Sunday, September 16, 2007

WAHOO! School is back

Hello Everyone! Welcome to the second year of my tour! To me, I am in my official second leg, as school in well under way, and it was at this time last year where I started concrete and tangible work. This year looks even more promising, but before I get too far ahead I need to update you what has occurred since my last update.

After our mid-service training, I headed back to the village to continue my summer English reading and writing clubs at my home. The students prepared themselves well, and when school started this past September 1st, it was easier to see who had studied over the summer. I spent some time hanging out at the lake and enjoying its beauty and innocence, as you know, it is one of the world’s highest altitude lakes. Duties called me during mid-August to the swearing-in of the new group of volunteers. Wow, my group; we are officially the veterans…scary J This new group is confident and young so good things will come from them. Mid-August also met celebrating my birthday at least five times! I have celebrated my birthday more in Armenia the last two years than I have had in my entire life! It is fun, but can be a bite overwhelming. However, it was a double-special day, as my first shipment of Cheetos arrived that day! Oh, that Chester Cheetah artificial goodness what an indescribable taste, and the crunchy noise was music to my ears! And then, the goody orange crumbs I licked away from my fingers! It sounds funny, but you forget what you don’t have until you see it again. I watched a movie with another volunteer and saw Cheetos in the movie, and since then, the orange deliciousness I craved! Special thanks to my fellow pal Heather’s mother, who has thrown a bag or two in Heather’s packages. Finally, on this day, I was able to spend it with many of my closet friends, both from the Armenian and American sides.

August 22nd was a colossal day in Armenia, and I was very excited I was a live witness. This day, Armenia who is rank rather low in the world rankings, played Portugal in the sport of soccer, or as the rest of the world calls it, futbol! Approximately 30,000 fans crowded the stadium that only sits about 25,000. Armenia, with its quick legs, score first, leaving Portugal stuck in their tracks, as everyone in the stadium jumped and hollered in joy. Portugal would eventually tie the game, and the 1-1 score was stuck; proving that Armenia is not this itty-bitty nation, but a strong, prideful, and loyal country. Portugal was a top world team, so it was a HUGE win for Armenia. To be apart of the screaming, yelling, and national pride is something that I will always hold near to my heart.

As many of you know, I am a sports fanatic. For instance, it is killing me that the Chicago Cubs are doing so well now, and I am not there to listen, watch or cheer. I am starting to think that I may be apart of the Cubs’ jinx! Anyways, many of you know that I have worked event management in the discipline of sports. This game was so pure without many overbearing marketing posters, banners, and promotions that can be seen at Americas’ sport arenas. The game seemed so pure. There was plenty of security, no concessions, and only one entrance open for 30,000 people. It was scary to enter the stadium as I really thought someone was going to get stepped on, especially the children. Many people were upset about this, so it will be interesting to see if at a later game, the admission procedure changes.

What is so interesting about futbol is how the sport itself is like an international language. For the most part, teams competing against each other don’t understand a common language, but they understand the common rules of the game. Yet, many fans come out and cheer their country. It is interesting to see how sport has united people, and in my experience in Armenia, sport has helped with so many off-the-field characteristics, such as a higher self-esteem, leadership, character development, working with a team, etc. Though it has its negatives, sports are good and have had a huge effort on the students I teach, and for the national pride I experienced at the last two futbol games.

After the game, I headed with Heather and our Armenian friends to Georgia where we spent some time on the beautiful, clear, stone pebbled beaches of the Black Sea. We even cultured the Armenians to McDonalds in Tbilisi while en-route to the Batumi region. Tbilisi is a wonderful, very European city. The EU Flag blows proudly in the air as the Georgians hope to one day become part of the EU. In Tbilisi, we were able to take advantage of the sulfur baths and cheap massages, though I would be prepared for the massager, as without warning, she took off her clothes as the sulfur bath pools are quite warm. This action took me for a bit of a surprise as the older woman had requested we do the same, but I was not going to do that! But there was not a bed or anything, we would just lie on the marble slab….so I nicely refused and kept my clothes on, while I received a massage from a nude massager…quite an experience I must say.

Then it was the night train to Batumi region, where we arrived on the beach of the Black Sea around 630am (that is what the pictures are of). The beach is so calm and gentle and we practically had the beach to ourselves for an hour. It was so peaceful! Soon, Heather and I found out that the majority of the population was speaking Russian, a language we had know idea how to speak. We found that our Armenian skills got us further than our English, as many Armenians were vacationing in the area, and we could communicate with them for translations through our Armenia. It is a good things we know some Armenia! Plus, it was great that we went with Armenians, as they knew Russian!

In the area, we visited the botanical gardens, ran on the beach, ate delicious ice cream, and got in a couple of games in of tennis, which I lost horribly to Heather and it was still fun! It was quite relaxing and fun to be with our Armenian friends. In the picture above, it is Heather, myself, as well as Rima and Aida. They gave me the permission to use their picture here! This picture was taken in Sarpi, near the Turkish border. Sarpi had the best beach, as the water was picture perfect and the cliffs gave Heather and I reason to just be crazy and jump off of them!

Soon, it was time to end back; so again it was back on the night train, to the marshutni to Armenia. It was a long but fruitful journey, in which I left my camera and other belongings in the marshutni, but with the big hearts of the Armenians and Heather, I was able to retrieve all the belongings.

September 1st arrived and school started. I am working at two schools this year, and hopefully four different teachers. Walking into the classroom this year was quite distinctive, as my language skills are better, the students recognize me, and I understand conversations in the teachers’ lounge. Some of our classes were combined, and I was happy to see that the students in which my counterpart and I have taught seemed to have a stronger knowledge base. It eased my tension about assessing our team-teaching, a concept unfamiliar in Armenia! So far, it has worked!

As of now, I am impatiently waiting for my parents’ arrival to country and preparing for a marathon for November. Man, it is already tiring! I ran 16 miles the other and there is only one road to run on!! All the marshunti drivers recognize and wave at me, which provides entertainment.

Oh, and my last plug is that with my community, we are reconstructing a new classroom, from scratch! Spreading concrete, applying plaster, placing windows, laying carpet, etc. Later, installing a computer, projector, desks, chalkboards, etc! It will be an English Learning Center. Something that is nonexistent in my village, but in great demand. Plus, this will be the best looking classroom in the area, creating an engaging learning environment! And guess what, you all can help! Yes, you can! If you have the time, please go to , and go to DONATE NOW on the left side, next click on DONATE to Volunteer Projects, Eastern Europe, and BAM, there you will see S.Merz and Armenia! I have a description of the project as well. And yes, it is a 100% tax-deductible contribution!! I was inspired to do this by my community, and your endless support and questions in how you could help.

Again, I hope you all are well!
Big hugs,
PS. Marshunti is a minibus. It is what is used for transport.
Happy Birthday: Carter, Lexi, Jack
Happy Anniversary: Sister Sam and Chadd