Tuesday, December 7, 2010

Holiday Season arrives...subtly.

Well Thanksgiving has come and gone and it still doesn't quite feel like the holidays here. Every year in the U.S., Christmas items go on sale earlier and earlier (or at least that is the small talk in grocery stores). Here in Sevan, there is one person at the market selling a limited amount of tinsel, small Christmas trees, and some "Dzmer Papik" (Santa Claus) items. I have a red ribbon hanging in my room and listen to Christmas carols when I get the chance, hoping that I feel some of the warmth that the Christmas season usually brings. Here, Christmas is celebrated on January 6th but the real excitement comes for New Year. I look forward to sharing with you all the Armenian traditions that I will experience here on December 31st.

My two site mates and a couch surfer prepared a Thanksgiving meal (Turkey-free) for my family. It was good food and good friendship. Below is a picture of my host mother and I on Thanksgiving. She is sneaking some bites of my Grandmother's Corn Pudding recipe before dinner.

Wednesday, November 10, 2010

A little taste...

One of my favorite dishes here is a "Vinaigrette Salad" which usually includes kidney beans, beets, herbs, onions, and whatever else the woman feels like throwing in! In this picture, you can see it accompanied with some homemade bread and a cup of tea...staples in my life here.

Monday, November 1, 2010

I'm Dreaming of a White...Halloween?!

This past week was Fall Break and I fully took advantage of my time off. Besides for visiting the capital, Yerevan, I have not had the chance (or funds) to travel around the country. Monday-Wednesday I visited friends in Martuni, a small town about an hour south of me. While some worked productively on a Sport Seminar, I caught up on movie watching, cards, and knitting.

Early Saturday morning I set out on an adventure to the South of Armenia…and an adventure it was! We took a four hour winding, taxi ride through orchards and beautiful mountainous terrain. About fifteen of us volunteers spent the night in a cave off of my friend Katie’s small village. Costume contest, scavenger hunt, and attempted fires ensued. The next morning when the bus driver refused to take the trip to the cave to pick us up, we were forced to walk uphill for an hour in a snow flurry! That’s right; Armenia had its first snow on October 31st. What a way to spend Halloween! After being used to the Sevan scenery for a few months now, this trip restored my faith that this is a beautiful place to live for a couple years and has potential for lots of adventures.

Tonight I will spend celebrating my brother’s last night in Armenia for 5-6 months. He leaves for Russia tomorrow morning and my father will soon follow. Then it is back to work for a few weeks. Ideas are flowing and I hope I can accomplish something at my work before winter comes in at full force.

Sunday, October 10, 2010

Fall-ing Into Routine

Barev dzez:

I am really starting to feel at home in my host family and I think the feeling is mutual. At first, I found it hard to go about my daily routine without a "You can't do that!" Now, I think my family is getting used to my silly American ways and I am more comfortable standing up for myself and telling them, "I am different, I am American."
The subject of moving out was brought up this week. They decided it would be better for me to wait until Spring or Summer to move out because of harsh winters. Unfortunately, it was my plan to move out as soon as Peace Corps allows in December. Also, my host mom mentioned that since her husband and son will be going off to work in Russia in the next couple weeks, that she would be too lonely if I left too. This should be a difficult obstacle to overcome. I want to be on good terms with my family so I can frequently visit but I am so excited to live on my own. I think it will be easier to meet people if I live more in town. I will have more neighbors and live by the teachers and students in my school. Plus, with winter quickly approaching, a 5 minute walk to school sounds much more enticing than the 20 minute walk I have now.
School life has also felt much more comfortable as I am starting to fall into routine. I only go 15-20 hours a week because it is mentally exhausting to listen, speak, and discipline in Armenian for too many hours in one day! I feel much more relaxed at school now and am starting to get to know some of the children. This week, my site mate and I are starting after school aerobic clubs for 7th grade girls (think Zumba or Jazzercise). We will have a club at her school on Tuesdays and at mine on Wednesdays. I think this will make my work experience so much better!
Although it may seem like my life here is falling into place, there are daily ups and downs, which of course is expected in these first months as a volunteer. It is not the lack of showers, uncomfortable beds, or poorly paved roads that ruin my shoes that are the difficult things. Missing the familiarities of home from Chicago to Cedar Falls and everything and everyone in between is the hard part.
Yes karotum em dzez:
(I miss you all.)

