Monday, December 29, 2008

Here's to a Wonderful 2008!

nice view of parents

Well the holiday seasons surrounds us, and I cannot help but recall the wonderful joy and spirit felt around these holidays when I was living in Armenia. Recently I had time to look back at the pictures and witness through these pictures; personal growth. Though this year will come to an end and new beginning without dolma, blinchik, or cakes of all sorts, tastes, and sizes, it will approach, yet, a new beginning for all of us. Time for your new year’s resolutions (if you ever start them in the first place), a relaxing break from your hard work, and a time to enjoy the presence of the three “Fs”: Family, Friends and Football.

This holiday was much tougher than usual, as I wish dearly to be near my family. To me, it is not as much as being able to give presents, but to be present in their presence…but I guess sometimes we just can’t have all of our eggs in one basket(ball).

Time is passing by steadily here in the PI (Philippine Islands). The university is excited to have me as part as their team and with that, comes some interesting and fun jobs. I enjoy teaching a diversity of courses in a team-teaching approach, where I share the classroom time with a Filipino teacher. My course load incorporates the subject areas of: journalism, mass communications, speech, pronunciation, ESL teaching methods, and of course, English Grammar and Composition. I really enjoy teaching and working with the Filipinos. We have wonderful times inside and outside of the classroom. The students are charming and for the most part, eager to learn. The students I have in my classroom are from first year to third year.

Speaking of the students, I was so proud of them. Before Thanksgiving, I informed one class of World AIDS Awareness Day on December 1st. They became very excited about this, and asked for more information. So with the help of a couple of organizations, we got some facts and figures of HIV/AIDS in the Philippines. I put forward this information, and the students organized and implemented an awareness parade on campus alongside with a symposium with about 90 participants in attendance. I was so proud of their willingness to initiate to become educated on such a global topic. Now, a faculty advisor and I will be attending an HIV/AIDS awareness workshop sponsored by PC in January. …..Goes to say…If you teach a man to fish….

Thanksgiving brought a togetherness that was least expected. My host mother and some other faculty were in a very serious car accident in a metro area about two hours from my site. The accident left them hospitalized for four days, with surgeries, broken bones, and head trauma. Thankfully everyone survived to tell about it. The extraordinary part of this is that we had a thanksgiving mass held in their honor, actually, on the American Thanksgiving holiday. It was quite exceptional to embrace a dual-thanksgiving on that special day.

That weekend, some of the PCVs on the island gathered at my site, where we had a Thanksgiving dinner shared with some of my friends and family here at the university. Mashed potatoes were served, replacing rice, allowing some in attendance to experience their first meal without rice. There was no turkey, but whole chickens to capture Thanksgiving’s food essence. Pumpkin pie was replaced with brownies and ice cream.

The month of December has been busy, but not quite a blur. I am really focusing on the language and trying to acquire better skills, as it is so easy to get around with English. I am disappointed in my lack of studying, so I hope to make up some ground this break. I have been reading a lot, and have just read the most fascinating fiction book in my life! All Returned PCVs should read this book, and likewise, anyone who has ever lived in another culture. The Poisonwood Bible by Barbara Kingsolver is an alluring book of a Georgian family (USA) who moves to the Congo to spread Christianity. The book is told through the eyes of their four daughters ranging from the ages of 5-16. It tells the physical exertion of culture adaptation, language learning faux pas, and realization that what we have been taught to believe, may not be compatible with what people in that region have been doing their whole life. It gives you a moral that cultures have a rhyme and reason in the things they believe. Truly an amazing book that must be read before you kick the bucket….a must.

I have also finished another book about adult teaching methods by Jane Vella, a must read for educators out there, as well as a book surrounding love, the Great Depression, and the circus. An interesting combination to give a great story called Water for Elephants written by Sara Gruen.

So as you can see, my life is expanding through pages and mangos J My fifth year without a TV and I fill like I haven’t missed a beat. I just hope my vocabulary is improving as well, as I am preparing to take the GRE this summer (my scores are ready expired…where has the time gone?) in preparation to enroll in a Phd program focusing on culture and teaching upon my return to the States in 2011. Hey, the early bird gets the worm, you snooze you lose, no need to procrastinate.

The holidays here were fun and low key. I attended Misa de Gallo (midnight mass) with my host family, and then we had Noche Buena (feast of food of Christmas Eve). Christmas Day was spent with other faculty and staff at a local place, singing videoke (karaoke, this is a Filipino favorite), eating lechon (roasted whole pig) and playing games. After my rendition of “Bohemian Rhapsody” in videoke, the university President nicely reminded me I have two years to get better…oh well, we can’t be all stars in everything.

For the rest of the break, I have spending time with my host family, reading, visiting people, enjoying numerous fiestas, and trying not to get drenched from the rain showers, as it has arrived…the rainy season. Plus the best part, I enjoy staying up until 11pm and waking up PAST 6am…such a rebel I have become :)

As two thousandth and eighth year comes to a close, I am reminded just how wonderful it has to have a great support network of remarkable family, friends, colleagues, and people. Really, I am the luckiest person alive! Thank you all.

Here’s wishing you a prosperous 2009!

