Wednesday, December 30, 2009

The Millennium Challenge

Merry Christmas and Happy New Year. On Christmas Eve I was sitting around the dinner table enjoying Christmas Eve dinner when I realized for the first time in my life I was not celebrating in my usual style. There was no Cheryl Rogers to sing to “O Holy Night” and no gifts around the Christmas tree, but it was still a nice holiday and I enjoyed myself. But in Armenia they don’t celebrate Christmas on the 25th they save all the celebrations for New Years Day. And the town has been bustling big time as people prepare their Noor Taree tables. The tradition is that you go around to friends and families homes and are offered typical Armenian foods such as Dolma, Hkash, and different fruits and stuff. They hype it up a lot around here so I’m pretty exciting, but it is crazy to believe that already it is 2010. We’re you can be in a year or what can happen in a year is a crazy thing. Last year I was in Florida and now I’m in Armenia. I’ve traveled thousands of miles and seen a lot of stuff in between all in just a year. But what’s even harder to fathom is that its 2010. I can still remember what I was doing ten years ago for New Years. I was at the Hargrove’s old house, I was in the seventh grade and I had never been out of the country. Now I’m a year out of college, I’ve been to seventeen countries and I’ll have my champagne wishes and caviar dreams in the form of a three-dollar bottle of champagne and no caviar but I wouldn’t be eating caviar if I was in the US anyways.
The New Year is also a great time to reflect on where we’ve been and where we’re going. I know a lot about where I’ve been. But where I’m going I don’t really know. Other then the actual place where I am now I can’t really say where I’m going, but that I think is what makes the New Year such an exciting thing. And this year for me perhaps more then any other before it is one that in 365 days I’ll be able to look back and think that was a successful year. At least that’s what I hope I’m doing a year from now. Only time will tell, but from me to you Happy New Year and all the best in the new decade!

Wednesday, December 23, 2009

Back to the Future.

I wasn’t alive in the 1950’s but I was an avid watcher of “Leave it to Beaver” before I left and other 1950 era television shows so I think I know a thing or two about what that era was like and if I was asked what Armenia is like in 2009 I would say its like America was in the 1950’s. For example in Armenia, if you’re fortunate enough to have a car then you only have one. The man is the bread winner and while many of the women do work they do so in the typical jobs held by women: teachers, nurses, operators and secretaries, and when the work day is over the misses prepare dinner for the family and clean the house. When you make a phone call you connect through the operator (my host mom is the town operator) to who your calling. And if you have a television then you probably have only one with just about seven to ten TV stations and on that certain night of the week everybody’s home to watch that particular show that everybody just loves. Now the shows are in color for the most part but life its self is still hovering in black and white. A lot of times people still focus their lives in a way that begs no question for what comes next: your born, if you’re a girl then as a little girl you start helping mom and grandma around the house while if you’re a boy you start helping dad and grandpa outside, after you graduate from school at the age of sixteen if you’re a girl you get married if you’re a boy you serve your two years in the army then get married. Then you have kids, your kids do the same as you did as a kid and you follow in your parents footsteps living in the house you grew up in (if you’re the oldest son) and take the expected as it comes. However, it would be unfair to lump this all into the experience of every person in this country. Not everybody lives out there life in such black and white frames. It would be hard to imagine hardly any woman in the United States submitting to a June Cleaver lifestyle in 2009. And similarly in this country times are changing and change here is coming from the inside out. Armenia is surrounded on two sides by formerly communist neighbors while to the East and South are more conservative Muslim societies (Iran because the government commands it and Turkey because the east is the more agrarian conservative portion of the country). All this means that there is no near by force bringing change but in the capital Yerevan there is the occasional radical hair do, new style or gay club to keep people looking towards the modern. The Diaspora also brings new ideas and change as it centers around the Los Angeles area (some popular questions I get are “are you from LA” “no” I say “I’m from Texas” “is that near LA” they say with a sigh of disappointment) and other major metropolitan areas of the world such as Paris and Beirut. So life isn’t quite as open as it is in the US but it is moving in that direction but it’ll be a while before Armenia moves to color.

It’s cold here. No surprise since its December. As I’m writing this there is snow falling outside my window and its getting pretty deep. I attempted walking today and nearly ate it a couple of times. School has been canceled for two weeks do to the growing “flu epidemic” as the vice principle put it. It’s getting close to Christmas but here it is celebrated more like a season then a day to look forward to. In fact the celebration doesn’t center on the day of Christmas (January 6 by the Armenian Apostolic calendar) but instead on the New Year when you go to all your friends houses for free food. I’m leaving in less then one month for India and Dubai on what is a much anticipated vacation. Hope all is well with you and Merry Christmas. Love, Me.

Saturday, December 5, 2009


It’s been a while since the last time I wrote and during that time quite a bit has happened. We had our annual all-vol conference in Yerevan and a workshop where we learned better methods for teaching our curriculums with the teacher assigned to teach that subject. We also got to celebrate Thanksgiving with actual turkeys (yes they have turkeys in Armenia, I was surprised too), and while I know its late happy Thanksgiving everybody and a merry Christmas. I haven’t seen many Christmas decorations but I did find an advent calendar “Bob der Baumeister” at a fancy liquor store. I think the store owner thought it was a fancy box of chocolates because I bought it in October and who knows how long it had been sitting on that shelf before I bought it.
During this holiday season and especially Thanksgiving I look upon what I am thankful for. So what am I thankful for? I’m thankful for new experiences for which this past year has been full of. Not quite a year ago I stood in the basketball stadium at my university ready to receive my diploma. Then a short time after that I was headed to Florida where I learned how to sail, got a good tan and had a lot of fun. Then I headed for Armenia. Looking out my window now I can see the incredible distance I’ve traveled in that year. Not just mile wise but societal, linguistically, familiar, historical, and so many other ways that separate me from East Texas, the Florida Keys, and the Caucuses. There are no palm trees here and while Tyler may be cold I doubt there is any snow sticking to the ground. I’m also thankful for my family not just my actual family but the community that bonds perfect strangers six months ago to be pretty surprisingly close now. And if it weren’t for that then this would all be a pretty difficult task. So I hope that in this holiday season everybody can look to the things that they are most thankful for.

Thursday, November 12, 2009

Not so long ago.

This past weekend I was in Yerevan. What else is new? Back during training every week we had the opportunity to earn Lee Bucks (our directors name is Lee) and with them at the end of training we could use them to bid on things at an auction. Well, I bid on a dinner at one of the staff members houses. So this weekend I and my buddy Dave had the dinner that we bought. We ate pizza and played games and I had a brownie for the first time since leaving the states back in May. It was delicious, in fact all of the food was really good. Our hosts were former Peace Corps Volunteers in Benin, Africa just under a decade ago. Over dinner we all talked about our experiences in Peace Corps and them having been in Africa just ten years ago is completely different then my being in Armenia now. For one thing they were in Africa a completely different continent but what I thought was interesting was the differences in communication. For example I call my family once a week and spend about $1.50 doing it. They on the other hand had to first make a reservation to make a phone call then hope that the people they were calling would be home to answer. After what was probably a fuzzy line with a multiple second delay they were given a steep bill. Obviously it couldn’t have been done on a very regular basis. My friend Roni who’s mom was in Peace Corps told me that when her mom did her service she only got to call once a year on Christmas and that was it! I also can go to the internet everyday if I wanted to and I could even get internet put in my room. But I choose to be a little withdrawn from the modern world so I try to go only once or twice a week.

