Sunday, January 30, 2011

I Fell!

It's raining here today (snow in the provinces). I was the beneficiary of some pirated internet for my first two days in homestay, but last night I couldn't get any. I'll probably buy an internet stick modem so that I can use the computer at home at night, but I don't have it yet. So I went out with my computer this morning. Went into a pharmacy to see what they had, and I slipped and fell - onto my computer. And broke it. I texted the Peace Corps IT person and he told me where the Apple support center was in Yerevan (thank goodness!!!). I'll bring my computer in tomorrow and hope for the best, but I'm already mulling my other options. I'm here in the Peace Corps office now, for example (where I met some nice PCVs!). I have 2 1/2 blog posts ready to go if my computer can be fixed. If not I'll recreate them or just move ahead. I look forward to sharing more with you when I can!

Friday, January 28, 2011

Orientation Continued...

We had lunch at a traditional Armenian restaurant with the Country Director, Programming and Training Officer, Administrative Officer (actually they both have new titles and are Directors, but I don’t remember the new titles) and the Program Managers – traditional Armenian cuisine (the eggplant dip and hummus dip seemed Mediterranean, there was a cheese plate, there was a chopped-chicken-and-cheese salad and some grilled chicken – so I’m still figuring out what Armenian cuisine actually is). Then we had a session on policy and procedures and an introduction to the library and computer system. The Peace Corps computer system here is quite advanced! There’s a lot of shared information available. Some of it is in .docx form; I had debated upgrading my Office package before I left and figured I could wait. The IT person sent me a link so that I can open up any .docx, but I shouldn’t have assumed the technology would be behind (that is, as behind as I am) – after all, when this was part of the Soviet Union, Armenia was its Silicon Valley! There are advertisements for the iPhone4 all over town (a new market for Everywhere Exercise?). And there seems to be free wifi in every café we’ve been to so far.

At night we four PCRTs (Trainees, because we hadn’t sworn in yet) went to a local PCV hangout, the Artbridge Café. It has a great menu (don’t know if I’ll get to breakfast, since my homestay includes it, but maybe brunch sometimes), sandwiches, light bites, pasta. It also has a non-smoking room – which leads me to my only real complaint so far. Cigarette smoke; lots of it. In the non-smoking sections it’s not so bad, but not every place has one, and you have to go through the smoking section to get there, and just that makes my eyes water. I had left the Febreze behind in my effort to streamline. This could be a real problem.

The next day began with a trip to the bank to open accounts – everything is walkable, and it’s very pleasant. Wide sidewalks, not a lot of traffic (car or pedestrian) – although that may change in the summer. Both Culture Smart and the Safety and Security briefing indicated that traffic was a real danger for pedestrians – cars turn and speed without regard. They recently put in a new street light system that includes time for pedestrians to cross the street, but cars can still turn and/or ignore the system. I don’t want to get lulled into a false sense of security but to me this is nothing compared to some of the other places I have been! Our Safety and Security briefing also talked about petty crime – a lot of it seems to happen on the shared van transportation. That won’t deter me from travelling, but I’ll just have to be vigilant if I take those. Gordon and Jeanne (the married couple) are talking about getting a shared driver to go on some day trips to see the country and I am all for that. Earthquakes are a threat – if one strikes Yerevan, which is in a high seismic zone (the whole country is, but Yerevan is in one of the higher ones), 300,000 people could die, and these old Soviet apartment buildings where we’re living may not be the safest places to be. When we were at Artbridge I heard a rumble – but that was only the Metro line going underneath. We’re supposed to keep an emergency bag ready – I’ve never done it in the other countries because I haven’t had enough extra clothes to set aside, but I would be smart to do it this time. I volunteered to be the warden for the region - now that we are in Yerevan, they’re adding a consolidation point here, and some PCVs who are closer to the city than to any other consolidation point will be in the group as well.

