Monday, February 26, 2007

More pictures

This is a group of us after a Peace Corps conference. It was fun. The hotel was fancy! thank you tax payers.


It’s funny how quickly my mood swings here in Armenia. I’ve spoken to many other Peace Corps Armenia volunteers and everyone else seems to concur. I wish there was a word that better represented what I mean more than “mood”. My mood is included in these swings but there other things like my outlook on life (probably similar) and my confidence in my decision to spend 2 years of my life as a “professional volunteer”. There may well be a better word, but due to my lack an English thesaurus here in Armenia, I’ll have to stick with what I’ve got.
There’s really no telling what will loose the pendulum of my mood and send it throttling downwards. Today strikes a good example. Indeed it was the impetus for this post. Started the day off with some Pilates (don’t tell my guy friends… I’m pretty sure they don’t read this thing), a coupla fried eggs and a nice dog-attack free walk to work. Work went well. I felt relatively productive, got some things done etc… Walked out of work on a high note, feelin’ good about my life. Next thing I know I go into buy something at a shop and a store keeper starts yelling something at me that I don’t understand. I come to understand that he doesn’t like Russians… and apparently I look enough like one to be the receptacle for his angst. Not a big deal, and I weather the storm and get my bread and head out. My language skills have advanced enough that I can now understand most of the pretty consistent heckling spewing from the mouths of young punk kids as I walked down the street. They’re everywhere. I should be used to it. Even the snowball that glanced off my back (thrown by the aforementioned) didn’t set me off.
The tough part for me is that, since coming to Armenia there is really no telling when my mood will change or what will set it off, but when it turns, it turns sharply. In this particular instance it was an old lady cutting in front of me in the line to buy potatoes. The fury came flooding in.
In a normal situation this old lady would merely be a sweet, hunch-backed granny, but my mood now had gravity mercilessly pulling it downwards . I didn’t just want to say something to her… I wanted to yell at this old thoughtless hag… Make her understand the injustice of her actions. This is always the first stage of my mood swing… The righting of the wrong.
The second stage is inevitably the unfounded self-righteous indignance. If my language had allowed it, I may well have grabbed this old lady and explained to her that I did not come from the other side of the world to be subjected to such nonsense as this… Did she have any idea of how much money I could be making in the states…I’m teaching your grandchildren to speak English and love democracy and the rule of law….and then on to ranting about how the very action of cutting in line is just a microcosm of her country’s problems and how dare she cut in front of me of all people. But again I was able to hold back the fury bubbling up inside me, and go to that quiet place in my head. My “happy place” as some of the Peace Corps’ more ridiculous training told me to refer to it as.
As I got my coupla of kilos of potatoes and exited the store the third stage set in. The questioning on my motivation for being here and my value to this country… The wondering if I didn’t just make a huge mistake by coming here in the first place…etc… But as I walked with my doldrums, just wanting to be back at my apartment with the Peace Corps Armenia equivalent of a quart of ice cream and a rented movie (a bottle of cheap Russian vodka and a gas heater) one of my friends saw me on the street and excitedly explained to me that she had just done well on an interview that I had helped coach her for. If she passes 1 more round then she’ll be on her way to the states on a full scholarship. It was so neat to see her excitement and anticipation of opportunity. It was one of the few tangible successes I have felt a part of in my time here.
I suppose that just as the pendulum of my mood can plunge so quickly downward it just as forcefully has the momentum of to hurtle back up again. I’m not sure if this is a good thing or a bad thing. Hell, maybe it’s what my cousins refer to as the “Seattle Syndrome” meaning when a lack of sunlight and warmth screws with you (especially for people from sunny warm climates.) Or maybe I’ve always possessed a latent bitterness and self-righteousness that has finally been loosed upon the unsuspecting inhabitants of Armenia. Whatever it is, this certainly is an emotional rollercoaster of an experience. I just hope I can hold back any public fits of vitriol until the sun and warmth of spring gets here.

Tuesday, February 13, 2007

I finally figured out how to post pictures

Thanks to a little conversation with a friend of mine I finally figured out how to post pictures (It was really quite easy.) So thank you to Sarah Zaenger. Check out her blog (linked on my page) if you're interested in another perspective of Peace Corps Armenia. So i have a real backlog of pictures to put up but for now I'll just throw up one because they take a long long long time to load. The first is Kelly and my family from Gyumri. A wonderful wonderful group of people. Cute kids too.

Saturday, February 10, 2007

tsoort e

The Peace Corps brought us to some resort area for a few days and let us stay in a nice hotel for a few days while we completed a conference. (Your tax dollars at work.) The hotel was heated, and well heated at that.
Waking up this morning in my own bed I’m impressed at how quickly one can forget how terrible it is waking up in a completely freezing cold room, under a mass of blankets that is more aptly counted in pounds rather than in number. I guess it only took a few days to once again be surprised at the strep like feeling in my throat as the last embers of heat from my heater die, and the manageable (relatively speaking) heat of the evenings in my house reach equilibrium with the freezing cold surroundings. Struggling through intakes and exhalations of air (which feels like pushing and pulling a cactus in and out of one’s throat) the other senses begin taking hold also. The piercing of the alarm clock is usually next. Not a big deal… until you realize that the motion of reaching to calm its angry exhortations entails not only an exposure of naked flesh to the outside climate, but more importantly a breach of that sanctuary of warmth (again relatively speaking) beneath the blankets that has been mercifully built up throughout the night. But alas it must be done. The motion inevitably does produce the undesirable outcome and gives me a taste of what’s in store when I finally do muster the vigor to the dash from my bed across the room to where I foolishly left my robe (now freezing cold I might add) the night before. The dash is a thing of beauty, as the human body shows itself an impressive thing while faced with adversity and impending death. The blind sliding of feet over the frozen concrete floor in search of slippers while rubbing furiously at ones upper body (to produce some modicum of heat) leading to a seamless grabbing and putting on of the robe (that first shock of freezing fabric is horrifying) and onwards towards the heater. Lighting the heater is an art in and of itself, but in these conditions I am usually blessed with a certain focus and steely-eyed determination that to the outside observer would appear to be panic, but is truly just the body working in concert with the mind doing all it can to facilitate survival. The outside observer would be justifiably confused upon seeing me with my shivering body wrapped around the heater in a bear hug, literally gripping it for dear life. It usually takes 20 minutes or so before the steel around the life preserving goodness being produced inside the heater starts to actually radiate itself to the outside world. It is an agonizing length of time, but man is it a sweet pay off. Appreciation for things of this nature is of a relative nature and with my desired body heat sitting well above the frigidity of the outside room this is a sweet moment in my morning. As my body takes on more heat and my robe becomes toasty and insulating I am able to reach up to start boiling a kettle of water for that thing that I previously felt was “the” life-sustaining necessity during my mornings in America. Coffee. I guess it’s kinda neat to think of how much more basic my life has become. There’s something calming about this greater degree of simplicity. I just wish there was a warmer way to achieve it.

PS... Paul Thorne-Keziah's mother (if you're still reading this blog) THANK YOU SO MUCH FOR THE BOOK!!! I didn't have a chance to pack it when I came and since its arrival in country have re-read it numerous times. It was very thoughtful of you.