Today at my school the kids put on a play about the fall season and all its bounty. To dress up the stage they had a large fruit basket with a bottle of wine poking out. Can you imagine a play at elementary school with the set decorations consisting of wine bottles? Different cultures different ways of thinking I guess. Also today I was making myself a cup of coffee when I realized that the warmer I usually use was missing so I took it to the cafeteria to warm up. While there I met the cafeteria ladies for the first time and they were nice. Tomorrow I’m helping make lunch for the kids. Also while I was there one of the ladies read my fortune through cards they weren’t tarot cards I don’t know what they were but I had a good fortune for the most part. I even tried my hand at reading theirs. The funniest part came when one of the ladies said through a heavy but still understandable accent f**k you! A little taken aback I asked what she had said, she explained that she hears it on TV all the time but what does it mean she asked. I said it isn’t nice. I guess if you don’t know what it means then there is no reason to edit it on the TV. In fact in a lot of my travels I’ve heard such head wrenching words. What came to my mind was when I was in Russia on a mission trip and we put together a dance for the kids. As a Methodist missions group I’m not sure how the words would have been taken had they been translated into Russian, but that event still to this day makes me laugh.

Thursday, November 5, 2009

A Game of Chicken

This past weekend was Halloween and though Halloween is a mostly American holiday we still celebrated it here in Armenia that is the Americans celebrated it. I went via taxi with three others from the capital city. The ride was supposed to be four hours but the weather was bad. First off Armenia is a mountains country after all it’s in the geographical region called the Caucuses as in the Caucus Mountains. Anyways the region we were going to was particularly mountainous and the weather system caused for this past weekend at least the clouds to rest in the areas and valleys between the mountains, so it made for some beautiful if not surreal scenery. As we continued to climb up one side and down the other the clouds turned into fog and laid a heavy layer over the road so much so that we were at times only crawling. Then the clocks turned back recently so it got dark quick and my friend Meghan who actually lives in the region we were headed to has told me more then one scary story about the treacherousness of these mountainous roads so I was constantly leaning into the mountain as if that would keep our car on the road better. It worked because lots of places along the road have little shrines set up marking the dead who didn’t lean into the mountain far enough and consequently went over the edge. So after five hours (remember this was supposed to take four) we got to Berd expecting to have only forty-five minutes left, but our taxi driver decided he was tired and told us to find another taxi. Luckily we were persistent and said if your gonna kick us out of your taxi then you have to find us a new one and pay for it with the amount we agreed on from Yerevan to Artsvaberd. He agreed and after a while we were on our way again. The whole time the fog, mountains and forest are making a better and better Halloween spooky scene then after climbing this dirt road with a lot of slamming the gas pedal to get the necessary momentum to get up the hills we stop. Now this is particularly scary because these cars before going forward again usually roll backwards a little bit which freaks me out! We get out to see that we have a flat tire. Luckily in the middle of no where after not seeing another car for a long time a car pulls up and the taxi driver and them seem to be friends. But this is sort of weird and random and it is Halloween and who’s gonna know what happened to us if we were to disappear out there in the middle of no where. Luckily only us passengers thought up that scheme and soon the tire was fixed and we were on our way again. Finally, after about six hours we get to our destination and find that the dirt roads are now mud but that’s okay because we’re just glad to be there. And we had a great Halloween party we even carved pumpkins. I carved a Texas flag and from where we were we could even see the Azeri border. On Sunday we had to return to Yerevan. We all loaded into a marchutni this time and after about an hour we found ourselves broke down on the side of the road. Luckily another marchutni came through and towed us up the hill and when we rolled down the other side we had enough momentum to get the bus started again. And our final feat was when we were driving down the highway about an hour out of Yerevan this car comes barreling out of no where and without paying any attention and with about a foot to spare nearly side swipes us. Thanks to Sarah in the back of the bus for screaming we all made it back safely. This last part of the story is where I get me title for this week from.

In Armenia it seems that if you have a car you are entitled to whatever you want to do on the road. If you want to smash the gas and fly down the road at a hundred miles an hour down the main road in the city center then do it, if an old lady with her toddler grandson are in the middle of crossing the street even in the rain and your light turns green and their still in your way then lay on the horn because you have a car and all they got is a cane. If someone is walking down the street and it just quit raining and the pot holes are filled with water don’t slow down to keep them from getting splashed in fact its more fun to hit the pot holes full speed (that’s good for the car) and soak the person who has the audacity to walk down the side of the street. So if you have a car apprese because you also hold the world in your very hands.

And the other day I had to turn a form into the Peace Corps office. Well I wasn’t in Yerevan so I had to use a fax machine and of course the one commercial fax isn’t working on the day I needed it. So after going a few places in search of a fax machine it was recommended that I go to the city hall office. I was a little hesitant considering I had never been there, I was going to have to explain my desire in broken Armenian and what person in their right mind actually goes to a office building they aren’t affiliated with and ask to use their fax machine? Well it paid off I got to use the fax and it was free plus the people there were really nice. So when in doubt just do what you got to do.

Shnorhavor Matt and Michelle. (If you don’t know what I’m talking about ask one of them.) And I guess I’ll be seeing everybody next year.

That’s all for this week, oh ya, its gotten really really cold here but I’m told this is nothing to what its gonna be. At least I have warm cloths I can tell they’re going to get a lot of use. Hadjo.

The Hermonie File

I’ve decided to start a new post that I will try to update every month. I’ve made a friend here in Artik who I think is rather remarkable. Her name is Hermonie and just about anytime she tells me a story about how times were during the Soviet days and especially the 1990’s Armenia I’m amazed that anybody can do it! Hermonie has befriended just about all of the former Peace Corps Volunteers who have come through the region where I live. And I figure that they would agree with me when I said that Hermonie isn’t your average woman. First of all Hermonie taught herself English by reading translated books and comparing them to the Armenian and English texts. So the other day she told me about the time when she was attending university in Yerevan and because times were hard she couldn’t afford to ride the bus, but still needing to get places she would grab onto the open doors when the bus took off and holding onto the open bus door she would get to her destination by dropping off the door right before the bus would stop. One time she even fell flat on her face trying to hop a free ride. She wasn’t the only person doing this during those days she told me. And these days I don’t see anybody doing that, but the 1990’s were a very tough time for Armenia and the whole Caucus region as well as all of the former USSR. So I can’t blame her for any of it I just find it interesting to listen to the tales of how she and so many others made it through that very difficult time.

Tuesday, October 27, 2009

So much to do and so much time to do it in.

So much to do and so much time to do it in.

Every week I feel like I’ve got more and more to do. A new person to meet with or a new place I have to be. It’s nice to be busy to an extent but its also nice to have some down time which I think I’m balancing pretty well. For the last few weekends I’ve been going to Yerevan for the day or the weekend. Its funny how metropolitan it seems there which it is but for all of the cities I’ve visited in the world it’s actually some what small (only about 1 million people). I don’t really like having to go so often but just about any business I have to take care of must be done by going to Yerevan.

Me and my buddy Danny are going to India in January so this weekend we finally got our plane tickets and our visa’s which was probably the easiest most relaxed bureaucratic process I’ve ever been through. We went into the Indian Embassy and the lady helping us said that we had come too early to apply, but because we came from so far away she let us apply anyways. Then we forgot to bring pictures so she called an embassy car to take us to a photo shop where we got pictures taken and then the photographer airbrushed us and took off any facial blemishes which I thought was hilarious and probably against the rules for a visa picture.

