Thursday, June 16, 2011

Peace Corps/Armenia—the first two weeks


Well—after counting down the days till departure, it’s finally happened:  Armenia.  The one-day staging (orientation) in Philadelphia was enjoyable, allowing us to meet our cohort group, the A-19’s (the 19th group to work in Armenia). 

As would be expected, the actual process of getting there was somewhat of a blur, though it was fun strolling down K√§rtnerstrasse and eating schnitzel during our half-day stopover in Vienna.  The flight to Armenia took a little over three more hours and we arrived at 4:30 a.m.—dog-tired—to a well-organized reception from the Peace Corps/Armenia staff.

After loading in our bus and baggage truck, we were taken for an unexpected initiation of sorts—the majestic and historic site and ruins of Zvartnots Temple, a 7th-century cathedral (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Zvartnots_Cathedral).  With the plaintive melody/drone of a pair of dudeks (an Armenian double-reed instrument) in the background, we were introduced to various members of the instructional, technical, and support staff for Peace Corps/Armenia.

Ascending the steps, we were treated to an unforgettable spectacle: the sunrise over snow-capped Mt. Ararat.  Apart from the biblical relationship with Noah’s Ark, the peak is an imposing sight by any standard.  Looming nearby over the landscape of modern Turkey, it is still revered in Armenia as an important symbol of past history and national pride. (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Mount_Ararat)

We spent the next three days in a Soviet-era hotel/retreat, attending introductory lessons and preparing to meet our host families.  Finally, on June 7th, we packed up and moved to our training villages.  Our class of 41 trainees (ranging in age from 21 to early 70’s) is housed in five villages surrounding a nearby town in the north-central part of the country.  We currently have a class schedule that roughly approximates taking 12 university credit hours during a summer term.  It’s heavy on Armenian language training (3-4 hours/day), but also includes classes in cross-cultural experiences, security, I.T., and medical/ “resiliency” considerations, since we’re here for 27 months.  Additionally, we’re being trained in Peace Corps approaches to TEFL (English as a second language), while others in Community Business Development are studying approaches to business and NGO’s.

Summing up:
  • The training is tiring, but effective.
  • The other members of A-19 are an interesting, talented, and very pleasant group.
  • There is little doubt that I’ll use my musical background and skills as an asset during my work here.
  • Armenia is a beautiful and fascinating country.  I look forward to learning more in the ensuing weeks, months, and years.
I’ll try to keep this up-to-date, as time and circumstances permit.  Meanwhile, I wish each of you an enjoyable summer.