Tuesday, May 27, 2008

Two years down, two months to go

I was sitting at lunch today with my host sister Hermine and she asked how much time we had left (I get this question at least 4 times a day). I told her that today was exactly two months until I'd be leaving Armenia. I must admit, time really does fly.

All of the PCVs in Armenia are anxiously awaiting the arrival of the A16s on May 31st. This past weekend we briefly looked at their Yahoo! Chats and blogs. They're no different from how we were two years ago-- nervous, anxious and excited. I'm looking forward to meeting them.

In the next two months there's a pull to get all of my work completed (an endless battle) in the village while trying to balance the demands of 'house visits' to say goodbye and hunting for a job in America. Despite all of the work that needs to get done and people who need to be met, I'm most looking forward to the apricot harvest in June. Ararat Marz apricots are the best.

Sunday, May 25, 2008

April Activities

On April 16th I left the village for Kiev, Ukraine, where I spent five days touring the city and five days at a training of trainers for the American Council’s Future Leader Exchange Program (FLEX). American Councils’ staff worked with teachers from Georgia, Moldova, Serbia and Ukraine and FLEX alumni so that this summer we’ll be prepared to deliver a pre-departure orientation in our respective countries. There are two PC volunteers and two FLEX alumni for the 45 Armenian tenth graders preparing to study in an American high school next fall. According to their student handbook, “The FLEX program is funded by the United States Government to promote respect for cultural diversity, friendship between the United States of America and Eurasia*, and opportunities for personal development through international host family living.” This nine month scholarship provides Armenian youth with the experience of a lifetime and I look forward to sharing in their excitement as their pre-departure orientation teacher.

*Eurasia is used by the U.S. Government to describe the republics of the former Soviet Union.

Tatiks look the same in Kiev as they do in Armenia

St. Michaels Cathedral

St. Andrew Street (for gifts and handmade crafts)

I returned to Yerevan after my ten day trip only to leave again for Georgia. I spent two days touring Tbilisi--my only excuse being that it is so close and I hadn’t made it to the beautiful city yet.

I returned to Yerevan and the same day picked up my dad. It was a joyful reunion of us laughing and crying in the middle of the Zvartnots Airport. After nearly a year and a half I couldn’t seem to pull myself together enough to worry one bit about the cultural scene we were making in front of an astonished Armenian crowd.

Dad and I toured Armenia beginning with my first host family in a village near Vanadzor, then by attending the National Spelling Bee in Hrazdan, followed by my current village and on south to Noravank, Jermuk, Goris and Tatev, finally back to Yerevan for my close of service conference. He got to do some very touristy things including scheduled tours of Gharni and Geghark churches but he also got a true perspective from the time we spent with my host families and in the villages. He got to fish with the kids, hike with my host father, BBQ with my host brother and even prepare ghngali (ravioli like pasta) with my host mom. He enjoyed horovats (BBQ) at least seven times in the nine days he was here and I’m sure he had more than enough homemade jelly, cheese and lavash to last him for awhile. It was fun to have him around to show off my translating skills and the villagers all enjoyed commenting on how ‘young’ he looked and how ‘intelligent’ he seemed. All very true statements.

Dad competing to make ghngali the fastest...host mom won

Sitting with the neighbor ladies

Spelling bee competitors

After my dad left I returned to work to finish up the school year. We received funding for our civic leadership camp taking place in July and finished our European Club’s ninth grade emigration/immigration service learning project. We organized our after school mentorship club schedule so the students from the secondary school would be able to continue their classes in the kindergarten during summer break. I spent the last week of classes teaching the seven and eight-year-olds summertime safety lessons and gathering summer camp applications for GLOW (Girls Leading our World) and BRO, (Boys Reaching Out) two camps sponsored by our Gender and Development PC initiative, from the older students.

On Wednesday the “Last Bell” (i.e. graduation) festivities began for the two graduating classes (11a and 11b) with a ceremony at Khor Virap. The students lit candles, listened to a speech by the residing pastor and received their last bell ‘bells’ (corsages) from first graders. On Friday, the students had ‘last class’ where 11a ‘packed’ a suitcase of all of the knowledge they gained during their school career and 11b created a future goal tree. Teachers made speeches, students voiced their appreciation, they got ‘pinned’ with their bells and then everyone drank champagne, ate cake and danced. Saturday was the last bell ceremony. After two hours of presentations by the students themselves, my school director recognized my last bell as a teacher in Armenia. I got pinned and was asked to speak. Here's what I said (in very eloquent Armenian)...

"Dear teaches, parents and guests, yesterday in 11a's classroom, during their last class, our students wrote their thoughts to this question: 'I'm leaving my school and with me I will take...' I thought all day about this question and must say that I will take a life experience from this school-- an experience that brought me new friends and strong skills. Yesterday in 11b's classroom, during their last class, our students built their 'Tree of goals'. My goal is to always stay connected with this school. Dear graduates, the age difference between us is not all that great, at most seven years. Let's work together in this small world. Let's help people, protect the environment and save the world together! I will give you some advice: In Mrs. Grigoryan's (my counterpart) classroom she has a saying on the wall: 'I listen, I forget, I see, I remember, I do, I understand'. Dear graduates, as much as you are able, try to take advantage of the opportunities you have in life. My life is richer because of the two years I experienced here and I am sure that you will also achieve your goals if you work for others. I am extremely grateful for Armenia. I wish all of you health and all the best. I will miss our school."

Oh graduation. School's out for summer!

Last Class

Last Bell