Friday, June 20, 2008

There will be, pictures

But unfortunately, not right now. I'm spending some free time today downloading some PortableApps utilities to my USB drive. PortableApps is just about the best invention ever for thumb drives, and especially for those of us who don't have our own regular internet access. It's nice to have all my customized bookmarks and settings back in Firefox.

I'm going to take some time today to actually describe my life over these past three weeks, so this will probably be a rather long post.

I think the first thing I have to talk about is my host family and my new home for the next couple months. My host family is quite small. I have a host mom, a host brother, who is 19, and a host sister, who is 17. My host dad is away working in Russia, which is quite common for Armenians. It's unlikely I'll ever actually meet him, as he usually only comes home in the winter. My host family is very intelligent. My host brother is an engineering student in Yerevan and my host sister is a linguistics student, also in Yerevan. Apparently, at one time my host mom was an "economist" (which I think meant accountant) at the old Soviet factory on the hill before it closed. I got quite lucky, in that my host sister speaks quite good English. In one way, however, I think that may be a bad thing, since it's hindering my learning process a bit because I'm not forced to constantly speak Armenian.

Regardless, I really like my host family. They're all extremely nice and very hospitable. I don't have experience in other developing countries, but hospitality is extremely important for Armenians. Even though I've been here three weeks, they still wait for me to start eating before they will eat; they regularly stop everything they're doing to sit down and talk to me; they won't let me help pick up the table after dinner (though I often insist and just start helping anyway). While it's all really nice and I greatly appreciate it, there are times when I feel it's a bit vexing. I'd rather they treat me as a part of the family, with attending responsibilities. But, I'm not really going to complain about it.

The house is nice. It's two stories, though the first story is primarily used as storage and for the bathing area (which is just a little sketchy). Note, that's not the bathroom, but the bathing area. It's in what is clearly the smallest room in the entire house, and consists of a part cement, part dirt floor. There's a tub, but there's also a couple buckets next to the tub with water, one of which I heat up and add cold water to, and then commence pouring it over myself to have a bath. The bathroom is a glorified hole in the ground. Yes, my bathroom is, in fact, an outhouse. But not, you know, an outhouse with a seat and all. It's four walls, a wooden floor with a hole, and a ceiling, all situated over a deep hole in the ground. I was a bit...put off, at first, but have since become quite used to the whole setup. I wasn't really expecting any better, and I actually don't mind either of these things.

The rest of the house is quite nice. The second floor is really the main floor. I have a room to myself, with a lock, that is really quite nice. There's a living room, small kitchen/dining room, my host brother's room, and my host mom/sister's room. It's really cozy, and the walls of the house are so thick that the temperature stays nice and cool, but not cold, regardless of the temperature outside.

My typical day consists of the following.

I wake up at 7:00 and do one of two things. I either hit snooze for a good hour or so, or go out and do some running and working out. Unfortunately, it's been more of the former than the latter. Every couple of days I bathe (because I am not willing to do the bucket bath thing every single day, and because it's not really necessary), I have breakfast, and then I'm off to language class at 9:00. We have 4.5 hours of language class (in small groups; by this time we've all been divided into surrounding villages. There are 7 other trainees in my village), so we get out at around 1:30. I go home, have lunch, and then spend some time--read, a lot of time--studying the language. At this point, I've basically got the alphabet down so I can read almost anything put in front of me. That doesn't, however, mean I can understand it all. In fact, there's a lot that I don't understand. I'm having an incredibly hard time with the verbal language, which is really the most important at this point. I usually have dinner with the family around 7:00, and then lately I've been watching the Eurocup with my host brother, one of my fellow trainees, and his host brother. That's been a ton of fun. On occasion I'll venture into Charentsevan to get some internet access, and one day of the week we have 8 hours of class in Charentsevan with all the rest of the volunteers, going over PC policy, cross-cultural issues, safety and security, and health. About 3 hours or so on one day a week we have technical training for our various jobs.

The process has been extremely exhausting at times. We have only one day a week off (Sunday), and even that is filled with a lot of the studying. As I mentioned, the verbal language is really coming very slowly for me. I still have a lot of trouble picking out individual words when people are talking around me. I relish the days that we don't have language training, just so I can get a break from it. It's really quite frustrating. It's almost exclusively frustrations with the language that makes me homesick at times. Not because I actually miss things like regular access to internet, NPR, comfort, and friends and family so greatly (though I do miss all of those), but because the language makes me so damned fed up sometimes. Luckily, writing in my journal and in this blog has been of enormous help in easing that homesickness.

My fellow volunteers are an incredible group of people. The depth of personalities and experiences contained within this group of (now) 47 is vast. We have many different ages represented, many different socio-economic backgrounds, educational levels, some different ethnic backgrounds, work experiences, and other categories. The one thing that we all seem to share is a very positive personality, which is, I think, really the most necessary trait of all. There's a sense that we're all here to do something good. Why the hell else would we leave the comforts of home, after all. I've made friendships here that I'm already quite certain will last well into the future, and of that I'm extremely grateful.

Tuesday, June 10, 2008

I arrive!

Barev! (Hello in Armenian--I'm sure you could have figured that out)

Actually, I arrived about a week ago. Internet access, however, is available only in the central town, and our Language and Cultural Facilitators (LCFs) haven't yet showed us how to use the bus system on our own.

Right now I'm blogging from Charentsavan, a town of about 40,000. It's about a 45 minute bus ride from Yerevan, the capital city. It's not, however, where I live. I actually won't be disclosing that particular information, for safety's sake.

So far, Armenia is a beautiful country. The mountains are beautiful, and the villages are full of trees. My host family has a wonderful place. The house is nice inside, though it's very blocky from the outside; the garden, however, is incredible. Cherry trees, apricot trees, pear trees, and apple trees are everywhere, as well as tons of vegetables.

I apologize for the shortness of this post, but I have little time today. I wanted to let you all know that I'm here, I'm safe, and I'm having a great time.