Peace Corps Armenia: Like it is

Gold light spills through my window every night around 5:30 pm, and the fig tree turns all deep blue and green and orange around the edge. I’ll go for a run, or talk on the phone, or lesson plan, or write, like I am doing now. I’ll make a cup of tea with lemon in it. It’s still not really Fall here; still a comfortable 70 degrees.

I’m at the school every morning around nine, and I stop to try and find the kittens on the corner on the way in. I can see Mount Ararat from the school if it’s clear out. I can see the cuts and valleys left by rivers and the small peak of Khor Virap monastery way in the distance. I really like mornings like these, where I feel like I can watch the snow start to crawl back down the mountain.

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Mount Ararat from outside the school

I almost tripped over one of the loose floorboards in the back of the classroom while I was busy peering out at the mountain and the board clattered, loud. The whole class of third graders giggled. My counterpart (Armenian co-teacher) raised her eyebrows at me and I tried to kill my laughter, because it would be very in-character for me to accidentally interrupt the hard-earned silence of the wiggliest third graders.

I thought maybe I’d succeeded in flying under the radar, but the next time I went to walk by that spot Lusine* sprang up out of her chair, grabbed both my hands and grinned at me.

Zgooysh”, she warned, and helped me cross the loose floorboards, like she was afraid I would trip again. This time I laughed for real.

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Hint of Fall on the Apricot trees

I like talking to kids because they tell it like it is. A few nights ago, I sat working at a lesson plan and caught Arman’s* eye in the hallway. I gave him a sparkle fingered wave. I’ve meet him once or twice before—I like to draw with his sister Emma* when she is over.

“Hi there,” I called quietly. He ducked around a corner.

The next time I waved he looked over his shoulder, then cautiously walked into my room and up to my desk, leaned in close and asked who made my bed.

“Me,” I answered.

Doo?” You?

“Yeah,” I answered in English.

He frowned. “You didn’t do a very good job,” he observed, correctly.

“Well thanks, buddy,” I replied in English. “Kani tarikan es?

Inch?” His nose scrunched up. What?

I repeated, slower and with the clearest pronunciation I could manage. “How old are you?”

Hing,” he answered, holding up five little fingers.

“Oh, very big,” I said in Armenian.

He narrowed his eyes. “Talk normal,” he told me.

I laughed. “I can’t. I’m foreign.”

Inch?”

“I nine months ago just started studying Armenian. English is my… vy, vontes asem? Mayra lesoo?”

Mayreni lezoo?” he corrected. “Why do you speak English?”

“Because I’m from America.”

Inchi?”

“Because I was born there.”

He paused, considering. “Do you speak any language?”

“I am now speaking Armenian,” I pointed out. “I can speak English. I am English teacher.”

Arman nodded. “I know English.”

“Do you?” I asked, in English.

Da,” he replied.

I grinned at the Russian. “Okay.”

“Okay,” he repeated.

So we went on that way. He told me about the cars he likes in Armenian and I replied in English only and he echoed back with a “yeah?” or “okay” or “gotcha”. He went to steal us some candy, but didn’t like his so he spit it out on my desk and we switched.

“Are you alone?” he asked me.

I paused, considering the question.

Ch’hasgatsar?”

“One second, I am thinking,” I told him. “I live here, with this family,” I explained. “I have friends… other places Armenia they are living.”

“What about your family? Do they live in Armenia?”

“No, in America.”

“When will you see them?”

“I don’t know,” I answered honestly.

“Arman?” his mom came looking for him. “Is he bothering you?” she asked me.

“No, of course no.”

“Mama,” Arman tugged at his mom’s hand. “Emma’s friend is my friend now,” he smiled.

I smiled back, “Yeah?”

And I think that was the first time I’ve been referred to as somebody’s friend, rather than the American, or English girl, or English teacher, or a foreigner.

Bari gisher,” Arman and his mom told me.

“Good night!” I called back. So even though Arman thinks my Armenian is garbage and I can’t make a bed, he also called me he and his sister’s friend. And kids tell it like it is.

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I added a small group study session by sign-up sheet only after my English clubs. At first, I was a little apprehensive, because it’s more time in the school teaching, and honestly by the time my club finishes I tend to be pretty tired. There’s the begging kids to listen, trying to explain in Armenian that if you’re here to goof around you need to leave because some kids are here to learn and you’re ruining it for them, and trying really hard to address the different learning needs of all the students.

But a couple of the students who always listen and help out and learn every lesson I give by heart asked me if they could get more practice, so I decided to give it a shot.

So after English club finishes I’ve been working with groups of 3-4 students (that’s right; PST Language group sized!) on whatever topic they decide as a group that they want to study. It’s been great for getting to know them better, and even better for understanding their English levels.

It has also been super easy to teach, in that some groups even sort of teach themselves. Thursday, I pulled out my poster of “to want”, “to like”, “to do”, and “to be able to” and the two older girls started explaining to the three younger. They grabbed the ball I use to ask questions (that and show off my mad baseball skills) and started quizzing each other.

They are all so smart and motivated and I’m so lucky to get to work with them and so proud of the progress they’ve already made. Students like these guys make me so excited to go to school, and lesson plan for them, and I definitely don’t mind hanging around the extra hour to help facilitate that kind of learning environment.

And it’s strange, because I haven’t always felt like that. Take last week for example. Last week I was in general not excited to go to school. The thing is, nothing was really that different between this week (awesome) and last week (rough).

Both weeks I had those great, motivated students, and the rude kids made fun of me the same amount both weeks, and the new situations I was put in weren’t any easier or harder.

Still, last week the hallways felt overwhelming and loud and very foreign, and after getting my hair pulled in one particularly obnoxious class I caught myself wondering if I could really handle this for two years when I felt so exhausted and useless right then.

But nothing external really changed from last week to this week. I’m in the same place; I’m at the same school. The difference for me between a “good” week and a “bad” week was the attitude I had going into it.

(And like, if we’re being real, the fact that being a little bit sick and away from home makes me the most dramatic person in the world.)

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Live footage of me enjoying that gold light and drafting this blog post

Going into this week, I had just finished (slowly) a half marathon I didn’t think I’d be able to finish after being sick and taking two weeks off running. I had a good hair day, and a good cup of coffee. My week started off with a group of third graders giving me a big hug and telling me they missed me over the weekend and I was beautiful, and my club kids told me they were excited for club this week.

And you know kids. They tell it like it is.

 

(So… my Armenian definitely sucks.)

 

*All names are pseudonyms, but the stories, especially the embarrassing parts, are real

(All views expressed on this site are my own and do not reflect the views of the Peace Corps, the US government or the Armenian government!)


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