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


Jason said...

Wow Syd! Great successes! Congratulations.

Next time you give a picture hug, don't squeeze me for so long 8-).

Hope to see you soon. Terra and I are in Gavar next week for a month or so. We would love to hear all the details of the events.

Katie Merchant said...

Syd sounds like you really are leaving a deep footprint in the world. I am so proud of you.
Off to the Philippines- is this a new quest? Thank you for sharing your stories, very inspirational.

Miss you and hope you know you are in my thoughts and prayers- daily.

Oh by the way, training for the Chicago Marathon. The other day I was running and I came across a memory of you and I running in Central Park in the freezing cold.

Love ya
Katie Merchant

Anonymous said...

Thanks for sharing your experiences with us. I have enjoyed your updates and love your spirit.
Tracy Curtis

Anonymous said...

Thanks for sharing your experiences with us. I have enjoyed your updates and love your spirit.
Tracy Curtis

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