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.