Friday, January 11, 2013

Winter Beginnings

Winter in Armenia has officially begun! Here in Ptghni, we’ve been pretty lucky as far as snow goes. December treated us to many sunny days and very little snow. However, in the last week or so, Mother Earth has decided it was time for some of that pow. It really is quite beautiful, and it has not yet caused any issues for me as far as travel goes (knock on wood).

My yard

A lot has happened since my last blog update. I have been living on my own for more than three and a half months and have definitely started to settle in. I’ve even got some decorating done with the help of my dear friend, Kat.

The last half of October was fun; halloween was a great time. I had the opportunity to visit Berd, which is a breathtakingly beautiful town. And I got to dress up!



I also had my first Thanksgiving in Armenia. It was quite a treat, several volunteers met in Vanadzor for a wonderful feast. Our meal included: turkey, stuffing, mashed potatoes, gravy, carrots, salads, hummus and veggies, devilled eggs, macaroni and cheese, and broccoli bake. We also had apple cake, pumpkin pie, and walnut pie for dessert; and wines and mulled cider to imbibe. The following day, while much of America was beginning their Christmas shopping, myself and three other volunteers confined ourselves to a warm kitchen, ate leftovers, and watched movies all day. Glorious times indeed.

Thanksgiving Spread

In the first weekend of December, myself and another volunteer put on a two-day Strategic Planning workshop that we'd been working over the last couple of months. It was a successful workshop, and the organization I work with now has a clearer vision of who they are and where they're going.

Christmas was also amazing. On December 24th, I met with other volunteers in Spitak for Christmas Eve dinner. We again had all the holiday favorites, and I had the wonderful opportunity to spend the evening in pajamas, drinking wine, and playing games with people who have quickly become family to me in these few short months in Armenia. We also had a special guest: one volunteer’s mother came to visit Armenia for the holidays! She is a RPCV from the Philippines, so we were blessed with wonderful stories and comparisons about Peace Corps service. Oh, and I can’t forget to mention that I got cheese curds from Wisconsin as a special Christmas gift! After all of these festivities, I departed again for Yerevan on Christmas Day, where I spent time with other volunteers. Here, we enjoyed a potluck dinner with amazing people, and an endless supply of great conversation and food. Oh, and we did have one dessert casualty. 

Apsos. Those were going to be great apple cheesecake bars.

And believe it or not, all this was just the beginning! The Armenian holiday season begins on January 1st, with the celebration of the New Year. This time is spent with families, and there is typically a huge meal along with a lot of dancing. I did spend my New Year’s Eve with volunteers in Yerevan, but on New Year’s Day, I went to Nurus to visit those who helped to make my first few months in Armenia a welcome one. I was greeted with food, dancing, and the kindness that is ever-present in the village of Nurnus. Unfortunately, my training host family is in Russia for the winter so I did not have a chance to visit them, but am very much looking forward to their return in spring.

I was also invited to my counterpart’s home as well as my landlord’s home for dinner during the course of the Armenian New Year. It has been a wonderful experience to be so heartily welcomed into the homes of such generous people; the Armenian hospitality has a way of making you feel like family. This has certainly been a huge factor in the comfort of my transition into the Armenian culture and country.

I also adopted a cat, Stan in the middle of October. He is one of the offspring of my host family’s cat. Stan has proven to be wonderful company and quite entertaining. His favorite toys include: pieces of hot dog and pieces of bread. Oh, and Santa hats.

Staying warm

As with the holidays, comes the cold weather. Right now, I spend most of my time in my living room. My bed has been moved here, and I carry out as many activities as I can within these four walls. Peace Corps issues all volunteers a plug-in radiator as well as a small space heater. I keep my radiator plugged in nearly all the time I’m home, and use the space heater in spurts of about an hour or so due to the energy drain. The average temperature ranges between 50 and 57 degrees Fahrenheit in my warm room while the rest of the house hovers around 40 degrees. Though this may sound completely unbearable, it isn’t. I am fortunate enough to have a 0 degree sleeping bag, wool socks, and long johns that have definitely made the situation more comfortable. I also have a custom-made nose warmer, tons of scarves, and gloves to help keep me toasty.

Nose Warmer!

Cooking, bathing, laundry, and cleaning on the other hand, prove to take a bit more effort to begin than they did in the warmer months. However, after a few minutes of any of these tasks, I find myself warming up fairly quickly and making due just fine. That isn't to say however, that the thought of spring doesn't bring an immediate smile to my face.