"Life is queer with its twists and turns,
As every one of us sometimes learns,
And many a fellow turns about
When he might have won had he stuck it out.
Don't give up though the pace seems slow -
You may succeed with another blow."
- Anonymous

Monday, September 13, 2010


Barev dzez! I cannot believe it's already been a month since my last blog post! I appologize for not being the most productive writer but procrastination seems to have followed me all the way to Armenia! To be honest, there has not been too much to update everyone about this month but I'll try to make this interesting...

September 1st is National Knowledge Day, also known as the first day of school every year here. The school day started out with the older girls singing to the anxious crowd of students and ended with a televised oath taken by the teachers. Unfortunately, I have no idea what I vowed to...maybe next year's 09/01 I'll understand what they are saying.

Since school has started, I have been awkwardly following around my two counterparts, a P.E. teacher and a Life Skills/Healthy Lifestyle's teacher. I have never been in a more consistent state of confusion and awkwardness in my entire life. The school schedule changes daily so I never know where I am going. They do not have a lunch period here and it is also considered rude to eat in front of other teachers. For those of you who know me, that is a huge problem...I love food...frequently. I have to find ways to sneak food and it's probably really creepy of me but I need my dose of energy to deal with those rowdy kids!

So five weeks have passed since all the A-18s moved to their permanent sites. This meant that all of us were allowed to leave our sites and travel in country. A few of us organized a little reunion in my town. We rented cabins on the lake which seemed like a great idea...until it rained continuously. Nevertheless, it was still a fun weekend and great to see all the other Americans. Over half of our group of 55 came.

This coming weekend, the health and environmental volunteers who work in schools have a conference with our counterparts. It will be good to bond a little with my Armenian counterpart and find out how we can work together in the coming 23 months.

*Chigitem: = I don't know.
This is the story of my life.

Friday, August 13, 2010

Settling in...

Barev everyone!

I have resided in my permanent site for one week now. I have established a routine of morning tea and a run with my site mate Kathryn. The run is excellent because we are becoming familiar with the town (and working away the bread calories). Yesterday, we stumbled across a tiny village connected to Sevan and also a brewery. Today, we ran to the beach. Some days I have spent at home reading and playing games with my 12 year old host sister and some I go to the main strip and try to meet new people. I think I really lucked out on a site. It is a 30 minute walk to the lake and the main street in town is lined with markets and shops. Yesterday, an Armenian said that tourists always declare Sevan has "a little touch of Europe." Today, I worked up the nerve to call my counterpart (work partner) and the conversation went as follows (in Armenian):

Maggie Jan, Are you good?

Me: Yes I am good, are you good?

Yes, I am good.

Me: Good, I am in Sevan now.

Good, what are you doing?

Me: Ahh..ummm…nothing. Are you good?

Yes I am good. Are you good?

Me: Good. Can we meet next week?

I don’t understand.

Me: When do you start work?

On the 19th.

Me: Ok I will call close to the 19th. Goodbye

Thanks for calling Maggie Jan.

Me: Thank you, goodbye

Successes of the week:
Met with an English/IT NGO
Met director of the Culture Building and saw their museum, dance studio, and theater
Found out about social services offered through the Mayor's office
Made bruscetta for the first time
Bought items to make bruscetta at the markets
Understood a joke in Armenian
Memorized 40 and counting Armenian words

Called my counterpart
...and pretty sure I don't smell after 6 days without a shower

Thursday, August 12, 2010

We did it!

August 5, 2010
I, Maggie ........
do solemnly affirm
that I will support and defend the constitution of the United States
against all enemies, foreign and domestic
that I take this obligation freely
without any mental reservation or purpose of evasion,
and that I will well and faithfully discharge my duties in the Peace Corps.

Tuesday, August 3, 2010

Looking Ahead

Today I pack my bags from the small village of Fantan and look ahead to the next two years of my life. We are officially done with Peace Corps training. The summer flew by! Six days of language classes a week, a sports/activity day for the village children, a cross-cultural 4th of July party, a few Armenian style Birthday parties, and two weeks of health practicum teaching later, we are (supposedly) ready to become Peace Corps Volunteers.

