Welcome to my home

Welcome to my home

Tuesday, June 10, 2008

Touchdown Project Armenia

Well, first things first. As I am now working for the U.S. government, everything I say is subject to review. Also, it is my responsibility to inform you that nothing I say is actually an opinion of said government. I am to make it explicitly clear that everything written, discussed, or mentioned within this blog is the author’s personal opinion. But, I think it’s a great opinion.

I have been here in Armenia for just about two weeks now, and I must say, things are good. The first three days in country I was living in a camp, of sorts, with the 49 other new Peace Corps volunteers. During those days we were slammed with lectures on Peace Corps policies and procedures, and afforded an opportunity to get to know each other. The volunteers exist on a vast spectrum of age, experience, and home states. 20% of the volunteers are over 50 years old, and I am pretty sure that I one of the youngest volunteers. So, for anyone who thought that they were too old to do this, think again.

Last Wednesday, I moved out of the camp and into a village to live with my host family. There are only six other volunteers in my tiny little mountain village. The village itself sits just about a mile above sea level. I live with a really nice couple. My mom is 49 and my dad is 54, and no one in my village speaks English. Awesome. My living situation is pretty legit. I have running water and a toilet (don’t worry mom, no out house); however, that is not true for everyone in the village. My family is almost entirely self-sufficient. We have a huge garden that provides us with an Edenic selection of fruits and vegetables. I have taken several strolls through the garden trying to catalogue its inventory, but I still have not been able to catch everything. With each meal, a new vegetable, herb, or fruit appears on our table that had previously gone unnoticed. In addition to our garden, we have a cow, 1 pig and 4 piglets (and let me tell you, those little suckers are rascals at best), 5 goats, a ton of chickens, and one rooster that wakes me up every morning at about 4:30. We might not have a rooster for long. I will be living here with Anush (mama) and Yasha (papa) until the middle of August when I complete my pre-service training (PST).

PST has been good so far. Essentially, PST consists of going to school six days a week. Five of those days are spent in language classes, and the sixth day I go in to Charentsavan to meet with the entire group of trainees for our “CORE” classes. CORE classes consist of cross-cultural lessons, policy briefings, and “sector” training. My sector is called Teaching English as a Foreign Language (TEFL). There are about 12 people in my sector, and two of us are Teacher Trainers, the rest will actually be working as English teachers, teaching classes from 3rd grade and up. Although I’ve only been here for about 2 weeks, I can’t summarize everything that I have learned thus far. I cannot imagine the things I will have experienced by the end of my service. Everyone that I work with is incredibly driven and positive. I know we will accomplish much while here.

The lifestyle here is communal. Everyone is expected to say hello to everyone in the street, whether you know them or not. Concepts like privacy are not known, or if known, not practiced. It is completely usual for people of the village to just walk right into a house without any forewarning (i.e. knocking, calling, throwing a brick through the window with a note tied to it that says I’m coming in). What’s more, as soon as someone walks in, they are offered a chair, coffee, and food, instantly. However, people don’t really hang out in their houses. Most people use the “road” as their meeting point. When I arrive home from school, I usually see a congregation of women standing together gossiping. Later in the evening, the men will come out too and stand together and smoke cigarettes. Gender segregation seems to be fairly common. Unless it is an established social event, a lot of people are present, or everyone is of the same family, I don’t ever see men and women standing together talking. That goes for children too. Men women seem to have very distinct roles to play. For instance, I am absolutely not allowed to help with housework, although I forcibly insisted that my mom allow me to help with laundry. She thinks it is so funny that I want to help with dishes and laundry. Women aren’t allowed to walk alone at night, or smoke in public. Men don’t do housework. This is not to say that they don’t work though. They tend the animals on top of their jobs (if employed).

