Sunday, December 21, 2008


It’s been a while since I made a post. For about two weeks I’ve been hoping to upload a video that I took from a hiking trip, but the internet connection at American Corner isn’t as good when it comes to uploading as it is for downloading so unfortunately the video will have to wait. Too bad for you, you’re missing out on Russian folk songs; I can feel your seething jealousy.
As I yelled out triumphantly a week and a half ago, dziun galees ey(snow is coming)! Winter has really set in, coating the ground in a nice bit of white powder. Most of it’s melted from the streets and sidewalks by now—except on the sidewalks of Tigran Metz, the main drag in town, where it’s made a nice sheet of ice that is rather dangerous to walk on if you’re not careful. I don’t know how all these women in their heels aren’t falling all over the place—but it still makes a nice cap on the mountains. Everything is really so much prettier when there’s snow on top of it. Of course, snow means frigid temperatures as well. Luckily, coming from Idaho and being an avid fan of winter hiking has prepared me for cold temperatures and snow, so I’m actually enjoying it. I have the feeling that some of my other PCV friends, on the other hand, are not happy in the least about it. Too bad for them; they’re missing out on just how glorious winter is.

My work has finally picked up, which makes me much happier, if much busier. I’ve got four different projects going on right now. First off, I’ve just started English clubs at Zangak, my primary organization. I know, you’re probably thinking “he’s been at site for four months now, and he’s just now starting to work with his primary organization?” And you’d be thinking rightly. I got a talking to from my program director about that, which is why I’ve started these clubs. Though I’m an Environmental Education volunteer, I’m starting out with English because that’s what the kids really want; and let’s be honest it’s probably what will really be of use to them. I still, however, don’t really like working with children, and unfortunately probably never will. I also really don’t much enjoy lesson planning, which tells me I’ll never be a school teacher.

My second project is that I’ve begun a theater/English club at the European Academy, which is a local institution of higher education. The kids in that club are anywhere from 16-19, and all are studying English. This is much better, because I don’t really have to plan lessons so much. I have found an American play for them to do, and we’ve started working on putting on a performance of it. Basically, this is learning English through reading and acting, helping them expand their vocabulary and get a feel for colloquial English.

My third project is a debate/English club, at the same Academy and with the same group of students; this I am really loving. I had so much fun planning my lesson for it, because I got to do a little bit of history teaching and a little bit of philosophy teaching, introducing them to Isocrates and Plato and Cicero. I really did love debate in my college days, so this is something I’ve got a passion for. My debate coach from college is helping me put together a curriculum for it, and I’ve got them split off into groups within the club that will eventually be debating each other. I slipped some EE stuff in there by giving them a topic on environmental law in Armenia that they’ll be working on creating cases for and debating.

My fourth project involves helping a girl from a nearby village create a career resource center. I met her one day at American Corner when she was working on an application for a grad school scholarship in the UK. Though she speaks English well, she asked me to help her review her essays and make suggestions about what kind of programs she should apply for. Well, after that we got to discussing what kinds of things I do here, and she broached the subject of doing something to help her village. I asked her what she thought her village needed, and after a few minutes of throwing things out there she finally settled on this career resource center. Basically, we are going to use a room in their House of Culture in the village and remodel it into a small library of English and Russian language books, a couple of computers with internet access, and a conference room. She and her friend want to eventually start having seminars on how to create a resume, how to be successful in an interview, how to research education and career opportunities online, computer training, and other things in that vein. She’s received permission from the village mayor to use the room, and now we’re looking for ways to fund it. I will being having a PC workshop in February called Project Design and Management (PDM), after which I’ll be able to apply for Small Project Assistance (SPA) grants. I may decide to go that route and so just wait for a couple months, or perhaps look at other avenues of funding right away.

So, I’ve finally got work. Because this has all just happened recently, I’m trying to kick my former laziness and start doing things more than a few hours beforehand. I’m thinking about cancelling my Armenian tutoring sessions to free up more time for work, because I’m doing a significant amount of homework as well as real work. I’ve got a really great Word file on my computer that is about 300 pages of Armenian language lessons, that includes almost everything. Ironically, it was my tutor who gave it to me, which may spell the end of her tutoring lessons. I just don’t have time for them anymore, and I’m not sure how much they’re helping me at this point.

I’m currently on the hunt for an apartment. The four months that we have to stay with out host families is up, and I want to move out ASAP. While I really like my host family, I’m just tired of being in a tiny little room with an uncomfortable bed, not cooking my own food, and never feeling like I can have alone time. I really like being on my own, and having a place to go back to where I can just shut myself off from everyone else. It’s been a bitch so far, however, to find a place; it seems like every time I find a place it’s already been taken. My friend Sergei has been working really hard to find me a place, and both of us have asked all our co-workers and friends about places, as well as checking the classifieds every week. But it’s tough. Hopefully I’ll be out soon. My site mate Davor has managed to get a really nice place because Sergei (who is his counterpart) has an uncle who just finished renovating an apartment, and gave it to Davor. So, until I find a place I’m spending a lot of time at Davor’s.

Lastly, I want to show you all some pictures that really struck me deep, and made me remember how desperate a situation some of the families are in whose children I’m working with at Zangak. My counterpart, my director at Zangak, and I all visited this family and brought them clothes and some food. These pictures don’t really do justice to how bad off these people are. For one thing, the flash on the camera was on, so the spaces are lighted. In actuality, this family has neither gas nor electricity, and subsequently the inside of their house is in a near constant state of darkness. This family has two little boys who most of the time don’t go to school, nor come to Zangak, as well as a little baby boy. I don’t really have anything profound or meaningful to say about this, and I think any comments I try to make on it wouldn’t do it justice, and would influence your thoughts about it. Really, I want you to make your own judgments and thoughts about the pictures, whatever they may be.

I hope you’re all enjoying your holidays, and hope you’re coping as well as you can in times of economic turmoil. Be well.


Michele (Razzy) said...

I can't even find words for those photos. I hope you find an apt. soon. Not being able to have "alone time" would drive me nuts. Good luck and happy holidays!

Anonymous said...

Thanks mate! This was a great update and the pictures are amazing. I'm very happy that you are doing some good out in the world. Please keep posting!!!!

Mex said...

To be honest, I really don't think the photos even need any comments of any sort. They pretty much speak for themselves.

They remind me of a neighborhood on the fringes of Mexico City. Hundreds of thousands of people live there (if not a full million) and yet the neighborhood is so poor, they can't even pave their roads. Most homes are what people could scrap together.

Going abroad really gives you perspective about life in the US and it would seem to me that you've gotten a good hit of that. Good on you!

Sedative said...

Damn. People are just as poor here in the Philippines too. But at least we don't have WINTER.

I'm starting to really appreciate what you guys are doing. Good luck and keep it up.

Anonymous said...

I got a grant from the federal government for $12,000 in financial aid, see how you can get one also at

Tabi said...

I am so proud of the work you are doing! How exciting! Of course I am particularly biased toward the debate project. Please let me know if there is anything I can help you with. My blog has quite a few speech and debate resources and I am always creating more as required.

To be honest, no one really likes lesson planning. Its the least fun part of being a school teacher, for sure.

On a personal note, a little debater will be entering the world in May as Richard and I are expecting!

Keep up the wonderful work and keep warm! My thoughts are with you!!

Ari said...


Actually, it IS a Stilton, but perhaps I exaggerated the strength? Dunno. I need to explore the other blues and see what I think.

Nice to see more snobs out there, though!