On June 30th, Nicole and I will have been living in Armenia for 13 months. We’ll also have about 13 months left until our close of service. On some days it seems like the time has gone by so quickly. I think to myself, “I can’t believe I’m already half way through this experience”. On other days, the end of service seems like a world away.
A new group of volunteers came into the country at the end of May and the group that came before us will be moving out in July and August. During this last week, at the request of our program manager, Nicole and I facilitated a couple training sessions with the new group. It feels weird to be considered a kind of “expert” on any matters related to this experience; but, I suppose I do feel like I have some useful information to pass on. It’s strange to think that around this same time next year, the new group will be considered the “experts” and our group will be making arrangements to leave the country.
When I first considered joining the Peace Corps, I was hesitant to commit to a full 27 months of service. I wanted something shorter. But now that I’ve been here a while, I question whether or not something shorter can even be effective. My first year was kind of a trial and error process. It wasn’t until March or April that I felt like I was actually able to accomplish any “real work” in the community. With all this in mind, I understand that my second year of service has the potential to be much more impactful, I just hope that I have the stamina to persistently apply myself along the way. It sometimes feels like running a marathon (not that I’ve ever actually ran one). In the second half of the race, I’ll be looking for that “runner’s high” that can carry me through to a strong finish.
Anyway, Nicole and I are enjoying the summer months. The weather has been nice and we’ve had lots of friends visiting us, using their time off from school to see other areas of the country. We’re not doing as much work as we were during the school year, but we’re definitely staying busy. I just recently got my first grant approved. In the next few months, my counterpart and I will be developing a language center in the school where I’m working. Next year, we’ll have access to a computer, projector, printer, scanner, etc… Plus a variety of language resources that aren’t usually available in the Armenian classroom. The process of writing this grant was pretty painful, but I’m glad I did it now that the project is up and running.
We’ve also been facilitating an adult English club in the evenings. So far, it’s attracted some local professionals and university students who seem genuinely interested in learning. It’s very common for volunteers to see high levels of interest in the first few weeks after opening a club only to have attendance plummet shortly thereafter. Luckily, we’ve been meeting regularly for a few months now without experiencing this common phenomenon.
One more thing to mention before rolling out the latest pictures…as some of you already know, Nicole and I made a trip back to the US for a couple weeks. It wasn’t something that we planned on doing; however, we decided that we couldn't miss my grandmother's memorial service. Finishing up some projects in Armenia before heading back proved to be an exhausting effort. Also, I agreed to give a presentation about Armenia to a group of high school students in New York on my first morning back in the US. These obligations, coupled with jetlag and a pretty high level of unexpected culture shock contributed to my exhaustion. I’m only saying this because I think it may have affected my interactions with friends and family during the first few days of the trip. I’d like to apologize to anyone who might’ve thought that I didn’t seem like myself during that time. It took me almost a full week to readjust and unwind.
Anyway, Nicole and I would like to thank everyone who helped us out during our time in the US. We both agree that we have some of the best friends and family that anyone could ask for. We greatly enjoyed our time with all of you and to those that we didn’t get to see, we apologize. Limited time and resources made it difficult to see everyone and do everything we wanted to do.
Well, here are the latest pictures from Armenia accompanied with some brief descriptions…
The first 4 pictures were all taken during our trip back to the US. In the first one, I’m giving a presentation about Armenia to a group of high school students in Queens, NY. The second and third were taken at my nephew Mikey’s third birthday party. We were really happy that the dates lined up so that we could be there. The last one was taken with my family just after my grandmother’s memorial service.
The next set of pictures was taken in Paris. On our way back from the US, we flew on an Air France flight into Paris and we couldn’t resist the opportunity to extend our layover for a few days and see at least some of the sights. I wasn’t sure how much I’d like the city since I heard a few mediocre reviews from friends, but I thought it was amazing. We had beautiful weather the entire time. I think the Louvre was probably our favorite experience, although one could easily spend an entire week exploring that museum alone. To really get a feel for Paris, I think you need more than just a few days, but time and money didn’t cooperate. In one picture, you can see a small painting behind me enclosed in a glass case…that’s the Mona Lisa. We didn’t find it to be that visually impressive, but I understand its significance…and hey, it’s the freak'n Mona Lisa, so I had to include it.
Here’s a really interesting set of pictures. They were taken in a village called Khndzoresk, near the border with Karabagh. This section of the village is called “Old Khndzoresk”. The caves that you see were at one time inhabited by the people of Khndzoresk, who not so long ago shifted their community to a nearby area where the village is currently located so that the Soviets could provide water and electricity. It was fascinating to hike through this gorge thinking about the people who lived in this community of houses and stables built into the mountainside. The last picture gives you the best idea of how big this place was. If you look hard enough, you can even see an old church with grass growing all over the roof.
One of Nicole’s favorite things about Armenia are the wildflowers that grow in the spring. In some areas of the country, where the plateau landscape allows you to see for long distances, it seems like endless fields of wildflowers spread out in all directions.
During the same visit to Khndzoresk, we also visited Sisian where the following two pictures were taken. The monastery is called Vorotnavank and it dates back to the 11th century. Again, you have to look really hard to see me in the second picture.
This picture of our front porch was taken during a violent hailstorm. The hail came down so hard and for so long that it damaged many of the fruit trees in the area. It also caused our roof to leak, sending what seemed like waterfalls down our walls and into our cupboards. The mold that was disturbed in the process did wonders for my allergies…I digress…after all, this is Peace Corps, so I suppose we should be suffering a bit.
The last picture was taken on June 19, our 6-year wedding anniversary. To celebrate, we treated ourselves to a great khorovats, which is basically pork cooked over an open fire on skewers. Khorovats is some of the best food I’ve had here despite the excessive amounts of fat that are usually left on the meat. This was our second anniversary celebrated in Armenia.
As always, I hope everyone is well and enjoying life. I’d like to send some love and luck to both my sisters who are both getting ready to go on big adventures. I’m proud of you guys. As for everyone else, we miss you and you’re always in our thoughts. Please send us a message if you get a chance…we’d like to hear how you’re doing.
(goodbye and good luck)