All in all, my first Armenian winter has been pretty smooth thus far. After taking some time off of work for the holidays, I’m very much looking forward to getting back and getting new programs started in my villages as well as working on some internal development with my NGO.  I am also anticipating celebrating my first birthday in Armenia as well as seeing these last couple months of winter through. I will do my best to keep you updated!

Thursday, October 4, 2012

New Home, New Job

Well, in the words of Ringo: “I got blisters on my fingers!” However, it is not due to incessant drum playing.; it’s from hand washing clothes for the first time. I’m thinking of investing in rubber gloves so my knuckles don’t get put through the wringer like that again. I know, terrible pun.

As you may have guessed, I am officially in my new home! I am no longer living with a host family, and it is definitely great to have some freedom back. I can cook my own meals (mostly eggs and potatoes), and can lay around my living room and have a glass of wine whenever I want (although I have yet to do this). It’s been about three years since I’ve had my own place and the first night I was here, I literally paced back and forth for awhile until I finally decided to just sit on my couch and watch an episode of Roseanne. It was maybe the most surreal experience thus far in my Peace Corps life.

The place is fantastic; it’s a duplex with two bedrooms, a living room, kitchen, and a brand new bathroom. I have hot water 24/7 and Peace Corps issued me a gas stove to use while I am here. Of course, no place is without its drawbacks: 1) My internet is nowhere near as fast as it could be were I not nestled in other homes and trees 2) Same issue with my cell phone 3) No heat; I haven’t had to deal with that issue yet, but I assume it to be an issue in the coming months 4) My refrigerator freezes EVERYTHING (but I am thankful to have a refrigerator, nonetheless) and 5) No washing machine. My experience in washing my clothes has gone in stages. When I was living with my first host family, I had access to a standard front-load automatic washing machine and a line to dry my clothes. My second host family has an old soviet style washer that basically will spin the clothes for you; you must wring them out by hand and of course, line dry. Now I have a large plastic bin to wash my clothes in by hand and again, lines to dry. The act itself isn’t so bad, but the forming of blisters on my knuckles is moderately painful. Regardless of these drawbacks, I have to say that I very much love this place. I know that I am far from roughing it here in my urban village. Plus the yard has apple trees, an apricot trees, grape vines, and other plant life that I hope to tend when the time is right. I’m assured by my landlord that he will clean up the yard (there are various branches and other debris of the same sphere right now keeping it from its splendor) soon.

My bedroom

My beautiful new bathroom

Living Room

Spare Room

Did I mention that my refrigerator freezes EVERYTHING?
My Kitchen

On the work front, I am also starting to settle in and find my place in the organization. I have two organizations that I work with: a youth club located in a neighboring village, (which I must walk about 20 minutes down the mountainside to get to) and an NGO located about a five minute walk away. In both organizations, I am primarily working with one other person, both of whom have pretty great English skills. Tomorrow I will start a basic computer class for the kids in the youth club. I have about six classes planned where we will cover basic computer navigation and knowledge and also delve into Microsoft Word. I am super nervous, as I’ve never taught a class before. However, I am very thankful to have a translator there who is excited to help. Next on the agenda I’m hoping to begin teaching a Leadership and Management class to the kids. I have not yet however, begun lesson plans.

In my NGO, we are starting up clubs of various kinds: English, Computer, Literature, Journalism, and Volunteering and Civil Development. Admittedly, I am a bit nervous about the number of clubs that are forming all at once, but if there is one thing I’ve learned in the four months in Armenia it is: just roll with it. So. We’ll see how it all turns out. Additionally, I am planning a Strategic Management/Vision workshop with some other volunteers whose organizations can also benefit from this type of training. I am really excited to get the ball rolling on this project which we will hopefully have planned by November.

Other than these things, I am still terribly missing everyone back home. My best friend, Dena is getting MARRIED this weekend! My heart breaks every time I think about my not being in attendance, but I am so unbelievably happy for the both of them that it really is bittersweet. I will instead be at a wine festival, toasting to their long-lived happiness from afar.

I have to say that at the four month mark, I am extremely busy and have a million and one things to keep me occupied, and my list seems to keep growing. I am so glad to have finally begun to settle in and really know where my place is. My next big step is to get through winter. I can only hope that I am well enough prepared.  Here’s to trying!         

Monday, September 10, 2012


So every time I speak with someone in America, I hear a request for a blog update (here it is!). Now, it should be known that I have started a number of different posts all saved on my computer but haven’t actually finished and posted them. This one is fresh.