We then had time with David, the Country Director, on the whereabouts and other policies that he wanted to reinforce. He noted that some of the thinking behind putting us in homestays is that we wouldn’t have PCVs wanting to stay with us all the time. They are allowed to come to Yerevan only two nights a month (that policy may change; they can come for the day whenever they like – but still, it sounds as if PCVs are here often) and the temptation to stay with us under the radar may be too much. It was a nice chat – since we’re the first Peace Corps Response Volunteers in the country, they seem genuinely interested in our feedback.

Now That I Feel Less Jet-Lagged...

I can start filling you in on my whirlwind week! I left on the 6:30 pm jitney and had a car service take me to JFK. The driver did nothing but complain about his job! An interesting last exposure to the U.S. I knew that if I put everything into the big suitcase that it would be too heavy, so I had put the shoes and toiletries into an extra little bag. The big bag was still too heavy, so I had to move things around at the airport, putting everything that wasn’t clothes into the little bag (a couple of New Yorkers, a book, the peanut butter, my chargers). The zipper on it was tearing, so I had it wrapped in plastic wrap. Last year Charlie and I had to buy bags at JFK and “cocoon” them as well. Then at the gate, I had to check my carry-on! This made me nervous – it had all the clothes and toiletries I needed for the first few days (at least I had my electronic devices and Culture Smart Armenia for the plane). 11:30 pm six-hour flight – I slept or dozed and felt all right. A short layover in Paris for me; Brian had been there since early in the morning and hadn’t slept on his flight. The flight to Yerevan seemed quite long – but I finished the book! I’ll write about what I learned in a future post. We arrived on time – but the cocoon stayed behind in Paris (Charlie’s cocoon took a detour last year; maybe the extra bag is not the way to go!). Oh well, at least the checked carry-on made it. Some of the Peace Corps staff were there to meet us, with bottled water and some snacks – nicest greeting yet! – and they took us to the hotel, where it was right to bed.

It’s been hard to sleep this week – every night I’ve fallen asleep for a longer amount of time (two hours, three, four, five) and then I’ve been wide awake for hours (but I’ve forced myself to stay in bed and rest – is that really the way to do it?) and then I’ve fallen asleep for a little longer – and then the alarm has been a jolt. Today I was able to sleep as late as I wanted to and I finally felt awake all day; every other day there has come a time when I have faded. And a lot of information was thrown at us this week! I was never so out of it that I didn’t absorb it, and if I didn’t, it’s all in handbooks for me to read.

It helps that Armenia (or at least Yerevan) is a place of late risers – things don’t necessarily get going until 9:30 am. The time zone seems to be permanent daylight savings – it doesn’t get really light until about 8:15 (we’ll see what it’s like in the summer!) and it stays light until about 5:30. I like it! We walked to the Peace Corps office from the hotel, had an office tour and met the staff. Everyone is very nice! The office is made of the beautiful pink tuf stone (though maybe it looks a little gray in the picture?).

First on the agenda was medical – though the doctors didn’t have my records from Washington. Not comforting (they arrived by Thursday...). So my consultation was in a bit of a vacuum, but out of it I received one more shot (diphtheria/tetanus?), some calcium and some vitamins for my eyes. I’ll detail the medical kit contents later (it differs for every country, so I think it’s interesting).

That’s probably enough for now!

Sunday, January 23, 2011

A New Friend and a Conference Call

On Thursday, Timothy Straight, my counterpart, sent me a friend request on Facebook. I had researched him already and he seems nice; his news feed seems nice too! Homeland Handicrafts has a Facebook page too – I thought I had looked for one before so I wonder if it is new.

On Friday morning, there was a conference call with the Peace Corps recruiter, several Peace Corps staff people at post in Armenia, and the four PCRVs-to-be; we’re the country’s first Peace Corps Response volunteers.