Malipayong Bagong Tuig (have a happy new year)

Daghang Gakos (Many hugs)


Birthdays: Bobby D., Loren M., Dominic M., Brian H., Rhonda P., Penny P., Alex H., Aunt Ann, Ani jan, Torgorm jan, Nanay,

Sunday, November 23, 2008

All Sworn-In Again

Some friends from my training site (picture from my buddy, Heather K, from WI)...My PC pal, Matt and the bottom, our first swear-in with the PC Armenia Tour, and to the second bottom left....our in with PC Philippines :)


Happy Thanksgiving.
Oh, alas, many of you are happy that I have finally updated my blog! (Smile). I know, I need to become more conscious of updating, but time just flies by for me that I tend to forget or put it off; my sincere apologies.

As the turkeys are quickly running away from their hunters, I am sitting in my room, sweating, with a fan drilled on my face. (No, I don’t have internet in my room. I type all my blog updates on my personal laptop and then post them). And this is the rainy season…yikes. Supposedly, December and January bring the colder months, which I can’t wait! After long winters in Armenia, I begged never to see snow for some time. I got my wish and now I am in full regrets.

But don’t get me wrong, the heat hasn’t beaten me, and I am slowly beating it; one day at a time. I have been able to dodge about three typhoons as well, but soon enough I will see a typhoon, feel a typhoon, and hear a typhoon.

I have officially moved to my permanent site and I am the luckiest fool ever, because it is an idea place. I live on campus with a faculty member, her son, and relatives. We have a wonderful time and there have been many nights I have laughed so hard my abdominals hurt the next day. I guess that is what happens when you have too middle children as the oldest people in the house (host mother and I). Today we had an amazing day together at the beach. I even taught some little friends how to throw a Frisbee.

I am working at a university and my subjects are across many disciplines. I am an instructor for English grammar, pronunciation, speech, teaching strategies and methods, as well as some journalism courses. I team-teach a majority of these courses, and some of them will eventually be team-taught to ensure sustainability, because as you know, we retain more from learning if we actually do it. The faculties are fun, wonderful, and always ready with some humor or to assist me one way or another. The campus is small, gorgeous, and very communal; where everyone knows your name…especially if you are the white female American :0)

The students typically come to higher education at age 16, a bit younger than the average US freshman. I have students all the way up to fourth year, who come into the university with average language skills. My job is a bit different than in Armenia, where I was taught beginner English, and here I teach more accuracy and fluency.

I also have some extracurricular activities up my sleeves. Soon, I will meet with others to discuss the future of some teacher trainings for village/surrounding communities’ teachers, as well, as being the head softball coach ;) Yep, you have read that correctly. Last year, the team had to forfeit the season because there wasn’t a coach with the ability to teach the sport. Once word got around that I had a ball and glove in my room at the house, I was soon nominated the coach and the girls will report this week. Softball is young here, so we will have some good times ahead…however, our season hits its peak in October.

Also, collegiate sports here are a bit different than the arms race seen in the US. No salary (I couldn’t take it anyway, because PCVs aren’t able to accept salaries), no extra benefits, students don’t get scholarships, etc; just for the love of the game. Needless to say, I am excited about this opportunity and we will see what happens…but first we need a team ;)

Though my permanent site is wonderful, I do miss my first host family! We had some amazing times together and the day I left was All Soul’s Day, a big celebration in the Philippines, as well as other Catholic countries. We went to the cemetery with a cooler of food and drinks. I was a bit skeptical of what was going on. Are we going to have a party at the cemetery? Well, we sure did along with everyone else in town! All Soul’s Day is one big party on top of the graves! Kids running around, vendors with food and light toys, music, big bingo games, etc; and we lit candles as well. It was the happiest All Soul’s Day that I have ever celebrated. And that just shows how the Filipino people…always joyful and happy despite the poverty and curveballs thrown at them.

Just imagine this: The Philippines is situated in the Pacific Ring of Fire volcanic and earthquake prone region. It has two typhoon seasons encompassing the entire year. Because of deforestation landslides are common. The food crisis only gets worse for the price of rice and flour, but yet everyone walks around with a smile their face…it is amazing.

There is a Filipino saying, “Bahala na”, which means, basically, it is what it is, and it is in God’s hands, meaning out of our control. The saying is so powerful in many ways. For theorists, it is makes sense, for those who need answers, this saying might not fit your stereotype, but for the Philippines is it perfect.

I don’t really have any “exciting” updates. I am safe and sound. I love life. I miss Armenian dearly and dzez shat em sirum ev karotum: Dzez misht em hishum ev liqr pachiner@ u jerm grkumner anum em. (Kneres, filippinerrum, hayereni "typing" chka). For everyone else, I miss you too, send you many hugs, and wish you a safe an enjoyable holiday season. Enjoy the snow and hot cocoa.

Yours truly,
Happy Birthday: Lindsey H., Betty T., Anita N., Dennis B., Dom M., Brian H., Ellen H., Phyllis B., Jessica H., Mike F.

Thursday, October 16, 2008

Last update in the Bush era

Picture #1: My host mom and I eating Halo-Halo in coconut bowls
Picture #2 and #3: Apo Island, yes my camera lens is wet.
Picture #4: Our basic method of transportation
Picture #5: A cockfight ready to start
Picture #6: Hiking to the fresh water lakes
Picture #7: Filipino scene
Picture #8: My friend Sheryll and I harvesting her host family's rice
Picture #9: My first balut.
As much anticipated; another update in my PC life journey. For many volunteers, the experience expands around 27 months, but I have opted for the more untraditional route to be more adventurous and try the PC for an additional 27 months! Truth be told, I will be swearing in, again, as a PCV (Peace Corps Volunteer) on Nov. 7th. Many of my batchmates are excited, and for me, I just know how wickedly amazing the new two years will be.

