Friday, July 29, 2011

The Past Six Months in Haiku

Where’s Armenia?
Former Soviet Union
It’s east of Turkey

More volunteering
Another Peace Corps Response

First Christian nation
301 AD – quite proud
That and alphabet

Poor country, problems
As elsewhere, but some unique
Peace Corps here to help

Late January
Four PCRVs started
Bri, Gordon, Jeanne, me

Fell on computer
Major stress for oh, six weeks
Glad it could be fixed

Homeland Handicrafts
Orders, craft fairs, overload
Whirlwind right away

Trip to Syunik marz
Meghri, Kapan and Goris
Assessed needs and skills

Ultimately not
A good Response assignment
For several reasons

Language tutoring
Basics, numbers and letters
Ha, che? (yes and no)

New job – MCA
PR for infrastructure
Right up my alley!

Lots of work events
Canals, trees, pumping stations
Writing, editing

The Ambassador!
Princeton classmate – a small world
Met some great folks here

Good things done here by
Millennium Challenge Corp
Glad to be involved

Yerevan winter
Museums, concerts, and dance
Snow kept us nearby

Restaurants and cafes
And the top of the Cascade
Lots of sculpture here

Foreign getaways
New energy, perspective
Glad I came back, too

With spring, more travel
Many historic sites; not
One church seen ‘em all

Hiking club day trips
Visiting some PCVs
Organized bus tours

Forts, monasteries
Snow, green, mountains, flowers, birds
Khatchkars unique art

Silk Road visitors
Genocide memorial
Easter holiday

Highlights – Goris caves
Gyumri earthquake evidence

World Heritage sites
Shopping at the Vernissage
Views of Ararat

Sights in every marz
Nation size of Maryland
Beautiful country

Dolma, Grand Candy
Lavash, salty cheese and greens
Berries, apricots

Homestay – B and B
Web site, marketing brochure
Secondary work

Comfy bed, good food
Hot shower, host Zina nice
But – not my own place

Six months went by fast
Great PC staff, volunteers
And Armenians

Also, those at home
Support, packages and more
Thank you all so much!

Next? Some travel now
Look forward to seeing friends,
Family. Then – job?

Thursday, July 28, 2011

The Best-Laid Plans...

It seemed simple enough in the last post – everything scheduled, not that many things to do, and then I would be finished. And I will still be leaving around noon tomorrow, ready to hike once I get to Goris. But it isn’t going as planned. At least things went smoothly for Will and he did get married! I had a chance to meet his family; they all came , just for the weekend.

I left MCA-Armenia on an up note. The interview with the MCA-Armenia CEO went well, and when I wrote it up, it turned into a pretty good piece, if I do say so myself. I brought in some chocolates for everyone as a thank-you, and they had a little celebration for me, with some wine and good wishes. Wine at noon! It paired well with the chocolates. My counterpart was in a meeting at the end of the day though, so I didn’t say goodbye to her in person; that was unfortunate, but we had a nice email exchange and I will keep in touch.

Yesterday, I had lunch with the Country Director. I had happened to run into him at Artbridge on Sunday morning, so I had talked with him then, but not about my experiences here. This was a chance to do that and it was a nice discussion – but his schedule was packed and he postponed signing my paperwork until tomorrow morning. I was supposed to meet with my Program Manager today and he too postponed me until tomorrow morning. So I decided to finish packing last night (good thing I was almost finished already) and bring my luggage and Peace Corps equipment in today and get all of the admin signoffs. As I handed back the CO detector, tears flowed – you know it’s really over when you hand in the CO detector. There’s cake for the PCRVs tomorrow at three, but I’ll be on the road by then. I brought in chocolates as a thank-you for the Peace Corps staff too.

It actually was good that I brought my stuff in today – then there’ll be less drama when I leave tomorrow. Zina has been sad this week; I know it’s hard for her, but I am still going to dinner with the other RPCVs tonight and to see the fountains in Republic Square…. I didn’t get there last night, but I saw fireworks! There was a big celebration in Opera Square because Armenia won the world chess championship; we had a great view from Zina’s kitchen. She said the fireworks were for my leaving, too (Sunday night’s concert featured an Armenian cellist who won the prestigious international Tchaikovsky competition; since it was the closing concert of the season, gold confetti dropped from the rafters at the end, and Gordon said it was for our leaving – so of course tonight’s fountain show will be for my leaving!).

Yesterday was the end of Mid-Service Training for the A-18s – many of them stayed in Yerevan for the afternoon, and I spent some time with them; a complete bonus, actually. I had seen many of the A-17s when they were in town to see of f the early COSers, but hadn’t seen the A-18s en masse. It was nice to relax and have some conversations with them. Several of them are climbing Mt. Aragats tomorrow – I had to chuckle when I heard that, because so many Morocco PCVs climbed Mt. Toubkal after a conference. Ah, PCVs. And my last package arrived, just in time! It was postmarked May 2.

I had brought some things back to the U.S. when I went back for Reunions, and everything I am bringing back now fits in the two-suitcases-and-a-backpack that I came with. No boxes to mail this time. Because I am stopping in Europe I’ll have to pay for the second bag, and I wouldn’t be surprised if one or both are overweight, so maybe it would have been better to send a box, but the suitcases closed and I have room for things I might buy in Georgia or Holland and that is that. The taxi that took me to the Peace Corps office this morning had a cracked windshield – another thing that made me chuckle. Early on in Morocco we learned the language for cracked windshield and weren’t supposed to get in a taxi that had one. But the reality is that you take the taxi that’s available. So that was also for my leaving!

Tuesday, July 26, 2011

A Few of my Favorite Things - Part II

I rose early Sunday morning to bring some things over to the Peace Corps office; it was nice to walk around on the cool, quiet morning. I went to Swan Lake for a bit, and then journeyed out to Etchmiadzin. I’d thought about it and realized that it would be nice to hear the sacred music one last time. Live, that is – I bought (and also received) some CDs so that I will always have it. The voices, harmonies and acoustics are special. I hear that Georgian sacred music is also worth seeking out….