Most important, we found out about our living situations. We’ll all be living in homestays in Yerevan, not far from the Peace Corps office and each of us not far from where we will be working. When I applied and accepted, I was hoping not to have a homestay, but after hearing about my situation I think it will be a good thing. I’ll be living with Zina, a single woman who has an apartment downtown, a ten-minute walk from both work and the Peace Corps office. Zina has a longstanding relationship with Peace Corps, running a sort of homestay bed-and-breakfast. She speaks English fluently. It’s a two-bedroom apartment; I’ll have my own locked room. Shared kitchen and bathroom. It’s a good size, clean, warm and friendly (I was taking notes quickly so I don’t remember whether the apartment is warm and friendly or the woman is, but either way, it sounds good!). When I heard this, I felt happy and relieved. It’ll be nice to have a resource and to not have to outfit an entire place. I have some chocolates to give to her as a welcome gift (as per post recommendation), and maybe I’ll pick up a New York souvenir at the airport before I leave.

There’s ample public transportation in Yerevan, with buses, a metro and minivans, each of which cost about 100 dram (40 cents). Taxis are abundant as well. It’s also a very walkable (and runnable) city. It will feel very European. The Peace Corps office is a 15-minute walk from the town center. Grocery stores are open 24/7 and are plentiful. Right now there’s no snow on the ground, which is unusual for this time of year, but a storm is expected on Thursday. Everyone speaks Armenian and there’s a lot of Russian; not as much English as you might expect (I didn’t expect much, so I feel fortunate again with my homestay!). Many people keep the heat inside to 50-60, so bring layers. I think our office will be well-heated (once again, I was taking notes quickly), but we’ll also be traveling out to the regions, so we’ll need those layers. Electricity is the European two-prong and is fairly reliable.

We also heard about our orientation schedule – it’ll be a busy three days! I’ll write about it afterwards (since as with all things, it is subject to change!). I did ask one final question – what might I not have put in my suitcase that I should run out and get? Someone on the other end said, “well, if you like peanut butter…” ‘Nuf said! It’s the number one thing missed by Peace Corps volunteers worldwide. I craved it in Morocco. I haven’t needed it here – in fact, I didn’t even know where in the grocery store it was! But I bought some!

Start spreading the news – I’m leaving today! I fly via Paris – a seven-hour overnight flight. A short (too short!) layover later, it’s about four-and-a-half hours to Yerevan. The time difference between Yerevan and the East Coast is nine hours. So by the time I get there it’ll be around 9:40 Monday night Armenia time. With jet lag and a full agenda, I’ll write again when I can; it may take a few days, but don’t worry!

Saturday, January 22, 2011

Sargent Shriver

Sargent Shriver, the founding father of the Peace Corps, passed away earlier this week. I’ve read about Peace Corps history and about him before, but reading about him again and learning new things makes me proud to have been a Peace Corps volunteer and proud to be about to serve again. You can read the Peace Corps version here - - and the New York Times obituary here -, and here's a nice Times op-ed piece about him - Or go to for even more. I’ll post some excerpts from these that struck me, and also some quotes of his that friends posted. Note that he did much more other than serve as the first Peace Corps director – he also led Johnson’s War on Poverty and ran for vice president in 1972 – but I’ll focus on the Peace Corps here.

From the Times: Senator Kennedy broached the idea for a volunteer corps in a speech at the University of Michigan and crystallized it as the Peace Corps in an appearance in San Francisco. Mr. Shriver, who as a young man had guided American students on work-and-learn programs in Europe, seemed a natural to initiate it.
After the inauguration, Mr. Shriver, who scouted talent for the incoming administration — people who came to be known as “the best and the brightest” — was assigned to the task of designing the Peace Corps, which was established by executive order in March 1961.
As director, he laid the foundations for what arguably became the most lasting accomplishment of the Kennedy presidency. As the Peace Corps approaches its 50th anniversary this year, more than 200,000 Americans have served as corps volunteers in 139 countries.