But before I get excited about the future, I should recap for you the past month and a half. I did many firsts, only to realize that my once two page “bucket list” is only now growing rapidly!

I have become quite the fan of snorkeling was able to expand my knowledge of life under the sea, by venturing out to Apo Island, which is a top-ten scuba diving spot in the world. I learned how to dive with my snorkel and be so close to the vibrant life and color of my new friends. I saw schools of jackfish and every creature from Finding Nemo. (However, I think for meals, I have eaten some of the Finding Nemo characters). I can’t explain the beauty. The Discovery Channel and National Geographic do give justice with their documentaries of the coral and fish life here in the Philippines, yet on the other hand, experiencing with your own eyes, makes reality pure. (My friend had an underwater camera and I will get those pics soon to show you what I have seen)!

I have also traveled to a couple other islands for work with PC, realizing that more Filipinos communicate through English, as the native/regional languages are not commonly understood amongst each other. Every island has its own identity, which is fun to see, especially as there are over 7000 islands here, with about 4500 habitable.

Just last weekend I went hiking with some friends up the mountains to approach two freshwater lakes. Wow, they were crystal clear, and they looked like glass! There was something genuine slicing the kayak paddle through the water.

It was quite a hike, as it was more junglish than anything. Coconut trees, mango trees, vines and bamboo everywhere, quite different than hiking in the Rockies or Armenia.

I hope to go dolphin and whale watching at the end of the month and visit other white sandy beaches.

But yes, it is not always games and travel. I do work and study! I really enjoy working at the university! The higher educational system of the Philippines takes on many characteristics which are commonly found in the US system. Administratively and structurally, the Board of Regents and faculty system work in the same manner. There is a presence of college athletics, but it doesn’t drive the university. Competitions are limited but they do bring a good fan-turnout. Research and scholarship are valued highly at the university I will be working at, but not as much where I am now. Faculty autonomy is not as grand as it is in the US, and the focus on post-graduate programs has importance, though many go abroad for this experience.

I mostly teach English instruction, provide teacher trainings in active learning and alternative assessment methods, ESL methodology and strategies, research ideas and support, as well as help in the recreational and physical education departments. At my permanent site, I will also be creating modules with the department heads on a practicum for prospective teachers and enhancing the adopt-a-school program to reach out to the villages. Overall, my work crosses four colleges and many more departments and certainly there is a lot of learning to gain and give in the next 24 months. For the material idealism, I even have a couple of offices on campus.

Bloom’s Taxonomy and the concepts of Adult and Higher Education have become life-long friends. I feel that all my past experiences in intercollegiate athletics, higher education, and my Armenian experience have prepared me to do some challenging but wonderful work in the months to come. That in itself is super exciting to me.

I also have had the experience of seeing cock fights, a traditional Filipino Sunday event, and harvesting rice, which is muddy, back-bending, fun work. Well fun, I guess, because I and my partner only did it for a couple of hours, but supposedly produced 500 kilos of rice. There is no way we could work that speed for another hour yet alone days!

I feel very integrated in the community. On my morning walks or basketball games, the “good mornings” have been replaced with the Cebuano “maayong buntag”, and the basketball games have become the multicultural. Courtesy “honks” have been exchanged for “Hi Syd” acknowledgements. In all, the smiles of the Filipinos from the morning light to the shines of the moon are rewarding in so many ways.

Other than that, I am enjoying all the seafood and fruits. I have missed major typhoons, but have learned to love the rain as it brings cooler weather. I have become one with the environment, respecting the lizards, spiders, and other silly creatures. I have not become one with one member of the environment though…the flying cockroaches. Mind over matter, I soon will be friends with them.

I have tried almost every Filipino food, from balut (google it), to letchon (roasted pig), to any type of raw fish or rice fixing. Water is still my liquid though tea has provided the solution to many thirst quenching days. My dessert of choice is Turon (fried banana crepe) Halo-Halo (shaved ice, ubey ice cream, corn, coconut milk, jelly cubes served in a coconut shell), and of course ubey. Ubey is a purple root crop grown here in the Philippines. It is the only root crop or vegetable for that matter, which I have eaten as ice cream. All I know is that I enjoy this violet deliciousness. I do, however, miss my Armenian cheese, dolma, and lavash.

I am constantly providing entertainment with my language skills, as I mixed up the letters of the words, or I simply do not put stress or emphasis on glottal stops, which makes a difference in the meanings of the words, even when they are spelled the same. The word vegetable soon becomes the male’s gender part, or lizard becomes the verb for passing gas. In all, we laugh and learn.

Well, that is about it. Next time I write, I will be at the comforts of my new home, new faculty, and host family. More stories and pictures to come, and other year to wait for the Cubs to win the World Series.

Until then, enjoy the beauty of autumn, the crackling of leaves beneath your feet as you walk, the cool-cuddling weather, and of course the sites and sounds of football. Lastly, don't forget to vote is traveling over 12,900km; make sure your votes counts as well.

