Wednesday, August 22, 2012

Is That All There Is?

Revisiting week one
Two years later

As I said in my last post, my Peace Corps service is over and I have already left the country.  I won't be back in New York for a few months, but I am already anticipating the questions I will hear when I see family and friends (and some of which have already been sent by email).  What was it like?  What did you do?  Would you do it again?  If you could go back in time - knowing what you know now - would you still go? What are you going to do next?

The short answers are: Very interesting; not much but quite a lot; maybe; yes; and I don't know yet. But, of course, the real answers are much more complicated than that.  Since I understand that peoples' tolerance for listening to long, complex answers to questions about an experience like the Peace Corps is (justifiably) limited, I figured I would tackle it to an extent in writing so that people can read at their own pace and ask me more (if they want) when they see me.

What was it like?  Rather than rehashing that, I will refer back to my earlier posts.  Overall, though, the impression I am left with is that my service was easier than I had expected.  As far as Peace Corps countries go, Armenia seems to me like a pretty easy one (and being placed in a city as I was, a relatively easy location).  We had a fairly modern capital city within not-too-far a distance, 3G internet was widely available, I had running water (most of the time), a comfortable apartment with an excellent heater, a lot of English speakers around me, several other volunteers in the same city as I was, and lots of other "creature comforts", albeit more expensive than in the US (I could buy soy sauce, peanut butter, MGD and tahini if I wanted to). Also, if so inclined, I could have shopped at places like Swarovski, but I never did.

Having said that, I think back on a conversation I had with one of my more philosophical fellow PCVs.  He pointed out that, amenity-wise, Armenia seems to be a pretty easy placement but psychologically it was up there with some of the other, more obviously difficult countries.  Beyond the issues that the female volunteers have to contend with in such a patriarchal society, there is the "learned helplessness" that makes it very tough to get motivated when working with people who don't seem to want to learn how to help themselves.  A recent conversation I had with an Armenian woman gets to that point.  I forget the Armenian word she used, but she lamented that Armenians had lost something (we struggled for an English translation of her word and settled on "pride").  After the earthquake in 1988, the Soviet Union accepted foreign assistance for the first time.  Prior to that, she said, not only the Soviets but specifically the Armenians had been very self reliant and wary of accepting assistance.  Since then, with foreign aid and remittances from family living abroad providing a lifeline for a lot of families, many have forgotten how to help themselves or don't want to.  As an example, numerous times, I was asked for help with a project.  When discussing it, I would inevitably say "OK - what I need you to do is..." and the eyes would glaze over.  That takes a toll after a while.

Having said that, I think the experience was great.  I had never lived outside the US and living in another culture - even as an outsider - is significantly different from visiting as a traveler. I am really glad that I did it and am glad to have gotten to know a lot of wonderful people in Armenia.

What did you do?  My primary assignment was to help an organization improve its management processes.  Other than that, I was free to develop or get involved in other projects but was encouraged to focus on my sector of Community and Business Development.  While I made a lot of suggestions for my primary site, many events conspired to prevent me from being involved in or carrying through things both they and I had wanted me to work with them on.  So, what was supposed to take up roughly half of my time wound up taking maybe five percent. 

The benefit of having a mostly unstructured system, though, is that it allows you to make the most of the downtime that results from a situation like mine.  At first, I focused on seeking out other projects in Gyumri and worked with some other organizations that I learned needed help.  I also worked with another volunteer to develop a business English class.  With yet another volunteer, I took over an English conversation club that a departing volunteer had been running. As time went on, I also got involved in other projects that were more nation-wide in scope such as the Gyumri edition of a youth camp and the walk across Armenia.  And then I got into what I termed "volunteer support" roles such as leading training sessions for other volunteers, working on a grant review committee and helping to update training materials. 