After that I had a meeting with UMCOR to see about securing some nutritious varieties of food for my school cafeteria. They were very helpful and nice, but when the meeting was over one of the ladies insisted on showing me her pictures from a recent trip to Jerusalem. They were nice pictures but a lot of them- at least I got a slice of birthday cake out of it.

This week we have a week of no school. So I’m using my vacation to watch the first season of West Wing which my new friend Ashley let me borrow. Ashley and I went to the same University, Baylor, and she is in Armenia as a Fulbright Scholar. By the way I love West Wing and when I get home I want a fast paced, caffeine charged job in the west wing.

I’ve gotten a lot of letters in the mail over the last few weeks which I really like, so if you wrote one don’t worry I’ve got one for you in the mail and coming soon. It’s started to get chilly here again so I’ll be pulling out the long handles again soon.

Love, Me

Tuesday, October 13, 2009

The Sand Lot

Two years ago this month I left on a trip that in no small part changed the way I look at things today. It was a trip that helped define what I wanted to do after I graduated from college and it was a deciding factor in me joining the Peace Corps. Looking back now its pretty crazy to think what you can do in just two years and where you’ll will end up two years down the road. In 2007 I was crisscrossing the Balkans with a class of thirteen students meeting, interviewing, and gaining a rare perspective on a conflict that had raged little more then a decade ago. It was a fascinating trip and it is now a very fond memory of mine which is why I choose to mark its anniversary every year.

I know that its been a long time since I’ve written in my blog. It isn’t from a lack of things worth writing about I guess its from a busy schedule. Although for those with a 9-5 job you might find my saying I’m “busy” a bit of an overstatement as in my complacency I’ve begun to think I’m busy. One thing we were told time and time again in PST was that the first few months were going to be slow and it would be difficult to stay busy and for that part even feel like we’re doing anything. But I wasn’t going to let that happen. I was going to go straight in with activities and lessons and great ideas, but what I have realized is that 17 years of Peace Corps experience in Armenia means that they know what their talking about and while we may want to be busy it is close to impossible. But it has been a good time to organize ideas and for me to start looking for resources and ways that I can get what I want done, done.

I have now been to Yerevan twice and experienced the capital of Armenia. Its funny because after being in a village and then a small town, Yerevan seems like this incredible metropolis offering any and everything a person could ever want. But Yerevan really isn’t that big of a city and after drinking a coffee at one of the outdoor cafes and visiting the market I’m usually at a loss for things to do, but still I feel like I’m in the middle of the hustle and bustle of all this excitement. However, it seems that every time I go to Yerevan the next day when I get back to site it snows. At first that was a bad thing because it was only September and I didn’t think it needed to be snowing yet, but now I realize its not as bad a thing because the three massive dogs at my host families house don’t bark when its that cold. I guess there trying to sleep in order to stay warm Otherwise if the weather is nice then they bark the entire night and I get little sleep. And the other day I happen to look over the balcony into the back yard and saw that it was full of bones even a cow scull so I guess their diet consists of eating every scrap of meat of the bones thrown in the back yard.

Last week I was certain the novelty of my being here had warn off and that the honeymoon phase of my arrival was gone. People seemed a little less eager to see me or a little less excited to hear me speak my broken Armenian. Then I started noticing these new looks which I’m not sure if there slap on the back, keep up the good work, your doing great kind of stares or what are you still doing here, why do you want to live here and why would you leave America for two years to do it kind of looks.

And this past weekend I went back to Solak my training village for the first time since August. It was nice to see the original host family and this time of the year it is a beautiful village with lots of orange and yellow foliage climbing up the mountains and cascading across the valleys. It was also nice to understand a lot more of what the family had to say and to get to share what I’ve been up to for the last few months.

Finally, I was talking to an Armenian friend of mine tonight. She was telling me about the Soviet days and the 1990’s when Armenia was in such a state that even the capital only had electricity for two hours a day and no running water. In Artik her mother would have to cook things over a fire but in order to get wood she would have to go under the cover of darkness to the nearby woods and cut down limbs and tree’s to gather enough wood be able to warm water and cook meals. Occasionally she would have to burn her own books something that was precious to her as it provided some of the only entertainment of course TV was non existent and all they had to get to the outside world was a small radio that broadcast the Voice of America.

Wednesday, September 23, 2009


For the first time last week I saw a woman driving a car. So after four months I saw my first female driver in Armenia but for the second time I saw a boy under the age of twelve driving a car by himself, so as you can guess from the first two sentences and the title Armenia is a male dominated society. My host father who is a nice guy sits on the couch and calls his wife from the other room to bring him his cigarettes which are just out of reach or a cup of coffee etc. which she does every time so I like to stir things up a bit by cleaning off the table or doing my own laundry and this week I’m even going to cook dinner for the family all this so that at least I can remember that woman aren’t meant to be the only ones in the kitchen.
This morning I woke up to a thin layer of sleet and ice on the ground. I was not expecting this so at first I was excited but then I realized its only September and that means this is going to be a long winter! Then I put on my gloves and the rest of my work cloths and headed off to school. Now I was wearing normal brown gloves. They didn’t stand out or look garish they were just gloves, but for some reason everybody, EVERYBODY thought they were hilarious so I don’t know if people don’t wear gloves here or if September is too early to be wearing them, but better warm then cold, right?
This past weekend I visited other Peace Corps friends at Lake Sevan. It was a lot of fun and we were in a beautiful place right on the lakes edge which was surrounded with mountains and about one hundred yards away was one of Armenia’s more famous tourist sites which if you Google Armenia or Lake Sevan right now and click images I’ll bet on the first page you can see a picture of these two church’s over looking the lake below. We visited the churches and I even bought a painting and got a free water color thrown in, and we saw lots of tourists for the first time since we’ve been here. So I thought since there were so many other people from around the world to stare at that we wouldn’t get the stink eye quite as much, wrong! One guy drove around our campsite probably thirty times just gawking at us which would usually be creepy and inspire a person to call the police but in Armenia it is the ever-present and inevitable so we didn’t give it much attention. On the way back to my site I stopped in Yerevan for lunch and had excellent Indian food which was such a nice change to the potato’s and soup I’ve been eating. And the week before last I visited my friend Dave in Vanadzor which was fun but I missed the bus getting there so I had to take a taxi. The taxi wasn’t very expensive but still you’re the customer which means something right? Wrong. We stopped and bought gas which took about thirty minutes then the driver stopped and bought lunch about ten minutes from our final destination. And when we would go down a hill he would actually turn the car off and we would coast down the hill which isn’t poor customer service I just didn’t know you could do that. Then on the way back from Vanadzor I did catch the bus but there weren’t any seats so I had to stand up in a bus that looks like those yellow DHL busses so I couldn’t actually stand completely up. I made new friends though and was even dumb enough to give my phone number out to a stranger who wants to move to America so I guess the best way to get him there is if any single ladies reading this want to marry a hard working Armenian guy then help him with his paper work to get to the states he would really appreciate it. Well that’s all I hope everybody’s good. All you single ladies let me know if your in the market for a husband.
Love, Me