Life is different, for certain. I am becoming accustomed to the Armenian ways. Language classes are really helping me to understand the culture. Each day when I get home from school, my parents seem very excited to see what I can now say. So, of course I impress them by boldly declaring, “vegetables! Classroom! Mulberry!” It’s pretty sweet. The group of 7 volunteers are the first Americans to ever live in this particular village, so everything we do is of great interest to the community members. I feel as though I am living in an aquarium. For instance, remember when I told you that the people like to talk in the streets a lot? Well, the other day when I got home from school, I was approached by a group of mothers who had heard that I had brought a “little guitar” with me. No one here has ever seen a Ukulele, so they are fascinated by it. What is more, an American has it. So, I was instructed to go into my room, get my “little guitar” and bring it out to the street. I did, because I got the impression that I didn’t really have a choice. By the time I had returned to the street, a chair had been placed in the shade and I was placed in said chair and instructed to play and sing. It was awkward to say the least. But it was good for public relations…I think. I can’t really be sure that anything I think is accurate. I am slowly growing in communicative ability, but am still missing 90% of what is actually going on. But, with time I will understand more, culturally and linguistically.

Sunday was my day off from school, and I went on a hike with my teacher in the mountains. She took a few of the volunteers and me to some castle ruins. Apparently the king only slept there once, on a layover on a trip from point A to point B, and it was built for that express purpose. I got some phenomenal pictures. I can’t describe how beautiful these mountains are.

I am excited and motivated; but above all consider myself to be privileged to be able to do what I am doing. I miss everyone at home, but am not in any hurry to return.

Much love


Maggie said...

Ah, gender segregation...just the way it should be. (Just kidding Uncle Sam!)Seriously, though, it sounds like something out of a book. Your home and your host family sound really great. Sounds like you've settled in and are making a great impression on the locals. By the way, I'm pretty sure that our mother would think it was funny if you wanted to help with dishes and laundry, too, so I'm not sure that's an Armenian thing.

I'm glad you're having a good time and learning a lot. I'm really proud of you for doing something like this, though it really just seems natural for you. I'm sure the next couple of years are going to fly and I know you won't take anything for granted. OK, I'm starting to sound like Dad so I'm signing off.

Love you!

Dad said...

Scott, this sounds like an idyllic backwater that would exist in an American 1920's novel of a rural countryside, somewhere around Montana. It sounds like a great opportunity to learn about your fellow man, unencumbered by prejudice or stereotypes. I envy you.

Now it is up to you to take two of those piglets on a pilgrimage, ala Lonesome Dove.

It will be interesting to hear what the industry of their efforts is in this town to generate commerce, besides truck gardening. It sounds like they are ripe for Eric Clapton on the Ukelele.

We love hearing from you, so keep it up. Let us know if there is something you think you might need. Think seasonally and 2 months in advance.


Dad said...

dear scott, i love your blog! it is so interesting and funny. i am so proud to tell everyone i meet that you are in the peace corps. i hope we will be able to meet your armenian family when we visit. dad likes the idea of not doing dishes and smoking cigars in the street. i miss you a lot!!! love, mom

mom said...

scott, i am still trying to remember my password. i tried all day yesterday and wanted to be first, but maggie is so pushy she got there before me. don't know why my message posted as "dad". xo, mom

Ashley said...

Do you talk about mulberries a lot? Like, is there a mulberry tree near your house? Kidding-I am glad to hear that you are adjusting so well despite the language barrier. And I am also glad to hear that you have a working toilet. Any chance there is an address of sorts? I still have a package that D&T hid from me before I last visited! Miss you lots and look forward to more updates!


PS. I saw Tanq last week and he was very pleased to read your e-mail echoing everyone's thoughts that you should be a writer. I agree :)

Alli said...

Hi Scott, this is Allison from the College of Ed. Armenia sounds fantastic so far, and I'm looking forward to reading more about your adventures as time progresses. I myself am returning to St. Petersburg, Russia, in August, for more language study. So good luck with your Armenian!


PS Do you mind if I link to your blog from mine? I think some of the people who read my blog would be interested in yours as well.