From The idea of the Peace Corps was born out of the optimism, idealism, and energy that coalesced around the presidential candidacy of President John F. Kennedy. It was on Oct.14, 1960, when then-Sen. Kennedy issued a challenge to students at the University of Michigan to serve their country and live and work in the developing world. Kennedy’s speech lasted only a few minutes, but he outlined a vision that would become the Peace Corps.
A few months later, President Kennedy was sworn-in and his inaugural address reverberated throughout the country and the world when he said, “Let the word go forth that the torch has been passed to a new generation of Americans…To those peoples in the huts and villages of half the globe struggling to break the bonds of mass misery, we pledge our best efforts to help them help themselves…” A large part of “our best efforts to help” would be realized through the Peace Corps, which was still a vague idea until President Kennedy called on his brother in law, Sargent Shriver, the next day, asking him to lead a task force to establish the agency.
Fifty years later, it seems all but unimaginable that Shriver and his task force, in just one month, could draft a report outlining the current mission and design of the agency and submit it to the White House. Soon thereafter, on March 1, President Kennedy signed Executive Order 10924, establishing the Peace Corps, and on March 4, he named Shriver the agency’s first director.
Then in August 1961 – just 10 months after President Kennedy’s speech at the University of Michigan – the first group of Peace Corps volunteers headed to their assignments in Ghana. Between March and September, Shriver found the time to travel to developing countries to ask foreign leaders to host Peace Corps Volunteers, to persuade Congress to pass legislation to fund and operate the Peace Corps, to oversee the initial staffing and running of a federal agency, and to ensure the agency’s independence from the foreign policy establishment. In September 1961, Congress approved legislation for the Peace Corps, giving us the mandate to “promote world peace and friendship.” Our mission remains the same today.
By December of 1961, there were more than 500 Peace Corps volunteers serving in nine host countries: Chile, Colombia, Ghana, India, Nigeria, the Philippines, St. Lucia, Tanzania, and Pakistan, with an additional 200 Americans in training for service across the U.S.
By 1963, Shriver was leading an agency with more than 6,500 volunteers serving in nearly 50 countries. It was an extraordinary effort that only could have been accomplished by a leader with immense skill, audacious vision, and indefatigable energy. Shriver’s idealism and enthusiasm were essential to the creation and character of the agency; he is the founding father of the Peace Corps.

From various sources: “The Peace Corps represents some, if not all, of the best virtues in this society. It stands for everything that America has ever stood for. It stands for everything we believe in and hope to achieve in the world.”

“Be servants of peace. Weep with those who are sorrowful, rejoice with those who are joyful, teach those who are ignorant. Care for those who are sick. Serve your families. Serve your neighbors. Serve your cities. Serve the poor. Join others who serve. Serve, serve, serve! That’s the challenge. For in the end it will be the servants who save us all.” Speech on the 25th Anniversary of Peace Corps
"It is well to be prepared for life as it is, but it is better to be prepared to make life better than it is."
"It is not what you get out of life that counts. It's what you give and what is given from the heart."
‎"The cure is care. Caring for others is the practice of peace. Caring becomes as important as curing. Caring produces the cure, not the reverse. . Peace does not come through strength. Quite the opposite: Strength comes through peace. . . . . The task is immense!" Sargent Shriver, 1981 speech to Peace Corps volunteers
Break mirrors, Mr. Shriver advised graduating students at Yale in 1994. “Yes, indeed,” he said. “Shatter the glass. In our society that is so self-absorbed, begin to look less at yourself and more at each other. Learn more about the face of your neighbor and less about your own.”

Friday, January 21, 2011

More From the Peace Corps Welcome Book - Part II

Economy - In 2004 (time for an update? The book also mentions bringing cassette tapes – that probably needs an update too) the per capita Gross National Income was $1120 (compared to $41,400 in the U.S.). One dollar equals 400 drams (will I say dirham? That’s what it was in Morocco! I think 400 will be easy enough math…). Chief crops are grains, vegetables and fruits (this reminds me – Lonely Planet said the apricots were delightful and the chickens all free-range). Livestock includes sheep, goats, chickens, pigs and cattle. Minerals include copper, zinc, aluminum and molybdenum, but no oil. There’s a dam for hydroelectric power and a (non-Chernobyl-design) nuclear plant that meets most of the country’s power requirements.