Upon my return from Etchmiadzin, I did one last cruise through the Vernissage. You can add that to the list of things I will miss. I got a little choked up walking around today, for the last time. I may not have found all that much that I had to buy, but I enjoyed looking. It’s especially all right that I didn’t fall in love with a painting, a rug, or anything else that would have caused stress over how to get it home. I’ve found a couple of treasures, and I like the Vernissage vibe. Then I climbed the Cascade again.

Sunday night, I went to the closing orchestra concert of the season, a Tchaikovsky concert with a cello soloist. The 1812 Overture may never have sounded better; I teared up a bit there too. It’s been great to see so many concerts here! I bought a ticket for Zina as well, as a thank-you present. I’m ready to leave homestay, but she has been a wonderful host. And every night this weekend, I went to see the dancing fountains at Republic Square for a little while – okay, add that also to the list of things I will miss.

An A-10 who had stayed with Zina in the past called to see if she could stay at the beginning of August and again in mid-September; I’m glad Zina will have another guest soon. The A-10 had seen a mention on the internet – my secondary project’s first impact! And Will, the A-14 is back in town. If all went smoothly, he’s now a married man – congratulations and best wishes to the happy couple.

I did my interview with the MCA-Armenia CEO yesterday. That went well! The bulletin should be posted on in September – I have worked on several pieces that will be in it! As I said, a nice way to go out.

I have my exit interview with the Country Director tomorrow, my exit interview with the Program Manager on Thursday, and then a farewell dinner with the other PCRVs that night. For that, I created conversation cards with award topics – best moment, best place, best dinner and the like. We’ll see if everyone is in a reflective mood (already there’s been some discussion over whether it is one last time to vent or if only positive comments can be made). I have to finish packing, and then on Friday morning I will bring all of my luggage and the space heater that I used as a towel rack, fire extinguisher, water filter and CO detector to the Peace Corps office (can’t bring the extinguisher or detector before the last day so I may as well make one big trip) and have my final paperwork checkout. I asked Zina to throw a glass of water out the door after me when I leave her home for the last time.

About the only thing I haven’t done is seen my tutor again – we had said goodbye when she went off to PST, but with the thought that we might see each other one more time. I’ll post the summary haiku (and it is just a summary – as I reviewed my calendar, so many wonderful places stood out! But I had to stop somewhere) that I know you are eagerly anticipating, and then I’m off! I don’t plan to post while I am traveling, but since I will still be in the Caucasus region, I think the posts fit with this blog and not I’ll write when I can (and I still have past travels to write about there… once again, I thought I would write about elsewhere while here and once again I have ended up living in the moment!).

I want to thank you for reading and for sharing this experience with me. I’m grateful for your support. Writing this has been a part of my Peace Corps assignment (it’s Third Goal!), but more, it’s been a way to feel not so far away from loved ones. And it’s also a way to share Armenia and Peace Corps Response with people I don’t know – I hope you too have enjoyed it. This isn’t the end, but it’s a good time to say all of this. Shnorhakalutyun!

Monday, July 25, 2011

A Few of my Favorite Things - Part I

On Saturday, I accomplished two things – one was getting out of hot Yerevan for a while, and the other was visiting Tavush marz for the second time. Actually, I accomplished a third thing too – going somewhere entirely on my own and not seeing a PCV at my destination. Not that that was a goal of mine (in fact, I tried to convince other PCRVs to join me and nearby PCVs to meet me there), but I hadn’t done it in my time here. I’ve had Yerevan days to myself, but no excursions.

Dilijan is the Switzerland of Armenia; during Soviet times it was a retreat for artists, writers and composers. We had passed there on the tour described in the June 6 post, but we didn’t go to the town. In fact, what we did there was have the uninspired group lunch I referred to. So I decided to go back. The town itself is charming, with some buildings in a gingerbread style. There’s an “old town Dilijan” with craftsmen’s workshops, and a pretty good art museum. The town is surrounded by forest – okay, I can now see the Switzerland reference, though it’s still a stretch. And it has an Artbridge! As if I don’t go to Artbridge often enough in Yerevan. But they do have my favorite iced coffee, and nice light meals, so it was a perfect place for lunch.

I then went to the helpful tourist office (there isn’t a tourist office at all in Yerevan…) and asked for a close, short, safe hike in the national forest. It was great (destination: yep, another church, but this one is set in the forest, so you have to hike to it). I’m glad I asked for a short one and took a taxi to the trailhead, because I ended up walking all the way back into town, which Lonely Planet says is 6.7 kilometers. I loved Dilijan – just getting through the tunnel from treeless Gegharkunik marz and seeing the forested mountains lifted my spirits. It’s only an hour and a half from Yerevan; if I were a two-year volunteer I might want this to be my site! Of course, I haven’t seen it in winter. When I got back to Yerevan, I had dinner outdoors at the Jazzve in Opera Square, and then climbed the Cascade – even with a drizzle, there was a nice Ararat view (just after I’d said I hadn’t seen it lately!).

There’s a lot of Armenia I still haven’t seen, but I’ve done pretty well during my time here – I’ve seen most of the main tourist attractions that visitors see, ventured to some unusual and unique places, and gotten a taste of the life and work of the regular PCVs. I don’t know what life will bring, but I can’t say I’ll ever come back to Armenia. I’ve made the most of my six months here – there’s Yerevan and there’s the rest of Armenia, and I have experienced both.

There’s one more museum I plan to return to if I have time this week. One day I was on the way to meet Brian at the Vernissage and I stopped at the Museum of International Children’s Art. It seems I didn’t mention it at the time, but the more I think about it, the more I think it is one of my favorites here. There’s art by the children of Armenia – illustrating folk tales or some other relevant theme – and some of it shows quite a bit of talent. In addition, there’s a large collection of art of the children of the world. I found it fascinating – common things such as houses and animals and people look different in different parts of the world, and that is reflected in the drawings of children. Even the colors used tell a story.

Friday, July 22, 2011

A Retreat of Sorts

The MCA-Armenia team went on a retreat today, and I took that as an opportunity to take a retreat of my own, with a tour to yet more churches and other sites in Aragatsotn and Shirak marzes. The western side of Mt. Aragats has a completely different landscape from the eastern side that I’ve traveled past several times recently – it’s dry and stony grassland (reminds me a bit of the Middle Atlas). First, we stopped at a caravanserai near Aruch – not as well-preserved as Selim, but still interesting. Aruch also has one of the biggest churches in Armenia. The cupola was destroyed and now the church is open to the sky, which makes the open air into an extension of the frescoes on the walls.

Marmashen, situated on the bank of a river (as opposed to a gorge or other high point), is huge and red and has interesting architectural details; it’s supposedly the church that is the most like Ani, the ruined former capital that is now in Turkish territory. Harichavank is the summer residence of the Catolicos, and is best known for a little chapel that is alone on a rock that was separated from the rest of the site by an earthquake, so it looks as if it was built on a pillar of rock. But my favorite part of the site was the decoration over the door, which reminded me of Moroccan patterns.

We also stopped in Gyumri, where we toured the craft and home museum. It was interesting to see the tools of many trades of 18th Century Gyumri – jewelry-making, wood and stone carving, tailoring, lace, haberdashery and more. Also interesting were the furnishings. The middle class (mostly the tradesmen) dressed in what I now would call traditional Armenian wear and had locally-made furniture. Rich people wanted a Western look and furniture imported from Europe. We then had a little time to walk around the city center – I’m glad I had such a good tour with Barbara, even in the pouring rain, because there wasn’t enough time for a thorough tour today!

On the previous tour trip, we stopped for lunch at one of those places that caters to groups. The food was all right and not a good value – so I decided to bring my own lunch today. I finished off the jar of peanut butter that I had brought with me. One jar lasted six months; I didn’t really need it at all here, but I had a spoonful or two as a snack every so often. Then again, maybe when I get home I’ll do that more often (as seen on the Everywhere Exercise Facebook page) -

The retreat was a good getaway – as I mentioned, I’ve been just a little stressed. When people ask how I feel about leaving, my first answer is usually, “ready,” and my second is, “stressed.” It’s manageable stress, but I feel it. I’ll probably feel somewhat stressed for the foreseeable future, so a nice day like this – or even moments of calm, when I get them – is welcome.

What will I miss? Well, my first answer there is the swallows/swifts in the morning and at night – I love watching them fly all over and listening to them chirp. And I’ll miss the bells that ring every half hour, not always on the half hour. I’ll miss some of the food at my favorite spots, but I’ve rotated through them often so I can’t say I haven’t had any particular dish often enough. I’ll miss the people I have befriended – I think I’ll keep in touch with some. I’ll miss the beautiful countryside, with the mountains and the wildflowers. I’ll miss walking around Yerevan; it’s been too hazy or cloudy for an Ararat view recently, but I’ll miss that too. I’ll miss Armenia in general, with its complex and unique character; I’m glad I’ve had a chance to come to know it.

Thursday, July 21, 2011

Medical and More

On Tuesday I had my close-of-service medical exam. It was thorough, and yet I have a litany of things to do when I get home. One of those things is dental –my teeth still don’t feel quite right. One is testing for parasites – the bonding experience we had in Morocco of having to provide three stool samples in three days doesn’t take place for the PCVs here, because there isn’t a facility equipped to analyze for parasites. I’ve been extremely careful about my food and water intake – but the doctor cheerfully said that I might still have some. I don’t have to go through the whole list of what was done or what is still to come, but I do have to say it’s depressing. And except for the dental, it’s all wellness/checkup stuff. I can only imagine how depressed I would be if something were wrong! I love my friends who are doctors, but I don’t want a barrage of tests and I don’t want to deal with insurance. Both of those alone are incentive to aim for a healthy lifestyle!

Tuesday I was also a part of a panel of international development agencies presenting to the PCTs (i.e. the A-19 trainees). MCC/MCA, UNDP, USAID, the EU, USDA, and GIZ (the German equivalent of USAID – of course, this assumes you know what the rest of the acronyms stand for!) presented their programs in Armenia. And there are a lot of them! I haven’t done much PR strategy, which was part of my original job description – in the partner evaluation report that my counterpart wrote, she admitted that the strategy was set before I arrived – but in its place I have been doing PR and increasing awareness among PCVs/PCTs in various ways, and this presentation was another. The audience was receptive and asked insightful questions; many signed up for more information on MCA-Armenia, which may help with sustainability after the Compact ends. It was also interesting for me to hear about what the other agencies are doing here in Armenia – democracy and governance, climate change and biodiversity, economic assistance, livestock programs, and much, much more. Most sobering was the introduction that the UNDP person gave – he said that before the world economic crisis hit, the projection was that the world would fall maybe 23 percent short of the Millennium Development Goals. Now it is dire – by 2015, they may not accomplish even 50 percent of the goals.

There are some loose ends that still aren’t tied up, and I’ve been working on those, plus a new fact sheet and revising my article about the 1000th borrower. In addition, much of Monday was spent getting ready for the presentation and much of yesterday was spent following up on the presentation. Then I was asked to do something fun – interview the CEO of MCA-Armenia for the final bulletin. I’ve seen him give speeches and I’ve talked to him only a little bit when we were in the same car on the way to one of the events, but this is a chance to ask him to sum things up. And it’ll give me a good chance to sum things up too. What a good note to go out on! I’ve been working on my list of questions today. The interview is Monday and then my last day in the MCA-Armenia office is Tuesday; the rest of next week will be Peace Corps checkout.

Last night I went out to dinner with a friend of Zoe’s whom I’d met briefly. She’s a Dutch teacher, and I thought it would be fun to have dinner and get from her a few words with which to impress my family. I am so glad to be stopping in the Netherlands on my way home. It has been way too long since I’ve seen them, and the visit will be far too short, but it’s much better than letting even more time go by. I didn’t get that many words (and my relatives – along with just about everyone else in the Netherlands - speak English so well that I don’t need any at all), but it was interesting to talk with her about how she ended up in Armenia - she came to volunteer with earthquake survivors and now she teaches people who are going to marry in Holland so that they can pass a test to get their visas. She said they are almost entirely women, and fall into two categories – young women who are marrying diaspora Armenians who come here for a quick visit to find a young Armenian wife, and slightly older women who are marrying for love.

Before I go to the Netherlands, there’s Goris and then Karabakh and then Gyumri and then Georgia – I have hotels set and transport mostly planned and haven’t yet wrapped my mind around what I am going to do in each place. I’ll read up a little bit next week and on the transport, and if I have a more leisurely trip rather than a whirlwind, that’s all right – I’ve been feeling increasingly stressed since the beginning of the end (or since the beginning of the hot weather – which may actually have come at the same time – though we’ve had some thunderstorms this week and it’s a little cooler). And after the Netherlands? Well, a game plan of sorts is starting to crystallize, following some recent discussions with friends. I had in mind that I’d like to decompress and adjust, while sending out resumes and networking and either writing or working on a business idea (note – helping my sister figures into this equation too, as needed). That’s still the plan that’s in my head, but the discussions made me feel more focused and ready. I still don’t know what is next and I still say that epiphanies don’t happen on demand, but I think it will help if I go into it with a more positive attitude!

And last for today – my post on the MCC Poverty Reduction Blog was published! It went through edits and approvals so to me it no longer sounds like my voice, but it’s still my story.

Wednesday, July 20, 2011

Dzor to Dzor

This past weekend I visited my friend Kath in her site. Vanadzor is Armenia’s third-largest city – or maybe second-largest, since Gyumri keeps losing population. Gyumri has those historic buildings from the Tsarist era and all of the evidence of earthquake damage. Vanadzor has tree-lined streets, lots of shops and shoppers, and parks – it’s a pleasant place to be. We did a lot of walking, going through the market and touring the Art Museum. I went with Kath to the YMCA, one of her partner agencies, where I was (on the spur of the moment) the guest speaker at the English club. I thought I would check email while Kath did the club, but one of the young adults in the club suggested I talk about Morocco, and Kath thought it would be good for them to hear another native voice speaking English. After I gave a short introduction, they did most of the talking; I asked questions to keep the discussion going. If you had asked me beforehand, I would have said that English club not my thing, but the time went quickly and it was fun!

I also wanted to see her other project, a proposed park; a while ago she asked me to review her proposal, and every so often I’ve given her suggestions and leads. We didn’t get there, but my brainstorms this time were a Peace Pole and a Sister City. One highlight of the visit was the cooler weather; it’s always about 10 degrees cooler in Vanadzor than it is in Yerevan. Another was a pasta dinner that we made – she had carbonara in mind. We looked at the Peace Corps Armenia cookbook – no carbonara recipe, but there was a recipe for pasta with garlic and dried apricots. That sounded appealing, so we found a carbonara recipe on the internet and added dried apricots that we had soaked in white wine to soften them a little. It was fantastic, as were the fresh raspberries we bought!

On Sunday I went back to Vayots Dzor; interestingly, both places were almost exactly two hours from Yerevan (and so is Gyumri). Beckey is the PCV who has been working on the Jewish cemetery (she built the web site - and I’m glad she was available to show it to me. The road isn’t repaired yet, but they figured out a detour that doesn’t require a 4x4. The cemetery is overgrown and needs work; she has a grant application in the works and will be looking for more funds. The bishop was walking by and noticed stones with unfamiliar writing; a group of visiting dentists was in town and one was Jewish and recognized the Hebrew. This cemetery is an incredible historic find – it shows that in medieval times, Jews were present, and also that they were prosperous and integrated into the community. Finding this means that previous scholarship has to be examined in this new light. An archaeologist has done some work, and Beckey is working on a grant proposal for both restoration and study. I’m really glad I took the trip back down there to see it. All of the pictures in this post are from this excursion; I’ll put Vanadzor pictures into the next post!

Thursday, July 14, 2011

The End is Near

Got some more signatures on the checklist this week – and said some more goodbyes, though with two weeks to go I’m saying they’re not final goodbyes, but hugging people just in case. Had one of my exit interviews, with the Director of Programming and Training. Returned my language books to the Language Coordinator and my site survey to the Safety and Security Coordinator. Closed my Armenia bank account. Now I’m thinking about toiletries – will my toothpaste tube last or will I need to buy another? Will one more bar of soap be enough?

It’s a busy time for the Peace Corps office. When I was there earlier this week, the A-19s were coming back from site visit, with a range of reactions, from loving their host families to not being sure about the work to being jealous of anyone with indoor plumbing and even occasional running water. The reality of what the next two years will be like (or at least the first few months, until they can live on their own) is beginning to set in. Tomorrow, 10 A-17s are COSing (the rest will COS on August 13). So for them it’s goodbye and on to a different reality. And the week that I COS, the A-18s have their mid-service training (which is one of the reasons I got some signatures this week).

Where does Peace Corps Response fit into all of this? Well, it gets squeezed in when there’s time. The DPT asked some good questions. My assignment has been good but I think it lacks a deliverable; he said that maybe only the organizations with a Western orientation can handle a short-term volunteer, and that given the climate of corruption here they may de-emphasize the B of Community and Business Development and go more towards Community and Youth Development. I think that Peace Corps Response has been a good program for me, and I hope they find ways to continue it in Armenia.

I feel just about ready to go, though. I don’t feel guilty anymore about not staying until the end of the compact (or the end of the year, which is what they originally wanted a volunteer to do) – with the major events over and vacations being taken, the team here is more relaxed and I know they will get everything done. In asking my counterpart for the Partner Evaluation Form I confirmed that they decided not to request another Response volunteer to replace me; that open question had concerned me. We are already writing articles for the final bulletin, so I can help with that, and I’ve volunteered to wordsmith things from home after my service if they want me to. I’ve had about enough of my homestay – I’m ready to go to a place that has air conditioning or at least a fan and where I can shower at the end of a hot day. I’m definitely ready to cook for myself (or to have a salad at Suki Zuki or CPK!), though I enjoy the food at both homestay and the restaurants here. I can’t say I’m looking forward to stepping up the job hunt, but I suppose I’m ready for it. Ready to see friends and family and have different conversations. Glad I’m doing a little travel after my service and glad I land in New York a month from today.

One nice tradition here is the PCT auction – during training, points are awarded for lessons learned or other deeds done. As PCVs COS, they can donate things to the auction – for example, a sleeping bag – and then the PCTs can bid on them just before they swear in. PC staff also donates dinners or other enticing prizes. Sounds like fun! Some of my clothes have gone to other PCVs and some of my other things – perhaps my travel clock or my spa sandals – will end up in the auction.

In other news, I saw a couple of short films and a longer feature, but for the rest of the Golden Apricot festival I am either unavailable or tickets are sold out. There were several international options but I focused on Armenian topics. “Armenian Exile” was made by a diaspora Armenian who was searching for his Armenian-ness – his interviews were interesting and original. “The Volunteer,” about a Russian who decided to volunteer for the Armenians during the Karabakh war, was a little harder to watch, but also good. In both cases, the filmmakers were present, so I felt I was in with the in crowd. “Sunrise over Lake Van” is fiction, telling the story of different generations of a family of diaspora Armenians and their attitude toward the genocide.

And why I am still reading tour books even though I am almost finished – because I learn things. One of my favorite sculptures here is of hands (see the May 28 post). I read in the Bradt guide that it’s from Yerevan’s twin city, Carrara, and that Kiev is also a twin city. So I looked at wikipedia; Yerevan has 30 of them! You can find them all here - - more than the Sister Cities International web site has, but still, opportunity. There’s a tuff tree of life sculpture across the street from the hands that is a replica of one sent to Cararra in return. I went by this week after reading about it; I’ve been on that block several times but it’s off my beaten path. And see the June 22 post for more!

Tuesday, July 12, 2011

New Work and Old Favorites

My counterpart retuned from vacation and now I have a bunch of new things to do! We had a team meeting on Thursday morning; she does a great job of making me feel like part of the team. I have fact sheets to write and review, the bridge story to finalize and a possible new feature article to write. She also asked me to look at the videos that were produced last year to see if I have any suggestions for this year’s video. Last year’s gives a good overview of the MCC program here, so I am including the link - Also, my gender article was the lead story in the latest bulletin - UNDP wants to reprint the article, so I may expand it.

I was going to go with the team on Friday to meet a farmer to see if he was the right farmer to feature in the closeout video. But there wasn’t room for me in the car. That was fine – it gave me a chance to finish the drafts of my DOS (Description of Service) and Final Report. When I totaled up the number of events I attended (10) and pieces written or reviewed (over 20) I feel I’ve done a lot! Peace Corps Response Armenia also requires a Partner Evaluation – I don’t get to review the partner, they review the program and the volunteer that they got. My counterpart had some good things to say about me! That was fine too.

Friday night began a whirlwind cultural weekend – and my first all-Yerevan weekend in a while. I want to the Cafesjian museum, where there was an interesting exhibit of art by Hagob Hagobian. He made sculptures out of common tools and then posed them as the models for this paintings, mostly as lovers. In the museum’s events space, I attended a concert of the Gurdjieff Folk Ensemble. I’ll cut and paste from their web site… Gurdjieff is known to many in the West as one of the major spiritual figures of the 20th century. His extraordinary musical repertoire was based on the music he heard during his journeys, where he witnessed a myriad of folk and spiritual music, rituals and dance traditions. The pieces have roots in Armenian, Greek, Arabic, Kurdish, Assyrian, and Caucasian folk and spiritual music for Eastern folk instruments - duduk, blul/nay, saz, tar, kiamancha, oud, kanon, santur, dap/daf, tombak and dhol.

On Saturday and Sunday, I revisited some of my favorite museums and also saw a couple of new ones. Both mornings saw me at Swan Lake, my new favorite place to sit (in the shade), writing some haiku (I read a memorial in the Princeton Alumni Weekly in which the alum had written his own epitaph in the form of a limerick – I’m not ready for a final haiku, but I am summarizing my six months in Armenia!).

I then went to the Matenadaran to see the ancient texts and illuminated books, and to the Saryan museum to see my favorite paintings here. I stopped by the Painter’s Vernissage and didn’t see anything I had to have. After a lunch break, I was determined to finally find the Woodcarving Museum, and I did – I admire the wood carving here, and the museum had a small but good collection. Since I was nearby, I went to the Museum of the City of Yerevan, located next to the City Hall. People have lived in this area for millennia, and this is a collection of some of the evidence they’ve found. On to the Vernissage – where after one aisle I felt overheated and dehydrated. I went to the Peace Corps office to rest, but I will admit I overdid it. Fortunately I didn’t have cultural plans for the evening – I napped and had dinner and drank a lot of water reorganized some of my stuff and then I felt well enough to go to Republic Square for a while and watch the fountains.

Sunday I went to the National Art Gallery – there’s a special exhibit on Dali and surrealists. It was all right; not my favorite. I did appreciate seeing art by Kochar and Parajanov in the exhibit, because I didn’t revisit their museums this weekend! I also made my way through the permanent collection. Another lunch break, and then back to the same building, which also houses the History Museum. The 6000-year-old shoe and more evidence of ancient civilizations – pottery, figurines, and then more recent carpets, costumes, lace. I had cruised through both of these on the free museum night after visiting them early in my time here; glad I took the time to go again. And I did another cruise through the Vernissage, where I picked up a few more things. I then had another restful evening at home! It started to rain (and cooled things off a bit) right around the time I might have gone to see fountains; I’ll go again another day. The hiking club offering for Sunday was quite tempting but I am glad I stayed put.

This week is the Golden Apricot International Film Festival (; I plan to go to at least a couple of the screenings. There are a lot of offerings that look interesting!

Monday, July 11, 2011

Another Recipe and Some Food for Thought

One of my favorite items at the Middle Eastern (Syrian, I think, though there are several Lebanese restaurants here) restaurant around the corner is Imam bayende. I found a couple of recipes on the internet – this one seems interesting (yes, more eggplant!). It also looks time-consuming, so I’m going to eat more while I am here!

