Sunday, October 30, 2011

ET but not THE Extra Terrestial

Some thoughts on a cloudy day in Armenia………………………

Mike , Peace Corps volunteer and musician extraordinaire
A volunteer in our group has decided to ET or early terminate as we Peace Corps people call it. There are many valid reasons for a volunteer to ET such as health issues, family concerns back home, cultural challenges in the volunteer’s country, work related problems, financial issues, weather related dislikes, personal disagreements with Peace Corps policy,  etc.     Not being a close personal friend nor willing to divulge this volunteer’s reasons for his ET even if known, we are just sad that he made the decision.  Sad, yes, but respectful of that decision as one which he told us, was one of the most difficult decisions he’d ever made.   After experiencing all of the challenges associated with application, evaluation and acceptance into a training class with the Peace Corps, packing 2 bags for his 2- year anticipated service, then traveling ½ the way around the world, Mike reached Yerevan, Armenia. He then studied a new language and new alphabet and began to immerse into a new culture.  Mike passed the required language proficiency test, and raised his right hand to swear in as an official Peace Corps volunteer in Armenia. After that came the settling in process in a new town and work place and finding a permanent home for himself for his 2 –year assignment in Armenia.  All the volunteers in our group followed basically this same path, BUT……….Mike will ET and leave Armenia this coming week.   
To make this departure even more dramatic is the fact that Mike is a talented musician and recently retired university professor of music, primarily piano and keyboard instruments of all kinds. In addition, he is a skilled arranger and composer of music, captivating performer, unbelievably patient director of choral and instrumental groups of all levels, and a generally great guy.  Mike utilized his comprehensive abilities in the field of music to arrange music and train performers for our group’s swear-in ceremony in mid –August.  Because of his abilities, a group of 25-30 volunteers, many of whom were non-singers to begin with, performed a medley of American songs followed by a traditional Armenian musical selection sung in Hayeren, the Armenian language.   He also coached and accompanied a young volunteer, Joseph Andriano,  in a breathtakingly  beautiful tenor  solo performance of the Armenian folksong recorded by  Komitas,  Chinar Es. This musical addition to the Swear-in ceremony held in the Komitas Chamber Music Hall, was a special tribute during the year of the Peace Corps 50th Anniversary.  All bets were on that Mike would share his talents with the next group of volunteers as they participated in preparation for their swear-in event in 2012.
Joseph Andriano, Stephanie with cello, and Mike on piano
 at Swear-in Ceremony for Peace Corps Armenia Volunteers , August 16, 2011
Now that Mike is leaving us, that will not happen, however, the memory of his work with our group in 2011 is recorded for Peace Corps history.   Congratulations or shnorhavorank!  to Mike, for all that he has accomplished while in Armenia. He should be immensely proud of how he has touched the Peace Corps volunteers and staff, the Armenian people, and especially the children, with his music.  When there was a piano present, Mike played it without reserve. When the piano needed tuning, he arranged to have it done. When music was desired, Mike was there. We know the decision to ET was mind-boggling and difficult, yet a person who chooses that route has our utmost respect for recognizing that the decision had to be made, for whatever reasons. 
 Yes, we are sad that Mike is leaving but glad that he can move ahead with his amazing life. While his music will truly be missed in Armenia, there’s bound to be music wherever Mike goes in the world. We’ll all be waiting and listening to hear it.          Good luck or Hajoghutyun!  We’ll miss you, Mike.
Judy and David 

Saturday, October 8, 2011

SNOW! on October 3-----that's ARMENIA!

       Dzyun , or snow----in Angleren/English----appeared today,  on the mountains which we see from our porch.   It was cloudy and gray when Dave and I left for our work this morning. I left later than he, since Monday is not a teaching day for me, but one in which I can do planning and lesson preparation without a real schedule. The snow was not visible when I left home and I was concerned that it would rain, andzrev, and never thought of snow!!  True enough,  the snow was in the highest mountains, not where we actually felt it.  However, never in the past 68 years has there been snow present in my town only 5 days after my birthday!!!     Is this a hint of what’s to come???    One of the daunting aspects of living in Armenia is the weather, particularly where Dave and I live.  Because of the mountains, beautiful as they are on a clear, sunny day, they influence the weather in a way which produces more moisture, days- on- end of dreariness, and low hanging clouds which engulf the mountain tops and hover over the ground below.  It is always a blessing to leave school and find the sun shining when the morning so often brings these cloudy conditions.
       So, snow has arrived in Armenia which means the snow boots I bought before leaving the U.S. will soon be unpacked.  It is cold enough that I’d really like to wear them now but prefer not to show all of my wimpy characteristics at once. Plus, snow is not actually on the ground yet in Dilijan.  The staff members at my school already check to see how many layers of clothing I have on when I arrive in the morning, after I have walked about 25 minutes from home.  Most of them tend to dress very nicely and would rather be cold than unstylish. They laugh at me!  But,  I can hardly believe the attire of some of the teachers who are dressed to easily attend a semi-formal event or certainly a dressy art show opening or symphonic concert in the U.S.  This is typical of Armenian women in general, but since I work with teachers,  that is where my impressions are focused.  There are the older faculty members who wear dressy suits, often adorned with sparkle and shine.  Without question, black and white in various combinations, describe the color range.   Then there are the younger teachers who wear beautiful clothes, again mostly in black and white. Even though they may only have a few basic pieces, these women are masters (or mistresses) of coordination as they combine a few skirts with a handful of tops and jewelry. Always appearing well dressed, they would be over- dressed in the scope of American teacher attire.   I, on the other hand, continue to be a conservative dresser both due to age, my own style and what I brought to Armenia, plus I DO NOT WANT TO BE COLD!  Knowing that fact, a young teacher brought me a wonderful pair of softly lined tights today and asked if I’d like to have them. She said the color was wrong for her.  I don’t care as long as they are warm, which they will be, and I’ll find something to wear them under as another layer to ward off the damp chilliness of this season.  I intend to maintain my own identity yet do try to respect the culture in this new country, therefore, as new items are purchased over the next 2 years, I’ll consider some of more modest  choices in Armenian women’s attire.

                                                  Tourism students and their birthday gifts                            

                                                                               So, winter is coming. I’m not sure I’m ready although Dave is.  In order not to think about it, I choose to reflect on my first birthday in Armenia. That is a heart-warming memory for sure.  The students in my classes surprised me with handmade Armenian gifts of a lovely ceramic pomegranate wine vessel which may double as a vase, along with an accompanying salt dish with its own tiny spoon.  Dave and I ate dinner out with our host family who had 2 members also with September birthdays. We shared that evening with our site mate, Kellianne, an amazing young volunteer also serving as an English teacher in Dilijan. Numerous Facebook greetings, e-mails from friends in the U.S. and well- wishes from my school staff, counterpart, and host family made the day quite special.  Though unexpected, a late September birthday and an early October snowfall paired quite well.  I hope to celebrate the birthday next year, but maybe the snow will be delayed until a more appropriate time on MY calendar! 
                                               Dave and I with Armenian host family