Peace Corps Armenia: Blink and You’ll Miss it

It doesn’t seem like I could possibly have anything to teach Nune*. She’s in her late sixties, a garden expert, makes a better cup of coffee than I, and is decidedly unimpressed with both my Armenian and my cooking. So I was surprised when she came in to my room with a skein of yarn and pointed at the hats I had been knitting.

Doo kskses?”She asked me. She held up a circular needle.

In early June, she had shown me all the sweaters with lace patterns and cables she made in her apartment. We had a cup of coffee, and I asked invasive questions, like how old is she, and why she lives alone. She answered and great detail while I tried hard to understand. She showed me her view of the town and the mountains in the distance, and I agreed with her—it was the best spot in the town.

“Uhh…” I paused. I understood the words, but not the context. “Oozoom ek ays pes?”  I held up one of the hats I had finished.

Ayo,” she answered.

So we sat on the couch, and I demonstrated with minimal language the cast on I had used and how I knit in the round—things Nune undoubtedly knows but wants to see me do anyhow.

I’m still not sure why. Maybe it’s because while I still stumble through Armenian, this is a language we can share—we both know when to knit and when to purl, and can do a quick sketch of a fair isle pattern after seeing it. Maybe it’s proof to her that if I could learn this language fluently, one of knots and colors, there’s a good chance I’ll learn hers too. Maybe next time I will better understand when she candidly answers those questions I asked, instead of understanding the sentiment and not the words. Maybe too, it’s out of curiosity about the women like her at the other end, my own grandmother who sat next to me on a couch that same way years ago and showed me that same thing.

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Emma* is sweet and small and ten years old and reminds me very much of every other ten-year-old I’ve ever met. She and her sister walk me home after my English club and I quiz them on colors and numbers and the difference between “walk” and “work”.

I leave the door to my room open while I plan lessons for English club, which is maybe an Americanism to assume that this clearly communicates people are welcome to come in and talk to me. Either way, Emma does. She catches my eye when she’s over playing with my host siblings, and sneaks in and taps my shoulder.

“Inch es anoom?” What are you doing?

“I am working,” I smile and tell her and English.

“Uhhh…” She glances up to her left, thinking, then shakes her head. “Chem hasganoom.” I don’t understand.

Ashkatoom em hima,” I translate.

“Okay, super,” she tells me in English and I laugh. She plops down on my bed and I rifle through my desk to find her a notebook and some colored pencils to draw with while I finish up a lesson plan for my English club. She sits and draws and tugs at my wrists asking me to look every few minutes. I look, and promise her she’s the best artist I’ve ever seen.

At night, Emma, her sister, and my host sister all go out to walk in the first cool hours of the day. We walk back and forth in the dark on the dirt round.

“I am live in America,” Emma tells me, smiling so big her eyes crinkle.

Asa,” I say, “I am from America.”

Yes Amerikayits em,” her sister translates.

“Let’s go to America,” Emma tells me in Armenian.

I smile. “Okay, hajo.” I wave goodbye to her and all the girls laugh.

Emma dramatically airplanes away from us down the dusty road. The sky is the color of the melons that grow here and the stars have just started to burn through. There’s no breeze tonight, but the heat isn’t quite so bad in the absence of the sun.

“Yes Amerikayoom hima,” Emma announces.

Vortegh es Amerikayoom?” I ask. Where are you in America?

“Uhhh…” Emma is stumped. She frowns, then smiles. “Dubai,” she answers confidently, and we all burst out laughing.

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I don’t understand how the summer has passed so quickly. I blinked and lost all of July. I got so much done and nothing at all. I clocked 64 hours of English clubs. I went all the way to Meghri. I was able to see my PCV friends about twice a month.

At the same time, I feel like my language skills have completely plateaued despite studying almost every night, and consistently find myself wondering if maybe I’m just not smart enough. I managed to start about 10 books, and finished only one. I catch myself comparing my work and myself to other volunteers, and constantly wonder what I should be doing.

 

When I was in high school I used to run the mile. My junior year I was fast. My senior year, I got faster by enough to be proud of, but my friends improved by even more. Before one of my last races, my coach pulled me aside to let me know he’d noticed all my hard work this season and tell me I was doing really well.

