Before coming to Armenia I wrote this list of people, places, things, and abstract concepts I thought I’d miss. Let’s reflect!
- 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.
This has definitely been difficult, though frankly, Skype and email are a miracle. Since coming here I’ve gotten both Facebook and a smartphone, so in some ways I’m actually more connected to people than I was back home.
I’ve also been lucky that I’ve gotten to travel to France to see Kim (we’re currently planning a trip to Greece in November) and been able to show her Armenia. My parents are also coming in a couple of weeks for a ten-day visit. I’ve also gotten to see members of the Zarougian/Saryan family multiple times, a nice reminder of home. One of the harder things has been not meeting my now 15-month old niece in person, only over Skype, though I’ll meet her in person for the first time on a trip home in January.
In sum, this has been difficult, but thanks to modern technology and a range of visits it’s been completely doable.
- 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.
In general I miss the size and diversity of America. Armenia is roughly the size of Maryland, with two long closed borders (Turkey to the west, Azerbaijan to the east), so it can start to feel claustrophobic after almost a year and a half here. As I wrote in my previous post, Armenia’s geographical diversity is impressive, particularly for its size, but I still miss the American landscape. I particularly miss the ethnic diversity of the United States – Armenia is more than 97% ethnically Armenian (which is actually a fairly recent phenomenon, due in large part to big population movements following the breakup of the Soviet Union – at the start of the twentieth century, the world’s two biggest Armenian centers were Tbilisi and Istanbul), while I come from a fairly diverse city back home.
- 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.
I definitely miss my bikes, though not nearly as much as I’d expected to, in large part because the hiking in my region is so great that I never lack for outdoor adventure. We see a fair number of touring cyclists in Lori marz in the summer, but I’m not terribly jealous, as I’ve been able to explore the country extensively in other ways.
- 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.
First of all, replace “David Price” with “Chris Sale” (though Sale is with us at least through 2019!). With early wakeups in the summer I’ve been able to catch the end of plenty of games on the radio, with an inordinate number of thrilling walk-off wins lately. West coast games start at 6 AM Armenia time, so I’ve also been able to hear some full games in the right circumstances. A long playoff run this October, which would necessitate a whole lot of 3-4 AM wake-ups, could test me.
- 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”.
On the linguistic side this is no longer a big stress, as I speak pretty decent Armenian; that said, speaking (I like to think) comprehensible Armenian still takes a lot of work, so sometimes I’m just too tired, stressed, etc. to be able to communicate effectively in the language as I would like. Frankly, sometimes it’s fun to not understand the conversation, plans, etc., because then whatever happens is a fun surprise (with the proper mindset, of course, which isn’t always possible to hold).
- 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.
This can definitely be difficult, especially living in a village. While most of the time I love that the kids, shopkeepers, and tatiks all know me, sometimes I miss the anonymity of living in a big city. Living in a village as one of only two Americans can feel claustrophobic, but it’s easy for me to go for errands into the nearby cities of Dilijan or Vanadzor, where I have more anonymity, or for a walk in the hills above town, usually quiet but for the shepherds and their flocks. And I’m sure that as soon as I move home I’ll miss saying hello to everyone in the street and on the bus.
- 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.
This has definitely been hard in certain ways, living in a patriarchal culture. That said, I live with a liberal family; for instance, my host dad was a cook at the village restaurant during the Soviet era, and so when my host mom had to go to Yerevan for an extended period of time in April to help with a sick family member, my host dad did all the cooking (he made the most delicious chicken noodle soup I’ve ever had) and he and I split the dish washing. My host mom doesn’t bat an eye when I want to cook something. And while I haven’t given anyone here a cross-stitch present yet, I know the response will not be, “this is women’s work and shameful that you did it” but probably, “OK, this is kind of weird, but thanks, I guess”.
- 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.
In general pets are not as much a thing here, and I’ve never known an Armenian family with an indoor cat or dog outside of Yerevan. I’ve been lucky, though, as my Aralez host family had a sweet cat, my host family here has an awesome dog, and Emilia’s family has both a dog and a cat.