A year ago this month, I applied and was accepted to the Peace Corps. Months of preparation followed while I jumped through hoops in the shape of countless legal and medical forms, each demanding to be filled out swiftly and perfectly. Once I arrived in Armenia I still had three months of training (PST) to get though before I could start my actual service. March, April and May were a blur of adjusting to a brand new culture, studying a very foreign language and figuring out how to survive on the other side of the world. Finally, in June, I was sworn in as an official Peace Corps Volunteer and I’ve been living at my permanent site for about two months.
The transition from training to serving was swift. Due to the colossal amount of information we had to absorb, every hour of every day was thoroughly planned during our PST. Free time was mostly reserved for homework and occasional leisure time. The day after our swearing in ceremony nearly 40 of us were plucked from our training villages and scattered across the country. We now live in communities which all differ strongly from one another.
Vaghatin or Վաղատին is a small rural village located in Syunik Marz, the southernmost region in Armenia. When I was first told my site, I frantically searched for more information about it. The only thing I could find online was a Wikipedia page that’s two sentences long. Asking people in the village I was training in (Mrgavan) didn’t yield much information. Some Armenians I asked described Syunik as remote and freezing, especially during the winter. Often snow and ice will make roads dangerous, if not impossible to travel on. I was given the impression that my site was the Armenian equivalent to The Wall from Game of Thrones or more simply Antarctica, come November. I’m sure you can imagine how a person from Arizona would feel about this.
The same day I was told where I was to teach for two years, I also was given a brief four page file describing my site. It said that the town is small and rural, and the closest city was called Sisian. It listed the names of three other Americans that lived here previously. Each of them were environmental volunteers (the last one had left in 2012), making me Vaghatin’s first American English teacher. My village is situated next to an ancient monastery overlooking the Vorotan River and is famous for its fruit and vegetables. This sparse information only piqued my interest.
I came into my village last month with very mixed feelings, however. Vaghatin lacks many comforts that I’m used to such as non-squat toilets, ATMs, restaurants and regular internet access. My counterpart (the person who I will teach English with this fall) does not live in my village making me the only English speaker here. The road from here to Sisian is difficult and sometimes dangerous to travel on which makes my friends farther away than I initially thought.
I’ve had to figure out the ins and outs of my village on my own. For instance when I wanted to catch the bus from Vaghatin to Sisian, I needed to ask in Armenian when and where this bus is and how much the fare is. I definitely took for granted how easy life was when I could speak the same language as everyone else around me. Or better yet, I could just look on google to get basically any information I need. After missing the bus on a few occasions, I finally found that this monstrosity we affectionately call “The Muppet Bus” runs once a day near my village at 10 AM and costs 350 dram to ride (about $0.25).
While problems like this are incredibly frustrating at the time, I know that these are problems I need to have. Being faced with the classic mysteries like “When is the Post Office Open?” or its former title, “Is the Post Office Ever Open?” teaches me to be more patient with myself and others. Also, being forced to converse with the residents of my village can only help my ability to speak Armenian.
I know the next two years won’t be easy. This will be more trying than when I was a campaign staffer for a congresswoman and more strenuous than when I was a gentil organisateur with Club Med. But I know it will also be far more rewarding than any of those jobs. I won’t be helping a politician advance their career; I won’t be ensuring the comfort of the top 1%. Here, I simply get to help people. I’m sure I sound overly optimistic and naive, but believe me when I tell you this is where I’m supposed to be.