A month ago, on the day I’m writing this, I was leaving what I had come to know as home to move to a new community where the only thing that I knew was that winter is going to be cold up there, likely colder than anywhere else in the country. A month and a day ago, I was standing with my right hand raised, swearing in as a Peace Corps Volunteer. My dark blue button up with a jacket was a bad idea, and I don’t even think I looked at the camera when we had our photo taken shaking the U.S. Ambassador’s hand.
The past month has gone relatively the same. A mild fright paired with varying levels of excitement has carried me through my first month of service. Knowing little of the language being spoken around me, and nothing of the work I’ve been doing, I don’t feel any more like a PCV than I did a month ago when I was riding up to the great rolling green hills in Shirak marz. The only thing that has made me feel more like the preconceived ideas I had about Peace Corps Volunteers, is that I’m slowly collecting an arsenal of stories, ranging from the ridiculous, to the terrifying, and the inspiring, that I’ll retell for years to come. At least for the next two when I meet up with my fellow PCVs.
Although much of my service so far has been met with a slack-jawed, glassy-eyed “What?”, I have been able to do some pretty cool things. I live in the far northwest corner of Armenia, but I’ve traveled to Lori, Tavush, and Aragatsotn Marzs’ since I’ve been at site. I’ve visit places like Goshavank, the COAF SMART Center in Debed, and Byurakan Observatory on the slopes of the highest peak in Armenia. I’ve hiked to the highest peak in the bowl that I live in, and through fields of wildflowers a few villages away. I’ve spent some decent time in Gyumri and Yerevan, and had shorter experiences of cities like Dilijan and Vanadzor.
I’ve been lucky to be paired with an organization and counterpart that are both very active. Tagging along with them has made up the majority of my travels in this past month, and it has been a great experience to see all so much of Armenia is such a short amount of time. The work, although scattered and unclear at times, has been rewarding as well. A couple of weeks ago, my counterpart asked me to design a logo for him, which was odd because I’m not a graphic designer. After a few hours of fine tuning and reviewing over the work with my counterpart, I showed myself I could graphically design a logo.
I was also very fortunate to be a part of a Zero Robotics camp in Armenia, a project I stepped into without knowing the full depth of my involvement. Zero Robotics is a programming competition held in cooperation with MIT and NASA to teach youth how to code using open source software. After an intensive training, this talented group of kids submitted codes for robots that are used in the International Space Station. With the help of my counterpart, and a new friend and camp leader, I was able to give a presentation about the Peace Corps, teach the kids how to make s’mores, lead them on a hike, and document their entire journey through photographs and a blog. I was even able to talk to a couple of the youth about the differences in our cultures (enter expected diversity issues from a largely homogenous country).
As far as my new community, and specifically my new host family, they’re great. My 15 year old host sister is sassy as ever, and my host mom’s laugh is contagious. All three of my host brothers are family guys. Two of them are married with kids of their own, and three of the four kids aren’t scared to say hi to me. I even have a special fist bump with Karine. My host dad is stoic by default, but he has never been anything but kind to me. They understand that I enjoy my alone time, spicy food, and adventures. I don’t think they could’ve found a better family for me in this village.
I wish I could put into words how my time as a PCV has felt. I don’t know if I haven’t come to understand what service is well enough, or if this feeling is so obscure there’s no word I know to encapsulate it. I could certainly talk about what I’ve done in Armenia. I can tell you the plans that I have while I’m here in Armenia. I can talk about work I’ve done and what’s in the works. I don’t know what I’m doing. I’m just kind of doing it.
Anyway, this is supposed to be a photoblog, so here’s some scattered pictures of the last month’s adventures. Here’s to hoping purpose finds me, and my next post is more put together.
Maybe a week before I left Ayntap, somewhere around the time of my last post, there was a major thunderstorm that rolled across the Ararat plain. The setting sun and the rainclouds painted the horizon gold. I got my telephoto out and zoomed up to these countour rich beauties. My host brother and I took turns looking through the viewfinder, exclaiming how pretty this sight was, and telling the next where exactly to aim the lens next. The thunderstorms here in Armenia have been spectacular, house trembling even, but this one will remain particularly memorable.
This shot was center stage (don’t measure it) where I was sworn in as a Peace Corps Volunteer. Part of the 26th group of Americans to come to Armenia and swear in front of new friends and family, to pursue the goals of peace and friendship. The ceremony was beautiful, thanks to a handful of volunteers, some local musical talent, and this cave like hall.
Shirak marz is a highland steppe, where the green of the grass starts in the cracks of the concrete houses and runs to the summits of the boundless mountains. The Akhurian River is welcome force for me in Shirak marz. It’s worked to carve out mighty gorges as it flows south from Lake Arpi. THIS is not a picture of the Akhurian River, but rather it’s one of the smaller creeks that contributes to the torrent downstream. It flows from the village next to mine, and meets the Akhurian where the road leads out of Amasia. And when the sun sets and hits the rocks across the way, well I couldn’t help but pull out the reds and oranges in the uncommonly exposed rock.
As I said above, I was able to lead a group of kids on a hike not too long ago. It was a proper hike, with an incline, a peak as a goal, and a view to take your breath away. On our way down, instead of taking the same route, I led the group down a separate ridge. If you’ve never had the opportunity to walk through fields of wildflowers, I’d recommend that you jot it down on your bucket list presently. A sprightliness tends to wash over you when you’re at the center of so much beauty. H.G. Wells wrote, “I suppose everything in existence takes its colour from the average hue of our surroundings.” When your average hue is filled with the white noise of bees at work, the fluttering songs of birds, and natures finest pallet, everything else feels, maybe not right in the world, but better.