Thursday, September 10, 2009

Armenian Gothic

Yesterday was my moms birthday so if you see her wish her happy birthday. I marked her birthday by sharing a cake with my host family. They all wished her sha-nor-havor (happy birthday) and I found a store that sells huge birthday candles that look like sparklers shooting about a foot high when they’ve been lit. I want to bring some back to the states but I’m pretty sure that security would not look kindly on flammable cylinders packed in my suitcase.
The first week of school has come and gone and I’m still alive which is somewhat of a feat considering my experience from the last post. Yesterday I was told I was being too nice which I can understand because it isn’t customary in the schools to talk to the kids outside of class and shake their hands which is basically the only communication I have with the kids for now. I go to school at eleven every morning but I don’t actually get to do anything until about 1:00. So from eleven to one I sit in the teachers lounge. Then I help the gym teacher who is 24 years old. All boys in Armenia have to do two years of compulsory army service so the gym class consists of the gym teacher teaching the students how to march which actually looks pretty cool. I’ll show you when I get home- just remind me. Then when they go outside they just stand around a pair of even bars and a pull-up bar. I was lucky enough to be pressured into showing off my strength yesterday when the gym teacher insisted that I do some pull-ups. It was definitely awkward because having everybody watch you do pull-ups makes you feel really self conscious, but I’m glad I can at least do a few because it would have been really embarrassing if I couldn’t. After gym class I help teach a short lesson on health. As my language skills remain limited my counter part does a lot of the talking which is frustrating because I want to play a bigger part in actually teaching, but patience will pay off. After our lesson we go outside and play what they call volleyball. We stand in a circle and set the ball to one another, but if you miss then you have to crouch in the middle of the circle and every now and then someone spikes the ball into the people crouched down in the circle. I don’t know what the point of that is and I’ve gotten smacked in the face three times with the ball because of it which isn’t very fun!
The other day I visited an old church with some other Peace Corps volunteers. We took a taxi to get there and on the way back the taxi couldn’t make it up the hill. We actually had to get out of the car and push it up the hill! The grade of the hill was not very steep at all but still the car couldn’t make it up, but we got a 100 dram discount! (That’s less then fifty cents). And this week marks the end of our travel curfew so I’m going to visit some other Peace Corps Volunteers which should be fun.
And why is this post called Armenian Gothic? Because two of my students, brother and sister, dress and look to me like the characters in the painting American Gothic. I wanted to take their picture and post it in my blog, but they were too shy. Oh well, just picture it in your mind.
I want to also thank Avis and Michelle for my letters. They were great to read and if anybody else wants to send me a letter I would be excited to get it! My parents can give you my address or if you leave a comment or send me an email I’ll send you my mailing address. They don’t actually deliver mail here so I was walking down the street when this guy grabbed my arm and said Mik-hi-ail? It scarred me but he explained that he was the mail man and I had three letters waiting for me at the post office which was really exciting and made my day. And it was cool that in this town of nearly 20,000 the post man knew who I was. I certainly didn’t know who he was, but I do now, so next time someone grabs my shoulder and turns me around instead of being startled I’ll be excited because that means I’ve got a letter. Well that’s all I’ve got. Thanks for reading and check back soon for my next post!

Love, Me

Sunday, September 6, 2009

The First Day of School…AHH!

Today I had my first interaction as a teacher when another teacher asked me to watch her class for a few minutes while she ran a quick errand. I was excited but as soon as the door shut and the teacher was gone I realized that teaching is not easy at all and kids are scary little people. As soon as that door was closed all hell broke loose and plus some, it was Kindergarten Cop, Sister Act II, Problem Child and any other film you’ve ever seen where the kids are horrible. The kids immediately started running in circles around the room. One kid started getting whaled on in the corner while one girl chased a boy around the room while spitting on him. Two other boys set on the second floor window seal teetering too close to the edge for my comfort. And my attempts at saying nestie (sit) and trying to facilitate a game all went unobserved. Of course as any teacher or substitute can probably tell you when a kid gets a chance they get thirsty or need to go to the bathroom or they have to take care of business some where else and kids in Armenia try the same thing. As soon as the teacher was gone half the class wanted to go to the bathroom while the other half wanted to get a drink of water of course I didn’t want the teacher to come back and find her classroom empty so I wouldn’t let them go which didn’t stop all the kids. Some left anyways. I tried to be strict but yelling and keeping a straight face just aren’t something that I do very well. One kid who is a real Hollywood portrayal of a bully told me he spoke English and was nice enough to share his vocabulary with me. I think he could say his birthday, shut up and shit which only made the situation more absurd. And the differences in Armenian and American teaching styles are also worlds apart. I only got relief when the teacher from next door came in and yelled at the kids until they were scared into submission and yesterday on the playground one of the teachers went about smacking the misbehaving kids on the back of the head and twisting their ears which looked painful to me but the kids only carried on like they had been. The kids were climbing trees shaking the apples out of them, getting into little fights with one another while the PE teacher talked with his friend (who is unaffiliated with the school) while his friend washed his car using the school's water. And in the building attached to the gym is kept a number of cows so the school yard is littered with cow patties. The way my school in Armenia and any school in America would operate is so completely different. Imagine the PE coach not doing anything but talking to his friend while the kids run around or try to just imagine that friend with no school affiliation trying to get into the prison that has become the American campus, it would never happen! But one thing to note these kids actually do give their teachers apples and I’ve definitely got a stock pile of them scattered throughout the school.

Monday, August 31, 2009

All Roads Lead to Yerevan

Yesterday my host family took me to Lake Sevan. Lake Sevan is a popular destination for many Armenians; it is a very large lake with crisp clear blue water that laps up at the base of these tall mountains robed in mist and clouds. It got its name when during WWI the Armenians were forced to flee the town of Van for the eastern reaches of their homeland. Once there they named the lake in the region Sev meaning black and Van the town so Sevan means black town after the heartache of having to leave their homeland behind. But anyways the whole family including me was very excited about this trip so yesterday we loaded a six passenger van with nine people and all of our stuff including a ton of food and set off for the lake. Now if you look at a map you see that it isn’t a very big country and you can drag your finger from one city in a line to the city of your choice and imagine a convenient road connecting the two places. But in Armenia such a system does not exist literally all roads lead to Yerevan where you then switch over to the road that will take you to your desired destination. I have spent much time trying to figure out which marshutnies (mini busses used for public transportation) I should take to get to friends villages in a descent amount of time, but since all roads lead to Yerevan I don’t think convenience will be a factor. But anyways after about 2.5 hours of travel we got to Lake Sevan. We set up our tables and began cooking a horavats (Armenian barbeque) it was very tasty and the scenery made it even better. My host family wanted me to swim but I have yet to convince myself that jumping in cold water is something that I want to do so I did not swim. After a few hours of relaxing, eating a lot and conversation we escaped the approaching rain and got back in the van for what seemed like a much longer and more uncomfortable return trip (remember this is a six passenger van with nine people in it). On the drive though we passed my training village, Solak, which was really nice as I much miss Solak.
Also, yesterday before we were to leave I saw two neighbors wheeling in a wheel barrow an entire discarded cow digestive system. I’m talking the stomach all the way to the intestines and it was not pretty. Then they brought it to the backyard for the three huge dogs that my host father has to eat. I guess the dogs were satisfied because in the middle of the night when everybody and thing should be asleep they were only barking a little instead of their incessant constant bark! I also was in the market the other day when an entire cart like you would use at Lowe’s was wheeled through the market loaded full of hacked off cow legs and cow heads with tong and eyes still exposed. Now that was gross! But what’s even crazier is that in this region cows head is a delicacy and a popular Armenian dish is to shave the cows leg and boil it until it’s so tender it falls of the bone then you mix it with other stuff and eat it! So these were not discards but I guess the prize parts of the cow. But don’t worry your not missing out because at my welcome home party we will try all these dishes.
For those of you at school have fun and study hard. I start teaching next week.