So the longer answer was that I did a lot of things that I never expected to (and not the well digging that many people think all PCVs do).  What I did not do was something that many organizations in Armenia want - and that is to be a locator of funding.  Armenian organizations tend to be very dependent upon grant money and some will design projects to fit a grant opportunity that is available.  I decided early on that I would take the skills transfer idea of Peace Corps seriously and help organizations develop a fund raising strategy and help with their applications (offering comments about the structure of a project, how a question on the application is answered, how to frame a needs statement) but I would not be there to write applications with no one from the organization playing a lead role.  While Peace Corps stresses to organizations that we are not placed at their sites to apply for grants on their behalf, many still expect us to do so.  Some volunteers do a lot of grant application work because they work well with their organizations to develop projects needing funding and take a lead role in the application because they are generally in English. [As I wrote in my last post, I have issues with why the government does not take the lead there - on projects such as renovating classrooms, buying textbooks and blackboards, renovating school bathrooms.  Not that they are not worthwhile projects, but I think it is a shame that the organization and the PCV have to do fund raising for them.]  Others go along with grant applications writing to maintain relations with co-workers, to feel like they have accomplished something tangible during their service, or to fill the time if bored, among other reasons. I am not saying that this is a bad thing but, for better or worse, I chose not to go that route.

This is also a tough question to answer because I have no concrete accomplishments to point to.  I realized pretty early in my service that I would not likely see tangible results from my work since things like organizational management, confidence building, health education and critical thinking are not going to show benefits in a two year period.  Once I realized that, it became easier to deal with the frustration you can encounter, because who wouldn't prefer to point to a school that they helped build?  Again, this gets back to my earlier point about addressing people who feel helpless and helping them to feel otherwise. One of our newly arrived volunteers has a counterpart with a story that illustrates this point.  When the counterpart was a child, there was a Peace Corps volunteer in her village teaching English.  The child later became a motivated adult who is a school director and who is open to alternative methods of teaching - bucking the lingering Soviet system common in the schools here.  She credits her thinking to the example set by the PCV early in her life.

That is the type of lasting impact I am hoping to have had.  I don't think my time was wasted as I did notice small signs of progress with respect to certain individuals I worked with, I put some organizations in contact with donors and they have established relationships independent of me and I think the Peace Corps Armenia materials are in better shape than before.  I am fine with that.

Other than the day-to-day work assignment part ("Goal One" work, referring to the first goal of Peace Corps, which is to provide skills to people who want them), there was also the "Goal Two" and "Goal Three" things, which are helping Armenians understand Americans better and helping Americans understand Armenians better.

For Goal Two, that was sometimes a challenge.  Because of the pervasiveness of American culture around the world, people have some pretty set opinions about us based on what they see in movies (I often found myself explaining to people that there is in fact poverty in the US - and most were shocked to hear about homelessness).  I often had to explain why we volunteer and that we are not spies.  Most importantly, it means letting people understand that we are not all assholes.  There is a temptation to tell people what to do (especially given how Goal One is supposed to be accomplished) but communicating that you understand them before trying to sell them on something is tougher.

For Goal Three, I had a set up to correspond with a school on a regular basis to help them learn about Armenia but that petered out, so this blog and my pictures are my primary way of tackling that. So, you tell me how I've done on that.

Another thing I did is see a lot of the country.  Part of it was the Border 2 Border walk last year, part was visiting friends, part of it was outings with my co-workers. When Armenians ask me about the places I have seen and I start to list them, most say that I have seen more of the country than they have.  I suppose that is part of being somewhere temporarily and wanting to see as much as you can.

The thumbtacks mark the places I visited

In the background of all of that is the desire to do more.  One thing that is frustrating is that there are often a lot of great projects going on and other opportunities for volunteer support things to get involved in and it can be tempting to try getting involved in all of them.  As I am fond of pointing out, if you try to do too many things at the same time, some - if not all - of them are likely to get done badly. So, I did the things I was able to do and was happy for those who were involved in the things I couldn't be.

In summary, I think of what I did the same way that I describe how time passed.  The two years went very quickly (for me, at least) but when I think of all that I experienced, I feel like it was 10 years time. As far as work accomplishments go, it doesn't seem like a lot at the time, but it certainly adds up.

Would you do it again?  The answer is that I am not sure.  I found the adjustment to the different way of living easier than I expected and living in a different culture incredibly rewarding.  But doing another stint in the Peace Corps would likely entail learning another language and I am not sure if my aging brain would want to do that. And while I didn't have too much trouble adjusting to living here, I also made it a point not to go to the US during my service.  Whether I am more adaptable than I thought I would be or whether I just prepared myself mentally for two years away is unclear and I won't know the answer to that until I do go back home.  

If you could go back in time - knowing what you know now - would you still go?  Absolutely. We are often advised to come into this with no expectations.  I think I managed that pretty well - I didn't know what country I would come to, I didn't know what site in Armenia I would be sent to, I didn't know if my site placement would work out - but I managed through the unknowns and made the most of it.