I shook my head. “I should be doing better. Everyone else is,” I told him.

“I’m going to tell you what my coaches told me,” he said. “Running can be a team sport, but you can only do your best. You have to run your own race.”

And I remembered that. My effort and improvement was impressive and something I deserved to be proud of—it was only when I was constantly looking at the girls next to me that it seemed dull. And each of us had a different set of legs, a different body, different injuries, different classes, different home lives, and different goals. We were all running different races.

Which brings me back to here. Every single one of us, both as people and as Peace Corps Volunteers, has a different set of challenges. My clubs went fantastic this summer. My language suffered. I had some of the most wonderful and meaningful experiences of my life. I also had days where I didn’t leave the house. I experienced both unending kindness from strangers, and street harassment. I wrote some blog posts I am proud of; I also dumped full word documents into the trash can. I have had days where I feel confident and like I’m doing really well here, and also had days where I feel isolated and clueless.

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Coming back from Meghri has felt like a relief. The familiar silhouette of Mount Ararat, the red hills, the fig tree outside my window, people who were so happy to have me home, all of that has felt right. And it was that thought that shocked me a little—the summer has passed so quickly I feel like I’ve almost missed it, but here, at the end, coming back to my site has felt like coming home.

 

*name changed

(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!)

Peace Corps Armenia: Special Everywhere

The smallest girl in my English club stands on her tiptoes to try and reach the board, giving English her very best shot despite being only six and sitting in on her older sister’s class.

“Miss Maddy,” An older student whispers, and points at my stickers. Her eyes glitter. “Kareliey?” May I?

I nod and smile. She pulls off a sticker, and when the younger girl finishes correctly writing the answer, the older girl gives it to her. Watching from the back, while the students play an English game and help each other, I can’t help but be happy I am here, able to witness something as small as a sticker.

 

My girls from English club walk me home, and we do impromptu lessons along the way. We point at colors and they grin and shout them. They learn this is a tree, and this is a mountain, and this is a cloud. The sun darkens my forehead and I sweat like I’ve never sweated before, a bundle of wadded up conjugation posters in my arms.

“Miss Maddy, Miss Maddy, Inch e sa?” They ask and smile. When they run out of questions they quiz me on my Armenian.

“Goodbye!” I say when I reach the green door that is mine.

“Goodbye! Ts’aystyoon!” They call after me.

“See you tomorrow!” I grin back.

“What is tomato?”

Che, tomorrow, vagha. Tomato, lolik,” an older girl corrects.

I laugh and go inside.

 

I think we’ve all got this tendency to love experience a little— to absolutely relish in foreignness, to play it up, to collect unique experiences like someone might collect coins, pushing pins in to a map like it proves something about yourself, like those pinholes are inherently meaningful.

No matter where you are, your experiences are important. And honesty, I am the same person here that I was at home, and the same worries and problems that I had there, I have here too. A new continent does not make me a new person.

Here, I still get lonely. I still take long walks and wonder if there isn’t something I should be doing differently or better. I wonder if I’m not wasting time that I could be using planning better lessons, or learning the language better. It’s hard to define what my job is for the summer, so it’s hard to quantify if and to what degree I am fulfilling it. I was hard on myself about a lot of things at home; I am still hard on myself here.

At home I used to feel stuck sometimes, and frustrated with the pace of time. I feel that here sometimes too. Just like at home, I get frustrated with myself, specifically with my language progress, and not seeing results the way I would like to.

All this isn’t to say that it’s not special here; rather to say that it’s special everywhere.

A girl who doesn’t know me at all leans on my shoulder and tells me a story, looks at me with big trusting eyes.

The stranger I meet on my run stops to talk and offers me some fruit.

I watch Moana with my students, three 13 year old girls, and they get to watch a young girl be the hero of a story, and see themselves in the storyline. They laugh at the funny parts, or pause the movie to help each other understand the new words.

It feels special when I can see my students excited about learning English and proud of themselves, or when my host family laughs at one of my clumsy jokes, or when the late night storm rolls in and the whole world is pink and orange.