Tomorrow, we will be sworn in to the Peace Corps by the US Ambassador to Armenia. Then, we say goodbyes to our host family and friends. It is a strange feeling knowing I will be leaving 6 Americans from my current village behind, some of them have been a true support when things get rough. School starts the first week of September so until then I will be working hard at building relationships in my new town of Sevan and trying to learn all the Armenian words for "Sit down, be quiet, listen, don't cheat, etc."

"It is our attitude at the beginning of a difficult task which, more than anything else, will affect It's successful outcome."
William James

Monday, July 12, 2010

My Site Visit


This weekend I took a break from language classes, technical training, and cow stampedes to visit Sevan, Armenia. Come August, this will be my home for two years. If you have Google imaged Armenia, you have probably noticed one big lake, Lake Sevan. I will be living on the NW side of the lake. Supposedly it is one of the coldest places in Armenia (but also gorgeous). The town has a population of roughly 22,000 which I feel is more suited to me than a small village community. There will be two other Peace Corps volunteers living in my town.

I will work at the largest school in Sevan, a 20 minute walk from my home, team teaching the National Healthy Lifestyles curriculum (for 8th and 9th graders), a Life Skills class (not really sure what that is), and Physical Education. It is hard enough for me to seperate the Anahits from the Armiks so volunteering in a school with 750 students and 75 teachers should be interesting. My counterparts and school director had me in for coffee and seem really nice. If they learn to speak at my kindergarten Armenian level, then things might be perfect.

The family that I will be living with in Sevan (for at least the first 4 months) is completely different from my current village family. My host mother is Ukrainian and my father and brother will be working in Russia during the school year. I have a 25 year old sister who speaks English and an adorable 12 year old sister. I'm trading in farm animals for a potato farm (fine by me). The women of the family are great cooks. My host sister even mentioned getting spices in Yerevan so we can make some Mexican food together! I look forward to starting a semi-permanent life here soon.

Sunday, June 27, 2010

I Ain't Gonna Work On Maggie's Farm No More

Barev everyone!

[Kelsey] you would be pleased to know that the eight of us in my village have made ourselves an Armenian summer bucket list. I crossed off a few things last week.

1) Learn to milk a cow. I was so excited when my sister told me I could learn how to milk one. Then, I got up close and personal with the cow. Cows don't take showers here. It is so much harder than it looks too! I was so happy to have tried it but am thankful it is not one of my daily chores. Then, a few days later, my sister had me milk it again. Afterwards, I restrained the goats and sheep (they don't shower either) while she milked those.

2) Learn Armenian-style dance. Our LCST's (Language, Culture, and Society Trainers) took us to Yerevan, the capital, on Friday night. We gathered with a couple hundred other Armenians and learned tradition Armenian dance...which is awesome. We had so much fun! Afterwards, we went to the Republic Square and watched the "dancing fountains" (like at the Belagio in Vegas...ok, like a step down from the Belagio Fountain).

3) Learn how to make coffee. Ok, I am not a coffee fan at all. In fact, I am a fully devoted Iced Grande Soy Chai fan to the core. Unfortunately, coffee is all I got...and it wins points with locals. I learned how to make coffee here and must be pretty good at it because my host father requests me make his 10pm cup nightly now.

In addition to these experiences, I have started a morning mostly walk/sometimes run routine here. I head a little ways out of town and on the way back have the glorious view of snowy Mount Aragot. It is such a great daily reminder that I am lucky to be here. Our language teacher is quick to remind us that Mt Aragot is the tallest Mountain in the "Republic of Armenia" but not in all of Armenia :)

***Fun Fact: Armenians must have a recessive red head gene because everyone once in awhile we see a red head. We have one red head boy in our village and three of us are red headed so I am happy that we upped the ratio.

Monday, June 14, 2010

Barev! I had a fun and interesting weekend and so I thought I'd walk to the internet cafe to update everyone.

The World Cup began last week. It is probably the only thing I understand on Armenian television at this point. I watched some of that on Friday. I also went to a friend Alex's to watch some sheep sheering take place. I live in quite a different place these days.

On Saturday, a bunch of volunteers got together for kickball, soccer, and frisbee. Then, we went to watch some more 'football' at a cafe in Charentsevan to cool down. It was great to see other trainees that do not live in my village.

