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….