Ayo Ayu- Take Care
Happy Birthday to: Lauren Mac, Kathy Murdock, Cheryl, Jill, Suzanne, Stacy, Vanessa, Kevin

Saturday, September 06, 2008

From the Philippines Part 1

The beach again :)
The beach near my house...
A sunset outside of Manila....

Everyone…greetings from the Philippines! Wow, this place is sooooo amazing. From the white sandy beaches, to the coral, to the genuineness of the people, I am simply overwhelmed. Most people can understand English, which is must different from the past couple of years, which has enabled me to engage in more conversations right away, without playing the game of charades.

My host family is wonderful. I have a family of a mother, father, and two host brothers; one who is a senior and the other who is studying at the university. My host family owns a shop and works day and day out. They are also musicians and the younger son plays in a popular band and the father manages the band. Dinner time is around 8pm and it is always full of what happened during the day and the new language skills I have acquired. Needless to say, it is quite entertaining and we joke around quite a bit. (I go to bed early, because the sun comes up at 530 and goes down at 630)

The language I am studying is Visayan/Cebuano. There are over 85 languages in the Philippines, not dialects, but LANGUAGES. Tagalog is the national language, next is English, and funny enough Cebuano and Ilongo. So far, so good with studying the language which alphabet is much like that of the Spanish alphabet. I enjoy testing my limits with the language and watching the Filipinos faces, as they are trying to figure out what in the heck I am trying to translate in my head. I have already made some entertaining comments. One day, I was trying to say, “ I like vegetables”, when I said “I like the ‘male part’”, not a mistake you would like to make….thank the Lord that my host family found humor out of it. They are thrilled I want to speak their language, and are enjoying my progression. My host mother speaks fluent English, so she is great teacher as well.

Living arrangements are quite different from what I came from in Armenia. Not good, not bad, just different. I have cable TV in my room, air-con in my room (though I refuse to use it…I’m in Peace Corps), and running water all day, all the time with a shower. It is quite overwhelming to be honest, and I have seen a bucket in the bathroom, so I continue my bucket rises/baths. I like them better anyways. Also, we spent our first couple of days in Manila, the capital city of the Philippines….wow! About 16 million people live there and I was freaked out! Living in the village in Armenia, and then going back to Nebraska for a couple of days; this was way too many people….so you can imagine, as my fellow Armenian PCVs are adjusting to cultural shock in the US, I am going through my own cultural shock here in the Philippines….mostly of which is the realization that I am not in Armenia anymore….my comfort zone.

I live off the beach, and I can see it from the road. Last week, I went snorkeling with some other friends…for free. I saw some of the most amazing coral and water life; and the bluest/clearest water. From barracudas to blue starfish, this place is another planet under the water. The island I live on, has some of the best scuba diving/snorkeling places in the world….looks like I will have the chance to overcome my fear of scuba diving! The beaches are covered with red, black, white, or normal sand. Being landlocked my whole life, you can just imagine how my brain is absorbing everything at the moment.

The staple food for me has changed from the glorious potatoes of Vardenik, Armenia, to the rice and yummy fish of the Philippines. I am eating it all, and half the time I don’t know what I am eating. I ate pig’s head and had no idea. I ate the traditional Filipino food, balut, which is like a hard-boiled egg, with a chicken embryo in it…mine was only 14 days old….tastes like chicken, but I think one time is enough…I am not a fan of hard boiled eggs to be honest.

I can’t even describe how amazing the fruit is. I have had so many types of new fruit: mango, jack fruit, durian, and many others that I still do not know the English names yet. I just try everything, and so far the stomach has held up! Even the fish, it is sooooooooo good!

I have started a practicum with a teacher at the university for the next three months, as this is the training time and after that, I will move to another island. The higher education system is stemmed from the US higher educational system, which is fun to see in another cultural setting. There was homecoming the other day, and the bands were playing “Indiana Jones' Theme Song”, cheerleaders were being tossed, etc. However, it is combined with the Filipino side, which makes it really fun to watch the cross-cultural immersion.

And the heat…My body is still adjusting and I sweat profusely every day and drink 3 liters of water a day! I hope to reach homeostasis soon! The evenings are nice and so are the mornings, which also provide indescribable sunsets positioning among the water.

The Philippines is quite interesting, to be honest. Over seven thousand islands, with English, seeming to be the common language between the islands. The culture has influences from Malaysia, China, and the United States with the a history that dates back 30,000 years….and in the next 27 months I will keep you posted about the Philippines as I get to discover it with my own eyes!

Anniversaries: Sam and Chadd
Birthdays: Carter, Jack B., Ethan, Armen, Kevin B., Rhonda, Justinn, Nate, Andrea
Weddings: Nate and Kelly

Monday, August 11, 2008

US OF A :)

Wow, about three weeks have passed since my feet landed on US soil, and now it is time to move onto the Philippines! It was wonderful to take in time with family and friends and catch up on everything and where things were left off 26 months ago. It is such a satisfactory feeling knowing that none of us "skipped a beat" and watch the conversational lines pick up as if no time had elapsed.

My travels in the States kept me mostly in Nebraska, enjoying my parents’ new home, visiting my sisters' families, catching up with some track and field teammates from the undergraduate years, a trip to Indianapolis to see friends with big smiles, and of course indulging myself in the victories of the Chicago Cubs! My parents and I took my nephews to their first Cubs game at the Friendly Confines, only for them to experience a grand slam and a 11-4 win....Go Cubs go, go Cubs go...hey, Chicago, what do you say....Cubs are gonna win today :)

Of course, I ate WAY TO MUCH junk food and realized that my taste buds aren’t quite adaptable to the oversized and tart American fruits. But I did enjoy some Nebraska beef and American ice cream.

