A Fresh Start

Living in Armenia hasn’t always been the easiest time. A number of things still irk me despite my having lived here for over two years. I gag at the thought of pickled eggplant. I’ll never get used to the taste of khash. I’m white knuckled for the entirety of most cab rides due to the driver’s usual close calls with death while he multitasks smoking a cigarette and using two cell phones simultaneously. It’s still occasionally snows in Sevan, I’ve only just recently put away my scarves and thermal shirts. I miss my friends and family, the familiar food, etc.

Despite all of this, there are so many things I love about this country. The people in Sevan have been so welcoming right from the moment I moved in. My students always find a way to make me smile (despite their ridiculous antics). Armenian spring brings out the most cheerful moods and beautiful landscapes.

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Saryan Park is one of my favorite spots in Yerevan. Throughout most of the year painters sell their pieces to passing tourists and locals.

I’ve been living in Hayastan for two years now. My original agreement with the Peace Corps has my departure date set for this coming June, about a week after the school year ends. Everyone from my cohort has big plans for what they plan on doing in the immediate and longer term future. Most have interesting COS (close of service) trips where they stop in various countries on the way back home. Most will be travelling through the Balkans and Western Europe. Some will head in the opposite direction taking in East Asia. Afterwards many will move on into into grad schools or full time jobs a world away from the Caucasus.

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Armenia’s 24th Peace Corps Volunteer cohort, I’m going to miss these people

Originally, this was my plan too. When I first arrived here I figured I would serve for two years, return to Arizona as quickly as possible and start grad school this fall. But so many things have changed since then.

On paper 2016 doesn’t seem very long ago but if I use events to measure the passage of time, it feels like eons. It’s more accurate to recall the emotions I felt at different points of my service here when I think about how I’ve changed. I remember the surreal moment of stepping off the plane at Zvarnots Airport in the middle of the night with everyone from my cohort. Seeing the Armenian alphabet and hearing the language we’d been preparing for made this seemingly fictitious place abruptly become our concrete reality. Years later after PST, moving three times, a slew of summer camps, B2B and so many days of class, America has now faded into an almost fictitious place. Tatiks, lavash and ladas have become my norm while Chipotle and Kanye are more and more foreign each day. In so many ways, this place has gradually become home over the last few years in that more things are familiar than foreign.

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Compared to my previous site, I’m now so busy in Sevan. Between the two schools I teach at and Sevan Youth Club, there’s rarely a day when I’m not working on something. I love the students at both my schools, I have two counterparts who are nothing short of inspiring, and everyone at Bohem Teahouse has been so welcoming. Even once school ends, there are so many exciting projects I’m lucky enough to work on this summer!

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For these reasons, I’ve decided to stay in Armenia for yet another year. I’ll miss my friends, family and decent guacamole (I tried some canned guac from Russia the other day; it was as awful as it sounds). However, with the fresh start I’ve been given in this town full of great people I know I would regret leaving here after only a few months of work. The opportunity to make some differences is feasible in Sevan and I’m excited to really get the ball rolling (now that winter is vaguely over, even though it snowed yesterday).

So here’s to another year of service, friends, and adventure!

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As some of you may have seen, there have been a growing number of protests in Yerevan and cities throughout the country. I’m not sure I can adequately explain the reasoning behind what’s happening so I’ll post a link here.

My sleepy town hadn’t had any demonstrations until the 23rd. The day before Prime Minister Sargsyan had ordered the imprisonment of the protest’s leaders and threatened the public with government sanctioned violence similar to that of March 1st 2008 (ten people were killed during those demonstrations). The public became so outraged that every city and many villages had their own protests. When I was walking to school that morning, I remember thinking how odd it was I hadn’t seen any signs of demonstrations. Once I was closer to school I turned a corner and ran straight into a massive group of people chanting “Քայլ արա, մերժիր Սերժիմ” (Take a step, reject Serj). I’m not sure how I didn’t hear them but I was pretty surprised. Having seen news clips of protesters and policemen clashing in Yerevan I figured it’d be in my best interest to get out of their way as soon as possible. Eventually I turned down a side street and weaved through a small neighborhood to school. I later found out that this group was headed toward Sevan’s police station where the protest’s leader and parliament member Nikol Pashinyan was held (after his sudden arrest the day before).

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After getting some distance between myself and the protesters, I was able to get a one picture of the group.

That day many of my students were absent as they were with their parents at the protest. The ones who decided to come to school were preoccupied with making signs during class. At this point, I couldn’t imagine that neither the government nor the protesters would back down. The rallies got to the point of cramming over 100,000 people in Republic Square. Conscripts from the military were joining their friends and relatives in the streets in full uniform. Policemen in riot gear were using water cannons, tear gas and brandishing assault rifles (a very uncommon sight here, officers here usually carry only a baton).

As I was walking back from what I thought was going to be my last day at school, I saw on social media that Prime Minister Sargsyan had resigned. This caught everyone in the country by surprise. Everyone was in the streets cheering, dancing, singing and drinking. I had never seen such outward joy before.

As PCVs we are expected to remind anyone to who reads our posts that whatever we write reflects only our own opinion and not those of the Peace Corps or the U.S. government. I’m not one to post my political opinions online. The idea of a millennial blogging about current events can come off as cliché. However, its inspiring to see so many young people here taking a stand. It’s truly an honor to serve in a country full of people who unite and stand up against the threat of dictatorship. Many of my Armenian friends were in the thick of the demonstrations facing violence and arrest. Seeing their success in forcing regime change through peaceful protest is nothing short of inspiring. These past two weeks have been a shining example of civic activism I hope to take with me  back to Arizona. While this is only the first step for Armenians here, I’m sure that they’ll continue to bring about change.

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