I had heard about the challenges of working in a foreign culture before coming to Armenia. The Peace Corps provides us with numerous trainings in this regard. The language, the customs, the differing modes of work, etc… I came to Armenia fully steeled to face these challenges. But after living in Armenia for a while, I find that my biggest challenge regarding my daily work is how to function with ludicrous amounts of caffeine constantly coursing through my veins, making my head feel as if a pinball machine, a hundred balls simultaneously being played.
As outlined too many times in this blog, Armenians are a hospitable people. Sometimes this hospitality borders on militant. Armenians also love their coffee and the act of sitting over a cup and discussing work, life… pretty much anything. The confluence of these two things means that I drink a LOT of coffee.
Armenian coffee (also served in Turkey … but I would never blasphemously refer to it as such) is a thick, overly-concentrated brew served in tiny cups. It is not filtered, and thus the fine grounds sit in the bottom of the cup ensuring maximum caffeine intake. Most preparers of coffee here in Armenia infuse their coffee with huge amounts of sugar, increasing the impact of its consumption.
My daily routine usually consists of meeting with various people, community groups and different Non-Governmental Organizations. Every encounter inevitably begins with a cup of the aforementioned potent concoction. The first cup is a nice little pick-me up initially. Then the creeping starts… I can feel the first movements in my mind. At first it’s kinda nice. As the wheels in my mind start turning a bit faster I feel more of alive and aware, and I can still manage to engage in focused conversation. It’s usually on the second or third cup that it reaches the tipping point (haven’t read the book, but hopefully I’m using the word in proper context, probably not).
Upon consumption of the 3rd (certainly the 4th cup) It feels as though my eyeballs are pushing up against the top of my head in an attempt to fly right out of my skull. Everything I see takes on a certain haze. Not a fog so much, but it’s as if I can’t focus on any one thing for more than a millisecond, and thus everything is seen through a sort of super strobe-effect. I’m constantly trying to shake it, never with much success. By the fifth cup it’s nearly unbearable. My thoughts feel like palpable things violently swarming around my head that I cannot properly grasp at any one time. I find myself grasping in vain to try and wrangle my disparate ideas and trains of thought in the hope that I can give voice to something in a passably concise manner, inevitably failing.
I suppose these sorts of adverse conditions are just part of the job, but I would never have guessed that my days would have a sort of productivity arc to them, based mainly on my caffeine intake. I will admit that generally, meetings I have near the end of the day are scattered and usually much less productive. I arrange my schedule accordingly.
For any new Peace Corps Armenia volunteers who may happen upon this blog, I suggest that you start upping your Starbucks intake now in preparation. It will truly make you a more productive volunteer.
Other suggestions of tolerances to increase before disembarking upon the shores of Armenia… potatoes and vodka.