So, it turns out it takes a long time to get from Texas to Minnesota. Long enough that you can make a thirteen minute video. Making the video kind of gave me someone to talk to for 18 hours which makes me sound crazy, but actually the video helped pass the time. And this morning I put some scraps together. Here you go… just in case you want to watch someone talk to himself.
Archive for the ‘travel’ Category
I spent most of today hanging out with fourth graders, talking about writing, about how to make your world into words and why the heck that’s worth doing. Their teachers won a grant to provide each of them with an iPad to inspire even more connections to writing and creative thinking.
Here’s what I learned today:
-I need to travel more. That was the number one question: “Have you been to [country name here]?” China, Japan, Spain, and Rio (thanks Blue Sky Studios). There’s a lot of world to see, folks. Better keep moving.
-I am old, and fourth graders are much cooler than me. These kids are writing on iPads. They’re carrying around their school issued tablets and snapping photos of toads and classmates and school lunches. All the sudden I feel like donning my Sean Connery voice and distiguished swagger, muttering, “I prefer my pen and paper.” The kids are about to start blogging, and I figure there’s not going to be another voice quite like theirs anywhere in the world.
-Everyone’s got a story to tell. Sounds like a tag line for a Meg Ryan movie. But it’s true. I’ve been able to share the view from my 1×1 square of the world, and these kids and every kid in Texas, Mongolia, Somalia, Armenia, they’ve all got this incredible thing to say about what it’s like to be them. I can’t help but cheer for teachers who give whatever tools they can to get kids to speak up and share that bit of gold that’s right there inside them. And you can bet when they get their blog up, I’ll be reading.
This southern town, Goris, has been hiding the sun from me for days. I can hardly stand another day of all clouds. It’s a good thing I’m here with a best friend, or I’d shrivel right up. Still, I have loved late nights watching The West Wing with Zoe, and yesterday sitting with her at a cemetery up in the craggy hills of Old Goris, musing, talking to cows and watching lizards.
Honestly, maybe it’s the missing vitamin D, but I need to go north, get to some sun, get back to my North Armenia home. For the next few days I’ll have to settle for the capital, where I’ve got close-of-service meetings with PC staff. It’s not home, but I am looking forward to wearing tank tops, munching a veg burrito at Taco Maco, slurping limetta at the new gellato place off Northern Avenue, munching lebanachos at Lagonid, and enjoying a mojito my friend’s new bar, D.I.Y.
Zoe and I will take the switchbacks to Yerevan and stay with our friend, Tim, who is temporarily fostering two cats for a departing PCV who recently and suddenly been evicted.
Ah, yes, that’s what I need. Sun, good food, good friends, and some cats to cuddle when I get home at night.
In three days I’m flying back to the US for the first time since late May 2009. I know I said that there was nothing wrong with my knee, but that’s only because I was told there was nothing wrong with my knee. But after my MRI results were sent to PC Headquarters, the sleuths there found a rip in the old meniscus and have ordered me to Washington, D.C., for surgery. I found out only a couple of days ago, and since then I’ve pretty much been walking in circles mumbling, “oh lord oh jesus”, while ideas of what I should be doing fly around me like falling cards.
No matter. Surgery’s a comin’. No helping that. But you know what else is comin’:
Because I’m an expat plus I tend to have more cravings that a pregnant lady (see list recorded in my journal since I arrived). I am going to eat so many, many good things. Like donut holes. And tamales (tell me they have those in D.C.). And I’m going to order pizza!
And if that wasn’t enough, I have some amazing friends to visit. And if that weren’t enough some members of my family, upon hearing the news, immediately started formulating plans to come visit. And if that weren’t enough, another PCV in Armenia broke her leg in three places and thus will be traveling with me (sorry about the leg of course but happy for the company!). And if that weren’t enough THERE MAY BE A LADY GAGA CONCERT IN THE WORKS.
The whole whirlwind of it came over me last night around 3am, and I couldn’t sleep. Right now I’m in a tiny town in Northern Armenia. In a very unexpected short amount of time, I will be gawking at paved roads and super stocked supermarket shelves and new buildings and listening to all those English voices all around me. I’ll be hugging my Armenian friends and then screaming and hugging my American people.
I’m not sure I’m fully prepared. But best believe this is some pretty good story fodder. Stay tuned.
Shnor havor Amenor yev Surb Tsnude! Happy New Year!