Major industries are mechanical engineering, mining, chemicals, textiles and building materials. Current exports include cut gems, jewelry, scrap metal, copper, molybdenum, textiles, cognac, fresh fruits, processed agricultural products and some machinery. Most of the large factories that supplied the Soviet Union are closed, with little hope for revival (I find this stuff interesting – maybe the Foreign Service would be a good next step for me after all!). Possible replacements for this heavy industry are tourism (see below), wool carpets (!), gold jewelry and other items attractive to tourists (and then there’s Homeland Handicrafts!). There are high-quality wines, apricots, cherries, apples and berries. Fruit juices, cheeses and wines have been developed for export. Information technology is also a growth sector.

The picture is of a carpet, all right – from Morocco. When I was in Chicago last week, I opened one of the boxes that have been there since 2008 and gave this one to Edie and Fred. I love this rug! It made me happy to see it. Morocco seems long ago and far away, but also still very much a part of me. Now I’ll add Armenia! It’s hard to believe that I’ll be over there in just a few days, getting started on a new chapter…

Culture – Armenia has incredible ancient ruins, fortresses, churches and monasteries, Neolithic sites (!!!), and fascinating places such as the “Armenian Stonehenge” (must find out more about that!). Performing arts, including ballet and symphony, are well-developed. I remember reading about a bunch of interesting museums in Lonely Planet, most of which are in the capital. There’s a strong musical tradition, with many children taking lessons or attending music school. Social life revolves around food, music, singing and dancing. On weekends, Armenians love to stroll with families and friends. In summer, sidewalk cafes appear on every corner and in every shady spot. Armenians relax at these cafes late into the evening. Chess and backgammon are popular, and boys and girls play basketball, soccer, tennis, badminton and ping-pong.

Cuisine – a mixture of European and Middle Eastern. Some of the best fruits and vegetables (another mention of those apricots! – and tomatoes) found anywhere are available in Armenia during the summer. During the long winter months, cabbage, potatoes and meat are mainstays. Typical drinks are tan (made of yogurt, water and salt), homemade fruit juices, Armenian and Georgian wine, and Armenian brandy and vodka. Armenians are noted for endless toasts (but we do not have to feel compelled to drink a lot to appease our hosts!). No mention of coffee vs. tea, but I would think it’s a coffee place. Note – I went to a Lebanese-Armenian restaurant in Los Angeles last week. See for details! May as well get in a little cross-promotion.

This all sounds good to me! I’m excited about going! And about sharing my experiences with you! After all, the Peace Corps has three goals –
1. Helping the people of interested countries in meeting their need for trained men and women.
2. Helping promote a better understanding of Americans on the part of the peoples served.
3. Helping promote a better understanding of other peoples on the part of Americans.
This blog – in addition to keeping loved ones informed – is a Third Goal activity.

While I’m on the subject of the three goals (may as well throw in the mission – world peace and friendship) – I should mention the passing of Sargent Shriver, the first director of the Peace Corps, earlier this week. Maybe I will devote an entire post to him!

Thursday, January 20, 2011

More From the Peace Corps Welcome Book - Part I

I’m saving Culture Smart Armenia and Lonely Planet Armenia (and the dictionary) for the way over and when I get there, and I’ll discuss learnings of interest as I go along. In the meantime, some more information from the Peace Corps Armenia Welcome Book:

I mentioned the contrast between urban and rural earlier. There is also the contrast of the young country and the ancient society, with roots back to centuries B.C. I also mentioned the rural poverty – many Armenians emigrate to other countries because they feel the lack of opportunity and hope. Elsewhere, though, it notes that the people are strong and determined. Armenians are hospitable and welcoming to Americans. Peace Corps is now well-established in Armenia and has a strong reputation.

Although Armenians have embraced democracy, free markets, and business, many, especially older Armenians, long for the old Soviet days when things were more stable and livelihood was guaranteed (Interestingly, I heard this when I was originally applying to the Peace Corps. There was an RPCV in one of my non-profit classes, and she told me that the former Soviet Union was depressing because the people were depressed. She advised me to go somewhere sunny, because the people were happy. I’ve served now in two sunny countries, and the people were indeed happy. But I’ve also met RPCVs who served in the former Soviet Union, and the ones I have met talked about how much they loved it and loved the people. And I knew PCVs in Morocco and the Philippines who were miserable. Conclusion – everyone has his or her own experience!).