Love, Me

Wednesday, August 26, 2009

Through the Looking Glass

Before I go too far into this post I would like to post a retraction from last week. I meant to refer to Armenian Officials as high hat-ed not high hated officials.
I’ve now been at my permanent site for nearly two weeks. I guess that being away from my usual entourage I have been able to more keenly observe the things around me. When I first got to site two Friday’s ago I found it to be rather boring and a little lonely. The feeling existed for a few days but it dried up and now I am actually having a pretty good time. I start my teaching assignment next week on September first which I am very eager about. But in the mean time I’ve been getting acquainted with my new home. The people of Armenia all seem to be very kind. When I go to someone’s house they do not allow me to simply sit down. Instead I am offered an array of fruits, drinks, coffee, candy and sometimes even dinner. They are a very social culture and for the most part they are a very homogeneous society which means that when someone looks different they tend to stare. I don’t think that I have ever been started at so unabashedly before in my life. I guess it’s nice to feel like a celebrity every now and then but when its everyday all day everywhere you go it gets a little awkward and frustrating and it even begins to rub off. For example, the other day I saw two people with fair skin like my own and blond hair. The lady had her nose buried in a travel book and the man was walking beside her. And all though I don’t like it myself I stared them down completely stopping in the street to gawk and then as they walked by me my head followed them, I guess I’m trying to adopt the Armenian culture in every way.
My new host family is nice I enjoy spending time with the host mother because I make her laugh a lot. Not usually on purpose but because I seem to say every sentence wrong or to miss interpret things that are hilarious to her, for example the other day I wanted to tell her I was going to brush my teeth, but instead I told her I was going to brush my eyes (the words sound similar). I also have a habit of if I don’t understand something I make a goofy face and say huh? As if that helps which again she finds hilarious. And my host brothers are nice but I think they’ve spent too much time together this summer as they are constantly bickering. The other day my older host brother invited me to go swimming. I was a little hesitant but I knew he would appreciate it so I went with him. We got to the pool which was at an indoor recreation facility. I put on my swim suit in this unmarked “locker room” which the female employees moved in and out of freely. Then I went up to the pool to see that it was completely green. Immediately I regretted coming but I didn’t want to be rude so I stuck my toe in to test the temperature and it was freezing! Finally after ten minutes of trying to convince myself that it wouldn’t kill me I prepared to jump in. I said on the count of three but the longer I stood there the more brown stuff I noticed floating on the top, so I said I’m sorry it’s too cold I can’t do it. I felt bad but I think I prolonged my life by not jumping in. The other day we made tsingali, for those who’ve been on the Russia mission trip you know it as palmini, which is this really tasty ravioli like pasta but instead of marinara sauce you use butter. We made it completely from scratch starting with the actual pasta dough. I think I can remember how to do it so we’ll make it when I get home. There is also an aunt who lives nearby who visits often. We all went back to school shopping the other day and this aunt reminded me a lot about my own Aunt Bobbye because one time we all went to London on a family vacation. My sister, mom, grandmother, Aunt Bobbye and I were riding the Tube when this man got on with a bald head covered in tattoos. He didn’t look like the kind of guy you wanted to hassle, but Aunt Bobbye made a point of pointing him out as if we could some how miss him and in this loud whisper as if he couldn’t hear us. So this aunt here in Armenia was nice enough to explain to me on the train in her very loud whisper and finger pointing why we don’t eat the food sold on the train as all the people around us ate the food and the vendors moved up and down the aisle. I just nodded quickly trying to get her to stop explaining.
Also, a friend from Gyumri came to visit me last week. As we were walking down the street this lady asked us “are you speaking English” of course we were and so we had a quick conversation. She invited us over for later so while my friend had to go back home I went over and visited with her for a few minutes. This lady spoke almost fluent English that she taught herself by reading books and reading magazines until she knew the language! I complimented the many beautiful rugs she had all over her house and furniture and she asked what we (Americans) put on our furniture. I said we don’t put anything on it because its furniture it already had protective coverings. I think it’s funny how everybody puts rugs on their tables, chairs, walls, couches, and floors. Well that’s all for now. Stay in touch.

Love Me

Monday, August 17, 2009

We Did It

Well, we’ve done it. Forty-seven of us left JFK airport for Armenia back in May and now forty-four of us have been sworn in as Peace Corps Volunteers. I can definitely say it’s a good feeling to finally be done with an eight month application process and a three month training process that at times felt like college exam week times 100. I was excited for the day when I would get to go to site and start putting together ideas for a successful two years of service, but now I’m out of my training site of Solak living with a new family. And I’m in a town by myself and for the next four weeks I’ll have limited opportunities to see other Americans, and I new that my village mates and myself were particularly close, but I had now idea I would miss them this much or my Solak host family to such a degree. I guess because it had become the familiar and now I have to do it all over again it just seems daunting. But this is all a new experience and like the first three months I’ll learn to adopt and I hope that in no time this new community will feel like home. So now to describe my past three months experience. I guess if you’ve been reading my blogs this might seem repetitive but I think its worth recounting. So back in May I left for an orientation in Philadelphia. I met forty seven unique and interesting people. Some of them I can vividly remember meeting and talking to for the first time and it is them who have become my best friends. I guess because we’re all in a unique experience together we bound quicker then you might in other circumstances because some of these people I feel really close to. Anyways, the next day we flew out of New York City for Vienna before catching our last leg into Yerevan. We arrived in Armenia early the next morning a few days later we moved to our host villages were for three months we learned the Armenian language, culture, traditions, and way of life as well as the purpose, fundamentals, and expectations of our particular assignments (remember I’m a CHE so I learned about different health initiatives and education methods). We also learned how to live as a group of Americans abroad and how to rely on each other when times got hard and get hard, which they do but with a good group of friends to fall back on (which I have made) then you can make it through just fine. After all of this we were deemed ready and able for a two year post as Peace Corps Volunteers (PCV’s) by our country director. So last Thursday we got sworn in as the 17th group of PCV’s in Armenia. I guess there isn’t a lot of news worthy things in Armenia because the entire Armenian press corps showed up in mass as well as a lot of high hatted officials and other dignitaries and most interesting the American Ambassador who swore us in as volunteers and when I took the oath I could definitely feel the goose bumps. Then we had a nice celebration with A-16’s. That evening the Solak seven took our sleeping bags and on top of the hill behind my house we enjoyed about three hours of uninterrupted meteor shower a pretty cool way to sum up a hell of a three month bonding experience. The next day we loaded a van with our luggage (which has grown exponentially) and then crammed in next to it and drove down the road watching through the window as our host families waved us off (most of them tearfully). When we got to Cherantsavan, we unloaded our luggage and reloaded into different vans before heading to our new sites all around the country, now that was a sad day! But I think in just a few weeks we will find our way again and be excited about the opportunities and chance we have to make some impact.

