First off, apologies for the extended time between posts – PST has frankly been exhausting. I anticipate having much more time both to write and rest, however, once I permanently move to site in a week!
A week and a half ago we found out our permanent site placements – I will be going to the largish village of Sarnaghbyur (pop. ~3,000), about a half hour south of Gyumri up north in Shirak marz (pictures of course to follow once I’m at site and have better internet). I won the counterpart/supervisor lottery – I will be working with Karen, currently a Peace Corps language and cultural facilitator/trainer (LCF) and just all-around awesome fellow. Karen runs a small NGO focused on rural youth empowerment he began a decade ago when he was just a teenager, and also serves as an expert on the struggles that rural youth face for various government agencies and other organizations. Karen has already introduced me to his whole family, and I felt immediately and warmly welcomed by everyone.
My host family in Sarnaghbyur are of the junior tatik/papik age (60ish), a sweet and somewhat reserved couple named Yelena and Janibek. They have five daughters, all married and many living in town (the rest nearby), and I hope to meet all their respective families to expand my social circle in the town. From what I gather farming takes up most of Yelena and Janibek’s time – they have a small orchard with a dozen fruit trees, a larger garden filled with mostly potatoes and cabbage, a flock of fifteen chickens, and a half dozen cows.
Speaking of potatoes and cabbages… the scenery and climate of Sarnaghbyur will be an adjustment. It’s 6,000 feet up, almost completely treeless outside of scattered orchards, and beautiful in a windswept way. The summers are mild (hooray!), though I know the winters will be particularly bitter. On the plus side, living in a small rural town means that five minutes out my back door I can find alone time hiking or running in the hills or around the large reservoir the town boasts. Additionally, the town has two beautiful ancient churches and a shrine around a cold spring (from which the town draws both its name and water) that’s said to have healing properties. As suggested before, the town’s main crops are potatoes and cabbage, with far less of the incredible fruit available elsewhere in country. So, I imagine winter cooking will be somewhat basic…though apparently our cabbage is thought to be particularly good, making the children in our community extra smart, according to a rumor from a nearby town.
Finally, I have a great network of other volunteers in the marz – half a dozen volunteers up in Gyumri, including two other CYD volunteers from my group, a good friend a half hour north of Gyumri in a tiny village (300 people!), and a TEFL volunteer from the previous cohort a ten minute drive/nice hour walk away. Additionally, I’m a two to three hour trip from Yerevan (two by marshutni, three by the funky old Soviet train that runs out of Gyumri), so it’ll be easy to get in for Peace Corps business or socializing, but not so close I can easily go in if I’m bored. I’m likewise happy to be the only American in my village, but also have such good folks nearby – I know some volunteers with site mates they like struggle to balance time hanging out with Armenians and integrating versus spending time with other Americans, so I feel I won’t have that problem but will nevertheless always have cool people nearby to hang out with.