And all of that is special, but all of that special is everywhere. All of those sparkling little facets of humanity, those exist here, but they exist wherever you are too.

 

Peace Corps Armenia: Kami

The thing that strikes me most is how alive everything feels here.

Mornings are slow. I wake up around eight and have a cup of coffee, then a cup of tea, then go to the school and do English clubs for two hours. Twenty kids a class, turquoise walls and a chalkboard. I sweat through a loose pink blouse.

After, it gets hotter and everyone stays inside while the thermometer creeps red. I’ll open the window, and a dry breeze swept down from the mountains will fill the house and rustle the trees. The Kami (wind, or storm) comes every night, and some afternoons if we’re lucky. You can see the heat outside—a bright white sky against washed out green leaves.

Around five it cools down. The sun comes at a slant, and washes the city in pink. The kids are out playing volleyball and soccer, and they’ll wave as I walk by. Sometimes I play too. Sometimes I walk up the hill in the center of the city and look out over the mountains in the distance. The sun will set, and a storm will roll in light up desert pink, flicker with lightning, and cool wind will come but usually no rain. My hair will be yanked out of a braid.

Someone will stop me while I walk, ask if I’ll come in for coffee or dinner, and where am I from? I’m not Russian? I don’t speak any Russian? I sure look Russian.

I laugh, and say no, I’m American. Sometimes I accept the coffee. Sometimes I’m passed a bag of sweet cherries, or apricots. I say thank you, shnorakalootsyoon, and they will smile, and say I speak very well. I’ll laugh, and tell them they don’t have to lie. Tjisht e asoom / say true.

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Time starts to work differently. “Meeting at 11” starts to mean meeting you leave for at 11:10, and materializes maybe by noon in the form of more coffee. I show up for my English clubs 10 minutes early, and students show up around 10 minutes late. My favorite khanoot, small grocery store, is the one where the aisles are tightly packed, fresh fruit spills off the shelves and on to the floor, and items are organized in no logical order I can sense. It’s an adventure to find something, but they always seem to have it.

 

 

I walked with my host sister and her friends through the town for a few hours while the sky turned coral pink, mountains steeped in purple. They talked with me, and I reminded them to slow down so I could understand, and we all laughed and I told them they’re funny.

Gitenk,” My host sister grinned. We know.

It took a second for the joke to process but when it did I burst out laughing, both at the joke itself and how long it took for me to get it.

My host sister proceeded to tell her friends how the previous day she had told her brother in prefect English “You are the stupidest person,” and had been so surprised I snorted tea out of my nose. Fourteen-year-old girls are the same everywhere.

A group of men stopped smoking on the corner as we walked pass. “They are staring at you,” my host sister’s friend needlessly explains. “Nmana Ruski. Yev siroon es. Kapooyt achker.” She nodded. You look like a Russian and are pretty, with blue eyes. “Ba. Don’t worry. Vochinch.

I nodded. “Vochinch.” I echoed.

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The heat sticks to me. On my legs, slick on my lower back. It’s only June, and a storm tumbles down the mountain and the sky sizzles and red hills roll and roll. Dust flares down the road. It’s too hot to leave the host so I sit alone in the shade. A tangle of birds sing outside.

I eat cherries. Sweet, and roll them over my tongue in the shade of the apricot tree, while the sun broils the dirt roads and sand hills all around. I spit the pit into a napkin, my lips stained red.

We walk to the butcher in the city to get meat for khorovats, Armenian barbeque, where the meat is cut with an axe on an old stump. Five of us cram into one taxi and bump down a dirt road in the dust and heat. Me, in a black tank top and lipstick like I never wear at home, grinning at some private joke with my head craned most of the way out the window, a little bit awestruck by the facts of it all. How lucky I am to be 23, and in Armenia, in that taxi in the Valley with this group of Russian and English teachers. Right then, it felt like there was no better place to be in the entire world.