Armenia has been part of, been under contention between, or conquered by: Persia, Alexander the Great, Rome, Parthia, the Byzantines, the Turks, the Mongols, the Ottomans, Iran, Russia, the Transcaucasian Alliance (with Georgia and Azerbaijan – short-lived, and then incorporated into the Soviet Union). St. Gregory the Illuminator brought Christianity in 300 AD. The Republic of Armenia constitutes about 10 percent of what was historically Greater Armenia.

Armenia’s highland location at the junction of various biogeograpical (a new word for me) regions includes a variety of landscapes – semidesert, steppe, forest, alpine meadow, and high-altitude tundra. Because of its protected position and generally high elevation, the climate is mostly dry and continental, although there are regional variations. Intense sunshine occurs for many days of the year (so maybe the people are happy!). Summer is long and hot (and here I have been worried about being cold! Betty told me I would be hot in Yerevan; her site was the coldest in the country). Average July temperature in Yerevan is 77 degrees, but it can rise as high as 108 degrees. Winters tend to be moderately severe, with an average temperature of 26 degrees. Autumn is generally mild, sunny and long, while spring is usually short and wet.

As for the government - there’s an executive branch with a president and a prime minister and a legislative branch with a National Assembly or Parliament; members have four-year terms. There’s a judicial branch with a Supreme Court and regional and city courts. Based on the list of government ministries that Peace Corps says that they work with, I deduce that my job falls under the Ministry of Trade and Economic Development.

Wednesday, January 19, 2011

What I'm Taking... and What I'm Leaving Behind

One of my favorite parts of the Peace Corps Welcome Books is the country-specific packing lists, put together with recommendations from PCVs. Some of the things I’ve bought as a result of looking at the list and/or thinking about what I might encounter:

o Skirts. I left most of the skirts I wore in Morocco in the Philippines. I sense that this is a job that calls for skirts. So I bought a couple of new ones (at T.J. Maxx – not my usual store, but in this economy… and I can leave them in Armenia. Not to mention that in more fashionable stores, it’s hard to find long skirts, which are culturally appropriate!).
o Cold-weather gear – long underwear, glove liners, wool socks, a new winter coat, (though my double-fleece jellaba would probably do the trick, I felt like getting something puffy), fleece pullovers (I really don’t have a lot of cold-weather clothes that aren’t in storage!), boots, Yaktrax (Peace Corps may supply these, but I found that out after I bought them – and besides, I used them for my Berkshires hikes!).
o Shoes. I am not a shoe person but Sydney said that people look at your shoes. If I can, I’ll wear my Merrells and Tevas most of the time (I’m all about comfort!), but if I can’t, I have a slightly dressier pair (or maybe two…).
o Jane’s Crazy Mixed-Up Salt. I’ve never brought spices, though all Welcome Books seem to recommend it. I compromised this time, with one all-purpose shaker.
o A good towel (I’m resisting buying sheets because the book says I can get them there, but I hope I don’t regret that… on the other hand, I did buy a silk sleeping bag liner and a fleece sleeping bag liner).
o I’m still finalizing my clothes – even though I’ll be there a short amount of time, I have to span the seasons. When I go back for Reunions (one of the things I determined I can’t live without; already have my ticket, using miles) I can bring back any winter stuff I want to keep and maybe some Homeland Handicrafts items. But I’m not planning to leave anything here to bring back to Armenia after that weekend – I’m taking it all with me now.
o I will have internet access, per the job description, and I’m bringing my computer. If I had known then what I know now, I’d have brought one with me to Morocco from the get-go – I’m just glad I was able to have one brought to me relatively early in my service! I set up my iPhone to work there as well, for infrequent calls and texts to and from the U.S., though I’m bringing the Morocco phone for local use, hoping that I can get a SIM card for it there.
o A few more things I might buy if I have the chance – measuring cup and spoons, pillowcases (I am bringing my pillow), a travel iron (along with nice shoes, people expect you to be pressed – but if that’s the case, I can probably get an iron there).