The reason for my lack of completion of a blog post is three-fold. One, since moving to Armenia I’ve learned that my perfectionist tendencies are the biggest hindrance on many things in my life, one being my writing. Two, when it was told to me that my experience as a PCV was going to be like a roller coaster, I thought “duh.” Then I realized that this roller coaster goes beyond all theories of physics and the twists and turns have presented themselves at a pace that until now I did not know existed on the Earthly plane. That said, every blog post that I’ve begun seems ancient the next moment I attempt to finish it. Thirdly, this language balance is hard for me. My brain has had difficulty in switching from one language to another; most of my day is filled with extremely simplified terms and ideas and at a certain point, you have to let some of the more complex thoughts wash away in your mind and just hope that someone gets your gist. And this may tie in with my first reason, but when I write (in English), some of those more complex terms insist on putting themselves out there, only to find that they’re more jumbled in my brain than they used to be in the days of using one language in my life.

So. I’ve been living in my village for approximately one month now. The village is extremely small, my estimate is the size of a football field. We have a huge highway running through it and a twenty minute marshutni ride will take you into the middle of the capital city, Yerevan. There are definitely plusses and minuses to my situation, as everyone has them. There is a definite plus being so close to Yerevan. The city has all the fun things you would expect a city to have: bars, clubs, restaurants, cafes, shops, groceries, and the rumor is: even concerts. Additionally, at some point or another, every volunteer needs to visit the city and I am hoping (once I have my own place) that I can offer comfortable accommodations to those in need of a place to sleep. Another plus is that integration in a village is far, far easier than it would be if I were living in a larger town. There is no English spoken in my village, as there is no English being taught in the local school. Therefore, I have been speaking more Armenian and have had the opportunity to know a number of neighbors who have been extremely kind and welcoming. I have had many coffee breaks with a number of people who have done nothing but ensure my comfort and exude patience with my process of learning the culture and language. For it, I am extremely grateful.

Some of the not-so-fun points lie in that living in such a small place can be a bit claustrophobic at times. At this point, I still have another few weeks with my host family (who are AMAZING), but there is definitely something to be said in having control over things like cooking, eating, having company, etc. In addition, there is a lack of nature here. Due to my proximity to the capital city and that there are no roads leaving the village aside from the highway, I have no real forests to explore, mountains to hike, or bodies of water to enjoy. It never occurred to me that this would be the case, but alas. My positive spin on this aspect is that it will encourage me to visit other volunteers throughout the country, become comfortable with traveling, and embracing the opportunity to see what a beautiful country I live in.

There are other things completely unrelated to my site that have proven to be challenging. The thing that has been most difficult for me here has been the eating. The food is good but of course, there are times I miss my American meals. Having white bread three times a day, often with potatoes can be rough. The variety of vegetables that are typically in use here are: eggplant, tomato, and cucumber. Sometimes onions and greens are around, but not nearly as often as the aforementioned. In addition, it is an extreme challenge to say no when there is food on the table. And there is always food on the table. I am a pretty healthy eater and I still hear: “Why are you not eating?” or “Just eat a little” or “But it’s so delicious!” or “You don’t have to be hungry to eat this.” And beyond this, I have to say "no" or "no thank you" sometimes five, six, seven, eight times during the meal or coffee break. Never did I think that eating can be so exhausting! I am sure that things will change once I move into a house of my own which will likely be in about three weeks. I never was a big fan of cooking, but it’s something I now dream about! ;)

But the overall truth is, there are a million and one other things I could say but could never paint a full picture of my life in Armenia as a Peace Corps Volunteer. There are days where I feel like a total outsider who will never get a hang of the language or culture, then my host mom will say she’s baked a cake and we’ll have a great conversation over coffee about our dreams and what life is like in America and what life is like in Armenia and I remember why I’m here, and all of a sudden my heart is flooded with love and joy; like I could never imagine being any other place that right here, right now. I am so thankful for this challenge that has not ceased in showing me aspects of myself that are have been in desperate need for reformation, but that is for another blog post. I will say however, that I’ve learned there isn’t time to worry, just to take each moment as it comes and be thankful for it; this is going to be two years that I will reflect upon for the rest of my life. I’m going to live it to the fullest.

Wednesday, August 1, 2012

July's Awesomeness

So my idea of keeping up to date on this blog has put me to shame. SO MUCH HAS HAPPENED!