 

Later, the Kami will sweep through the valley again. Rain will drum on the roof, spit out the gutter steady. A bird will sing outside while swallows dance between me and Mount Ararat. Dark clouds will split open at a crack of white lightning. I’ll move inside, and knit in front of the TV, trying to piece together the plots of Armenian soap operas and talk with my host family. After, I’ll go to bed and leave the window open, enjoying the wind. I’ll wake up in the morning and repeat.

(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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View of Mount Ararat from the Hill

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Yours truly
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Mount Ararat, in Turkey
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Coffee and apricots 

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Peace Corps Armenia: Restart

We’re surrounded by mountains on all sides. To the North, the hills are stained red and orange. To the East, the mountains turn green. If you look hard you can still snow at the peaks. To the South, the mountains are neither red nor green, rather a gray and orange that tells of more desert over the jagged ridge at the edge of town. To the West is Mount Ararat, hovering over the whole valley, marking the border with Turkey, near the point where Armenia, Turkey, Azerbaijan and Iran almost meet.

There’s red and mountain on every side, but here in the valley it is green. Apricot, peach, and almond trees creep towards the sun, cherries fall off trees and bake to the pavement. It’s hot—the shoulders of rosy mountains move in heat lines, puddles appear and disappear in the street. I sweat through a pair of loose fitting jeans, feel tank top lines burning into my back. I think long and hard about water—about taking a pull from the cold hose at my last host family’s house, letting it drip from my chin. I decide that there if there is a fountain of youth it’s that hose. The air hangs thick and hot.

At night, it dips from the upper 90s back down to 70, and street lamps fire up, lights strung between the trees hold that warm orange glow. Everyone comes out, and the small city hums.

It’s not what I pictured when I imagined life in Armenia. I guess I pictured twirling through the mountains like Maria in The Sound of Music, or a small town in the ice cold of winter with a snowball fight. But it’s so different where I am from that idea, that it sort of feels like starting over completely.

 

Part of starting over completely is going from a village and schedule I know, with a support system I know, to somewhere completely new. And a part of that is feeling… honestly a little helpless. A little helpless when it takes me a long time to find the kiosk to pay my phone bill, or when someone introduces me saying I know very little Armenian, or when I honestly just have no idea what’s going on and have to go with the flow and cross my fingers.

Sunday I felt a little helpless on a school excursion when the timer on my Armenian language skills ran out and I was left feeling very foreign in a group of kind and welcoming people, and then feeling worse that I didn’t have the language or energy to be as invested in them as they were in me. Monday I felt a little helpless when my stomach hurt, and time seemed to drag by, and I wondered what it is I am going to do this entire summer. I felt helpless and overwhelmed when I was handed a list of 109 names and phone numbers written in Armenian and told it was for my English club. I couldn’t read the names, and it’s about 89 more kids than I know what to do with. I’m still not sure what I’m going to do with that. Tuesday I felt a little helpless when I couldn’t figure out why my host family didn’t want me to go for a walk. (It was because it was 3pm and 97 degrees out in the desert, that’s why, and it’s a good reason to not go).

 

I sat on a bench with two older women and sipped coffee. You’ll notice there’s a lot of coffee drinking here. It’s a social activity, as it should be everywhere frankly.

I sat, not really participating in the conversation, but keeping an open ear in case I was addressed. A girl ran up to us and started talking in quick Armenian.

She blinked and glanced at me, then back at the women. She spoke at a pace I had no hope of understanding, but in a tone I know well.

The woman who must have been her grandmother shrugged as if to say, “I don’t know what to tell you kid. Tough luck.”

The girl blinked harder, and spoke again, her voice trembling just a little.

I leaned forward. No one wants to cry in front of a group of people, especially not a twelve-year-old.

Oozoom es kaylel mi keech?” I asked. Do you want to walk a little?

She looked at me for real now, and nodded quickly, then grabbed me by the wrist. We started walking and she spoke in fast Armenian. I listened and gathered that she wanted to go swimming, but none of her friends did. She didn’t want to go alone.

“It’s okay,” I soothed in English while she cried frustrated tears and held my hand.

Ko mazere sirun e,” I told her, touching my own hair.

She grinned and tugged at her braids. “Oozoom es?

“Sure, why not?”