The big green suitcase strikes again! As I decide what goes and what stays, I’m trying to minimize, but I have never been one to travel light. I think I could fit everything in one suitcase but shoes and the like are heavy. Given that I had to purchase an extra bag at JFK last year because mine was overweight, I think that I will offload some heavy items into an extra bag before I leave! And if that means that my suitcase is not stuffed, I may have room for the medical kit and other items that I’ll get during my three-day orientation!

As for what I’m leaving behind – well, I’m trying not to dwell on it, but I have a comfortable life right now. I’ve been back from Morocco for two years now, and I still don’t take it for granted that hot water comes out of the faucet. I don’t know anything about my housing yet, but I’m trying to prepare for no hot water. I have several routines that I’ve gotten used to (eating, personal care, exercise) and that I’ll miss. I’ll follow another baseball season from afar, and with the Bears and the Jets both still in it, I might miss an interesting Super Bowl. Of course, I’ll miss my friends – I’ve seen and talked to many since my return but every visit and conversation seemed too short. I don’t know what else I’ll miss until I get there…. And as I said, it’s best not to dwell on it anyway!

Tuesday, January 18, 2011

It's a Small World

One of the reasons (maybe the only reason?) that there was so much time between interview and offer is that the situation changed a bit – now there will be two of us going! Brian, a Morocco RPCV from the stage behind me (he extended and just COSed a couple of weeks ago) saw the posting and contacted Homeland Handicrafts directly. After they saw his background and my background they requested both of us! So there was a delay while they figured out how that would work. My initial reaction was mixed – I think we have overlapping as opposed to complementary skills, and I wasn’t sure how we’d split the work. On the other hand, I like Brian very much; he's thoughtful, a hard worker and he accomplished a lot in Morocco. Plus, he suggested we introduce (the card game) piffle to Armenia. So I think we’ll figure it out. Who knows - maybe with two of us we will get eight months' worth of work done in four months!

He’s not the only person I’ll know – the new Country Director in Armenia, who started this month, is the Country Director who took over in Morocco towards the end of my service! Another person I like. There’s Rhonda, another Morocco RPCV – from the Amanda/Carly stage – who signed up for another 27 months of service and is in Armenia, near the capital. I didn’t meet her in Morocco, but we’ve corresponded a bit (and when I asked her if I could bring anything, she said Oreos, granola bars and Reese’s. Oreos I can bring; Reese’s I could also bring but I can’t guarantee I won’t eat them before I see her!). And the U.S. Ambassador to Armenia is a Princeton classmate! I don’t know that I’ll meet her, but it would make a nice picture for the Alumni Weekly if I do! I’m also friendly with some Armenian-American Princeton alums, all of whom have had positive reactions and one of whom had some contacts and ideas for me.

There’ll be two other Peace Corps Response Volunteers starting next week; they’ll also be in the capital, working in education. They’re a married couple who met when they were both serving in India in the late 60s/early 70s. They hail from Vermont (I think) and go to India every year; they’ll be coming to Armenia straight from there. She also did Crisis Corps (the old name for Peace Corps Response) Katrina (the only time it’s been on American soil – I can’t wait to hear more about that!) and Sri Lanka. He’s giving a Carnatic flute concert in Chennai on Saturday before they leave; they sound like interesting people.

And more connections – as we started in the Philippines we met a lot of people. One of them was Sydney, who had served in Armenia and, as did Rhonda, signed up for another 27 months. I never saw her again in the Philippines but contacted her when I accepted and read through her blog. She’s been very enthusiastic, and this week she sent me some “survival phrases,” which is good, because I haven’t done any language yet! Barbara is another Armenia RPCV who signed up for another 27 months; she started in Morocco just as I was leaving and I recently touched base with her. Not only that, but the new volunteer in Ain Leuh, to whom I was introduced via email recently, is Betty, who served for 27 months in Armenia! I think it’s a good sign that these Armenia volunteers liked it so much that they signed up for another complete term!

Monday, January 17, 2011

The Assignment

I’ll be partnered with Homeland Handicrafts, an NGO “dedicated to creating jobs through the development of a new generation of Armenian hand-made products using traditional materials and techniques. The focus will be on women in rural areas. Focus will also be on creating marketing channels for these products,” per the Peace Corps Response position description.

