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.


Mex said...

The difficulty in understanding others as they speak may not necessarily be an example of your learning curve as much as it may simply be how they speak over there.

I'm completely fluent in Spanish, but when I first arrived in Argentina, I had difficulty understanding some of the people there as Argentine Spanish can be quite different from Mexican Spanish and they also have this nice habit of mixing words together and making certain (important) letters silent.

Anonymous said...

I can relate. Once I get settled, I really need to start learning the Korean Language. Learning the Characters may be a bit tough, but I'll be happy enough to just get some verbal stuff down.

Thanks for keeping us informed!

Michele (Razzy) said...

I wondered if you'd be getting a crash course in "eastern plumbing". That was by far my biggest shock upon arriving at my host family's house in Iran. My mom still has the letter where I'm trying to diagram what the toilet looked like. Ours was indoor and covered with porcelain (with attached plumbing), but was still just a hole in the floor. No toilet paper (clogs the pipes). There was a hose/faucet on the wall to wash yourself. Everyone washes their hands upon exiting EVERY time over there.

Yeah, try not to use your host sister as a crutch. I was in Iran for 3 months and I managed to learn the alphabet and some phrases, but never really learned the language because my 3 host sisters all spoke English. My host brother and parents did not, but I could talk to my host father in French. I'm sure I would have learned more if none of them had spoken English. Those times where everyone was speaking in Farsi and no one bothered to translate would really tire me out. Many days ended with my having a bad headache.

Give it another month or so and you'll be less homesick.

Also, I know you have no time to surf RvB, so I thought I'd let you know that we just found out Bickle has also joined the Peace Corps and is going to West Africa to teach high school science.

Looking forward to your next entry.

tdmiracle said...

Hey Jhon Its a learning procces for them as well as you Right now your a guest in there home Given time it will work out Be persistent but polite about chores and things Maybe work in the garden and clean things from time to time
doing things not expected is greatly apreciated I was raised in the foot hills of applachian mountains We didnt have indoor plumping until I was 14 so i can relate to the bathroom thing Being poor and not having things does make a close family but not something I would want to go back to lol I do enjoy modern plumping and appliances My little garden is coming along nicely I have a few watermelons and tomatos coming in Its exciting and fun growing things for the first time Im realy enjoying working in my yard trans planting my trees and various flowers and things Have a long way to go but i have a 30 year morgage so theres no rush Pepole sometimes dont understand me because of my southern accent so maybe thats a barrier there as wellwith learning a different language Stay safe and hope to here from you again Tim in Tn.