Tuesday, July 30, 2013

Beautiful in Armenia and in America

This is a late  post which should have been read 6 weeks ago,  however, as I am now traveling after completing Peace Corps service, I realized I had not posted this story.  It is important to me because it points out the desires and struggles endured by persons in other countries who want to come to our United States.  See what you think and I'd love to hear your comments.  Living out of the US definitely changes one's perspective on many topics and this is probably one of the more controversial ones-----immigration.   I apologize for the length, maybe just skim this entry!!!

        Beautiful (meaning of my friend’s name in English) has been trying to go to the U. S. for 4 years.   In 2009, she met an Armenian businessman who was visiting our town and became friends with him. Without knowing any of the details, I do know that after 2 years of keeping in touch from California to Armenia, the couple married in 2011.  I have seen the official Armenian marriage certificate which Beautiful keeps along with many photos of the wedding and of the couple seeing the sights in Armenia.  During that time, Beautiful was avidly pursuing  a VISA to legally join her husband in California where he lives and owns a business.   “He is a very wealthy businessman in America”, Beautiful has told David and me numerous times.    “4 years, 4 years. I”ve been trying to go to America for 4 years.” This is the lament which Beautiful verbalized the first day we met her in our neighborhood.   From that time on, we’ve heard each step of the saga----the trips to the U. S. Embasssy where Beautiful’s  request for a VISA was repeatedly denied, phone calls to her husband in CA trying to get help with the process,  letters from the VISA Department in Washington, more trips to the Embassy with the same result------“No, you are a good woman but no VISA for you,”  is what Beautiful was told at one time in 2012.  
     Then one day, Beautiful appeared at our door, breathless, excited and waving a letter in her hand. The letter was from the VISA Department in Washington, D. C. and she wanted me to read it and call the phone number to get more information about her application.    David and I both read the letter and noted that the date was February , 2012 ----a year ago.  When we asked Beautiful about this she replied that her “agent” in CA had received an e-mail saying that more information was needed to process the VISA request and this paper had the phone number for us to call. Beautiful does not speak fluent English and was seeking our help in hopes we’d be able to find out exactly what she needed to provide to move this lengthy process forward.     Fortunately , it was 4:30 pm in Armenia which meant it was 8:30 a.m. in Washington D. C.  Skeptically, I called the designated number and received a quick automated response. “If you speak Spanish, press #1” .  (Strange, I thought, that Spanish would be the first language identified for listening to information and then realized that probably more Spanish speaking persons than any other try to immigrate to the U. S.)  “If you speak English, press #2”.  I followed the prompt , listened to the brief message and pressed O for a customer service representative.   Amazingly, a well-spoken young man answered the line and after hearing what I was trying to do, gave me a detailed list of what Beautiful’s application lacked.   I thanked him profusely, in fact, had I been able to, I would have given him a hug for his help, for not being a robot and for being a “government worker” who acted as if he really wanted to help someone  ½ the way around the world from him. Beautiful, Dave, and I were thrilled that I actually was able to speak with a live person.
Beautiful proceeded to have her “agent” in CA submit the necessary information which she had not done originally.   Now, the ball was in her court, so to speak.   

       After several weeks, Beautiful came running to our door, again excited and out of breath.  “I must have my medical exam, and another  interview at the U. S. Embassy is June 14th,, she reported.  Beautiful was more than ecstatic since this was a true sign of progress in her search for the path leading to the U. S.  and life with her husband of 2 years. We congratulated her, “Shnorhavor”, as true Armenians do, and waited to hear the outcome.  