Servings: 4
• 2 medium onions, chopped
• 1/2-3/4 cup olive oil
• 2 garlic cloves, crushed
• 3 medium tomatoes, peeled and chopped
• 4 tablespoons chopped parsley
• 1 tablespoon chopped fresh mint or 1/2 teaspoon dried mint, crumbled
• salt and pepper
• 2 medium eggplants
• 1 teaspoon sugar
• 2 tablespoons fresh lemon juice
Prep Time: 30 mins
Total Time: 1 1/4 hr
Saute the onions in a little oil. Add the garlic, tomatoes, parsley, salt, and pepper. Cook until it comes together as a very thick stew (no liquid). Stir in mint.
Cut the stem ends from each eggplant and cut eggplants in half lengthwise. Make 3 lengthwise slits, almost from end to end, cutting into the flesh about 1 inch deep.
Heat 1/2 cup olive oil in a large saucepan over medium-high heat. Add the eggplant, cut side down, and fry gently, until dark golden-brown on cut side. Turn over and fry on skin side a couple more minutes.
Remove from oil (most of it will have been absorbed) and place on paper towels to drain for at least 15 minutes before proceeding with recipe (this gets rid of most of the oil- you can omit the frying step to cut calories and save time, but you will NOT have the same flavorful results, and the recipe will not be as authentic).
Preheat oven to 350°F. Hold each slit apart and spoon the vegetable mixture into each cavity. Arrange eggplants in a baking dish just large enough to hold them. Sprinkle with sugar, lemon juice, and drizzle with the remaining oil. Bake for 40 minutes, or until tender.
Serve with lots of crusty bread (note, it is not served with bread around the corner!).

Now the food for thought – I am a big fan of Sister Cities. I loved going through O’Hare and seeing the information on Chicago’s Sister Cities, and was thrilled when I met a Morocco RPCV who is on the Chicago-Casablanca Sister Cities committee. I’m still on the Sister Cities web site, listed as looking for a sister city for Azrou. When I was in Kapan, I heard that it was a sister city of Glendale (nice coup!) so I decided to find out more. Sadly, Kapan is not listed on the official Sister Cities International site – opportunity! Here are the ones that are listed: Etchmiadzin-Fresno, Gyumri-Alexandria, VA, Vanadzor-Pasadena, Yerevan-Cambridge, MA and Los Angeles. I repeat, opportunity!

I had to take some photos off of my computer again – I’ve had to do this periodically since I got the computer back. It was almost full at the time; I’ve added memory twice before and I think it can take no more. So the hard drive I bought when I was formulating Plan B has been vital. But every time I take photos off in order to fit more on, I get more than a little bit anxious. On the other hand, if it were a few years earlier, I’d be buried in prints!

I changed the address for my New Yorker subscription too early – I haven’t gotten an issue in weeks and I am down to my last one! I’ll enjoy the newest issues once I get back, and I do have other things to read, but this is the first time in my adult life that I don’t have a stack of them in front of me. Sigh.

And another thing to be concerned about – Returned Peace Corps Volunteers are eligible for Corps Care, a COBRA-like health plan, for 18 months; I plan to sign up. As of now, there’s no coverage after August 31. The rates went up too much, so Peace Corps is looking for another supplier. I imagine there will be one by the end of August, but I think it behooves me to look into other options just in case. Ugh.

Last, I wanted to comment on a word I’ve been hearing since I got here – “normal.” People use it all the time – for example, how are those cookies? Normal. It’s used here a lot more than I usually, commonly, ordinarily (i.e., normally) hear it back home. I haven’t made it my own yet, but if when I get back you hear me saying it more often than most Americans say it, that’s why!

Saturday, July 9, 2011

Site Announcement

Wednesday was a special day for Peace Corps Armenia - site announcement for the A-19 PCTs (Peace Corps Trainees). I still remember our site announcements in Morocco, with all of the anticipation and speculation that preceded it and all of the emotion and questions afterwards. I recall walking with Jong the night before and saying that Azrou had grown on me and that I wouldn't mind a site like that. I remember the pushpin with my face on it, seeing Jong and Ina's pins stuck way in the south and wondering if we would all be put down there, how each site was described to build up suspense before the name of the person getting it was revealed, and inspecting the map at the end to see everyone's faces and thinking about what the next 24 months would be like.

It's a special day and even though I have no particular stake in this one, all volunteers were invited. I'd been looking forward to it for a while, with some of that same mix of hope and anxiety. Most of the current volunteers who weren’t at summer camps were there, to welcome new sitemates or replacements. In the parking lot in front of the school where the Central Day sessions are held, the drivers had drawn a big map of Armenia with the sites marked. The Program Managers took turns naming the sites and the PCTs who got them, and then each person would stand on his or her spot on the map. When they had all been placed, everyone cheered, and the PCTs posed for a picture of themselves on the map. When I visited Chris in Gavar, I saw his picture from the A-18 site announcement, and that’s what convinced me that I wanted to see it for myself this year. The current PCVs from the respective marzes then stormed the PCTs and there were greetings and huzzahs all around.

We next split up by region and the current PCVs described their sites to the PCTs. I joined the Central Region group and discussed some (non-bar, non-restaurant) things people could do in Yerevan; these guys are close enough to come in for the day. I also put in plugs for Zina’s Bed and Breakfast, Peace Corps Response and Millennium Challenge! Much of each PCV presentation concerned the weather – if I were a PCT going anywhere near Lake Sevan I would now realize that I would be wearing long underwear 75% of the time and living in a very conservative region. And if I were in any of the other Central Region marzes I would now know how very hot I would be over the summer and how flat it is. Back in Yerevan that evening, I went to a couple of outdoor cafes with Shannon and Zoe and watched the fountains. I’ve made other PCV friends but might feel closest to these two because of that early work bonding. I know that they feel the same way (that is, even more so) about each other, even though they each have different best friends with whom they spend leisure time (yes, that does make sense, given the nature of Peace Corps). I believe I will keep in touch with both of them; still, the reality that this experience is coming to an end – for them and for me - was palpable. In with the new – the PCTs in their new sites - and out with the old; it’s not the last time I’ll see them but the end is getting close.

