I hope this update finds you a “bit full” from your turkey holiday! I sure can tell you that missed being with my family on this holiday, though I was able to spend it with some very important people, which eased the aches. I was able to talk to my entire family on Turkey Day. It was absolutely wonderful to hear their voices and carry an hour conversation with them, despite it being 2am in the morning on my side! It was a very special phone call!!!
Have I said that I cannot believe that it has been about six months since my feet have been on the American soil? Nuts!!!
For a week in November, all the PCVs serving in Armenia met up for the traditional once-a-year conference called “All-Vol”. Here, us rookies were given lectures such as how to stay warm through the bitter winter (which has already started), how to improve our language skills, safety and security updates, medical shots (we have been vaccinated with the flu shot), etc. You get my drift, as it was meeting after meeting, followed by an extraordinary dinner that assimilated Thanksgiving. I got my “fixins” of turkey, mash potatoes mix with corn, stuffing, pumpkin pie, and of course whip cream (though not Cool Whip). One volunteer had her mom shipped some canned cranberries as well! Not only were we spoiled with this meal, but all the PCVs stayed in a hotel that had AMAZING warm water, showers, heated rooms, etc. I even showered twice one day just because I could. And those of you that know me, it is almost a cardinal sin for me to take a shower twice in one day!!! We even played a basketball game and visited the new US Embassay. It was a great time, though we were busy with many meetings, and I was finishing up my first grant…oh Lord, this grant sucked my life away! Of course, the meetings ended on a Thursday, so I stayed in the capital city and spent some time and stayed the weekend with my dearest Armenian friends and their family.
Though I am not in America, my body feels the vibe of the “holiday season”. This is really awkward, as the Armenian holiday season begins at New Year’s. Of course, Thanksgiving is not celebrated here, and Christmas is honored on the 6th of January, sticking to the old Christian calendar. So it is rather weird, for something to be so important to me my whole life, such as the holiday season, and to be in a place where no one really cares. I say this sincerely, as no one is at fault. It is just a culture difference that is quite funny. I have planned to stay at the Marriott with some other PCVs over Christmas, because the Marriott will have an amazing Christmas brunch. It will be the closest thing to celebrate Jesus’ birth, as there are no Catholic Churches or other assemblies that recognize this holiday on this day.
The village life is more and more amusing each day. I am very busy at school and my basketball clubs are really taking off. I am currently writing another grant to fund some women-sized basketballs and uniforms for my girls. Who knows, as many grants are not fond of supporting activities geared towards sports. I just know how influential sports were to me “off the playing field”, and I really want to instill that same learning experience to these young girls because the skills are virtually transferable in day-to-day life. We will see how it goes, the funding that is.
Thanks to the Steffe’s in Michigan, whose friends and etc. sent books, I have started an English Library with young reader books. Some of my tenth grade students are diving into the books and I hope to set up a reading club in the future. I am also working on a Spelling Bee. The students know the sounds of the English alphabet but have forgotten the names of the letters. Tentatively, the Spelling Bee competition for the school is scheduled for December 16th. Another PCV in my region is trying to fund a region-wide Spelling Bee in the spring, so I am preparing my students for that.
I am in full-gear as serving as a Co-director of environmental camps held throughout Armenia. At this moment, we are in the process of gathering funds and selecting the sites. I enjoy this work, but it is much more difficult when things are being explained or exchanged in the Armenian language!
Early this month, I traveled to see my first host family. I was a bit nervous of going back, because it had been three months since I last saw them. However, being there felt like home. I could understand their Armenian and they could understand mine. They are very patient people!! I missed the kids, the family, the food, the neighbors, and the village. It was a great “break” going there and it revitalized my spirits about my language skills.
Speaking of the language, it is going to be an endless battle. Sometimes I understand everyone and other days, everything sounds too foreign. I continue to study every night and have a tutor, just like many of the PCVs. However, visiting my first host family, I discovered something about myself and my language skills. When I am completely relaxed, I speak and understand Armenian very well. But if I get the slightest intonation that a person is judging me or having no patience with me; I start to have a mini anxiety attack and then I don’t understand anyone and I cannot even speak the simplest words in Armenian. It is a really weird thing for me and difficult to describe.
Many Armenians compared the PCVs language skills, (which is natural) despite the understanding that some PCVs have lived in Armenian longer than us rookies. Though this typically would not bother me, it has. Then I get all “worked up” and feel stupid, and freak out mentally. I know that this sounds silly, but now that I found my problem, I am slowly working to calm down. But at my first village, Armenians were very patient. I am finding out that here, at my site, some people want me to be fluent :) (and I want to be fluent too :)
Emotionally and psychologically, I am well. The holidays will be tough, but I knew that coming into this experience, and I am not alone in the boat. Physically, this winter is going to present a new challenge as it is too cold to run outside and it is my only form of exercise. I could try Tae-Bo or something inside the house, but the house is cold as well and the last thing you want to do is sweat. I have recovered from my Giardia, only to discover that the juice was being prepared with the village water rather than my filtered water. My body has not adjusted to the village water yet.
As I said, the signs of winter are already here, as the entire mountains are covered in snow, and our water pipes have broke (meaning no running water in the home). School is scheduled to close on December 25th until the beginning of February, for the school has no heat. Also, it is an Armenian tradition to celebrate the New Year for a week, followed by another week celebration of Christmas.
I don’t know when my next update will be, but I don’t think it will be until after Christmas. So with my best Armenian, I wish all of you the merriest Christmas and happy New Year. Sending you many hugs because I miss you all very much…
Շնորհավոր Սուրբի Ծնունդդ ու Շնորհավոր Նոր Տարի: ՈԻխարկում եմ շատ գրկումներ վորեվհետեվ շատ եմ կարոտում եմ ձեզ: