Armenian women who often don't have many chances in an extremely male dominated culture. Among other things, Glow camp teaches AIDs education, in a country where aids is never discussed but raising in numbers... It teaches women how to protect themselves, how to ask their future husbands to be tested and how to talk to other about it.
Last year I discussed the impact that this camp had made on my students in this post

I have never solicited funding via my blog nor facebook, but I am making an exception this once because I truly believe in this camp, Armenian women and their futures... If you'd like to make a donation please please please, follow this link

Tuesday, April 17, 2012

Spring has sprung

I couldn't resist taking this picture of my 3rd grade boys yesterday in class! They just look so polished and grown up! It was also a sign that spring has finally begun. No more ugly winter clothes!!! The sad thing is it's my last spring in Armenia. Today I will head to my COS Conference which stands for close of service. Peace Corps is preparing us to leave the country and go back to our ordinary American lives... I can't even imagine what that will be like at this point.

I have about a month left to spend with my amazing students and then only summer remains before I come home. So one more round of Armenian Ice cream, lazy mornings, fresh amazing fruit and vegetables, a few summer camps, at least one more wedding, hopefully some last Armenian sightseeing trips and then I am out of here. Time goes by so faster that we can catch it and learn to cherish it.

Friday, April 13, 2012

Armenian/American love

So as I said in my previous post, yesterday I travelled to the tiny little village of Arteni, to go to a wedding. This was no ordinary wedding; this was the wedding of a Peace Corps volunteer to a Host Country National, or HCN as we say. Not just any HCN either, this was the wedding of my friend Scott to his counterpart Mary!! That is right; he married the person chose at random to be his lifeline in Armenia, kind of makes us question how much is really ever random!! No Peace Corps volunteer ever comes to country thinking that they will find the person that will find their true love. Most of us don’t even think we will find anyone to date while we are in an isolated part of the world. During training the doctors explain to us that no one ever thinks they will fall in love here and most take a vow of celibacy but that statistics show that in fact most of us will actually find some sort of love and that many of us will marry the person that we find. I can remember hearing this and laughing with my friends as we all said yeah right, and I believe my friend Scott was one of those people.
So that Scott fell in love with his counterpart is an unexpected course of events, unless you were around on the day that all the TEFL volunteers met their counterparts that is… On that day, Scott fell in love at first sight, and since that day there has never been anything else on his mind other than making Mary his wife. In November of 2010 we had a counterpart conference with all the English teachers and their colleagues. We were sitting around having some beers when Scott announced that he wanted to marry his Mary! At the time I thought he was absolutely out of his mind, at that time I had still not adjusted to the culture and couldn’t see how any American could have a serious relationship with a HCN… let’s just say my views have changed since then…
So as you can see the love story of Scott and Mary is one that is described with one word: DESTINY!! Really, I haven’t been this excited to witness a marriage in a long time and I was so glad to be able to take part in such a beautiful mixture of American and Armenian culture.
When I first arrived to Arteni with my boyfriend, neither of us really knew what to expect, as this wedding was neither Armenian nor American but instead a hybrid of the two. When we arrived we were greeted by a large number of Peace Corps volunteers who all came to support Scott, but what was most exciting was seeing his parents standing around anxiously not really knowing what to expect. I tried to imagine what they must be feeling, this being their first time in Armenia, not speaking the language and never having witnessed an Armenian wedding. I thought back to the first Armenian wedding that I attended almost two years ago, and remembered how confused I was but also how interesting it all was to me. I guess what made is so amazing to me, is that they were brought to Arteni of all places, a place that even my Armenian boyfriend commented about the poverty there. I can’t imagine what they thought seeing for the first time where their son has lived for the past two years and where their new daughter grew up. I also thought how amazingly lucky Scott is to have two parents that were willing to make such a long journey to share this day with their son. What’s more, they actively participated in every step of the way, from dancing with the Armenians (more of just clapping their hands), to placing the levash over the bride and grooms shoulders after the vows were said, to taking toasts with a group of Armenian men, when they really had no idea what was being said.
I have to say that I loved every moment of the wedding but my favorite part was when all the Peace Corps young women were invited in to watch the bride get dressed. An Armenian woman belted out a beautiful song about the brides dress and her wedding day as loud as she could, as this is usually the job of the groom’s family, but being that only Scott’s mother was there, and she doesn’t speak Armenian, and the rest of us girls don’t know the song, she went at it alone as the bride was tied into her dress and pearls were put around her neck and on her ears. Scott’s mom explained to us that the earrings had come from her mother in law, which made it so much more special, and a fantastic sweet blending of cultures. The Armenian woman, red in the face and no longer able to carry the weight of being the sole singer asked us to sing. We all looked around for a moment and then out of nowhere someone began singing Going to the chapel… I can’t tell you how beautiful and sweet it was… possibly all the more beautiful because we really have some girls who can sing. The Armenians sat around us staring and smiling and the end gave us a huge round of applause…
Really it was such a magical day, and because there was a huge amount of Americans who had no idea how to Armenian dance, I even had a great time dancing with my boyfriend, though mostly he laughed at us all. And for the first time, I tried, and learned to dance the traditional Armenian folk dance that I have seen at every single wedding but have always been afraid to take part. So congrats Scott and Mary, really I think that the two of you were destined to be together and wish you all the happiness in the world!!