For those of you whom I saw, it was ABSOLUTELY AMAZING to see you and for those of you who I just missed, just know that next time I am in "town" you are on my list.

Take care and enjoy this last part of summer. Next time I will write, I will be in the studying Tagalog on the islands...

Thursday, June 12, 2008

Wednesday, June 11, 2008

Update at last! :)

Reach out and give a hug!!!
Love the rains!
Okay, Okay. I know it has been since March since I updated you all. Things here have been nothing but busy and I have enjoyed every second, and been frustrated at times too.

So what have I been up to? Well, I spent the month of April preparing for the second National Spelling Bee in Armenia. I help communities jump start with their local competitions and soon, over 300 participants were spelling words left and right. We had over 70 kids advance to the national contest in May, representing grades 7th-11th. Kids from all over Armenian participated, creating a unique environment, as the kids typically don’t travel out of their regions. Sites traveled up to 8 hours, through 49 switchbacks in the mountains, rainstorms, hail, etc, just to get their chance at becoming the national spelling bee champion! Prizes were awarded (Boggle, Scrabble, Pictionary, 20 questions, Armenian-English Dictionaries, English Dictionaries, crayons, markers, etc) as well as some fancy certificates. Those who couldn’t make the trip in one day, about 30 participants, stayed the night at the hostel in Yerevan. We booked out the entire hostel and had a pizza party. For many, it was their first time in the capital city, so walking tours and site sighting were common activities, as well as getting to know the other kids in their bunk rooms.

The evaluations are just now coming back, and they seem to be pretty positive. I was honored to co-chair such an event, and got a little nervous when the US Charge d’Affaires to Armenia came to give opening remarks! All in all, it was a wonderful experience, filled with event management fall-outs that seem to work their way out.

Simultaneously, I am co-chairing a Trans-Caucasus Creative Writing Essay contest between, Armenia, Georgia, and Azerbaijan. Here over 2,500 students from 6th-11th primary forms, and 1st-4th year university/college students from all three countries participated. Winners have been announced and Armenia did fair. Now we are in the process of publishing all the countries’ winners in a booklet that is soon to hit the press. After that, another grant will be closed.

I spent 10 fabulous days in April (sorry going backwards) in Kiev, Ukraine for American Councils Future Leaders Exchange Program (FLEX) Pre-Departure Orientation (PDO) Training. Here, I collaborated with FLEX alumni and together we will teach 8 days of American Culture Training to 42 students from Armenia who will study in American high schools for the academic year 2009 later in the month. It has already been a rewarding experience, and I cannot wait for the actual PDO to start! The training itself, was a blast, meeting everyone from all former CIS countries. Some were Fulbright students, others PCVs, and other volunteers. What a great dynamic of people in one room! Every teacher is paired with FLEX alumni from their country. So again, it was great to see what one year in a democratic society has done to these students! Their confidence, responsibility habits, and character skills really stick out compared to their peers in their respective countries. Don’t get me wrong, many of them also have seemed to pick up some bad habits in the US, such as smoking, junk food eating, and a very informal dress code :0)

Before the conference, my PCV buddy, Sarah and I, spent 5 days sightseeing around Kiev, which proved to be quite interesting, as neither of us knew Ukrainian or Russian. Thank God I had a vague idea in how to read Russian letters, as that got us around on the metro. Kiev is still very Soviet in many ways, but represents a much more European attitude than Armenia. The city is beautiful with many parks and old churches and museums. We investigated going up to Chernobyl, but English tours were quite pricy, so we settled for the museum as well. Of course, being closer to Europe, we had some TGI Fridays and various trips to the Sushi bar. Usually I am not a fan of chain restaurants, but the “nachos” had been calling my name for the past two years.

As a pair, we tried something new as far as our lodging plans went. We “couchsurfed” it with a great girl Anna and her roommate Zebig. Anna was amazing, and through her we met extraordinary people from all over the world who were also staying with her. We had such a blast, that we ended up staying five nights with her. A funny story, is that I kept calling her Anna jan, as “jan” is a ending used with names in Armenian, meaning someone that is dear to you. Soon, she was like “Wait, my friend Levon calls me that.” Sarah and I looked at each other at just laughed, as Levon is a very popular Armenian name! So, as odds put it, we met Levon, as he came over to Anna’s home and he brought his Armenian hospitality and later we went ice skating until 2am! It was a blast. Truth to be told, Armenia has followed me everywhere on my trips, and it is not a bad thing at all :0)

Back to May. So May 25th is the last day of school and it is pretty much a national holiday. It is referred to the last bell (Verjin Zang-ì»ñçÇÝ ¼³Ý· in Armenian). It is a great time with lots of celebration for the 11th form students. However, I was “thrown” by a surprise party for me put on by my fellow comrades at my school. It was the most touching ceremony and I was honored by their kind and soft words. Later, the students did the same thing for me. It was a lot of emotion to overcome in one day.

