In Country!

Disclaimer: this post was written while jet-lagged several days ago and never properly revised, to accurately reflect my thoughts at the time. Please excuse typos, mixed metaphors, dangling participles, etc.

We arrived early, early AM Thursday at Aghveran, a resort town 90 minutes north of Yerevan (attempted to post picture of it above, but WiFi not good enough). We’re here for a few days for general information applicable to everyone (safety and security, interviews with Peace Corps doctors, etc.). On Sunday we head to our pre-service training (PST) villages, where we’ll live for the next ten weeks, meeting as an entire group in the central town of Artashat weekly. Each village has 7 or 8 volunteers, all of the same type (see below). Mornings will be intensive language lessons, with afternoons devoted to technical training; on weekends we have free time, organized trips, or extended time with our host families. After the ten weeks we get sworn in and sent to our sites, to stay with new host families for at least three months.

Our group is just under 40 folks, 2/3 teaching English (TEFL) and 1/3 doing Community and Youth Development (CYD, my group). The geographic spread around the U.S. is pretty comprehensive, and we’ve got a nice range of ages, including about a fifth of our group over 50; pretty standard seeming Peace Corps big group of folks in their 20s as well. We shared interesting facts about ourselves this morning and include an archery instructor, cabinet builder, and enough washed-up former musicians to put together a decent little orchestra (so far represented – flute, clarinet x2, trombone, tuba, cello, and violin). Naturally too we’ve got some pretty impressive world travelers and lifetime adventurers. All in all, a group I’m excited to begin two years of service with!

So far Armenia is very much living up to the hype of hospitable people and beautiful countryside. I went on a short run today after training, half straight uphill and half straight down, and can’t wait to explore the areas around where I’ll be living on foot. I’m also currently full of lamb meatballs, eggplant, and pastries, which is a plus.

On a final exciting note, I’ve gotten a smart phone for the first time in my life, a little Android number called the Pixie that feels like it’s made of Styrofoam. I didn’t want to feel too cut off from the other volunteers in the group after training, who I figure will be my main in-country support network, so I overcame my Luddite ways, at least partially. I’m sure it’ll be a balancing act figuring out how much to use it, but all part of the adventure.

Rambling done for now. As I previously wrote, I’ll post a more coherent post sometime in the next week summarizing what about Peace Corps in Armenia I’m most looking forward to.

ACTUALLY IN TIME UPDATE (3/29): I occasionally have WiFi at my host family’s house and will post as able during PST, which I imagine between the limited WiFi and extremely packed training schedule will be rarely. In brief, my host family is awesome, and lives in a large country house with a huge attached garden full of fruit trees and chickens. It’s a mom and dad, son my age, daughter in Russia, and a whole revolving cast of family members who come over at all times of the day for coffee and visiting. Aralez is a town of approx. 2,500, with views of the Caucasus to the East and absolutely mind-exploding views of Ararat on a clear day to the West. Like, probably drop whatever you’re holding when you first see it in full once the clouds have lifted. Unfortunately, pictures must wait ‘til I have better WiFi. Every morning is intense language training, the afternoon technical training, and if this week is any guide the early evening raucous soccer matches out behind the school. Every day here has been equal measures wonderful and incredibly difficult and long, i.e. exactly what I expected. Signing off for now… more as I’m able!

Nick Still Not Yet in Armenia – What I’ll Miss Most

With my departure coming up on Monday, I thought I’d list some of the things/people/abstract ideas that I anticipate missing most while in Armenia; I’ll plan to revisit this list halfway through my time there to see what’s held true. Apologies in advance to any people, places, or things who don’t find themselves on this list and feel they should be.

  1. Family, friends, girlfriend, other myriad loved and liked ones – pretty straightforward and fundamental. Having spent more than 20 years in Boston, I’ve got a deep social and support network of the old and the new.
  2. The Northeast, and America in general – I’ve had the privilege to see a lot of this country, and I’ll miss it in the two years I’m gone (assuming I don’t visit at some point), particularly my stomping grounds throughout the greater Boston area, New Hampshire, and Vermont.
  3. My bicycles – from what I’ve heard, cycling in Armenia is either dangerous or pointless (i.e. it’d be faster to walk up that rutted dirt road than to ride it). My bikes are both inanimate objects and dear friends, and I anticipate missing them quite a lot while gone.
  4. The Red Sox – I’m a bit bitter over having to leave right at the start of baseball season. It’s also a shame to miss Ortiz’ last year and what will likely be the best years of David Price. It’s possible that I’ll have good enough internet to watch some games on my laptop (and certainly stream the radio feed), but a 7 PM East Coast start time equates to 3 AM in Armenia. We’ll see how dedicated/crazy I am.
  5. Being generally understood by others – obviously more complex conversations will be necessary to make friends with Armenians and understand them on a deeper level, and in the beginning I anticipate feeling more isolated when all I can say is, “No, I don’t like walnuts”, or “This is our cat Rose, she is fat and angry”.
  6. Anonymity – especially if I’m in a smaller town/village, but even in bigger cities, I imagine it’ll be hard to blend in for those times when I just want to go for a walk to the store or a hike in the hills without saying good afternoon to fifteen people and being invited inside for coffee by most of them. I realize that I’m complaining about the level of hospitality and kindness I expect to find in Armenia, but as someone in the middle of the introvert-extrovert spectrum sometimes I just want to walk with my thoughts.
  7. Familiar liberal gender roles – having lived in extremely liberal places my entire life, I expect to have some trouble with what I’ve heard are strongly defined traditional gender roles in most Armenian households. Beyond the difficulty of seeing what I might consider to be forms of oppression, I imagine I may have to cut back on some of my more traditionally feminine hobbies, such as cooking, cleaning, embroidering, and painting my toenails.
  8. Pets – various cats and dogs are an important part of my life. I have no idea if household pets are a thing in Armenia, and if so how they are treated. On a related note, this is a fantastic public Facebook page of photos and stories about their pets submitted by volunteers over the years.

Next on the docket is to summarize what I’m most looking forward to!