Let me go in order of fun things:

First, on June 25th, SITE ANNOUNCEMENT HAPPENED. This is when I learned that I will be living in Verin Ptghni for the next two years. Verin Ptghni (and yes, it is as difficult to pronounce as it looks) is a village of about 1,000 that borders the capital city, Yerevan. I am pretty excited about this placement for a number of reasons. First, the NGO that I will be working with seems to be a great fit for me. The organization is called Peace and Friendship Bridges NGO and consists of a group of young women who are dedicated to helping the community to flourish in many ways, especially by building youth empowerment. I am really excited about everyone’s eagerness to improve the community and encourage youth to do the same.

Myself and other volunteers eagerly awaiting our placement announcement

Shortly after site announcement, we had site visit. I had the opportunity to meet my new host family for four days. This is another reason why I’m excited about my placement. In the picture below, you can see my host mom and host sisters and my host dad. The gentleman to the far left is a relative but does not reside in the home. The only one not pictured is my new host brother.  Everyone was EXTREMELY welcoming, and I was touched by the kindness everyone showed. My last day there, we even had khorovats! Very delicious!

My new room (please excuse the mess!) 

My new host family

Living Room

My host sister picking apricots

Host family cat


Next, on July 12th, I was invited to a Christening party. My host family’s extended family (our neighbor) had all three of their children baptized and had a huge party to celebrate. It was my first experience at a formal Armenian party and it was a lot of fun, despite the heat! There was tons of dancing and TONS of food. I have never in my life been served THREE MAIN courses, but it is the norm at an Armenian party!

The mayor toasting to the grandmother of the newly baptized children

Trainees and Host Country Nationals dancing

My host father and host "son"

Armenian dancing

I was very impressed by this gentleman's clarinet playing!

On July 14th, trainees had the opportunity to visit the Garni Temple and Geghard Monastery. Both places were extremely beautiful. The Garni Temple is the last Pagan temple in Armenia and is from the 1st century. It has (obviously) been reconstructed, but the view was absolutely amazing.

Geghard Monastery complex was founded in the 4th century and is known for its unique architecture. The church was dug entirely out of rock; construction began at the top of the mountain and the structure formed by digging and carving into the mountain itself. We had an hour to explore but it was barely enough time to see it all.

View from Garni

Garni Temple

Garni Temple

Geghard Monastery

Geghard Monastery

Chamber at Geghard- you can see the wax buildup from many years of prayer candles

View from chamber in Geghard

Prayer candles


On July 17th, I was invited to celebrate a neighbor’s 14th birthday. Again, there was much dancing and three main courses of food were served. My favorite dish though was the “banjararen torte” or, vegetable cake. It was made of vegetables, but looked like a cake. Fantastic! The real cake though, was extremely tasty. Or, as they say in Armenia: shat hamov eh.

Banjararen Torte

Table's all set!

Gargeek giving a toast for the birthday boy

The REAL torte

Birthday boy and fam

July 27th was a very busy day. The trainees living in my training village put together a field day for the kids in the village. It turned out to be a great success! We played American games like the water-spoon game, had a three legged race, and had a water balloon toss. All in all, a lot of fun!

Volunteers and village children

On July 27th,I also visited Yerevan’s Cascade for the first time. This awesome structure is a gigantic stairwell beautifully adorned with exquisite landscaping and waterworks. At the base myself and other volunteers had the opportunity to witness and participate in traditional Armenian dance. It was a ton of fun! However, I must say that Armenian dancing is a lot harder than it looks!!

View from top of Cascade

A platform on a level at the Cascade

View from bottom of Cascade


Traditional Armenian dancing

Finally, on July 28th, I visited the Sevan Monastery and Haghartsin Monastery in Dilijan.  Again, both very beautiful.  Sevan Monastery is located on Lake Sevan, the largest lake in Armenia. The monastery itself resides on the lake’s peninsula and has an immaculate number of stairs, but once at the top, the view is hard to beat.

Haghartsin Monastery is the smallest of the monasteries that I’ve visited, but extremely beautiful. Dilijan is known for its vast forests and is an unmatched beauty.

Lake Sevan 

Gentleman providing music on the way up to the monastery

Sevan Monastery

Lake Sevan

Haghartsin Monastery

Fantastically beautiful tree at Haghartsin Monastery

Haghartsin Monastery

Haghartsin Monastery
So, it has been a BUSY MONTH!! Again, I apologize for the delay in posting, but will do my best to update again soon!