Also, in May, a Yerevan TV station came down to the village to see how I live. Through two days of endless interviewing and their AMAZING editing power, the clip was shown last week on national television. I have heard good news about it, but yet to see it myself. Doing such an activity in Armenian, wasn’t too bad, but it was exhausting to redo the takes. I hope this is the only time in my life where I have to deal with the paparazzi J (even if there were only three people).

Another exciting event was that one the children I used to baby-sit in Indiana, organized a school supply drive for the younger students at my school. This youngster is five years old and he and his preschool mates sent supplies over to 100 students! I was so honored that he did so and to me, only reiterates the power of human will to help others.

I had an open free window for one week before the summer camp schedule started up, so I went to visit my dear PCV friend, Leigh, who was leaving for America soon. We did some local sightseeing and attended her school’s last bell ceremony and danced the night away Armenian style. Again, a fabulous memory.

Next, Heather, another PCV pal, and I headed down to Kapan (Southern Armenia) to visit our friend Penny and do some sightseeing of Tatev and Devil’s Bridge. Tatev is 9th century monastery and Devil’s Bridge is an earth-made bridge with calcium deposits and stalactites and stalagmites. Very cool as we floated under the bridge in the frigid water. I would have to say that this place is the most interesting and fascinating place in Armenia. I wish I could show you pictures, BUT my camera broke a week before, and then Heather’s camera broke while in transit to Kapan…oh well.

We came back from Kapan and enjoyed a very famous Armenian Opera “Anush” at the Opera House in Yerevan. We attended with other PCVs and later hit the Jazz club. The next day it was off to the first Green Camp (remember from last year, I was the education coordinator for all these camps). This would prove to be my last Green Camp and the torch was handed off. It was difficult to do that, as this project has been a baby of mine and a couple other PCVs.

Now, there are two more camps to work, with different themes: Girls and Leadership; and going to America. Before I know it, it is time to go home, as the time is going by so quickly! I’ll get some hiking and horse backing riding in with my favorite people from my village and then it is time to pack up my goods and head back to America for a few weeks and then off to the Philippines for an additional 27 months of service.

It is a weird feeling wrapping up my service. I can’t wait to see my family and friends, but at the same time, leaving Armenia is like leaving a special part of my life as I have wonderful friends here. I am sure that I am not prepared for the emotions that I will undergo in the next month. This place is my home. This village is my community and the villagers are my family.

There’s one more update left…until then, enjoy your summer!
Cheers Peace Love Hugs
Birthdays: Sista Sam, Mom, Jeff, Bern, Ant, Alex
Anniversaries: Lindsey and Nick, Andrea and Nic, Rhea and , Steph and Brian

Tuesday, April 15, 2008

Alas Spring!

Love the snow~ :) This is me trying to cross countriy ski!
As I write, I am reclined in my bed, unmovable, wearing three layers of shirts, topped off with no socks and a pair of shorts. It is a beaming 55 degrees in my home and maybe a blazing 33 degrees outside as it late at night. You may ask, “Why in the world are you in shorts, Syd?” followed by “Why are you unmovable”? Let me explain….

With the fresh sunlight and the snow starting to melt, there is a psychological sense that a warm front have moved in. Plus, the Armenian celebrate spring the first of March (always fun to celebrate a month or two in advance)thus, the freedom of shorts, instead of long johns creates some time of freedom for my legs. After this exposure to “leg freedom” I ventured out (in three layers) for the first time since the marathon (Nov 4th) and ran for 40 minutes a couple of days ago and then repeated the action as it “felt so good”. So my legs are sore as heck, and I am enjoying the warm front that has rolled in. Its stay may be short, so I am soaking up the sun before the next snow storm rolls through.

With the snow melting, the village has become to what I refer to as a Hershey Kisses Swimming Pool, without the sweet taste. The roads are massive puddles of water and mud, making them impassable. But for me, if there is challenge I will try. That I have been doing until yesterday, when I literally fell into one of these Hershey Chocolate Swimming Pools. It was dark and my flashlight could not embrace the greatness of this lake of mud. I just decided to swim across. When I got home, little water remained, but I managed to clean my self spick and span with just one bucket of water. Which leads to me….

…to talk about the professional development skills I have learned in the PC that, unfortunately, has no room on a traditional CV or resume:
Walking on Ice…yes it doing and a hard feat to do. I have achieved it!
Bathing…Not only do I bath by bucket twice a week (on a lucky week) but I have found how to conserve water. I bath in my rinsing water from my laundry. I have gotten more compliments of how beautiful I look after I did this, so I continue to save my rinse water.
Giradia….it is my best friend and it follows me everywhere, always providing company!
Petting….I have developed a strong tolerance for allowing unknown children to pet and touch me because I am different. It is so amusing! J
Toasts…You have a holiday or celebrating in the next couple of months! Call on any PCV who can flatter you with the most amazing words in Armenian or English!

Perspective. Perspectives.

So what have I been up to since I have last written? Well, I with some fellow American comrades, took a adventure up to northern Armenia for a weekend full of cross country skiing. The area up there was plummeted with snow, which make the “falls” much more soothing. The six of us were trained and coached by former USSR cross country skiing champions, as well as two-time Olympic champions. I definitely have come out as a better skier, that is for sure! The couple was fabulous and so were their children. They were patient, gave us their home for the weekend, and it was one of the most endearing culture exchanges I have ever experienced, and it is special to me as it was done through a beloved colleague of me: sport.