I sat on a log and she braided my hair. She told me her name, and that she is twelve and that she knows a little English but it’s not very good. We switched to English and I talked slow and patient and asked her about her sisters and what countries she wants to visit.

Her tears stopped and she dragged me by the arm back to her group of friends who all sat in a circle and asked me questions—how old are you? Are you married? Why not? You’re an English teacher? Will you be our English teacher? Two years?! Do you miss your family? You have sisters? Can we see them? This sister is prettier than you a little. Is she married? Will she come to Armenia?

I laughed so hard my stomach hurt. There in the shade of a tree by the river, sitting in a circle with a group of curious twelve year olds, I made some of my first friends.

 

During the weather mandated house arrest I had my first real conversation in Armenian. I mean a conversation that lasted a full hour and ended because we ran out of time, not because I ran out of words or energy.

I talked about the clubs I wanted to start, my plans for this summer, my life back in America, and understood most of what was said in return. It felt like such a relief after spending the earlier part of the week stumbling over things I could’ve sworn I knew well and feeling very dumb.

But my host mom was patient and spoke slowly, and gave me time to both process and answer.

“You’re Armenian is good today,” she commented.

I sipped at my coffee and smiled, feeling a little proud.

Mek mek, yerb senyak shat zvagbats e, yes klinem hoozvats yev kmorranem Hayeren,” I paused. Sometimes when room is busy I will be nervous and I will forget Armenian.

“Pordzoom em, uh, bayts mek mek hoknats em. Ha?” I am trying, but sometimes I am tired. Yes?

My host mother nodded. “It’s okay,” she assured me. “You are speaking well. Take your time. Kamants kamants,” she promised. Little by little.

It was an entire weight off my shoulders, to be given permission to speak poorly. To be told it’s okay if I am tired, if I am overwhelmed, that that’s allowed. I didn’t realize how badly I missed being understood, how important it was for me to not feel lost or stupid. And she went out of her way to create a space where I could feel safe with my language and vulnerabilities.

I swallowed, and thanked her in Armenian, then again in English, but there’s not really a word in either language that covers the thing I was feeling—the one where you realize you’ve got someone in your corner when you need them.

 

And I guess it turns out I’ve got a lot of people in my corner. I’ve got my people at home, a mom who calls and always laughs at my dumb jokes, who reminds me that not everyone could handle things the way I do, who reads every single rambling blog post. Thanks for always making me feel special mom.

I’ve got two sisters who sometimes reply to my texts but definitely don’t read this blog so I can write whatever I want about them so let me just say it’s really hard to be the smartest, funniest, and coolest of us. It’s really a burden.

I’ve got the world’s best college roommate/best friend who promises me one day she’ll binge read all of this so for when you do that Hannah sorry I left you 40 minutes of voicemails talking about tiny linguistics nuances you’re a real one for listening to that crap.

And I’ve got Peace Corps staff here who are always helpful, understanding and looking out for our safety.

I’ve got some of the greatest volunteer friends in the world—people who checkup when you’ve been feeling down, and participate in five-way FaceTime calls, pick up the phone when you’re in a tough situation, or promise you your language doesn’t suck as bad as you think it does, even when it definitely sucks just as bad as you think it does.

And I have met such wonderful people in the Ararat Valley, and I’m sure I will meet so many more. Please forgive my butchered transliterations and continued language errors.

 

Today, while drying dishes I looked out the window through the tangle of vines up at the profile of the mountain and thought about all the great people I’ve met here, twelve year olds, teachers, and friends alike. I tried to think of a word in any language that covers that feeling, but I couldn’t find one. So I wrote all this instead.

 

(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!)

Peace Corps Armenia: Dancing and Lights

A group sits around a table full of food, laughing and clapping. I stand towards the outskirts of the group with my friend, a woman whose first home is also far away. We ask each other about our respective countries in a language neither of us was born into, with long patient pauses while we try and remember new words.

The yellow light from the patio casts my host sister’s silhouette long and gray against the cement, and a song I am starting to know shakes the leaves on the apricot tree arcing over the house. She beats at the pavement quick, and swirls.

