Last year began with laughter, fire crackers, dancing, arms swaying in the air, Armenian style of course, a table lavishly covered in the best Armenian foods and good natured brother and sister teasing about who our tiny little puppy Sophie loved the most. New Years 2011 was a different kind of New Years for me, one I had never experienced before, an Armenian New Year. An appropriate beginning to the very uniquely Armenian life that I have lived the past year.
I spent the entirety of 2011 living in Armenia, something I never could have imagined myself doing before, life never tells us where it’s taking us! In the beginning of February 2011 I moved into my own Apartment in Spitak, and so began an interesting journey for me. A journey in which I learned to actually live in Spitak as a Spitakian and not as an American. I don’t mean to suggest that people don’t stare at me still, or that I 100 percent fit in. I merely mean that Spitak has become my community, the place where I call home, at least for now. My first 5 months in Spitak, I didn’t feel a connection with the community, everyone stared at me, talked about me and not to me, and I had no friends. Every chance I had, I tried to get out of here, to seek the comfort and understanding of my American friends. Things changed when I finally moved into my own apartment at the beginning of the year. I began to build relationships with my neighbors, shopkeepers, and the neighborhood children. At first everywhere I went people asked me who I was and why I was there, but by now, it is a rare occasion that someone in Spitak doesn’t know who I am or for that matter who Sophie is. Having Sophie has made it much easier for me to adjust to living in a village on my own. Not only does she keep me company, but she attracts attention, often deflecting it from myself. She has become a great way for me to meet people, but also a great excuse for me to get away from people when I need it. I am pretty sure that at this point, more people in Spitak know her name than mine!!
Not only have I become acquainted with people in my town, but I have also made many close friendships and even had a relationship this past year. I can honestly say that I fell in love with a Spitak man and the time that I spent as his girlfriend was some of the greatest time I have spent in Armenia. He taught me so much about Armenian culture, and improved my language skills immensely. We dated for 5 months out of the past year, and even though it ended quite some time ago, he has become one of my best friends not only here and now, but of all time. Obviously there were too many cultural differences to overcome for us, which resulted in us constantly fighting. This experience opened my eyes to the real life of Armenian women, and in part was the reason I became so determined to start a young women’s group here. The young women’s group, though newly founded and just underway, is the one thing I am most proud of this past year. I recently heard that the director of the YMCA, who was very cautious about us undertaking such a huge task, has sung our praise and told us he couldn’t be happier and wants more meetings and more involvement. It has been an amazing experience to see my vision coming to fruition.
As the year closes, I once again realize what an amazing opportunity I have been given, being here in Armenia has truly been much tougher than I ever thought it would be, but also much more rewarding. As I plan my last eight months in this country, I realize that it has changed me more than I could ever hope to change it, but that I still have so much more to give. I am not going to lie, I have even been thinking about extending for one more year, in hopes of expanding the women’s group and making my work here more sustainable. Whether that will happen yet is still to be decided, but one thing is for sure, 2011 has been the most influential year of my life. I have realized dreams I never knew I had, and have begun to dream that I would have never dared to dream a year ago. I not only wish everyone a happy new year, but I wish you a year of self discovery, adventure, love and charity and of course, felicity, passion and rapture ;)
So I leave you with some of my favorite photos of the past year!
*** I posted this blog before New Year's eve, but for some reason it never posted, hence the not so relevant topic!!