Before the skiing journey, my counterpart and I participated in a program management and design conference as trainers. My counterpart did such an amazing job throughout the conference! I was so proud of her! Her confidences soared as she tackled this national conference, using our grant working experiences, and her people skills! In the evening, there was some free time. My friends, Heather, Warren and I gathered an Armenian troop and taught them how to play Skip-Bo. It was a blast for all, but I think my winning Skip-Bo has been hindered, as a bunch of rookies beat me out! J

For the juicy part, Armenia had its president elections on February 19th. The prime minister, Serj Sargsyan came out as the victor, though some would argue it was an unfair outcome. There were peaceful protests, gathering hundreds of thousands of people in the capital of Yerevan. Then suddenly, the peace ended on March 1st, with a dispute breaking the tranquility, and a pure riot broke out, leaving over hundred injured, eight dead, cars flipped and burnt, stores broken into and looted, and a complete mess of Yerevan streets. There was been a state of emergency declared until March 22nd, with military and soldiers patrolling the streets, and tanks lining the center of town. I am told by friends both Armenian and American who live in Yerevan, that the situation in Yerevan has been and is quite stressful, depressing, and sad. All I really know is that the Peace Corps had given no permission to be in or by Yerevan for the past month and the alert recently ended. As of now, the President has sworn in (April 9th) and things seem to be going well.

I didn’t know if you had heard about this situation, as my friends and family in Nebraska heard the news from me, but in other heavily populated areas in America, with an Armenian congregation, it was front page news. It is a cheerless event for the country; however, I cannot comment an opinion, because in my village, things could not be more normal. Our classes were never interrupted. The country’s transportation was stopped for a couple of days to the capital city, but that really no had effect here. The only effect I saw was that more villagers must have been making more cakes or eating eggs, because it was the only time since I have been in Armenia that I could find some eggs! :) This could be just a random correlation, but it happened.

So with this situation, it has been interesting to see how involved Yerevan has been in my service. For me to reach any other part of the country, I have to go to Yerevan to catch the transport. We have a international writing contest going on and we cannot collect the entries from other sites who sent them to Yerevan. Meetings have been delayed, cancelled, rescheduled, etc. Plus some of my really good pals live in Yerevan and I have not been able to see them. Yerevan is like a little outlet for us PCVs. It has restaurants, showers, warmth, and meltable cheese. There is no doubt that I could live without Yerevan, but it is quite funny to reflect and really how much I have used Yerevan in the past.

Speaking of reflection, wow, I cannot believe that there is only four more months of service left. I have been thinking about it, but the villagers have really brought up the topic lately. March 8th is celebrated as Women’s Day and it is heavily celebrated. Many students wrote little holidays cards, with asking me to stay forever. Cute, eh? Then toasts were made, and eventually ended up with a plea for me to stay. It is funny, being trapped in the village without travel permission for the past two months or so, I have really hung out with the villagers on a more regular basis. The people mean the world to me and thinking of not living in Armenia is a distressing thought. These individuals stopped their lives to allow some random goodie tissue kid from the US to live with them; to become part of their daily routines; part of their families. They do so, with great patience, as we are constantly learning the language, having culture faux; I feel as if we come, have an influence on each other, and then leave. There is no doubt in me that these friendships will last, however it does pose the question of “do we really intrude as PCVs?” We come and go with our returns being years ago due to financial reasons. We assist and help in ways that we can, but in the end, and I was SO NAÏVE to this; the PCV gains so much out of the experience. I am taking more from this experience that what I have felt I have offered to the Armenian population. My sole goal to come here was to help. I realized how fortunate I was in the States, and I wanted to pay these actions forward. However, the Armenians have me beat because I don’t think I can ever repay them for the life lessons they have taught me. It is weird, to have a goal that needs to be achieved, only to find out that the receivers of your goal have in turn become the givers, and you, the giver, have become a receiver.

Phew, touchy moment there, but this is a common PC story, and as this experience has been shared between all of us…you all deserve the right to know.
So lastly, you may be asking yourself a final question, “Hummm, only four months left? What in the world is Syd going to do after Armenia? Will she go and save penguins in Antarctica?”

No, my dear Lindsey, I won’t be venturing down to the South Pole to help our dear flipper friends who are suffering from an alternate environment due to global warming. It is quite appealing, and it is a list of things I would like to do, but it is not my calling for the next five years or so….

But things are in action, and options have been confirmed. I am headed to the Philippines in August to serve as a lecture and teacher trainer of English in a college. I am swamping snow for humidity and typhoons! J Again it will be a 27 month commitment full of language training, cultural interactions, and adaptations of a new way of life; everything in which I am excited about. Through this experience in Armenia and the support I have received back home; the journey ahead in clear, challenging, and enchanting. I am certain that I have made the correct decision to keep paying forward the goodness I have received just being born in the United States, having wonderful parents, a great family, and unbelievable friends. I am just riding the wave of life and it is wicked fun!

Bless be the Groundhog. Candy and Hearts. Love to the US Presidents. Yah Spring! Happy Easter. May Day or Bust. Love the Moms!!!!

Peace, loves, hugs, and bless meltable cheese,
Happy Birthdays: Dad, Rebecca, Eileen, Eloise, Connie, Whitney, Cliff, Jamie, Lindy, Dave (late), Moni, Kristen, Mary, Aunt Barb, Upchuck Katie, PC Nancy
Happy Anniversary: Mom and Dad, Upchuck Katie, Laurel

Saturday, January 19, 2008


Go Marathon!