Tuesday, August 11, 2009

The Solak Seven

PST is now drawing to an end. I’ve been building up to this moment in my last few blogs and after Thursday I will know longer be considered a Peace Corps Trainee but instead a Peace Corps Volunteer. I will move to my permanent site on Friday and begin my twenty four months of Peace Corps Service. We finished our practicum teaching last Thursday and after three weeks of teaching I think I got pretty good at expressing my message to my students and I think they had a good time as well, but my last lesson I didn’t prepare with my partner as well as I should have and it was embarrassing! Because for forty five minutes we stood in front of the classroom and basically didn’t make sense in Armenian or English, but it was a good thing to experience because from now on I’m definitely going to prepare and practice my lessons before I teach them, but at least the other nine lessons went well. And yesterday we all went to Garni and Geghart two historical sites in Armenia. One was an old Pagan temple which had a beautiful view of the surrounding gorge and the other was a medieval monastery partially carved out of the side of a mountain. A few of us, about 15-20, are singing a song in Armenian for our swearing in on Thursday and we got to sing it in the sanctuary at Geghart which was really cool because of the echo it made. But I’ve been told I don’t sing so well so I mostly just move my lips and leave the talent to the others. And after visiting these two cultural sites my friend Dave invited us, Danny and I, to his home for dinner. After dinner Danny, Liz and I had to return to our village Solak and Liz on to Charnetsavan. During the drive there was a really cool lighting storm that was lighting up the sky all around our taxi as we sped down the road, but then we heard a loud crack and a bright light on the left side of the car. Our taxi actually got struck by lighting! Which was both scary for the reality of it and cool because who can say they’ve been struck by lighting? Don’t worry Gimme I will never go out in a lighting storm again. And one final thing to add so that you know I’m healthy. For those who remember I’m not a big fruit and vegetable fan, but Armenians all grow their own veggies and fruits so every day I have at least some kind of fruit and vegetable. And mom, believe it or not, at least once a week I eat sautéed eggplant, tomatoes, and peppers I even go back for seconds usually, its really tasty and I’m probably eating healthier then I have in the last couple of years. Cheers!
(This picture is of the Solak 7 and our two LCF (language teachers in the middle)
Love, Michael

Wednesday, August 5, 2009

Tonight I sat with two new good friends, Victoria and Paul, on the hill behind my house staring up at the sky dotted by clouds and stars as they lit up the surrounding mountains and valleys beyond which are a great view from my back yard. But what stood out in particular was the moon in its almost fool phase lighting up the hills and mountains for miles around. As I laid on the ground gazing up at such an incredible sight listening to my friends talked and reflected on our past two months I couldn’t help but marvel at how incredible it is that something so far away could make us here on earth feel so close. As Peace Corps Training draws to a close it is inevitable that we as a village would begin to reflect on our experiences and how incredible it is that in just two months our friendships have grown to bonds that run so deep. I can honestly say that the people who I spend my days with, all seven of them, are people who I care about, who in the next two years I will stay in touch with and take an honest interest in what they manage to achieve. Tonight was also a chance to look at what we as Peace Corps members think we have an opportunity in obtaining. For me I am thankful because I have a sight of my own. At first this was a point of consternation for me because I wanted very much to be near my new friends, but I now see it as the opportunity to help impact a community on my own and not on the merits or constant reminder of other Peace Corps Volunteers work. I also have the opportunity to serve a special school. Special in two ways, one that kids are all special because they are impressionable and I can impart what I think is wisdom and healthy lifestyles upon them. And two because they are mentally and physically handicapped and many of them actually live at the school during the school year so they do not get the one on one family attention that every child needs. So already without meeting the kids and by using my past experience of serving in orphanages I have brainstormed many ideas of how I am going to help not only serve the kids but work along side them to make life happier, more fulfilling, and more impactful then perhaps they expected it could be. What an opportunity that lies ahead of me and all of us Peace Corps Volunteers. I am excited and thankful for the opportunities and I look forward to in two weeks taking an oath to serve my country abroad in a way that will better the lives of people namely children abroad in this fascinating, ancient yet ever modernizing country of Armenia.
Also this week, we celebrated my host mother’s birthday. She turned 43 but already she has 3 grandchildren. It was a lot of fun we had horavots (Armenian barbeque) and the un-escapable toasts (Armenians toast with a lot of Vodka which is all but in-escapable) and I got to invite my best friend Danny and my neighbor Lisa both Peace Corps trainees in Solak. I’ve grown close with my host family. They are great people who work hard for what they have and each of them puts in a lot of hard work everyday. Every morning my host mother wakes at seven and she doesn’t go to bed until late. She is a nurse by profession, but being a woman in Armenia also means that you are the house keeper, cook, laundry doer and in charge of the garden. That is a lot of work and my host mother does it with wiliness and a good attitude which I have to appreciate. It will be difficult to leave such a great group of people behind but in just one week I will be doing just that. I will say goodbye to the people of Solak as I am sworn in as a member of the seventeenth group of Armenian Peace Corps Volunteers.

Wednesday, July 29, 2009

It’s been a while since I’ve been able to write, but let me assure you that I’ve been very busy. Our three months of training are winding down and in just little over two weeks I will be sworn in along with my fellow trainees. Last week and for the next two weeks we are doing practica which means that we are actually teaching different health topics to students of various age groups in as much Armenian as we can and for the words we don’t know we have an interpreter. It has gone pretty well so far but it is tiring. And on Sunday we are hosting a health fair where I and the other six volunteers that live in Solak are sharing some helpful medical advice and practical broachers for the community to use as a resource.
Summer too or at least summer heat has finally begun and along with it has come hotter weather and a lack of water. Last week we did not have hardly any water to use for such luxuries as bathing and cloths washing. I happen to live on the top of a hill which makes it even worse because like I’ve said before the water we do get comes from city pipes not an actual faucet in the kitchen or bathroom. So as more people use it below the hill the water pressure decreases and less makes it to the top. Then the priority isn’t for ones own needs but instead for watering the gardens which every Armenian has and they grow delicious fruits and vegetables such as apricots, cherries, tomatoes, cucumbers, garlic, potatoes, and apples which would rival any grocery store produce section. But once the garden has been suitably flooded then we can start gathering water for personal needs. Which I did and I’m now glad to say all my laundry has been cleaned although I did where my suit slacks and church shoes with no socks the other day much to the chagrin of my teacher. Its also worth recounting one event I witnessed. Because water is in such short supply people sort of go to extremes when it does come. And the pipes are all exposed above the ground so as I was walking to school I noticed this man cutting a pipe in half and diverting the water to his own yard. Of course that means it didn’t make it to the neighbors houses and the next day I happened to be present when the neighbors figured out why they didn’t have water and needless to say they were not happy! Along with the hot weather also comes long days of constant rain, for instance the other night we took the train from a nearby town to our village once the train arrived the rain began to pour and we were all soaked. But it continued to rain for the entire night and then the next night it did the same. Also, that second night I had a “sleep over” at my friend Danny’s house something we both found funny since the last time I had a sleep over I think I was in middle school.
The next two weeks will be busy with teaching, test taking and saying goodbye to not only my fellow trainees who will be dispersed throughout the country but also to our families who we have all grown rather close to over the past two months. For now this is all I can think of to say but stay tuned for more exciting tales.
(The picture is of my former host family)