Other than the challenges presented by life in Armenia, there is government bureaucracy, being part of a group that includes some, shall we say, dynamic personalities, and the uncertainty of life after putting yours on hold for more than two years.  But beyond that, there is the change in outlook that comes along. While my experience was not quite the same as the author of this article, I think the message is a pretty good one - being in the Peace Corps really does make you appreciate what we have.  It is almost a cliche but we often hear that you get more out of Peace Corps service than you put in and I agree with that. 

What are you going to do next? I had hoped to have an answer to that question by now but I don't. I left a job that I hated to go into the Peace Corps and figured that two years plus would give me plenty of time to figure that out (especially during the long winters).  Beyond the plentiful distractions (movies and books mostly) during those winters, I was too busy with other things and didn't carve out the time to make any solid decisions.  I could go back to what I had been doing (if the seismic changes contemplated in the US accounting arena were deservedly scrapped in my absence) although I would need to do some catching up. I could apply for a government job with the non-competitive eligibility that comes along with being a PCV.  I could retire if I chose to live in a place like Solak. While I have learned that I can live in a place different from New York, I need to go back there to see if I could do it on a longer term basis.  We shall see.

So, is that all there is to Peace Corps Armenia?  Maybe so - since as the song goes "if that's all there is my friends, then let's keep dancing.  Let's break out the booze, and have a ball."  That sounds an awful lot like an Armenian wedding.


Is that all there is to this blog?    Beyond the things that I have written about before, there were some things that were noteworthy but not enough to warrant long discussion so here is a short summary.
  • Many people don't wear watches, which is consistent with a general disregard of timeframes (appointments, opening hours, departure times).  
  • There is no voice mail in AArmenia, so people ALWAYS answer the phone when it rings - regardless of what else is going on at the time. I have been in a conversation with someone who stopped in the middle of a word to answer her phone.
  • I am pretty fascinated with how people really feel about the Soviet period versus now.  I am also interested in how people deal with the reminders of that time and like photographing the lingering traces.  But I was often frustrated in my search for old Lenin statues - and I received some strong reactions to my questions about them.  One man said "he is not part of our history" [because the Soviets pretty much imposed themselves on Armenia].  I responded that, similar to slavery in the US, just because you don't like a part of your history doesn't mean it didn't happen (and the man was born in Gyumri when it was called "Leninakan" for god's sake).  Despite the resistance I found, I did locate traces of some.

The statue of Lenin that used to be in what is now Republic Square (in the courtyard behind the art museum - I was told that his head is in the museum basement).
Where he used to stand in Solak
What used to be Lenin Square in Gyumri

His replacement
But is this finished? Not quite - I plan to write a last entry upon returning home and maybe a few along the way but they will be less frequent. I am traveling in the meantime but since that doesn't have anything to do with living in the Caucasus, there won't be any writing about that.

But there will be pictures....

Wednesday, August 15, 2012

Reflections of the Way Life Used to Be

So, my time is done and I have left Armenia.  Before I summarize my thoughts on the Peace Corps experience (that will be my next post) I thought it was time for some overall observations about Armenia.

I understand that it is a very complex society (as all certainly are).  I also understand that my two years in Armenia really amount to an extended tourist type view since there was always the knowledge that my time in country was limited and I could be in a bubble of Americans fairly often. The things I heard from Armenians were limited because (1) I never reached the level of language proficiency to eavesdrop on what people were really talking about or to have true in-depth conversations with people about issues; (2) for the most part people were careful about what they said to me because they didn't want to offend a guest in their country, or they thought I was a spy; and (3) unless you live through the things that people in Armenia (or - again - any other country), you can't really get it.

Having said all of that, there are benefits to being an outsider, having an (almost entirely) objective opinion and having spent two years observing.  So, this is intended to be a recap of those things that struck me as how Armenia can be its own worst enemy with respect to realizing its potential (to borrow some corporate-speak).

A big issue for many Armenians is how trapped they can become in their own history at the expense of the future.  That history is a tragic one full of empires fighting over the territory that they once ruled and genocide that the world has yet to fully recognize.  But the solution to the biggest issues that currently exist for the country to survive (the stalemate with Azerbaijan which is tied with the border closing with Turkey) seems to move further away over time.