I watch while the music pulses faster, and shadows mix with the orange glow of the porch light. Her uncles clap and whistle. Her arms swing and feet pound, never missing a step. She grins with her whole face and catches my eye, and I grin back, full of that feeling you get when you are watching someone you care about happy. Pride, I think, and a secondhand smile.

One song melts into the next and she notices me standing and clapping and grabs me by the wrist and pulls me in, and I find it hard to imagine that anyone could ever feel like an outsider here for long—they’d never let you.


Even the very first day I was here, they made sure to tell me in English that they were a good family, and I didn’t need to worry. They promised me through google translate that even when they were talking in Armenian they weren’t saying bad things about me.

My host mom and sister spent hours trying to teach me to make Zhingyalov haats, letting me mess up as many times as I needed and try again. They’ve let me help cook and clean, and taught me their favorite songs, laughed with me while I tripped over my own feet trying to learn a dance. When my host mom found out my American mom’s birthday was coming up, she made sure I didn’t forget it. (Also, what’s up mom, my dedicated reader, love you!)

“Your mother misses you,” she reminded me. “Don’t forget to call her. And tell her I say happy birthday.”

Yes kpatmem,” I said. I will tell.

I don’t think it can be overstated, how brave you have to be to be willing to take an American foreigner into your home for three months and welcome them so completely. An American foreigner who could really be anyone, from a culture different from your own, with essentially zero language skills. I cannot understate the respect I have for all host families, and the gratitude I have for mine.

I’m wrapping up pre-service training, swearing in as a volunteer tomorrow, and moving to a new place to start service for the next two years. My overwhelming takeaway from pre-service training is how incredibly lucky I am to be here, and how grateful I am for everything my host family has done to make me feel safe and a part of something.


My host sister grabs me by the wrist and pulls me out to dance. Her mother adjusts my arms and smiles and nods, and I don’t mind so much that I’m not a good dancer and probably look ridiculous. With careful instruction in three different languages, I forget to feel awkward and start spinning and grinning like the rest of them.

The Big Dipper stretches across the sky, and the lights from Yerevan glitter in the distance, and here, in the house at the far end of the village, there’s probably enough light for the entire rest of the world.

Miss my last post? Click here! It’s better than this one!

(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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Some of the fantastic other volunteers in my PST village (love you ALL)
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The face I pretty much made all PST before saying “chem hasganoom/ I don’t understand”

 

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Mount Aragats and the garden

Peace Corps Armenia: Lingua Humanis

“Come for a walk with me,” my host sister said. I looked up from my homework.

Noritz?” I asked. Again? I didn’t catch the quick Armenian the first time.

“Take a break,” she urged.

Ah, Hastgatsa,” I understood this time and shut my book. It had just poured outside, but the sky lit up a buttery yellow, in that way that reminds you that pretty much anything can be beautiful if you remember to look.

We walked to a neighbor’s house, where pastel colored water streamed off the roof and down lilac bushes and I taught the words for “garden” and “tomato”, and happily accepted a cup of coffee.

“It’s beautiful, isn’t it?” a neighbor asked me.

“Salt—“ I began, then corrected myself, because the words for salt and garden sound similar to me in Armenian. “Garden very beautiful.” No article, no auxiliary.

He smiled anyway, and didn’t correct me. We traded garden words while the tsirani tsarr (apricot trees) and kanache (greens) shimmered in the sun and drying raindrops.

 

Language has been so hard for me. I’m self-conscious about how stupid I feel like I sound, and my American accent, and not learning quickly enough.

But my host sister speaks just enough English that we have a third language that is only for us. We speak in an Armenglish that gets the point across, and even without that, my Armenian is at its best when I’m with her, and when she praises me I know she really means it.

“You’re speaking well today. Really well,” She noted the day after I came home from site visits. I grinned, and really felt like I was able to communicate more than just a little.

 

The language barrier falls away completely when she sucks me into a dance in the kitchen. It’s one of those things that I did in America all the time—put on an old song while my sisters and I spun around the kitchen in socks dancing and flinging flour. Here, in a different kitchen on a different continent to a different song, we dance and spin like it’s nothing because there are some languages that are universal.

