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! 


  1. About the winter weather, the dark and short days, winter is like that in many corners of the world and not confined to eastern Europe; this winter some thousand died from cold in Western and middle Europe. The situation was worst there than in Armenia but of course inside their houses they had the heat and plenty of food, but some places went through power outrage; it could that the spartan winter food of Armenia gives them more immunity.
    I did enjoy that website> <. In the "media" section there were real revivals going that hopefully will keep my soul flourishing like the blossoming Spring with its all splendor. But they say the sky rains lot in the Spring in Armenia, I do not think that would be a too much problems as i could get soaked from the rain of the Bay-Revival and forget the outside rain. Awesome, I would recommend it, much better than the silly episodes!

  2. I have been reading your blog for the past couple months in my anticipation to beginning my PCV opportunity in Armenia this coming May. I presently live in Michigan, where I can understand the feeling of the winter blues....I really appreciate this post because I know how hard it can be HERE that time of year, so I can only imagine how amplified it may be there. Thanks for helping me to prepare mentally for this upcoming adventure!!

  3. Hey Alyssa! Like Ashley, I've been reading your blog for a while, and as a fellow California girl, I can totally feel your pain. I almost broke down when trying on snowboots yesterday. And thermal underwear?!?!?! It's a far cry from t-shirts and flip flops. Now that I finally have my confirmation invite, I was wondering if I might contact you with some questions about your PC experience, and get some packing/prep pointers (beyond what they tell you in the packet...) I figure it might help to break the cycle of watching hated tv serials. :) ~Best, Devon

  4. hello devon, we have a group on facebook that you should join. If you type a-20 into facebook search you should be able to find it. And also yes of course you can email me anytime.

  5. Well we always knew God blessed you with a good butt for some reason, now we see the purpose. Just think if it were me, I would have definitely broken my tailbone by now. Also your muddy boots remind me of Elizabeth in Pride and Predjudice. If they are muddy it is because you are out living and adventure and adventures are never clean or orderly. So let them laugh at you for them this is their every day, this is all they will have, for you this is your adventure, so wear your mud proudly.