Wednesday, July 14, 2010

First Post

So, after all of my public statements about blogs, others have answered my question as to "Who gives a **** about what I have to say?" and I decided to take the plunge.

There are rules that I need to follow here, so no comments will be allowed (see the Peace Corps disclaimer and you will understand).

I will start this off by pasting in a few things that I have emailed to people over the past weeks in response to questions about life here. Part of the reason I am launching this is that many people ask similar things and this will allow me to answer without parceling out the information too much.

I have been in Armenia for 6 1/2 weeks now and can't believe that it has been that long. On the other hand, given all that I have experienced, I can't believe that it hasn't been longer.

Am I happy? Yes – perhaps it is because I am still in the honeymoon phase and it is still short enough a time that it still feels like vacation, but things are going well. The language classes are tough and I sometimes feel like I am going backwards, but the people are very nice, I am kept comfortable, I am in nice surroundings and there are interesting things at every turn. The seven other people posted in this village are good people and I will be able to rely on them when I am on my own later this year. I will revisit this question as time goes on.

Am I feeling OK? Yes. Again, maybe because of the traveling I have done my body is not as shocked by the changes as it could be. Some of the others have experienced various GI problems but I have been spared so far. I am not eating as healthy as I was in at home (lots more bread and cheese, lots of salt in everything, a lot of fried food) and not as much exercise since there is no gym here but I do walk as much as I can manage. Still, I feel fine and hope to re-establish an exercise routine when I am in my permanent spot.

How is life with the host family? The lack of privacy that comes with living with a host family is manageable since they leave me alone to the extent I want to be. My “host parents” are just a few years older than me (that is them at left with one of their three grandchildren) and have had two PC people stay with them before so they know the drill. My room is comfortable and having them here helps the transition. I can practice my language with them, they invite me along as part of the household if they are invited to an event, and they seemed glad when I got back from four days visiting my future home. Even the 80 year old great-grandmother (a pretty tough lady) seems to have taken a shine to me and we watch TV together.

What is my typical day? I normally get up at 6:30 when the alarm rooster wakes me. I usually do my internet surfing at that point as the connection tends to be better then. If it is a bathing day (every other day at present which is more often than the norm here), I have my bucket bath at 7:30. Gohar (my host mother) has breakfast ready for me at 8:00 – eggs fresh from the family hens and cocoa made with milk from the family cow. I study a bit and get to school at 9:00 for language class (six days most weeks) until 1:30. Then it is back home for lunch which may be hearty soup, dolma, grilled meat and potatoes, pierogi type things, rice pilaf or various other things. Meals are always accompanied by tomatoes and cucumbers (incredibly fresh) and bread and cheese that Gohar makes herself. I study though the afternoon and sometimes go to a neighboring village for other training on the PC business sector, medical issues, cultural issues etc. When I am finished, I read or walk around the village to help them get used to me. Everyone knows we are here and everyone knows one another so we are ongoing topics of conversation. Therefore we always need to be on best behavior and be very polite to everyone. Having said that, anything I do will seem odd to them so I don’t let myself get too self-conscious. If I want to wander along the road with no particular destination, so be it. I usually get into a conversation with some of the locals who either want to be friendly or want to practice their English which is fine with me. There are a few that I already know to avoid but by and large people have been very friendly. Dinner is usually between 8:30 and 9:00 after my host father gets home from work. Dinner is normally lighter than lunch and may be the same as lunch or porridge of some sort. I usually study some more after dinner and often join the family to watch an Armenian soap opera that they are addicted to. I was advised that it would help with the language and I am starting to follow what is being said. I read for a bit and go to bed by 11:30. Weekends are not much different from weekdays as there is no real social system here outside the home – people tend to keep to themselves or go to house events.

How is the food? Really good so far. Talking to the others posted here, I am on the luckier side as to variety and the meat content of the meals. Gohar is a good cook and her daughters who visit sometimes are good cooks also (making more spicy food than is the norm here). I was never one to focus on “organic” food but most of what I eat here is since people can’t really afford pesticides and what is grown on the property is as fresh as it can be.

How is the language coming? It is actually coming along and now I can communicate with my host family although I still can't follow conversations while they are talking amongst themselves. We had language proficiency interviews a couple of weeks ago and I'm told that I am above average for someone studying for a month so that says something.

What will the permanent site [where I will be living for two years after the training period is over] be like? I am happy about the city placement {in Gyumri, a city of 150,000, compared to Solak with a population of 2,800] although there are aspects of village life that I think I will miss. In some ways, it is nice that everyone seems to know who I am, the mountains right nearby are nice and the smallness is very manageable. On the other hand, I think the everyone-knowing-who-I-am would really grate on me after the novelty wears off. The host family there has running water and an indoor bathroom so that is a nice change. I can have more of a real social life as there are restaurants and cafes and a movie theater. In the village, there are no bars although I did discover a sort-of restaurant at the edge of the village along the highway and we hike out there for a drink or two periodically. If you buy beer or alcohol at the local store, everyone knows about it because everything we do is noteworthy. As a result, I am drinking a lot less than I had been. Again, not necessarily a bad thing.

That is all for today. I will tackle some other questions shortly (and add more pictures).