Despite good intentions, it’s been over five months since my last post. To satisfy the curiosity and concern of my dedicated followers who are undoubtedly waiting in suspense for my next post, I’ve provided a brief update as well as some pictures below.
This is our nineteenth month in Armenia and by now I think we both feel fairly adjusted to life here. All of the things that were once new and different to us now seem somewhat ordinary. Maybe that’s why I haven’t been motivated to write lately, or maybe it’s because we’ve been too busy. Nevertheless, after reflecting on the last five months, I realize that much has happened and that I am living in a complicated country where there is still much that is unknown to me.
We’re now the senior group of volunteers in the country. Well, we’ve been the seniors since the new group was sworn in on August fifth. Nicole and I now have two more volunteers living in our town who we call our "site mates". The first picture below is from their site announcement ceremony. A friend of mine prepared a welcoming sign for the new volunteers coming to our region of the country, which we call “the bear marz” (a marz is like an administrative region). One of my site mates is in the second picture and both are in the third.
The summer seems like such a long time ago, but there are definitely some things still worth mentioning. A large portion of our work efforts were dedicated to the incoming group of volunteers. We organized several training sessions for them and observed their performance during open English classes. We also continued teaching our community English club, which has grown substantially since then.
We spent the Fourth of July with a group of friends in Sevan where we rented a few cabins along the lake. Lake Sevan is located 1900 meters above sea level, so the water was still cold in July, but under the summer sun it was refreshing. I think we all had a great time.
As a member of the volunteer advisory committee, I had the opportunity to attend a speech by Secretary of State Hillary Clinton at the US Embassy in Yerevan. Her visit in July was the first time the US Secretary of State has come to Armenia in almost two decades. None of the pictures I took of her came out very well, so I included a picture of myself instead. Of course, the crowd wanted me to give a speech too, but I didn’t want to overshadow any of the dignitaries or diplomats.
The summer ended quietly as we enjoyed abundant time with friends and nice weather. In the first picture below, I’m standing with the director of an environmental NGO that has a long history of working with Peace Corps Volunteers. In the second, a good friend of mine came to visit us along with his friend from the US. We had an excellent time together. In the third, Nicole is enjoying the fresh greens and vegetables while she can before the change of seasons. Finally, in the fourth, Nicole and I are standing on our balcony as the summer changes to fall.
With the end of summer came the start of the school year. During the last two weeks of August, I had a lot of work to do in my school to prepare for the opening of a language center. I think I mentioned in a prior post that the center is being funded by a grant that my counterpart and I wrote in the spring. We’re a little bit behind schedule on completion, but it’s open and we’ve been using it for our classes since the start of the school year. The local press visited during one of my counterpart’s Russian lessons and wrote an article on the language center that was published in the newspaper. I included a copy of the article below although I know it’s probably illegible for most of you...to be honest, I don't understand much of it either.
Both Nicole and I also put a lot of time into classroom management and lesson planning improvements during the first few months of school that seem to be paying off. As the school year progressed, we also added extracurricular English clubs to our workload both at school and in the community. Nicole in particular has seen much success with the clubs. She has three after school student groups, a teacher group, a professional adult group, and she’ll be adding a second adult group after the holiday break. Unfortunately, I don’t have any good pictures to show for these things, but I’ll try to get some.
Winter has been strangely mild throughout Armenia so far, even more so for us than for other volunteers. We live at a lower altitude in a river valley that helps protect us from inclement weather. Although the cold is finally setting in, we enjoyed almost fall-like weather up until the end of December. After spending five years in Syracuse, we’re welcoming the change. My apologies to any Syracusans out there who’ve already seen over seventy inches of snow this season. If it makes you feel any better, I’ve had my share of bone chilling baths and showers. I’m not sure which is better, a mild winter without heated buildings and ready access to hot water, or a harsh one with all the amenities. Anyway, we haven’t had any snow in town yet, but there has been snowfall on the mountains and hills surrounding us, as shown in the picture below.
In November we had our annual all volunteer conference in Yerevan where we celebrated Thanksgiving together. Amazingly, a small group of volunteers prepared a traditional turkey dinner for over a hundred people. The pictures below were taken at the dinner.
On the way to the conference, Nicole and I visited a friend in another region of the country where we discovered an Armenian alphabet stone park in a town called Aparan. The stones commemorate the 1600th anniversary of the Armenian alphabet (405-2005).
During the conference, we also took part in an interesting HIV/AIDS awareness event. About 75 of us found a busy street in Yerevan where we posed in still positions for one minute displaying posters and wearing HIV/AIDS t-shirts. I would call it a flash mob, except flash mobs are generally unorganized and are rarely in support of a cause. Anyway, it was a really interesting and fun way to get involved in something important.
Lastly, I’d like to express my deepest condolences to Nicole and her family for the loss of Joe Moritz Sr. He passed away in mid-December. Nicole and I struggled over the decision to come back to the US during this time, but for various reasons we were unable. In the last picture, Nicole is admiring a small memorial that we made for him in the mountains outside our town. He was a great man.
There are some more things I’d like to talk about, but I think that’s plenty for now. As always, I’d like to thank you all for your continued support of our work here. I hope you are all healthy and happy. Please feel free to comment or send us an email.