I remember being scared to death of the howls emanating from the wolves during my first night Vaghatin. The sheer volume coming from them would sometimes make me feel surrounded despite the fact I was safely indoors. After a while, I came to appreciate their nightly ritual and their ownership of night in Syunik’s mountains. I’m not sure I’ll ever again enjoy “shoon choir practice” from my bedroom.
Vaghatin was a difficult place to live, it being a small and somewhat remote village. I learned the importance of making connections in one’s community (hint: befriending tatiks goes a long way). I learned to appreciate the small kindness that were given, like my students leaving school between classes to pick walnuts for me. I learned to be grateful for the quiet, still moments that were always plentiful in Vaghatin and in the surrounding hills. Most importantly, I learned to be persistent when it comes to making change in one’s surroundings.
I had a fair number of students who weren’t used to taking English seriously and never expected to use it outside of the classroom’s monotony. I am sure that some of those students still associate the subject with nothing but repetitive memorization exercises. However, I’m also sure a few of my students (especially the younger ones) still hold some curiosity about the world outside of Vaghatin and Syunik Marz. I hope that one day, they’ll still be goofy and inquisitive and they’ll take a few brave steps out of Syunik if not out of Armenia. I’ll always wonder whether or not I made any difference to any of those children. I’ll almost certainly never get an answer. Vaghatin changed me in more than a few ways. I sincerely hope that I’ve changed the way some people see the English language, Americans in general and the world as a whole.
When I returned from Arizona Peace Corps staff moved me north to the bustling town of Sevan. This community’s 20,000 residents enjoy living on the shores of Armenia’s biggest lake, Lake Sevan! While this makes it one of the country’s most visited tourist destinations every summer (drawing people from all over the country and Russia), it also makes it one of the coldest cities. The winds coming in from the lake ensure that this town is never without some sort of breeze. Fortunately, this winter hasn’t been nearly as frigid as last year’s (apparently it was one of the coldest in the last 20 years).
I am now living alone, without a host family, which comes with its own positives and negatives. I cook for myself which means I can live a full life without ever having pickled eggplant again! This also tragically means that I cook for myself, meaning I must suffer for my inability to cook. Hopefully, I’ll make progress past the complexities of spaghetti. In the meantime, I can shower as often as I want, crank my godsend of a gas heater as hot as I want and I can snore without disturbing anyone! I do miss coming home to an Armenian family. While it will be hard for me to ever look fondly back on khash (look it up), I know that I was very fortunate to have a group of kind people put up with this strange foreigner for as long as they did.
Sevan, being the active place that it is, has plenty of opportunities for me to find meaningful work. I keep myself very busy between the two schools I teach and organize clubs at. I’m also setting up a conversation club for local high school students (thier school doesn’t have a PCV of their own right now).
I am even more excited about the work I’m doing with Sevan Youth Club (SYC)! This NGO is full of the most welcoming people I’ve met in Hayastan. From the first moment I walked in everyone was so incredibly warm and friendly toward me. I spent Nor Tari at Bohem Teahouse (the small business that many of the NGO’s members work and meet at) and I was there until at least 4 am!
Right now I help organize and play at the weekly Saturday night open mic sessions. It’s definitely a far departure from my days playing in a screamo band or with my friends at St. Tim’s! Having a weekly creative outlet has been great in forcing me out of my comfort zone to sing and play on my own. Also I can play Wonderwall to my heart’s content and no one will make fun of me!
I’m working with them on expanding the SYC’s music capabilities by getting our hands on some music equipment. Right now we have a piano, an acoustic guitar and an accordion. It’s unfortunate that we only have these instruments since there are so many talented musicians and vocalists in Sevan. Gohar (SYC’s President) and I are putting together a crowdfunding campaign to raise the money needed to but a drum set, an electric guitar, a bass and some of the auxiliary equipment. This gear will give a better creative outlet to some of the artists here and it will allow us to put on more interesting events. Stay tuned to hear more about it here!
All of this work keeps me busy which can be exhausting sometimes. However, I know that the work I’m lucky enough to do here is the best kind. I can’t wait to really get the ball rolling both in my schools and at Sevan Youth Club!