We watched this sunset on Santorini Island! How beautiful! This is sunset from my village.

The Marathon crew in front of the Akropolis in Athens. Jamie and I found the cereal aisle in Athens. We had cereal four times a day! :)

I cut my hair and bathed for New Years. My host bro took this "flattering" picture of me :)

Friday, January 18, 2008

Happy New Year

Howdy from the bitter cold of Armenia! I hope this update finds you all warm and happy as 2008 is in full gear! With my water pipes frozen and little warmth, my friend cut my hair….check it out! (PS, I did not edit this, so sorry for grammar error).

The holiday season was much more eventful this year. On December 19th, a couple of PCVs and I were chatting about what we were going to do for the holidays. Soon, it was decided that we would gather at my place. With that said, I did not have any heat in my home, and thinking that others would not want to bring layers and layers of clothing to stay warm, I decided to by a gas heater. It was definitely the best investment of 2008 as my two rooms average about 55F rather than 30F! My kitchen and toilet area, however, well, let’s just say your breath can be seen J

The holiday was spent with my dear PCV friends, a small gathering of us, as well as some of my Armenian co-workers. We sang, ate, celebrated, and rejoiced. Not one present was opened, though Santa Claus via Strongsville, Ohio, found his way to my home on Christmas morning. Thank you Santa J My Armenian co-workers speak English, but of course, we us PCVs gather, we speak so quickly and probably with a lot of slang. The Armenians told me that now they understand how us Americans feel when we go through the Armenian celebrations. We understand, but not everything J it was a nice culture exchange to say the least.

School let out December 23rd to January 21st. The New Year holiday is the biggest event in Armenia. It is truly celebrated for two straight weeks! It is common to lay a table of delicious fruits, nuts, traditional foods of kufta (smashed meat), and dolma (meat and rice wrapped in grape leaves or cabbage), lots of vodka, champagne, wine, and soda. I think you get my drift. It is quite a festival toasting to all the joys in the world. I visited over 20 homes and with that I consumed God only knows how much food! However, I can give you just a dolma estimate…about five dolma per home…yah, 100 dolma not even counting all the other things I consumed ;)

It was a blast with no sleep for the first couple of days. Christmas Day is celebrated on January 6th commemorating the old holiday. There is about a four hour church service and it is one of the few days in which holy water is given to the congregation.

During this time, I went back to my training village and spent a couple of days with my first host family, whom I love dearly! We had a wonderful time and I ate too much! In one day, I had four types of khoravats (like barbeque) and needless to say, my body couldn’t’ handle it! L

I also visited some other PCVs and some came down my way for work and of course social gathering. Not doubt, most of my time was spent in the village; also preparing for the Armenian National Spelling Bee, Inter-Caucasus Writing Olympics, fixing an English classroom at school, and working on various summer camp curricula. The time has really passed by quickly, that is for sure.

Other news, is that I have been selected to serves as a Pre-Departure Orientation Teacher for the FLEX (Future Leaders’ Exchange) in which I will prepare the out-going Armenian students about American families, friends, society, school systems, and cultural. This program is offered to the Eurasia countries in which in-coming 10th form students will study in the US for free under the finance of the US government. It is a wonderful program which students get a chance to live in a democratic society, learn about volunteerism, share cultures, and live in the experience. I am really excited about this opportunity and I cannot wait to start the work. It will require one week training in Moscow in April, followed by a summer two-week program for the students in which I will team-teach with a FLEX Alumni. It will be a great learning experience for all those involved.

So it is 2008, that means that my two years of service is in its final leg, so to speak. August 2008 I will be on my way back to the soil of the US, for some time that is. I am not for sure what the future holds, but my options are open. I will say, that this international education and cross culture experience is quite intriguing to me and I would like to find ways in which I could continue this path. Learning to understand each other is just a beginning, experiencing this exchange has a chance to change the world, and I enjoy being apart of this exhilarating ride! But no worries, no matter what, I will be US bound in August.

I cannot believe that PC Headquarters is already choosing the Armenian PCVs for the coming year. It is nuts how fast time flies when one gets older….is that a good thing?

I thank all of you who sent cards, packages, and nice words via internet during the holidays. It really touches my heart that you all think of me. The holidays, without a doubt, can be the toughest part of service. However, your thoughts make the time pass with warm and tender feelings.

Having a year to reflect, I cannot believe some of the quantitative goals I have achieved. Never would I have thought I would go to Egypt and wonders of the world; attempt to scuba dive; win three grants for various projects; successfully implement five environmental camps throughout the country; see Georgia and the Black Sea with dear friends; have my parents cross US borders to visit my life and me; implement various new activities at school; train for a marathon with the support from everyone in the village; complete a marathon; and so much more. Though it had its difficulties, 2007 provided me with a memorable year with lots of Kodak moments. I hope that you all have time to think about your 2007 and see what you have accomplished and what challenges you faced that will bring a new light in 2008!

Here’s to you and 2008!
Happy Birthdays: Dave C, Linda W. Becca (hey rooomie), Dad
Happy Anniversary: Katie! One year! Way to go Upchuck!
Late Bday: Lorin, Bobby
New baby: Cicely and Devard J