Բարի առավոտ from beautiful Armenia! I’ve finally arrived to the Caucasus after months of waiting and preparing! After a brief orientation in Washington D.C. (where I finally met the great people I would be serving with), we left home and took a red eye to Paris. Even though I couldn’t sleep on the flight, it was still an ok experience (mostly because I got to watch the new Star Wars movie for a third time). Unfortunately, our layover in Paris only lasted a few hours so we didn’t have time to leave the airport and see any sights. The only real definitive thing I can say about Paris at this time is that they have some great airport cuisine! After another lengthy international flight, we finally landed in Yerevan at roughly 10:00PM local time on March 23. Despite our exhausted state we were beyond excited to be in the country we spent months dreaming about!
We collected our small mountain of luggage from baggage claim (imagine 39 people with four completely full bags), we breezed through customs and met some of the friendly Peace Corps staff who support the volunteers here. At this point in my post, I wish I could give you the most vivid description of Armenia as we drove through Yerevan and the country side in the dead of night. I wish I could properly convey to you how the ancient churches seemed to exist outside of time and rule over the surrounding landscape. I wish I could make you understand how the countryside is sheer proof of God’s love for humanity. Instead, I passed out for most of the trip and I only remember seeing the outside of a building labeled “Crazy Nightclub” in English.
Next we spent the next four days at a beautiful resort in Arzakan, a small town tucked in mountains north of Yerevan. Being surrounded by snowcapped mountains was a fantastic way for the Peace Corps to introduce us to the country. Since I’m terrible at describing things related to nature, I’ll include a few pictures of Arzakan instead. Needless to say, seeing snow on the ground was incredibly surreal to me (an Arizonan who four days before was wearing flip flops and cutoffs). Hearing such a wide variety of birds singing each morning coupled with the sun rising over the mountains made me feel like a Disney princess.
While these were our first few days in country, it felt like we were still back in the United States simply because we were sequestered in this remote area interacting with mostly other Americans. Of course there were Armenian staff members at our orientation too but they all spoke good enough English that I often forgot I was on the other side of the world.
After our brief orientation in Arzakan, our group of 39 volunteers was divided and moved to the small villages we would be living in for the next ten weeks. I was selected to live in Mrgavan (in Armenian it literally means fruit town) along with seven other American volunteers. The village is one of five which surround the larger town of Artashat (other volunteer clusters are living in those other towns.) Mrgavan has a population of about 2,000 people, all of whom are incredibly kind and welcoming. I’m told it’s pretty dry and hot here but so far the weather has been a bit chilly and it’s rained twice.
The greatest thing about this village is, obviously, the view we get of Mt. Ararat each day. For those who don’t know, Mt. Ararat is one of Armenia’s most treasured landmarks. This perpetually snowcapped 16,000+ ft volcano dominates the surrounding landscape with ease. Supposedly, this mountain is the same one that Noah’s Ark landed on after the flood in the Bible (Genesis 8:4). If you’re facebook friends with any of my fellow A24’s or you follow them on Instagram, you’ll notice each of us has posted a picture of this mountain at some point in the last few days.
We all live with different host families in our respective villages. I live with the Hakobyans, a family which coincidentally mirrors my own in that there are three children who are the same respective ages and genders as my siblings and I. They’re incredibly welcoming and kind, especially since they put up with my very broken Armenian and my enthusiasm with using the words eharkeh (“of course”) and absus (“what a pity”).
Those of us living in the same village are to take more than 40 hours of classes a week together. Each class attempts to teach us Armenian, Armenian culture and how to teach English. So far learning Armenian is easily the most difficult aspect. Each day is filled with new words and grammar rules that need to be memorized if you want to be understood here. While it’s certainly overwhelming, there has been improvement in our language abilities since we got here. Hopefully, 36 hours of language classes per week over the course of about two months will allow us to develop our Armenian quickly.
As some of you know, there has been some fighting taking place in Nagoro-Karabakh (a contested region between Azerbaijan and Armenia). Luckily, Mrgavan is far away from this area and I’m not in any danger. If any sort of violence were to come near us, we would be quickly withdrawn from the area (if not the country). Please keep the Armenians and myself in your prayers but don’t stress about me.