Love, Michael

Friday, July 10, 2009

Before you read this post read the one below because I meant to post it last week I just never got the chance.
Today we spent the day in Yerevan meeting with two NGO’s and discussing ways that we as CHE trainees (Community Health Education) can better impact our communities. The first NGO was the Armenian Eye Care Project which brings ophthalmologists and a moving eye surgery truck all around the country providing life changing and sight saving surgeries. Our meeting was rapped up with a promotional video for the project which was a real tear jerker as these people shared their life changing stories. Our other NGO visit took us to Project NOVA which helps disseminate knowledge on safe pregnancy practices and helpful ways to bring a healthy baby to full term. We also got to visit the Peace Corps office in Yerevan. Other things happening this past week, of course it was the Forth of July on Saturday and as an annual tradition Peace Corps Armenia Trainee’s host a village celebration. As I said in an earlier post I got to be in charge, and my village mates, all seven of us did what I think was a pretty phenomenal job. One of our goals was to keep it strictly American style so we had a buffet style meal of cheeseburgers, hot dogs, macaroni and cheese, deviled eggs (I made them), potato salad, and chocolate chip cookies. It was all tasty especially considering they don’t sell the usual ingredients for many of these things. We also played games in the American style like a water balloon toss which we as trainees did with our host mothers, I accidentally popped a water balloon on my host mother, and kick ball which the kids did not get at all! Then yesterday we climbed the mountain behind our village to visit the old 11th century church. We had three native guides ( they were our age or younger and instead of water they brought beer) they led us up the mountainside which at times was a shear cliff side that we miraculously managed to scale, then finally we made it to the top. We got to light some candles in the old church and say a prayer before having a short sermon led by one of the other trainees. Then we were invited to eat some barbeque with these men already at the top, the barbeque was delicious and afterwards we found the actual trail and had a very leisurely stroll back to the village. Our journey ended with us getting soaked by the rain, but we had a great time regardless. On Thursday I’m going to visit my permanent site in Artik I’ll be back on Sunday with a good idea of what to expect for the next two years. Stay tuned for more news!

Love, Michael

All in a Weekend

As I write this I’m waiting for my bath water to heat up. As you’ll remember from last weeks post, I only get one bath a week and I have been waiting for the day when the next would come. I don’t think I’ve ever felt this disgusting, but I’m pretty sure the feeling is well founded. Anyways, this past weekend was really intense. First off, in Armenia every young man after graduating from high school must serve a mandatory two years in the army. This of course means that in two years after that service begins a big welcome home party is mandatory. Well, my host brother got home late Thursday evening from his two year stint in the service and every day since then there have been people over toasting, eating and otherwise disturbing everyday activities. Yesterday (Monday) in fact I was coming home and was prepared to take my much anticipated bath. Also yesterday was really hot so I had rolled up my pants (btw its really funny to watch peoples reactions to a young man walking in pants slightly rolled up, its mostly a reaction of sheer terror) and I had on my sunglasses with croaky (Armenians don’t wear sunglasses and certainly not croakies) and I rounded the corner to the kitchen expecting only my host mother so I had my mouth open ready to speak, but because it wasn’t just my host mother, instead it was a table full of people, I guess I was sort of startled so I threw up my hands and let out a kind of yell. Oops! It was an unintentional reaction but I think the sentiments were felt by my host mother (Armenian guests often just show up, invitations aren’t necessary). So Saturday was fun too, we went to the Vatican City of Armenia called Echmiadzeen (pronounce that right and your ready to join the Peace Corps). We were led on a tour by an Armenian Apostolic Orthodox Priest who is serving one year in Armenia before returning to his parish in Rhode Island. The church was beautiful and the museum fascinating but the weather was very hot. After that I returned to my village and at home my family was throwing the official welcome home Joran party. So my six Peace Corps friends and about fifty of the host families friends gathered for a feast, multiple toasts, and dancing that reached into the wee hours of the morning. I guess all the days activities led us to a want to go to church the next day, so we went to what I thought would be a one hour church service, it was interesting to be a part of but it lasted for much more than an hour, and not knowing the language real well only made it seem longer. I think the priest was glad we were there until he asked if we were Christians and Danny thinking he asked if we wanted to kiss the cross in his hand said no. That didn’t go over so well but we just remind ourselves that it’s a simple misunderstanding. And my final piece of news: I got my permanent sight assignment and for the next two years I will be living in the town of Artik in the marz (state) next to Turkey about 30 minutes from Gumri (Armenia’s second largest city). At first I was disappointed because I’ll be in a village with no other PCV’s and it’s far from my new friends, but I believe that it is the absolute best fit for me. I’ll be working in a school that teaches mentally, physically, and learning disabled kids. It also serves as a boarding school for kids with no place to call home. I don’t have much experience working with the disabled, but I think it will be the opportunity to make a real impact in the lives of a number of children, so I’m excited. I’ll get to visit my sight next week and observe what I’ll be doing for the next two years. Well that’s all for now.

Love, Michael

Thursday, June 25, 2009

Four Baths in Four Weeks

As you can tell from the title things aren’t the same as they are back in the states. However, this is not a bad thing. I don’t even feel dirty and part of my mission here is to integrate. So, I bathe on a less regular schedule, and, as I believe I’ve alluded to in earlier writings, the integration process isn’t easy. Some days are rougher then others; those are the days when you feel that you can’t understand any part of the language or that your volunteer mission is somehow going in a different direction they you envisioned it. There are a number of things that can put a damper on a volunteer’s attitude, but I happen to be a believer in divine intervention, and such an intervention was what I experienced yesterday as I finished up a book entitled “A Quaker Book of Wisdom”. I had bought the book back a few years ago to carry with me on a long trip but when I started reading it the book didn’t interest me, but I still wanted to finish it so I brought it along with me to Armenia and this time the book was the perfect refuge for all of the mixed feelings that I have felt during this stage of Peace Corps service. The book featured chapters on topics like truth, service, conscience, and non violence all of which I think the Peace Corps embodies, but the book completely enlivened my excitement for why I’m doing these two years of PC service, it was in essence the perfect antidote for me!

So what else is going on? Today we met the mayor and began planning for our Forth of July celebration which we will share with the people of our village. I also had my first shopping experience, I stood on one side of the counter and pointed to things like toothpaste, shampoo etc. and the clerk pulled them from the shelf, an interesting way of shopping. And finally I would like to share some humorous faux pas and incidents I and other PCT’s have had up to this point. The other day I was talking to a neighbor kid and his grandmother and for some reason as I was talking to the grandmother who was seated to my right I began to incessantly elbow her as if that would get her to understand me. I usually playfully elbow people when I’m telling a story but they aren’t usually grandmothers! Lisa (from Florida) a fellow volunteer also had a faux pas when she tried to be the kind guest and took the one bowl of soup that contained no chicken bone in it, but that soup was made specifically for the son who was suffering from a severe tooth ache and obviously couldn’t eat a chicken bone, oops! My friend Danya (from Trinidad) stumbled upon her “host family” skinning a cow and immediately threw up on the floor, and lastly today I sat with Danny (from North Carolina), Meagan (from Montana) and David (fellow Texan) on the cold hard ground, for my Washington friends who are reading this you know what I’m about to say, especially Jill, so for some reason in Eastern Europe it is a popular belief that sitting on the ground gives you a cold and for girls it severely lessons your chances of having a kid later in life so let me just say we got plenty of kind warnings and lots of horrified stares. Well, that’s all for now but there’s plenty more to come.