       Thoughts continued to weigh upon my mind, though.  How can this process have taken so long and be so complicated if this woman is really married and her husband is a person living in the U. S., successfully working, owning property, and paying U. S. income taxes. (I saw his W-2 ). Are David and I naïve enough not to consider the fact that maybe Beautiful and this man married just so she could go to the U. S.?? We may be naïve, but Beautiful is not the typical woman to leave her motherland, her family, a house given to her by her grandfather, her friends, her life-----to follow a random person to the U. S.  I’ll never believe that.  For whatever reason Beautiful wants to go to the U. S., she has paid her dues in time and effort trying to bring that reality about.  She is intelligent, has some kind of training in veterinary medicine so could possibly become gainfully employed, and has a person trying to help her reach her goal of immigration.  Her family in Armenia is supportive from what she says and they realize once Beautiful gets to the U. S., she probably will not be returning to Dilijan, Armenia very often.
       The week of this writing, Beautiful, was granted her VISA as an immigrant to the U. S. She is packed to go and has an airline ticket from Yerevan, Armenia to Los Angeles, CA. We spent several hours on-line trying to pay the $165 fee necessary to get her Green Card .The fee must be paid on-line, she has the money on her debit card but we could not navigate the complicated web-site to even reach the payment screen.  Calls to the US Ambassador to Armenia’s office where we were then directed to the Consulate’s office for help were not successful. There seemed to be a problem with the website which no one could correct.  Beautiful is now seeking help from an Armenian business person and translator to see what she can do.  Delaying payment of this fee until she reaches the U. S. is possible, however, it is not recommended.   Her husband in the U. S. could go to a public computer and try to make the payment although he would be dealing with the same website we found ineffective.  

       As persistent as Beautiful has been in this whole process, I feel certain she will accomplish what is needed. I certainly hope so because this is a life’s dream for Beautiful and in my opinion, she should get a chance to live it, knowing there will be positives and negatives to her decision to depart from Armenia where she was born and has lived for 44 years.    We will keep our fingers crossed.  I want you to know what challenges and hurdles are faced when someone is intent on coming to your country and mine.  There should be rules and qualifications for immigration, in my opinion, but not total frustrations and barriers to opportunities to better one’s situation. (again , my opinion) I will keep you up-dated on this story as it continues to unfold.

       Update a few days after her departure from Dilijan:   According to Beautiful’s Mother, her daughter reached the US without major difficulties and is happy at the present .   I did not hear from Beautiful personally but hope all is well for her in this new phase of her life.
Dave and I  are leaving a cafe  in Dilijan after saying good-bye to one of my  favorite students. Although we'll miss the people we love in Dilijan, it was much easier for us to leave and return to the US than for Beautiful to do it.   

Sunday, July 14, 2013

Armenian Coffee Klatch


I wrote this piece a couple of weeks ago…………………….
Living room in our Armenian apartment

It is quiet in the apartment now.  Several Armenian lady friends, neighbors who I’ve gotten to know in the past 2 years, came for coffee today.  They have now returned to their homes. I’ve had coffee in their kitchens and living rooms numerous times but never had them in my place all together.  It was fun, a bit awkward at times, but well worth the effort.  My Armenian/English dictionary was the other participant as we all used it to help with communication.  Even after 2 years, I need that dictionary in most group conversations------not really understanding what everyone is saying in the rapid normal pace of speech used by native Hayeren speakers.  Today was no exception.

Ruzan, my next door neighbor.  We communicated through our love of flowers, through smiles and hugs because neither of us knew the other one's language very well.
        Others were invited but had conflicts.   One significant conflict was experienced by my friend who has been trying to immigrate to the U. S. for over 4 years. She wants to go to the US because she is married to an Armenian American and wants to spend her life with him. Today, she had her VISA interview at the American Embassy with hopes of getting approval for immigration to the U. S.  Another neighbor had conflicts with the internet and communicating with her daughter in Russia so came later to have a cup of coffee with me after the others had left. She is my next-door neighbor and even with language barriers we’ve become friends, often discussing the flowers in each other’s garden or talking about the activities of her granddaughter who is avidly studying English

This was no huge event. I made several types of cookies and banana- nut bread which all of my Armenian friends have enjoyed in the past. We had coffee and fruit, and candy brought by one of them.  We chatted or rather, THEY chatted and I listened adding occasional comments.   It was not like a coffee klatch at home in America, but it was like being in Armenia, which is where I still live.  Here I am quieter and listen more whereas in the U.S. I am a talker, totally engaged in conversation.  That inability and lack of fluency in the Armenian language has been my greatest challenge and I felt it today. In spite of that, we were women of similar ages who were interested in each other on a surface level. We were neighbors and had become friends. This was our last such get-together before I leave and it was good.  The women were pleased because several of them had not been inside David and my apartment and I’m sure they were curious as to how we lived.   I was pleased because I was reciprocating for 2 years of hospitality offered me by them.  I was also pleased to again share some of what it is like to be an American, and I certainly learned more about the lives of these Armenian neighbors. 
Flowers in our neighborhood helped draw us together  and provide topics of conversation over coffee as we discuss gardening in America and in Armenia.

