There’s snow on the mountains now, but still none in the valley. If it’s clear, the icy blue peaks of Mount Ararat look yellow and rosy in the morning light, like a watercolor. Everything is a little softer at that cold winter angle.
Mostly though, it’s cloudy and damp, with the smell of wood smoke in the evenings. Stray cats huddle together in the corner by the school. I forget my mittens every morning, bury my hands deep in my pockets.
I wore my glasses to school for the first time—I usually wear contacts. One of my 6thgraders pulled me aside to ask if my eyes were bad too, like hers. She has thick rimmed black glasses, but I’m still not sure if she can see the blackboard well.
“I can’t see a single thing without glasses,” I told her.
“They are pretty on you,” she said quietly.
“Yours are pretty on you too,” I said. She smiled, shy.
Most Sundays, I go to help one of my student’s moms with her English and practice my Armenian. My Armenian is much better than it was a few months ago, but there’s still a lot I don’t understand, and I’m not sure I use the different past tenses correctly.
“How are the kids for you?” She asked me last Sunday.
“They’re good, mostly,” I said.
Her son is in my 6th grade class. He grinned.
“What?” She asked him.
“Well…” he began. “Sometimes they make fun of Miss Maddy because she’s foreign.”
“Do you?” She asked, already suspicious of her son. I smiled a little, because it reminded me of the same way my mom will question my brother after school—always just a little suspicious her kid has been up to no good.
“No! No, not me! Right Miss Med?”
I smiled. “No, he is always good.”
She frowned. “And you tell the other kids not to?”
“Yes, always,” he insisted.
“Good,” She paused. “You know,” she turned to me, “If you ever need to, you can stay here.”
“Oh, I live with close, with another family. I shouldn’t need to.”
“I know,” she persisted. “But if for some reason you ever need a place to stay, you are welcome here.”
A thank you caught in my throat.
Thanksgiving passed. I went to make a list of the things I am thankful for, but it felt contrived, and I’m a little late for it anyways. I crumpled the list, chewed on the end of my pen.
In my English club, we made thankfulness hands. Naturally, I cut 40 hands and only ten kids showed up, but the weather was bad that day so I can’t really blame them. In the middle of my lesson, I got pulled out to help another teacher translate some papers from English, and I resigned myself to the idea that my Thanksgiving lesson was probably going to be a bust. The kids in my club see me as the fun American, and if I lose control of the group it isn’t easy to get it back.
When I came back, I braced for Lord of the Flies level chaos, but instead opened the door to find my two oldest girls had taken over, and were using the lesson plan I left on the desk to teach the class themselves. I came in, nodded at them to keep going with two big thumbs up, and sat back just glowing with pride. I helped with pronunciation when needed, but they did such a great job teaching the younger kids! We ended up using all 40 of the hands after all.
I celebrated Thanksgiving in Yerevan, with a group of other Peace Corps Volunteers. We made American food (I missed cheese) and talked about what we were thankful for, and altogether had a really wonderful time. I have a great group of PCV friends, you guys are such an open hearted and sincere group.
Family means different things to different people, and I am constantly expanding my definition. I am so grateful for all of my families here in Armenia, and my family back home.
That is one thing about Thanksgiving though. I knew I was going to miss my family, but I am surprised it took so long for me to really feel it. I could be surrounded by other people, having an objectively good time, but knowing that my family, people I’ve spent every holiday season with to date, are at a frozen lake, playing poker and euchre and telling stories and all of that is still happening without me, hearing about it from my sisters, a simple “you should be here”—it just sort of seems so strange that all of those things that have been such a part of my life are happening without me. Stranger still that I will go over a year without seeing my younger siblings, when for most of my life I’ve watched them group up close enough distance that I haven’t really been able to see it.
I was thinking about all that on Wednesday when I buried myself in a book on my free period in the Library, and the librarian made me a cup of coffee without asking. I put down my book, and helped her with her half English crossword puzzle. She pulled out a piece of cake she had saved me, and told me jokingly to gain some weight. I joined a conversation with the other teachers, and left my book unfinished on the table.
“Arden dzmrrane,” One of the teachers commented, pointing out the snow to me on the mountains to the south. Already Winter.
I nodded. Already indeed. We talked about Winters here, and in Michigan, and holidays, and things we have in common, and little differences, but how either way the holidays are about togetherness and appreciating each other.
I feel so strange, and foreign, and out of place a lot of the time. Mostly, I still have no idea what I am doing. I guess the thing that I am most thankful for is the people who, when I am feeling the most like an outsider, take me by the hand and say no, you belong here.
*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!)