Homeland Handicrafts was founded by an American who is also the Honorary Consul of Norway and Finland to Armenia; you can check out its web site using the link to the left. I looked at it before the interview and was impressed with the variety and quality of the items, though they’re not all to my taste. I had RPCV Sabrina, who has an art background, check it out, and she thought the products looked nice too! I looked at the web site again last weekend with Rose and Amelia – there are a lot more products than there were when I looked, meaning that new things are being added all the time. Not all of them look like winners, but I’ll wait until I get there and see for myself.

Peace Corps Response, you may recall, places Returned Peace Corps Volunteers in short-term assignments. The emphasis is on the work assignment and not as much on the cultural exchange, but you do have the experience of living in another country and have a chance to share American culture. This assignment is for eight months – which somehow seems so much longer than the six I spent in the Philippines – and my COS date is scheduled for September 30, which somehow seems a week longer than eight months.

In Peace Corps Response, the partner agency and the job assignment are developed before the volunteer gets there, whereas the “regular” volunteers spend a great portion of their first year in community integration and identifying their project. The objectives of this one are:

o Develop a minimum of 200 new market-oriented products within the first six months of the project.
o Through sales, create 50 new fulltime jobs within the first six months of the project.
o Maximize the use of traditional materials and techniques in products.
o As far as possible, draw on local history and patterns to inspire design.
o Foster a market-oriented approach to product development in the artisans themselves.

I’ve been brainstorming about this and I have a long list of ideas written down; I’m sure more ideas will come when I get there and meet the people. Still, 200 products and work for 50 people seems like a lot!

Sunday, January 16, 2011

Third Continent's a Charm?

Well, it would be if Armenia were in Europe. It’s considered Eurasia – and I sense I’ll learn more about that – but it’s in Asia. It would be if I had been able to accept the Peace Corps Response position in St. Kitts that I was offered over the summer – but I had interview irons in the fire. I asked to defer, knowing somehow that if I couldn’t defer, I wouldn’t get the paying job or the St. Kitts job, and that’s what happened. That’s all right – I’m going to Armenia! I leave one week from today – exactly one year from my close-of-service date in the Philippines.

Yes, back to Peace Corps Response I go. I saw the opening in mid-October, studied up by looking at various web sites and skimming Lonely Planet Armenia (more on that in another post), and interviewed on October 21. I received the offer on November 4; last time I got the offer the day after the interview. It took a little longer this time because they added another position (more on that in another post). I took the weekend to mull it over, though I didn’t think I would turn it down. And then I said yes.

And then the medical and legal clearance started again! No vaccinations needed this time, other than the flu shot, which I hadn’t yet gotten. I had to have two separate blood tests because they forgot to ask for something the first time (however, I think I will be reimbursed for only one…). I needed a dental update and an eye update, but not much more, since my COS physical in the Philippines was less than a year ago. I needed fingerprints – the Southampton police no longer fingerprint civilians, but the Peace Corps recruiting office in New York does. New passport-size pictures for the visa, and then I started spreading the news.

There were some tribulations when my sister, who was initially supportive, told me that she didn’t think I should go. First, I’ve been helping her with her business (see the Everywhere Exercise – EvEx link!) and even though I think I can help from there, she wasn’t convinced, and second, she just didn’t think it was a good idea. I know she wants the best for me, and I for her, and I think the conversations were hard for both of us. I spent much of the past month wondering if I could/should call Peace Corps and tell them I wasn’t going. And I spent some of the past month practicing meditation, trying to see what was in my heart and gut and not just in my head.

Talking to supportive friends helped seal the deal. I kept coming back to the fact that I didn’t want to tell Peace Corps that I wasn’t going. The back-and-forth may have at points dampened some of my enthusiasm for going, but now I’m getting excited again as I’m getting ready. Ultimately, I decided that I want to go! After all, one of the mottoes of the Peace Corps is “never have to start sentences with, ‘I should’ve.’”