Ode to Spitak

I spent most of my day yesterday driving throughout the Western most parts of Armenia with my boyfriend, traveling to a wedding in Arteni, a village so small and obscure most Armenians have never even heard of it. Over the course of 3 hours we saw many different small villages that we had never heard of before and of course we experienced Talin and Arteni first hand. I have to say, I am used to villages and small towns here but man did this experience open my eyes to how poor some parts of Armenia still are. It is very easy for me to live in Spitak which is a relatively big town and to forget what it used to be like living in Alapars where we had no running water and had to go to the stream to collect it a few buckets at a time. So anyways being in Arteni has made me appreciate my Spitak much more and I thought I'd share with you a video of my beautiful little spitak which I have grown to love and sometimes hate with love. By the way for you A-20ers, Spitak will become home to two or three of you in August!! I just hope you guys learn to love it as much as I do!!
And also I added a Sophie picture because really she is just so cute!

Monday, April 2, 2012

A happy little birthday party

One of my 3rd grade students invited me to his birthday party!! It was actually really sweet, I sat at the table with 12 9-year-olds in their mini chairs and ate cake with a mini fork... I felt a little bit awkward being the only adult sitting with the little kids, but to be honest it was really fun and all my students stared at me the whole time like woah she really came!! And when it comes down to it, I realize that I get along better with children and animals anyways so I might as well accept it and start sitting at the children's table more often!!!

