Tuesday, June 12, 2012

June 4th Arrivals to Armenia: the Smith's 2011......Secretary of State Hillary Clinton 2012

Dave and my Peace Corps training group in the Vienna airport
awaiting plane to Armenia, June 4, 2011
      Today, June 4, 2012, is the 1 year anniversary for Dave and my arrival into Armenia.  We will never forget that overcast, drizzly early morning landing at the Yerevan, Armenia airport this time last year.    Our exhausted, excited, and extremely nervous group of fellow trainees received a huge welcome from the Peace Corps Armenia staff,  then we were taken immediately to busses waiting to whisk us away to the foot of Mt. Ararat, and the ruins of the Zvartnots Temple. There we saw our first sunrise in our new country.
      How could we forget the somber duduk music playing in the background or the hot coffee and delicious Armenian pastries served to us as the sun rose and shone on that special place?    And as Dave wrote in an earlier blog post, we had a fellow trainee amongst us whose name was Noah.  Now how special is that?????
                                                        Today, June 4, 2012, was also special and impressive.  Dave and I were in attendance at the U. S. Embassy in Yerevan, Armenia to meet and greet Secretary of State Hillary Clinton who was making an official visit to this country.  Only 20 Peace Corps volunteers were allowed to participate. We were chosen through a random drawing of those who expressed interest in the event.   Although Secretary of State Clinton’s speech for us and Embassy staff and their families, was brief, it was exciting just to be a part of such an event with all of its protocol.  A few volunteers even shook hands with Mrs. Clinton.  We appreciate U. S. Ambassador John Heffern for including representatives from the Peace Corps staff and volunteers at this event.  It was also gratifying to be amongst Americans as a group and to feel a part of the efforts to promote peace in this part of the world, as mentioned in Secretary of State Clinton’s remarks.

      So June is here and new feelings arise.   After spending 4 days last week assisting with the orientation of a new group of Peace Corps trainees, I feel their enthusiasm, their apprehension, their eagerness to get started with work in Armenia.  We were right there in the same mind-set a year ago as we began language classes and moved into our host family homes.  So much time, yet so little, has passed and there’s so much to tell these fresh new faces----many young and recently out of college while others are seasoned and filled with valuable experiences to share in Armenia.  My hope is that this new group will take it slowly and not become overwhelmed with the new culture and life being quickly thrown in their direction.  I hope they will absorb as much as they can each day and then go to their new homes and families and reflect upon what they have chosen to do with their lives, to relax, and to avoid frustration and over-concern with perfection.  I want to tell the new trainees so much yet do not want to ruin the unique experience each of them will have based upon their own perceptions of Armenia, the people they meet, and the training they receive. (Of course, there are tips along the way, i. e., be prepared to eat more than you’ve ever eaten in your lives because Armenians are very hospitable and view food as the way to be kind to others; always have toilet tissue with you because many facilities do not provide it; and make your preferences known regarding drinking coffee and vodka early on---before patterns are established.

     June… the month for brides, Father’s Day, and warm sunshine in the U. S. But, in Armenia, it will be the month for taking a deep breath, planning future projects, and figuring out how to make the best use of the time Dave and I have left in this Peace Corps service.  Before we know it, another year will have passed and we will awaken from our dream of serving in the Peace Corps and wonder where the 27 months has gone. Although there have been challenges and there will be future rough spots, we would not trade the experiences we’ve had for anything and only hope to have positively impacted a few Armenians along the way.

       Secretary of State Clinton’s call for continued work towards a peaceful world is just part of what Peace Corps volunteers strive to do during their service.  May we all reach that goal in our small part of Armenia, and in our own personal worlds, day by day.        Judy

         Dear readers, I apologize for not posting  more photos with this article because they definitely would add to its meaning, however, I  have experienced  great difficulty in getting images to post properly. Even with the help of the  young and technically expert fellow Peace Corps volunteers, it is not happening in a timely way.  I wanted you to have these thoughts and will try to post  additional photos later.  Hope you enjoy the text, at least!   Thanks, Judy


Saturday, June 2, 2012

It's Just Armenia

For a moment today I forgot where I was. As I was riding the avtobus home from downtown Dilijan I glanced at a woman across the aisle and thought she was a colleague from work in Memphis, TN. When she turned her head I was abruptly slapped back into reality. She was not Michaelia but was, instead, a random bus rider with the same hair color and style but a woman I’d never seen before.
 What was I thinking??? I had just finished a session with my Armenian language tutor and then tutored a little boy in English myself.  Prior to that, I had spent one of those days at my college which seemed non-productive.  I was definitely in Armenia. Where else would a person see a huge pig and one of her babies gluttonously gobbling grass along the town’s sidewalk?  Does everyone see lonely cows slowly wandering in the street and horses led by frayed ropes passing by? Or what about the countless “watch dogs” that are attached to chains only long enough for them to pace in a small circle around their muddy ramshackled shelters, waiting to bark and snarl at the next passerby?                                      
 And even in this day of attention to environment there is litter everywhere, just as we saw in Niger, Africa.  Paper, plastic bags, cans, cigarette packages, cardboard boxes are all strewn along the streets and down the embankments leading to open drainage ditches. In fact, my English students had difficulty understanding the term “litter” and especially the words “litter bug”.    I am definitely in Armenia.   Here it is beginning to warm up and our mornings are now often clear and sunny. But true Armenians know to always carry an umbrella because brief rain showers are frequent and regular, especially in the month of May. I forgot my umbrella today.  Where is my head???
As I walk from the avtobus stop, up the steep hill to our street, a young boy is scurrying around a beautiful lilac bush, breaking off long branches covered with blooms.  Lilacs are beautiful this time of year. Their scent is noticed everywhere.  This particular large lilac bush is in someone’s yard, just close enough to the fence to be reached by the child.  I watch him as I get closer. He is careful to make the branches all the same length and discards to the ground any deteriorating leaves.  He looks around to see if anyone is watching and sees me approaching.   He looks away and begins to walk rapidly down the street.  I catch up with him and ask if the flowers are for his Mother, “Ha” he says (“yes”, in Armenian). He’s clutching the beautiful flowers tightly as if I’d snatch them away from him. He’s neatly dressed and his back pack has some kind of furry piece dangling off of it. A rabbit’s foot, maybe??? I do not have the language skills to say anything about his taking the flowers from someone else’s bush, but I wanted to.  Unfortunately, this is Armenia, and the practice is not unusual.  As the boy continued on towards his home I doubted if he even thought about what he’d done or if his Mother would wonder where he got the flowers.  At least he was thinking of his Mother.
  My mind is perturbed. It is another roller coaster ride in the day of a Peace Corps volunteer. However, a high had come earlier in today’s class where teenaged students responded positively after receiving dental care information and new toothbrushes, paste, and dental floss. Thoughtful friends and acquaintances and their dentists have sent me enough items to share with several hundred students and the idea is well received.  I owe a huge thanks to my retired nurse friends and others in Wilmington, NC, who are helping with this project. Together we are trying to make a difference in a few children’s lives. That is a high for sure.      
     I must think of each day with its inherent challenges and find a high to balance a low.  Today there’s another high---a cold Coca Cola waiting for me in our refrigerator. I do not allow myself to have sugary cokes very often. Today after teaching about dental health and demonstrating the effects of coke on a chicken bone, it seems a bit incongruous to have this treat.  This is Armenia though, and I’ll celebrate the ups as well as deal with the downs.  I’ll have the coke, brush my teeth, and hope the students remember to do the same!                                                                                                  Judy