Friday, July 8, 2011

Independence Day and Constitution Day

Tuesday was Constitution Day in The Republic of Armenia, commemorating the document that was signed in 1995. It’s sometimes easy to forget that this is still a new country, even though the people have such a long history. Since the holiday fell on a Tuesday, businesses were given Monday off. Monday happened to be Independence Day in the United States of America, so it was a double holiday weekend for us. The PCVs here have a tradition of going to Lake Sevan for the Fourth of July, renting vacation domiks by the beach. I went up just for the day, but it was nice to participate in a slice of PCV-Armenia life.

Gordon and Jeanne had secured the services of the taxi driver who is a friend of their host mother. All along the roadside on the way up were stands selling inflatable boats, rings and other fun-at-the-lake items. Our first stop was Noratus. Even though I had been there before, I saw a lot I hadn't seen before, including many of the oldest stones, which tell the occupation or other stories of the buried person. I thought my camera battery had plenty of life, so I hadn't charged it after the Kapan trip. Mistake! I commandeered Gordon's camera (he was most gracious about it) for the day, averting a potential calamity. We then went on to Hayrivank, an old church by the lake, this one with crude crosses carved on the boulders outside and with a multi-colored dome.

On to the beach! I now think that when the tour guide compared Lake Sevan to Titicaca she was saying that only Titicaca is higher in altitude. The air was cool but the sun was hot! The water was also cool - I sat for a while and talked to people until I got hot, and then I stood in the water and talked to people until I got cold, in and out. All in all almost half of the PCVs in country were at the beach or the nearby water park that day. I spent most of my time with people I’ve gotten to know already; the ones I haven't really gotten to know were off in their own little group, which may explain why I haven't gotten to know them.

As the afternoon wore on and the potential grew for things to get rowdy, we moved on, stopping at Sevanavank, one of Armenia's most-photographed churches. On a peninsula that was once an island (and may be again - they are raising the lake level over the next five years), it was once a monastery to which wayward monks we banished - no women, no alcohol. There's a fine basalt khatchkar here, a Persian wooden screen, and of course a commanding view of the lake.

One of the (Mexican) restaurants in town has Southern Indian food every Monday night; there are many Indian students in the universities in town and this is their hangout. Gordon and Jeanne winter in southern India, and we'd been talking about going for a while. But dosa night doesn't begin until 8, which is late for them (and for me) to eat. Since we had been snacking at the lake, on this night we could wait for dosi (which are like crepes, but more substantial. Made from rice and lentils, they are served with a spicy soup and a couple of different chutneys) and eat light - it was nice to do that after talking about it for so long. Pretty good - and apparently quite authentic.

Constitution Day itself was great - I've been traveling a lot lately and it was nice to have a quiet Yerevan day. Museums closed, no Vernissage. I went out in the morning and sat by "Swan Lake," the little pond on the same block as the opera house (in the winter it was a skating rink). Then I met an all-star cast of women at Top Table - Kath and Barbara, two of the "1948 club" members, and Shannon, Zoe and Erin, the three PCVs assigned to the Syunik Women's NGOs. Because of fog on the pass Zoe hadn't made that first pizza dinner and OSCE meeting, and because of the broken ankle Erin was gone from the following week until just last week. They were giving a presentation at PST later in the day about working with women in business. Joining us was Stepan, the Community and Business Development Program Manager; it was great brunch with some lively discussion.

I then went to the Peace Corps office - surprisingly busy on a holiday - to catch up on email, and got my hair done. In the evening, I went up to visit Mel, just back from her vacation in Georgia. She lives in a hoppin' neighborhood not too far from but not close to downtown – let’s call it the Brooklyn of Yerevan. We ate at a Georgian restaurant and I heard about her trip; I then went back to her house and saw her living arrangements, the knitting and crocheting she has done here, and her Georgia souvenirs. I walked back to downtown - it took about an hour, so I still l Iike the Brooklyn analogy - and watched the Republic Square fountain show for a while. I thought there might be fireworks, but no such luck. The waterworks of the fountains, with their colors and choreography, might be just as delightful!

Thursday, July 7, 2011

Weekend in Kapan

I had planned to go visit a friend up in Vanadzor this past weekend. Then she got invited to a "1948 club" (made up of women born that year) weekend - she asked them if I could come and asked me if I would mind. So, just after saying I probably wasn’t going back to Kapan and/or Meghri, I was on a marchutny to Kapan. Not without some drama, though - the Vanadzor friend fell down some stairs – she’s fine, but decided to rest in the medical unit's "sick bay" over the weekend. I sometimes wonder, though it is fruitless to - what if I had gotten my Internet stick right away? I might not have had my computer with me when I fell. What if I had decided not to go into the pharmacy to look for something Brian said he wanted? I might not have slipped and fallen. How would my first six weeks here - nay, my entire service - have been different? So, what if I had gone to Vanadzor this weekend? She might not have fallen. What if she had taken a taxi to the marchutny instead of the walk that included those stairs? She might have come along with us. In truth, she probably needed the rest – she’d been on the go since walking 270 km in Border2Border. But did I need to fall on my computer? I digress.

With a great Ararat view, sunflowers in bloom and fields of pink and purple wildflowers for the early part of the ride, and beautiful mountains for the rest (including the twistiest part, between Goris and Kapan; I also saw a sign warning that there were land mines where the road is closest to the Karabakh border), Barbara, Pat and I arrived around 2:00 pm to find Sue and Shannon waiting at a cafe. We had a late lunch walked around town a bit. The 1948ers went on to Sue's village and Shannon and I went to her NGO. My "reason" for requesting the work-related leave was to talk to her NGO about marketing, and we actually did some of that, talking about handicrafts and also about other activities of the Women's Resource Center. We then went back to her home and sat on the porch, made dinner and talked. It's cooler in the mountains than in Yerevan, so I slept well. I woke up the next morning to a view of Mt. Khustup, the third-highest in Armenia; it had been obscured by clouds when we were there in February. Nice view! We had breakfast and walked up (and up and up) to the War Memorial, a Kapan landmark. High on a hill with a panoramic view of the town and surrounding region, there's a big wall with many symbols on it in memory of WWII, and behind it, the graves of those who lost their lives in the Karabakh war. So sad.