Thursday, March 22, 2012

Peace Corps Winters

Winter in Armenia seriously blows. No really, it’s windy! Not only is it windy but its dark and cold and snowy and miserable. I never realize just how much I have the winter blues until spring starts and all of a sudden I just feel my spirits lift for no reason. All of a sudden I don’t hate everything around me, I don’t want to walk around with my ear phones permanently glued to my ears,  and I don’t feel the need to eat everything in sight just to have something to do!!
This winter was particularly difficult for me, and to be honest I have never felt more alone in my life. For all of you Eastern European future PCV’s out there let me try to paint a picture of winter life in the Peace Corps.
You wake up in the morning and no matter what time it is, it’s dark outside. Sometimes you flip on your light switch to help aid you in getting ready for work, but no light shines (a storm blew out the power). This also means that your heater most likely doesn’t work either. You get dressed in the dark, drink a cup of coffee to warm you up and go to work, in my case school. Walking is a challenge. Most of the walkways are covered in snow, which means it takes you longer to get to your destination, meaning more time in the freezing cold. If they are not covered in snow, they are covered in ice, which means you fall, over and over again you fall on your ass. Sometimes you are lucky and no one sees, but you live in a village where everyone is always watching you, meaning someone will see you. They laugh at you, hey, the first few times you laugh at yourself, it is funny after all, but after about 2 months of this, you stop laughing. You get to the bus station only to realize your bus has already left, bus drivers have no patience in the winter. So you either suck it up and walk to school in the snow, or if you happen to have extra money you take a taxi… no one has extra money in the winter, it costs too much to heat your tiny apartment that will never really seem warm at all anyways.  You get to school, none of your colleagues are in a good mood, its winter and they like you have no money. Typically there is a lot less conversation in the teacher’s lounge. People are crabby. At first snow is fun for the children and they indulge in snow fights; if you’re like me, you love the sound of the children laughing, but soon that sound turns into children coughing and blowing their nose. Everyone is sick and no one gives a damn when you too catch the cold going around. Your throat hurts your eyes and nose run pretty much for 4 months straight. Your hair is always a mess. You are not a local; you don’t have superhero powers to always stay neat and tidy. When you walk to work in the snow your hair gets wet and messy. Everyone gives you dirty looks of disapproval.  Your boots get muddy when the snow melts, once again every gives you a dirty look for having dirty boots. You ask them how they could possibly stay so clean, but they don’t share with you their secret ways; most of the time you are ashamed.  After classes you show up to your clubs with an awesome lesson plan that you spent all night creating, only to find out that everyone went home because it is too cold. After a few more of these experiences you cancel club all together and your organization labels you as a slacker.
After work you walk home. On the way home you stop at the local store to buy something to eat for dinner/ lunch. You think to yourself, tonight I am going to make something different, something delicious but as you walk around the store you realize that the produce stock hasn’t changed for months, cabbage, potatoes beets and sometimes if you’re lucky carrots. Looks like another night of borscht. You tell yourself its ok, because hey you actually kind of like borscht, and you could always make potatoes in one of the 50 different ways you’ve learned to prepare them since moving to your site.  But, after 2 months cabbage makes you gag and if you have to eat another potato you are going to cry. Not that I have ever hated potatoes but my body has learned to hate them after about the 15th pound that I have gained since joining the Peace Corps. Finally you get home and realize that it is only 3:00, in an hour from now it will be dark. You prepare lunch, go to your favorite chair, or bed, and curl up under your blankets, as close to your heater as possible. You drink your third cup of tea for the day, begin to read a book and fall asleep. After your nap, you wake up turn on the lights as it is now pitch black, and watch an episode of some tv show that the community of PCV’s have downloaded and shared. You may not even like the show, but as soon as it’s finished you watch the next episode and the next, and the next, until it’s time to eat dinner. You warm up the soup that you made for lunch and eat as you watch another tv episode. If you are studious you decide it’s time to study for your GRE’s or to make lesson plans for the next day. If not you play around on facebook, as you watch yet another episode of some tv show that you hated but are now addicted to.  Finally at about 10 pm you decide that it is now an acceptable time to go to sleep, so you put your blankets over your heater to warm them up before crawling into bed, you get your favorite book and a night light (because once you get under those covers there is no way you are going to want to get out just to turn off the light) and you go to bed…..
Are there variations to this??? Yes of course, some volunteers would add drinking half a bottle of vodka at night to keep warm. Some have site mates and watch movies with a site mate. Also some nights you skype before going to bed. But mostly this is my experience of an Eastern European winter. So as you can see it is very easy to think that you hate everything, including Peace Corps, your town, your host country, and even your dog really. It’s been a looooong hard winter, and I know that in actuality it is not quite over yet, but I am so thankful for these past three spring days we have had in spitak. I can’t wait for the summer! Soon I will never have to live through another winter again! 

Wednesday, March 21, 2012

Things you see while walking the streets of spitak 2

So a few weeks ago I published a picture blog of all the strange things I see while walking around town... here
This is basically a continuation of that blog as I have had a week of spring break and not too much to do, I have been taking mini one to two hour hiking trips with Sophie, just going places we have never gone before... Here are some pictures from today's trip which was mostly warm weather and tons of mud. At one point I was ankle deep in the stuff!!! I was so ashamed walking back into the city center covered in mud, everyone staring at me... oh wait, they always stare at me no matter what!!! Point in case, yesterday I was walking with Sophie and off to the side were three little old me. I hear one of them say, this girl speaks Armenian. and the other says che ha?! (No yes?) the third says no she doesn't, she doesn't speak it at all. The first one raises his voice now and says Yes she does. She speaks very clean and proper Yerevan Armenian, and she even knows Spitak slang.... I am walking with my head down trying not to let on that I understand but trying to hold back from laughing at the same time. I don't know why I don't just interject and say well actually I do speak Armenian, I guess part of me likes that people don't think I understand them and talk about me as if I am not around. The other part is once people find out I speak Armenian we have a good solid ten minute conversation before they say something I don't understand, and then they are disappointed in me. It is just funny to me that after all this time, people in the streets are still so curious about me.