One week of pre-service training (PST) is in the books! I still don’t have good enough WiFi to post pictures unfortunately (and not sure I will until I get to my site in two months and set up my own WiFi), but here’s a quick rundown of my town, my family, and what we’re up to.
Aralez is a small town of about 2,000 an hour south of Yerevan in Ararat marz (region). It’s pretty quiet here – town has a half dozen khanootsner (convenience stores), a nice little cultural center, a school with adjoining soccer field, and not a whole lot else apart from some of the nicest and most welcoming folks I’ve ever met. The town is full of fruit trees and many folks keep large gardens, and on a clear day the views of Ararat to the west are absolutely mind-blowing. My only issue is air quality, as the town is mostly dusty dirt roads, there’s a lot of cigarette smoking, and people burn their organic waste. I’ll get used to it.
Additionally, for those who’ve seen the news about the flaring up of the Nagorno-Karabakh conflict, rest assured that we’re 150 miles from there and Peace Corps is carefully monitoring the situation.
My Host Family
My host family is awesome – mom and dad, host brother about my age, and host sister just a bit older who is in Russia with her husband (a huge number of Armenian men spend most of the year in Russia, as jobs are fairly scarce here). Across the street is our tatik (grandma), who lives with one of my host cousins and her two small children. They’re over pretty much every night, and the four-year old in particular loves hanging out and teaching me every word he knows, running around the living room and very seriously shouting (in Armenian), “THIS! This is a TABLECLOTH!”.
There’s a lot of TV here – it’s pretty much always on in the living room from early afternoon through midnight. Mostly I’ve seen Armenian news and soap operas, but last night we got to watch a solid portion of Forrest Gump dubbed in Armenian, which loses something without Tom Hanks’ drawl.
On an unrelated note, apparently many Armenian NGOs do almost all of their communication and promotion via Facebook, and many kids in Aralez have already asked me if I’m on Facebook, so now might be the time I break down and get it for use over here.
Every morning from 8:30 to 12:30 we have language class, led by one of our two language and cultural facilitators (LCFs), Armenian Peace Corps employees who live in the town full time with us. Beyond teaching us language and culture, they’re also our resource for say, when we need to communicate to our host families that we’d like breakfast a little earlier so that we can run in the morning before class, but don’t have the language yet to do this. Just get Rima or Hasmik on the phone.
After lunch (described more below), we have three or four hours of technical training with our excellent program manager Stepan and trainer Artak, and a wide range of local experts they bring in. Our first week was split between learning and applying some of the community mapping tools we’ll use and lectures on the state of Armenia’s economy and NGO sector. Down the road we’ll be making mock NGOs for activities and going to Yerevan regularly for networking and practicum with local non-profits.
Evenings after training I generally go for a run (often aiming to go alone for a bit of Nick time, but I inevitably get followed and joined by a group of the local boys, which is always a hoot) or play soccer behind the school with the other volunteers and a big raucous group from the town. After this it’s dinner with the host family, then working on language or technical training homework in the living room, while the rest of the family watches soap operas. In my studying I’m usually joined by the above mentioned four-year old, who curls up under a blanket with me and “reads” his own book. Some evenings we’ll go to someone else’s house, where I’m stuffed to bursting with sweets and local fruit and preserves.
The cuisine in my family is delicious and heavily lavash-based. Most things I eat are wrapped in lavash, which we volunteers call lavacos (lavash tacos). My family has a huge garden and orchard out back of their house, which is already starting to provide some tasty greens and I’m sure will just provide more deliciousness as spring turns to summer. Anyway, a typical day of my food looks like… Breakfast: oatmeal, two or three honey and cheese (the former extremely local, the latter homemade) lavacos, Haykakan Surj (small, strong cups of coffee that in the States we’d call Turkish coffee but here is obviously not called that). Morning snack at school: two apples, two lavacos filled with whatever was for dinner last night (tabbouleh, fried potatoes, hot dogs with tomato sauce, etc.). Lunch: more lavacos, plus whatever other volunteers bring, as we do a lot of trading – stuffed grape leaves (dolma), pickles, more fried potatoes, etc. Afternoon snack at school: a whole ton of fruit, various sweets, instant coffee. Dinner: all sorts of things – some nights tabbouleh wrapped in greens from the garden, some nights potato and tomato soup with a ton of lavash dipped in it, last night lentil and macaroni soup. I’m always happy when dinner includes my host mom’s homemade tomato sauce, which is the absolute best I’ve ever tasted.
Indoor pets are very much not a thing here. There are a lot of stray dogs and cats roaming the streets, and most folks simply ignore them, while a minority throw pebbles at them and the like. My host family, however, has a tiny cat that’s very much a pet – she never comes inside, but is always on the premises, and the family feeds her daily. Additionally, I’ve seen my host dad pick her up and cuddle her, though when I asked what her name was I got a funny look (I’ve been told it’s even considered an insult here to name a pet after someone you don’t like).
That’s all I’ve got for now – will update more throughout PST as I’m able.