Yesterday was a family holiday in my village. The men would wake up early and slaughter a family sheep. I tried to tell my family the night before that I wanted to watch the slaughtering (what a great cultural experience). However, we had a huge language miscommunication. I was woken up in the morning and told to go. I put my skirt on and was accompanied by my little host cousin. Then, we started to run. So I ran in a skirt outside of town instead of seeing the animal slaughter....oh well.

Later in the day, we went to this old church up the mountain to light candles. My father is a taxi driver in the capital of Yerevan so we took his big van to the church. The ride was like a roller coaster (so much that a little girl got sick...not so pleasant). After the church, we went back to the house and were greeted by at least twenty family members. And then, we ate. I accidentally sat at the men's side of the table (breaking down gender norms one day at a time). This was funny because they tried to get me to toast with them and eat meat. They even looked up the word "attempt" in my dictionary....and so I did. That might have been a mistake because there was meat awaiting me at the breakfast table this morning. Luckily, I know two ways to say, "No."

I hope everyone is doing well. Please fill me in on life at home....just don't mention Jimmy John's, I might get jealous.

Thursday, June 10, 2010

Two weeks in Armenia!

I cannot believe how much I have done here since we arrived. I spent the first few days in hotel with 57 other trainees learning the basics to Peace Corps life and simple Armenian language. Last week, we moved in with our host families. I am in a small village of appx 300 people along with 7 other PC trainees. We go to language class from 9-1pm everyday and spend the rest of our day studying, eating, and....eating.

Although I miss home terribly, I am having such a great experience here! Every morning I am woken up by one of my farm animals (usually the featherless rooster). The scenery in Armenia is spectacular! Our village group went on a 6 hour hike this past weekend and ate lunch on the mountain peak (ok, it might have just been a large hill).

Culture shock comes in two forms for me:

A) the food. Vegetariansim seems to be unfamiliar here so that has presented some challenges. A regular meal for me consists of cucumbers, lavash (tortilla bread), cheese, and beans or potatoes.

B) gender roles. My feminist self is very intrigued by the new found domestic roles and conservative public front.

Well, I must go. We are exchanging dance moves with my friend's host sister! Thanks for all of your support! I look forward to taking more time and effort making this blog worth the read!

Tuesday, May 25, 2010

Nostalgia on the Night Before!


As I finish up pizza with the family, noises of my one year old nephew and ‘Everbody Loves Raymond’ fill the background. Pizza, near-by family, and my favorite television shows (coughLawandOrderSVUcough) are all things I KNOW I will yearn for in the coming two years. However, I am confident there will be exciting new comforts in my new home, Hayastan (or at least I keep repeating this to myself).

Of course, I am not all confident about my choice of clicking ‘SUBMIT’ on my application 1.5 years ago. Thankfully, to relieve some of my worries and answer the typical trainee questions, many current and returned Peace Corps Armenia volunteers have come out in masses on social networking sites to help out. I am so grateful to enter into the Peace Corps during such a technologically advanced age! I guess I really do need that 0 degree sleeping bag and my mystery novels to keep me company after my PST(pre-service training) completion.

Right now, I will spend the last couple hours with my family and probably stay up all night thinking about what is to come. I hope the future of this blog provides you with a look into Armenia as I experience it for myself. If you have any requests or questions about this blog, Armenia, or my personal experience serving as a Peace Corps volunteer, be sure to let me know.

Maggie, A-18

Monday, February 22, 2010

The Details

When do I leave?
I will leave on May 26, 2010 for staging (orientation) in Washington D.C. After a day or so, our group, the A-18s (Armenia, 18th group) will head over for our 27 month endeavor. The first 3 months are for language, culture, and technical training. After a Swearing-In Ceremony, I will serve as a volunteer for 24 months.

What will I do?
Besides struggling to speak Eastern Armenian and adapting to the culture shock, I will be a Health Extension volunteer. I will work in a school, clinic, or NGO educating Armenians about health issues (it's pretty vague at this point). This is my primary assignment. I will also pick up a secondary assignment of my choosing later on.

Where will I be?
ARMENIA! A former republic of the Soviet Union, Armenia is land-locked by Iran to the South, Turkey to the west, Georgia to it's North, and Azerbaijan to the East. From pictures, it looks beautiful! During training I will be in a village near the capital of Yerevan and after that I will move somewhere else in country.

I know I am going to miss all things American so please continue to look out for new posts and email or write me while I am away!