As an example, the hatred that I sensed when talking to young people in Armenia (about Azeris and/or Turks) is troubling. More troubling is that - unlike their parents and grandparents - many have never even met anyone from those countries.  Instead, they are taught that they are bad people who wish them ill and who are not separate from the government of their countries (whose policies, in my opinion, you can justifiably take issue with). As this generation gets older, they will theoretically move into positions that might influence how the country moves forward so these attitudes seem counterproductive to me. Most will agree that the border with Turkey needs to re-open but quite a few young people I have spoken to think that Turkey must not only recognize the genocide and apologize but also make reparations. [For its part, Turkey has other conditions it wants addressed also and to the extent they involve Karabagh that is an entirely different can of worms - but I digress.]

Which brings me to the subject of Ararat.  You can see Ararat (weather permitting) from many points in Armenia and it is part of the national psyche.  One of the regions in named for it.  The stamps in your passport depict it.  Someone told me that the typical design of Armenian churches pays homage to it.  There are products carrying the name as their brand (including one of the major brandy factories). Many Armenian homes (and, I hear, the homes of those in the diaspora) have pictures of it on their walls.

But Ararat is not in Armenia - it is in Turkey. Once - years ago - Armenia covered parts of what is today Turkey, SyriaLebanonIranIraq, Azerbaijan as well as the current area.  Since then, the Persians, the Ottomans, the Russians (and later the Soviets) and many others have fought over and conquered and ruled the lands of ancient Armenia.  In the most recent imperial era, what is now the Republic of Armenia did not include the land where Ararat is. What is now the Republic of Armenia was part of the Russian empire while the area that includes Ararat was part of the Ottoman empire.  Armenia (the current country) then became independent for a short period after WWI and almost got the area including Ararat during the peace negotiations.  That fell apart when its then-war with Turkey was settled by a treaty involving Russia and Armenia then becoming part of the Soviet Union (that treaty called for rejecting the borders proposed by Woodrow Wilson).

For the past 21 years Armenia has been independent again and Ararat is still within Turkey's borders yet some do not seem to accept that.  At the time we arrived two years ago, Armenia was wrapping up a national tourism campaign focused on something like "Noah's Journey" and how he landed on Ararat (no one seemed to acknowledge that the campaign essentially directed tourists to Turkey).  During training, I heard someone in a cultural session state "You have the maps, but we have Ararat!" A young man recently told me that Armenia lost Ararat to Turkey at the time of the genocide.  Also recently, I heard an anecdote whereby a young Armenian woman said (during a presentation that mentioned that Ararat is the highest mountain in Turkey) that "everyone knows that Ararat belongs to Armenia." Whether they are learning that in school or think that a moral claim overrides internationally recognized borders is unclear to me.

In any event, this focus on historical matters rather than the practical matter of reopening the border seems self-defeating.  Armenian merchants already buy a lot of goods from Turkey but they must travel through Georgia, adding time and cost. Likewise, any exports become more expensive and (with respect to exports of produce) impractical.  I am not saying that they need to "get over it" and not push for recognition of the genocide - but it seems to me that focusing too much the way they do is not good for the country long-term.

Another issue that I have written about before is the distrust for one another.  A good analogy to me is sports.  In the Olympics this year, Armenia had 25 athletes - none in team sports.  People have told me that team sports (other than soccer) are not that prevalent because people don't work well together.  The Soviet system nominally promoted a communal mindset, but its legacy really seems to be every man for himself. That attitude manifests itself, among other ways, in the rampant corruption but also in the apathy toward trying to change things through civil society.  As I often pointed out to people, trying to change things may not succeed, but if nothing is done, I can guarantee that nothing will change.  And to get things to change, people need to work together.

I also believe that Armenia needs to examine how it does things and thereby wean itself from the charity on which its organizations depend.  Yes - I know - that is easier said than done and it is an extremely simplified view.  But foreign aid from the US and Russia (as well as from the diaspora) pays for a lot of projects that the government could probably find a way to fund themselves.  I have seen quite a few projects on which PCVs have worked to get a grant to purchase a handful of computers for a school - maybe five for a school with hundreds of students, or textbooks, blackboards or renovating a bathroom.  Meanwhile, there was a news report about a full-size replica of Noah's Arc to be built as a tourist attraction in Yerevan.  It seems to me that the spending priorities need to be reexamined (not to mention the Ararat thing again...)