Like the one where you fling water from the hose at each other and laugh, or where I help clean the dishes so she’s not cleaning alone. Like her blow drying my hair and brushing it back off my forehead, pointing the blow dryer at my head like a gun and laughing. Laughing again over a dropped cucumber or laughing for no real reason at all, so hard that my cheeks and sides hurt.

Like the language where I am just a little sick and fling myself on to the couch with a dramatic sigh and announce in broken Armenian that I will soon be dead, and my host sister snickers and tells me doo verch nes, you’re the end.

Like the language where she teaches me to use the stove correctly and cook her favorite foods, and I help her make American style pizza. Like when she talks to me in quick Armenian and it doesn’t matter that I can’t understand understand, because I still get it, because I remember being sixteen too, and how that feels. Or a hand on your forehead when you’re sick, a head on your shoulder, a quick smile.

Within the safety of friendships and kitchens, language and words lose their weight, the forgotten auxiliaries and strange accents are stripped away, and you’re left with the remarkable sameness of every person, and a good reason to listen.

Miss my last post? Click here!

(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!)

Peace Corps Armenia: With Dust in My Hair

The sole of my hiking boot split clean off halfway home. I stopped walking and stared at the mangled boot in some sort of humbled disbelief, a thin song playing in old ear buds. I had bought the boots for four dollars at a thrift store in Northern Wisconsin. I had put at least 200 miles on them between then and now. I’d stuffed them in a suitcase and lugged them to a new hemisphere. And now, after this, they had the audacity to disintegrate while I still had a quarter mile’s muddy walk.

I didn’t have a good fix for that. There’s no textbook solution for how to fix the bottom of your only pair of boots on a dirt road in the mud. So I kept walking, sole flapping pathetically against my sock, and wondered what the hell it was I wanted that brought me here.

Bees hummed in peach blooms so loud it seemed like the whole tree was buzzing. The smell of wood smoke snaked through the village, sparrows and small birds I didn’t know the names for shot across the sky. Two hundred miles for four dollars isn’t so bad, I reasoned with myself, my sock now soaked through.

I swallowed a lump in my throat, and tried to ignore the metallic taste in my mouth. I want to be here, I reminded myself. My shoe was broken, my language skills stagnant, and my feet wet. I didn’t feel like a good English teacher, or good Armenian learner, or frankly good at anything, while the loud flap of my broken shoe hit against my muddy sock.

Duct tape, I thought. You need duct tape in your backpack. I stopped walking, overwhelmed by the sheer task of a quarter mile.

That was the first time I really, really wondered if I’d made the right choice. I feel like I write about walking a lot, but I suppose that’s the only time I have alone, the only time I’m stuck with my thoughts, and the only time my boots break and I walk in the mud.

So I stopped walking on the muddy road and asked myself what it was I really wanted that brought myself to said muddy road.

I wondered if I remembered a year ago, in my writing tutoring job joking with a coworker about wanting to teach English forever. Did I remember her question— why not? Or how I came in the next week and told her I had thought about it, and I was serious, I was going to do it?

I wondered if I remembered how badly I wanted to teach and be that good role model, omni-positive, well-adjusted, with all the right flaws for the younger girls watching me, as if that were a good for thing for either them or me. As if you could ask someone what it is they want and get an honest answer.

I wondered what the point was if I wasn’t good enough at the language, or good enough of a teacher, or able to find a silver lining all the time. What is the point if I can’t even find a good fix for a broken boot on a muddy day?

Right then, there wasn’t a good fix. At least not one that I could think of. The best fix was to tough it out for a quarter mile, and then change my shoes and socks

But the rest of it? I am good enough at the language. I am a good enough teacher. And I do know what I want, why I want to be here. And next time that I stop and take a break on the side of that road, my hair caked in dust and my shoe breaking at the seams, maybe it’ll be a little easier, or funnier, or at least better. And next, I will have that duct tape in my bag.

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Detail at Noravank

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The muddy road

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Apple pie and coffee we made for my host family

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A literal page from my journal in case I didn’t already overshare enough on the internet!

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(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!)