We then took a taxi up to Sue's village; from the taxi stand you have to walk along the cow paths to get to her house (when she moves out next week, she'll use the help of a donkey and several of the local boys). We all took a walk to see her school, the cemetery and the unobstructed view from the end of her village - nice view to have every day, to say the least. She had been talking for months about commissioning or finding a painting of it to take home, and she had finally zeroed in on one; the transaction was completed the afternoon we were there, which was great. We sat and talked - intelligent, thoughtful women discussing their experiences and Armenia. I see Yerevan, and in my assignments I have worked for an American and for a business that's run in an American style (people at MCA-Armenia really work all day, whereas from what I hear, in much of Armenia there's a morning coffee and an afternoon coffee and a lot of chitchat in between), so this was very interesting for me.

Shannon and I then went to a park commemorating a famous Armenian war hero (his name escapes me, but he's buried in three places) and watched the movie "Volunteers." In this Tom Hanks-Rita Wilson-John Candy vehicle from 1985, hilarity ensues as Tom's character, escaping gambling debts by sneaking into the Peace Corps, comes into his own in Thailand (played by Mexico). It's completely unrealistic, of course, but I had never seen it - a good choice for my first and probably only movie here.

The marchutny left early the next morning; on the way back, the lower elevations seemed browner - even than they had been two days before. It's been hot, and it hasn't rained in a couple of weeks. I was hoping it would stay green until I left; nope. We arrived in Yerevan in time to spend a couple of hours at the Vernissage - now that I know I am going to see family in the Netherlands, I'm looking for little things to bring to everyone, and I'm still finding some other things of interest. But I don’t think I will find something for everyone I’ll see when I get back – there aren’t things that are calling your names. I then had dinner with the friend who stayed behind over the weekend. Glad I made it back down to Kapan - and glad to be back in my own bed.

Sunday, July 3, 2011


In my trips to Lori marz last weekend, I passed through Spitak, the closest town to the epicenter of the 1988 earthquake. One in four people died, and almost every structure was damaged or destroyed. I read that because of the extent of the damage, the Soviet Union called for international help – that was a first in the history of that closed nation. There are still many relief organizations there. The town now looks very nice, with all-new buildings. I read that different neighborhoods were done in the style of the (mostly European) donors; that was a little hard to see while passing through, but in the distance I did see some peaked roofs and atypical colors. It’s hard to imagine what things were like on that bitter cold winter day. I still find myself hoping that nothing happens while I’m here (and now I can count the days – they are flying!). I also hope nothing happens while David is the Country Director; he had a lot to deal with in Morocco. I mentioned this to a friend, who said she kind of hopes something does happen for our Safety and Security Coordinator, who is so prepared!

Further on the subjects of being prepared and safety and security – Melvia went to Georgia for vacation last week; when you’re a PCV and you vacation in another Peace Corps country, you have to follow their policies. She forwarded their warnings to me – women shouldn’t travel alone at night on the train (I had been planning to but now I think it will be lovely to see the countryside during the day), watch out for petty theft, and a few others. It made me feel all the more glad to be in Armenia, where theft is almost nonexistent and people are honest and trustworthy. That’s not to say Georgia is dangerous; those are fairly standard warnings. If you look at the State Department warnings, you might not go to either country! I have talked to several PCVs who have gone and none has had an incident, but it does underscore how safe Armenia is. Everyone says the Georgians are very different from the Armenians (harder drinkers, more boisterous, less hardworking); it’ll be interesting to see for myself.

There are other people in Armenia that I am not likely to see but that I wish I could. In the north of the country are some Russian villages – I wonder how different they are. I did see the Russian church in Gyumri – maybe that is the only visible sign of a Russian village? Even more intriguing are the Yezidi, herders who practice Zoroastrianism. They’re ethnically Kurdish, but say they are different from other Kurds. Sources say there are about 40,000 Yezidi in Armenia. I have passed through some Yezidi villages, though I only know that after the fact – I read that in their cemeteries the graves look like little houses. We went by a couple on the way to Lori; I was on the wrong side of the car to photograph them, but I did notice. On the other hand, I noticed several domiks with bee boxes. I wonder if it’s Yezidis who keep the bees? With all the wildflowers here, I bet the honey is great. I read recently that Armenia is the only former Soviet Republic with a nearly homogeneous population – of course the Azeris left during the conflict, but right after independence, Greeks, Ukrainians and Russians left as well.

I read that last fact in the new Cross-Cultural Reader; it was put together for the group that is in PST now – by now I’ve read a lot of background but each source has different information to add to the mix, so I keep reading. One other note from that reader surprised me – Armenia is the second-most densely populated post-Soviet republic, after Moldova. The Border2Border walkers said that what struck them as they were walking was how empty the country is, and I would say the same based on my observations (once you get out of Yerevan, that is) – so the rest of the former Soviet Union must be really empty! The reader also said that in addition to apricots, cherries originated here – that is, all cherries in the world are derived from cherries here. I’d best eat more of them! The apricots are getting better and better now though.

Workwise, while my counterpart has been on vacation I have been going through the MCA web site, slowly but surely. More, I’ve made a lot of progress on my Peace Corps reports and on the web site for Zina. I’ve also felt somewhat guilty about the English lessons not working out. If there is one thing I notice in what I’m given to wordsmith, it is use of the definite article. I know the usage is not the same in Armenian; my tutor would correct me but didn’t make a big issue of it. I did a search for some rules about use of the definite article in English for non-English speakers and have a paper ready for my counterpart’s return. I’m not sure it will really clear things up, but it makes me feel I have helped. I’ve been studying some Armenian lately in the evenings – I think being around some of the PCVs who speak it well has inspired me just a bit, though I don’t think I’ll have much use for it later.

And I haven’t mentioned Brian much lately because I haven’t seen him much lately! Maybe three times in the past month, all for a short period of time. He’s really into his work, and he moved to a new homestay to be closer to work. He seems so happy! I am happy for him. His work will keep him even busier in the home stretch, so I told him to reserve July 28 for a farewell dinner; it may be that I don’t see him until then!

While going through pictures for Zina’s web site, I also added some to older entries here. Scroll through for some more images of Armenia!