Tourism is a good example of an industry that Armenia could build out but (in my view) misses the target. While the country has beautiful scenery, delicious food, wonderful people and historic monasteries all over the place, the tourism infrastructure severely lacking.  The roads are terrible, the hotels are overpriced, information about public transportation is either not published or is in Russian only (the trains) or Armenian only (buses). There are language barriers.  Flights into and out of Yerevan are widely seen as too expensive. There is no central tourist office in Yerevan - it was closed the year before last because only budget travelers were coming in and they only seemed to want to attract more "luxury" tourism. Then there is the "Noah's Journey" type thinking about the country promoting itself.

The MO for tourism seems to be in the "if you build it, they will come" category. The big draw that opened lately (the tramway at Tatev monastery - the longest in the world!) is a five hour drive (over terrible roads) from Yerevan with few services nearby, so the trip may need to be done as a day trip. As a result, many tourists going there seem to be diasporan Armenians who probably would have gone anyway.  As PCVs, some of us worked with local areas to develop tourist infrastructure, but there is nothing done on a national level to coordinate it.  Every man for himself.

Overall, the idea of being self-sufficient in any respect seems to be in jeopardy.  Based on conversations I had with people during my time there, it seems to me that they would probably join a new Soviet Union if Russia presented the opportunity. There were some interesting articles recently speaking about Armenia's history since independence (politically and economically) that indicate the tough choices that the country needs to make.  As Peace Corps volunteers, we work at a grass-roots level to try to effect change when they really need to be tackled at the national level.  But one thing you notice as you travel around Armenia is that there is not much grass.

In conversations with Armenians, I notice frustration with the rate of change in the country (similar to people in the US who are frustrated that Obama didn't wave a magic wand and solve the issue most important to them).  I point out that the country is only 20 years old and has only had its current constitution for 16 years and ask if they would trust their country to a teenager.  In the lifespan of a country, 20 years is nothing, but the question is whether neglect will lead to an untimely demise.

Thursday, August 2, 2012

Time To Say Goodbye

Me being pensive (thanks for the pic Kevin)
Tomorrow I will end my Peace Corps service in Armenia.  I have written many times before that the time has gone by very quickly for me and it is still hard for me to believe that I have been in Armenia 26 months already.

So now the focus is on wrapping things up, passing things on and, most importantly, saying goodbye to many people.  As I have told several people, this is similar to when I left the US, but without all the shopping.

The goodbye process has been taking places over the course of the time I have been here.  Last year, it was the group that arrived the year before I did.  During the time my group was here, people left for medical reasons, for personal reasons or because a job came by that was too good to pass on.

But it really started to accelerate in April when the group I arrived with had our Close of Service conference.  Over several days, we talked about reverse culture shock, the paperwork that we need to complete as we finish up, how we feel about our accomplishments and practical matters such as medical insurance after service.We also talked a lot about our "Post-COS" plans, that included graduate school, jobs or (as in my case) travel. 

At that point things really sank in.

Peace Corps A-18 Group the day we arrived

Peace Corps Armenia A-18 COS Conference

During training in Solak with our teachers

Remaining Solakians at the COS Conference
In June, I paid a visit to Solak with most of the other volunteers who were there the same time as I.  I stayed with my first host family and had the opportunity to observe changes from two years ago.  Water now runs into the house (albeit on the same two-hours-per-day schedule that I remember). There is a new computer purchased by my host brother who had been away in the army while I was there. The kids are bigger. The entry to the property has been evened out and set with paving stones.  But the peculiar smell of the house - which I had forgotten - hit me as soon as I entered and gave me a comforting feeling of welcome.  Gohar made dinner and, after too many dolma, I had a goodbye toast with Rasmik who would be gone to work before I got up the next morning. 

With Gevorg, Tatik and Gohar
Some of the village kids who used to follow us around
I also visited with some of the other host families and shop owners I remembered.  The kids were playing in the schoolyard as also and we said goodbye to them also.  I met up with the others who had stayed overnight and we got in a taxi, with me not knowing when or if I would ever be in the village again.

Unfortunately, I did not have a chance to say goodbye to my Gyumri host family.  Over the past two years, they have been spending more and more time with their children and grandchildren in Russia and I think they may move there permanently.  I went by their house to learn that I had missed them by a week.  