Love, Michael

Saturday, June 20, 2009

I just did what!?

Today we had what we PCT’s (Peace Corps Trainees) call corps days which means that as an entire group of 47 we meet in the regional city of Charentsevan. During these corps days we train for things that will prepare us to live two years on our own in rural, rudimentary and distant places. For example, we get training for what to do in an emergency, for instance, if civil unrest were to become rampant I would know what to do and what the safest way to get out of the country would be. In fact the Peace Corps has been great about keeping us informed and safe and they do a great job throughout our two years (so don’t worry Mom or Gimme because I’m safe). Also, we have TECH training (remember I work for the government so acronyms are a must) where I as a CHE (Community Health Extension Volunteer) receive information and training on the Armenian healthcare system, popular myths and true remedies practiced within Armenian households and we also discuss exciting initiatives to get the communities we will be assigned to interested and involved in proactive healthy lifestyles. But this is all boring stuff. The real reason I wanted to write this particular entry is because of what I just did.

When I applied for the Peace Corps part of my reasoning for joining was that I wanted to learn a lifestyle that wasn’t as comfortable as the one I had in the United States. I wanted to experience a lifestyle with no electricity, running water, communication services or flushing toilets. A little crazy? I think so, but a good experience none the less. So what is it that I did today? I helped my host “mother” pluck a chicken. I hope that isn’t too anticlimactic for you, but I can’t believe that I actually stuck my hands in the bucket and proceeded to pluck! The chicken met its end when a fox snatched it, but the neighbor chased down the fox who dropped the chicken and kept going. Then my host “mother” lopped the head off the carcass soaked it in hot water and then we plucked it, roasted it over a flame, took out its guts, and then she prepared it! Dinner tomorrow night will be very fresh!

What else am I up to? Well, on the Forth of July we PCT’s host a village celebration to bring American culture to Armenia. I am the Chair of the Solack Forth of July committee which I am excited about. I’ve also been spending a lot of time around the village and people are starting to know my name which is a cool feeling. I ate dinner at Danny’s ( From North Carolina and who has become my best Peace Corps friend) house the other day and while I was there we learned the word for bible Astavatsa Shoonch which literally translates into Gods breath which I think is a brilliant illustration of just what the bible actually is. Anyways, so Danny came over yesterday and we had to sit in my dining room and eat cookies with the neighbors (“no thank you, I’m full” is not an excuse that works here) and dote on the two granddaughters. So, all in all everything is going great. I’ve made friends, I’ve had cool experiences, my language is getting better and I’m integrating more and more but the integration is and always will be, I think, the hardest part. Well that’s all for now but there will be new stories to tell soon.

Love, Michael

Saturday, June 13, 2009

Michael's Moksha

I thought I should explain the meaning of my blog address and why it is what it is. The word moksha is a Hindi word meaning wisdom. I thought that I could use my blog as a way to impart the wisdom of what I learn in Armenia onto those back at home. This blog is also a portal into what it is I’ll be doing for the next two years.

Back at home people would ask what it is I’m going to be doing in the Peace Corps. Well, certainly while I was at home I didn’t have a clear picture of what this Peace Corps experience would be about. Now that I’m here I’ve got a clearer picture. For example, in August I will move to my permanent site where for two years I will teach health education within a secondary school setting. For now I am learning Armenian so that I can be an effective teacher. Once I get there I will need to create a secondary project within the community, such as an exercise group or some sort of hygiene related project, but more on this when I’ve gotten situated in that community.

This week has been busy. Even though were still just on the second week the classes are getting long. We had a Peace Corps “party” the other day and had our first experience as the “rich American” stereotype. We took a taxi to a nearby town and paid 18,000 drams for a ride that normally cost 2-3000 drams. We didn’t know we had so drastically overpaid until we saw our LCF’s facial expression. But it was a learning experience and now we know better what to expect. Also, I live in a farm setting and we now have fresh chicks running around the house! I guess for the first few days they live in the house with us and the other day I went to a birthday party where we ate lamb. As I began to eat the lamb I remembered a fresh lamb skin hanging on the fence and a patch of wet mud, it didn’t take long to realize that we were eating very fresh lamb! In fact I shouldn’t become too attached to any animal that I see here because I know that when I eat chicken for instance it means there’s one less chicken in the yard that day.

It's only been a week!?

The first week is over and the second week begins. Already it feels like I’ve been here for a longtime, the time definitely merges into something unremarkable and a routine? That’s something best left in the states. It also feels like I’ve known a few of these people for ages. Perhaps it is our backgrounds, aspirations or life callings that make us feel so connected but then again maybe its just the fact that we were all crazy enough to sign up for a two year stint in a country very unrecognizable from our own!

The journey began two Thursdays ago, May 28, my birthday, it brought 47 volunteers to Philadelphia for a half a day where we learned some different facets about what we were getting into and what we could expect. The next day we flew out of JFK airport in New York City. The plane ride was long and there wasn’t an empty seat to be had. I was lucky enough to have a seat on a middle aisle next to the bathroom sandwiched between two men who did not care much for “personal space” or the rule of the armrest, which is: “if my arm is on the arm rest then there’s no room for yours!” But finally we arrived in Vienna, Austria and to our excitement we had fourteen hours before our next plane was to leave for Yerevan. We were also lucky enough to have hotel rooms directly across the street from the airport, so after a quick rest and shower we set off to explore what would be our last glimpse of a western city. That same night we boarded one final plane for our last leg into Yerevan. As a group we arrived at 5:00 Sunday morning. We went to an ancient church ruin dating from the 5th century AD for a group picture and framed behind us was Mount Ararat (Noah’s mountain). We then went to our hotel where for three nights we had hot water, showers, flushing toilets, plenty of drinking water, and constant electricity. But on Wednesday of last week the true Peace Corps experience began. The group of 47 was broken into groups of 7 and sent to villages around the country. Now I’m living with a host family on the side of a cliff over looking a valley often populated with roaming herds of sheep. Every morning I wake up, fill a bucket of water to wash my face and brush my teeth, I fill my water purifier for the day, then join my “host mother” for breakfast usually consisting of hatz (bread), what looks like a hot dog wiener and tzoo (eggs). I have language class from 9 to 1:30 and everyday from 4 to 7 my six classmates and I walk the streets of our new village or the surrounding mountains. The lifestyle is a major adjustment, I can tell the next two years will not be quick, but everyday is a new adventure! I’ve begun to pick up the language and I know that the experience we 7 Amerikazes are sharing in this village will make us closer friends a lot faster then would otherwise be possible.

Wednesday, May 27, 2009

From the Beginning

It’s been a long time in the making but this Thursday I leave for the opportunity of a lifetime, the chance to live for two years among the natives of a far away land, a place with an ancient history. It is a place caught between many of history’s greatest civilizations, but through it all the people of Armenia have kept a unique tradition all to themselves. For the next two years I will teach health education amongst the people of Armenia. I’ll learn the language, culture, and traditions of a tiny country locked between Georgia to its north, Azerbaijan to its east, Turkey to its west and Iran to its south.

The chance to be immersed in a place far different than my own is a bit scary. New beginnings can be a little frightening too, but in it all comes the opportunity to make new friends and share new experiences that will last a lifetime and provide a new perspective on the world around me.