 It is a small world and when a relaxed, pleasant summer morning is spent sharing coffee with people from a different homeland, the realization of that fact becomes even more apparent.  Sargent Shriver, founder of the U. S. Peace Corps once said, “Peace requires the simple but powerful recognition that what we have in common as human beings is more important and crucial than what divides us.” To me, that is the essence of Peace Corps service and I felt it as I sipped my cup of coffee with these friends.

May they experience peace in their lives in Armenia after I resume life in the U. S. with that same blessing.        Judy

Thursday, July 11, 2013

Separation Anxiety and Nostalgia: Parting Emotions in Armenia

I’ve always loved the places where David and I lived.  Personally, separation anxiety always accompanies moving and settling in another place. Memphis and Germantown, TN. ,  Kure Beach and Wilmington, NC, and now Dilijan, Armenia are all special places to remember—places we’ve called home for varying lengths of time. As we prepare to leave Armenia, it is different. We will probably never return or see the Armenian people again. In the beginning, knowing that we’d only live here for 2 years created an urgency unlike the feelings of living in other places where time was unlimited. The need to make contacts, establish friendships and become a part of the life here was important, and all the while we knew our time was ticking away.  Now, the relationships formed with people we care about in Armenia must be kept alive through e-mail, Skype, snail mail and phone calls, not through visits one to another.
                Our friend and neighbor who made life joyful when she was visiting in our home. We shared a love of flowers and she is a great cook also. She speaks Armenian, Georgian, Russian and a bit of English.    The Armenian/English dictionary was our constant companion during conversations.


For me, sentimentality takes over as we have the ”last” meal with a family or attend the “last” wedding, khoravats, concert, or Peace Corps event. Writing the last grant (Dave) and teaching the last English class (Judy)  indicates that our close of service date is near.  Life in Armenia has not been easy but the challenges have been balanced by good times. Language issues, harsh weather, work difficulties, home sickness, travel limitations---are but bumps in the road of our overall experiences here.                                                                       

Now as we prepare to return to the U S., some of these previous irritations begin to lose their punch. “The weather wasn’t so bad, as long as we dressed warmly”, we now say. Or, “Riding the marschutni to Yerevan isn’t too uncomfortable and it’s much more economical”, we now think. Our language deficiencies have been the most daunting hurdles and merely confirm the fact that one must be reasonably fluent in a country’s language to be a productive Peace Corps volunteer. As we prepare to leave, I find myself thinking that the random people greeting me on the street seem friendlier and may be actually smiling. The mountains , now lush and green following early summer rains, are more inspiring. The wildflowers of countless varieties fill our eyes even more with their beautiful color and movement and cause us to question the worthiness of mowed lawns and uprooting of “weeds” in our former gardens. In Armenia , the flowers flourish in an environment of neglect where everything is gray, where trash litters the streets, and where abandoned buildings are allowed to collapse upon themselves without concern. The flowers are the bright spot, the color, the uplifting vision which helps to keep this world sane.

Now projects must be wrapped up, reports completed, and special good-byes shared. There is also the process of saying good-bye to our Peace Corps peers as we all begin to scatter around the world in pursuit of our next adventures. This experience occurred when we hastily left Niger, and to this day, we still hear from many of our fellow volunteers from Peace Corps Niger. We anticipate future reunions with some of these volunteers but probably not with our Armenian friends and colleagues.

Over 2 years of Peace Corps service in Armenia has provided opportunities to interact with people of a totally different culture though they possess the same human qualities, desires, concern and aspirations of our own culture. David and I see Peace Corps service in Armenia as vastly different from what we began in Niger. We believe our service in Niger would have been infinitely more productive due to the overwhelming need and engulfing poverty present in that African country.  We leave Armenia with feelings of accomplishment though much different from what we expected and on a much smaller scale. We can only hope that the 2 years of our lives spent here will result in improved lives of a few individuals whose paths we’ve crossed in Armenia. We know that neither we nor the Peace Corps can or want to change the entire world or even an entire population.  We would not trade our experiences in Armenia and Niger for anything. We return to the U. S. with our eyes opened wider by what we’ve experienced. May our altered perspective and clearer vision of how things really are in the world result in continued efforts on behalf of our fellow man.    Judy

                                            View of downtown Dilijan from Dave's office window