And then more volunteers started to leave. Peace Corps has an option of taking an early close of service and a sizable number from our group took the option. We had a get-together in Yerevan just before their departure and it was a nice chance to see many of them before they headed out. When we have gatherings like this, it makes me thankful for one aspect of Peace Corps that is sort of under the surface - and that is, the chance to work with people very different from yourself and with whom you might never have otherwise come in contact.   I don't know if or when our paths will cross again, but I can say that this diverse group has made my service more meaningful and my life a little brighter.

A picture I took in Vienna on our way to Armenia - still in the "getting to know one another" phase
Two years later - after Austin and I had worked a lot together
The Northern team for the Border 2 Border walk in 2011
Half of Team North
The most difficult part is to say goodbye to the various people I have met and/or worked with in Gyumri.  Living there for two years was not just about my co-workers at the Social-Educational Centre and the participants at my English club.

With some of my co-workers at the Social Educational Centre and the bishop
It was also the lady in the shop around the corner who always knows that I buy six eggs at a time, the cafe manager who waves at me every time I walk past, the kids on my block who chase me down the street wanting a hand slap, the lady I buy spices and tea from who always gives me extra, the taxi drivers I pass every day on my way to work, the marshutni drivers who know which seats I can and can't sit in, and on and on.  And there are also the friends I have made here - who have included me in their Nor Tari celebrations, a wedding, an arm-wrestling contest or just a meal in their houses.

A man from my neighborhood who I see everywhere.  He and his wife had me in for dinner one night for no reason other than because we see each other all the time.
In my favorite restaurant across from the brewery.  I coached him on the English pronunciations for his menu.

The ladies who always know that I want a Gyumri draft

My spice lady
At my favorite cafe on the main square
At my favorite bread store
At my local grocery store
I also made a trek out to one of the villages we walked through last year during the Border 2 Border walk.  As I was researching the route before the walk, I asked for directions in a village I was passing through.  Before getting directions, I was invited into the house and given lunch.  We were given lunch again (with food to go) during the actual walk and I have kept in touch with the father since.  As the 2012 walk was due to pass the same way, an introduction to the new group seemed a good excuse for a return visit.

With Rubik in Yeranos village
I am often asked if I am happy or sad to leave and the answer isn't an easy one because it is both.  There are some for whom Peace Corps service is more of a trial and they can't wait to leave.  Others (including five in my group) extend their service for one or two years.  I will miss the people here but I also miss the people at home.  I am proud of the fact that I managed fine with all the life differences from what I was used to but I also realize that the privations I have "suffered" are a way of life for the people here.  I feel more comfortable here than at any other point in my service, but I also recognize the signs in myself then it is starting to wear on me (I am getting cranky at times).  So, for me, it is time to go.

Leaving also forces you to think about what you have accomplished during your service.  As part of the closing paperwork with Peace Corps, we write a "Description of Service" listing the various projects and programs we have done.  While I don't have any concrete accomplishments (I didn't build a school or latrine systems, as some people think all PCVs do) but I can see small changes that I think I can take at least partial credit for.  There is a quote in a training session for new trainees I helped with recently that (while it may be cheesy) is apt.  "In your Peace Corps service, you will help plant trees whose shade you will not get to sit under."  The other question I get from everyone is when I will come back (not "if", mind you, but "when").  My answer is that I probably will come again for a visit but I don't know when.  This being the only place that I have lived outside the US, it is a part of my life that I will want to see again - if for no other reason than to see if any of those trees have grown.

In the meantime, I worked on spreading around all the stuff I accumulated in the past two years - to my sitemates, to new volunteers, to my neighbors or to the needy people in my neighborhood.  This last part added a heavy note of sadness to leaving - in my last few days in Gyumri, I saw quite a few people preparing for winter, foraging for things to burn and the cardboard boxes and clothes past the point of wearability serve well for that.  Anything that can be burned did not last long after I left it by a dumpster and some people asked me for the things I was carrying in that direction.   

I am spending these last couple of days in Yerevan to finalize all of my paperwork, close my bank account, arrange my post Peace Corps health care and to say goodbye to more people. I will then visit Karabagh (the disputed area that Armenia and Azerbaijan have been fighting over forever and which we are not allowed to visit while we are in the Peace Corps) and then a few last days in Yerevan to see the new volunteers sworn in and for the last goodbyes.

Where did the time go?