Saturday, August 6, 2011

Life In Technicolor

Today I leave my site where I’ve lived for two years. Over the last few days I’ve said my goodbyes, visited my favorite spots in the community, packed my things and tried to clean my house. Of course, after doing anything for two years it’s hard to say goodbye and saying goodbye to Artik or my Peace Corps service is no exception. I did not always enjoy my time here, frustrations, long days, road blocks, bitter cold, incredible heat are all part of the game. But I can say with no reservations that it’s something I’m very glad I did. More than two years ago as I sat with family and friends and they all asked was I nervous, how was I going to go two years being away from home? All of them questions I couldn’t answer except about being nervous because that much I knew, I was nervous. But now those two years are over. They flew by in fact and now it’s time for the next big thing whatever that will be.
I imagine the most defining part of nearly every volunteer’s service from the first group in 1961 to the groups training today is that we, Armenians, Americans, Mongols, Nigeriens people everywhere we are all in 100 ways the same but 100 ways different. Americans hold a privileged place in the world. We live a lifestyle like no others. And though many of us probably don’t think of ourselves as materially rich if I were to explain a typical day in American life to any Armenian neighbor where I wake up in my private bedroom, not too hot because of the air conditioning, I take a hot shower in just one of the bathrooms in my house, I take my food out of a refrigerator, heat it in a microwave while waiting for my shirt to dry in the dryer then I get in my own car and go down a wide, paved, pot hole free road. To many such an image would be impossible to conceive. Of course owning a dryer, microwave or air conditioning is not a necessity but we’ve come to think they’re indispensable. It is our American way and it’s unheard of to anybody else. Armenians on the other hand are not wealthy. There are not many jobs out there even for the educated. Modern appliances are a luxury few can afford although many still have their old soviet ones. And while Armenians recognize that their lifestyle is one of hardship and worse off than it was during Soviet days they still remain stoic.
People always ask me what I will go home and tell my parents and friends about Armenia and Armenians. Many things come to mind but there are a few things I will always define Armenians by. My favorite part about Armenian life is how genuinely generous they are. Like I said there is not a lot of money passing through hands here which means that sometimes it might be difficult to buy the food that their family needs. But if I’m invited over people don’t just offer me water or a bowl of peanuts. We have coffee, fruit, usually some sort of meal and occasionally homemade vodka, or at least what they claim is vodka but might actually be paint thinner. Being offered lots of food can be frustrating because I’m not always hungry but I am always honored that they want to share a meal with me. This is the characteristic I want to take home from Armenia the most and the one myself and Armenians would probably most define themselves by.
The people of Armenian have lived here for centuries there land has grown and contracted. They’ve had their moments of pride and tragedy. And yet in an area of the world plagued by aggressive neighbors, imperialism, and a distaste for tolerance the Armenians, continue to speak their unique language, written in their original alphabet, practicing their unique form of Christianity. They’ve been conquered before but they continue to help define this area of the world. Their role in history has been big even if you did first learn about Armenia from me.
My dad sent me an email today asking if “Peace Corps had been the greatest job I’ll ever love”. I have definitely not loved every moment of it. Cutting wood is not fun, walking in snow up to my knees, walking all over town looking for just one opened store, having calls dropped constantly, going outside to using the bathroom are all not fun things. Not things that I loved or will miss. But there is a unique bond made with hardship and Peace Corps probably because its expected but it also adds to the legacy of one’s service. The friendships I’ve made I’m positive will span a lifetime. For my fellow volunteer friends the issue of staying in touch will just be actually calling and writing. For my Armenian friends it will be difficult. I’m sure I’ll forget Armenian at some point, and the distance will be a hard one to travel, but I’ll always remember them and be happy for all the time we shared. Was the gray hair worth it? I think so, being a Peace Corps Volunteer is an honor and it’s an honor I will always be glad to have had.
Two years ago I thought this day would never come, but wow here it is.