It’s been a couple of weeks, I know. But I have a good excuse. I have had arguably the best collection of days yet in Armenia. They were not the typical, wonderful Peace Corps lot though they did include visits with Americans and Armenians and cross-cultural exchanges galore. But the idea of going over them is very very daunting. It’s definitely book worthy if I ever end up writing one of those.
But my Christmas was so unexpectedly wondeful I’ll just have to sum it up in a list (partly because I’m intimdated by the task of writing it, and partly because I need to get to my New Year’s party with my Armenian friends!)
So, take this list and imagine it as elements of the lit bit I’ll eventually write:
1. York and Margaux:
Margaux is a volunteer who works and lives down south. She and York met while completing a graduate study in education. York came to visit Marguax during his holiday break (he works as a middle school math teacher). Wanting him to see the country, Margaux brought him up north where they stayed in my house (note wigs which have been worn here. Thanks Kelly!). I was on my way south for Christmas, and so I was invited to travel with them. So it began…
2. Laughing. I’m not sure I’ve laughed that much in a very very very very very long time. We started writing down as much of a record as we could take between chuckles and guffaws, 19 pages of scribbles that will likely never make sense to any one other than the three of us.
Ex: “So, now that the meeting’s finished, get me an ice pack, and let’s go shopping.” Imagine the scenario as you will. Just know that after a few mornings, we started to complain that our abs literaly couldn’t take much more from our sense of humor.
3. Road trip. A car changes a lot. Many people who read this blog have cars, share cars, know of a life with a car. My own little Rodeo is sitting outside my parents’ house back home. But here I had only traveled by marshutni time tables and taxi drivers’ whims. After a frigid and cramped ride from Yerevan to my tiny cold town, York rented a car of his own. This would be his claim to fame among most PC volunteers he encountered who also were boggled by the idea of independent transport. The idea that we could just stop on the side of the road and take pictures or talk with shop owners or visit a friend: BAFFLING. Game-changing. The wind in my hair and US Pop airing from York’s iPod. A road trip in Armenia that included frantic photo shots out of the car windows, stops in the famed wine country of Vayot Dzor Marz, coffee with wine sellers, and car snacks of lavash and cheese and herbs and walnut rope. It was like our own Motorcycle Diaries or On the Road or a million other road trip fantasies.
4. Christmas. The road trip included a holiday which meant good food with good people. Margaux, York, and I landed in Kapan and teamed up with a few other people to make food for a group of around 30 people who all crammed into Margaux’s tiny apartment. It went down in typical Armenian style with an unexpected water cutoff (Margaux managed the whole preparation of the meal with less than an hour and a half of water), and with a kind visit from an Armenian neighbor who brought gifts to honor our American holiday (Christmas in Armenia is on January 6th). When we weren’t eating, we were playing games or watching some requisite Christmas movies (The Nightmare Before Christmas and Rent while making decorations; White Christmas while cooking up a storm; It’s a Wonderful Life during post-cooking nap).
That’s just a little bit of what really was some of the most incredible time I’ve spent in Armenia. I did end up missing a marshutni and therefore missing my last Christmas party with my World Vision friends in Stepanavan. I actually almost cried about that at the bus station. And the days weren’t without their bobbles. But I am absolutely certain that I have new relationships to be proud of and a year’s worth of experiences packed into a few days.
Thank you, York and Margaux, for a truly amazing trip. “My abs hurt from all the sorrow.”
I have returned from the big country to the tiny country with a million thoughts in mind.
This morning I was asked what the weather was like in Turkey. “So nice and sunny,” I said.
“It’s sunny here,” my friend replied.
“Yes,” I said, “but I think the sun is frozen.”
It’s cold, and upon returning to Armenia, I have one. A cold, that is. So, combining that and the fact that I am having trouble getting photos off my camera, I believe it will be a couple days before you see or read anything in the form of recap. *COUGH HACK and NOSE-BLOW*
However, here’s two things:
1. Our Little Drifters project was featured on BOOOOOOOM. You may know that I love this site, so getting featured for some work we’re doing here made my sickly little day.
2. Ok, I can’t totally hold back. Here’s a little Turkey teaser:
(Mom, don’t freak out.)
I found a friend on the internet. Well, Kelly and I found a friend on the internet, through Couch Surfing. I am, some would say, late on the trend, and while I prefer to stay with an established friend, or heck, even a friend-of-a-friend, the lure of free accomodation and the chance to make a Turkish aquaintance hooked me. And here I am, typing on his Sava roomate’s computer.
Last night, our new friend and his (now our other turkish) friend walked around Istanbul, hopped on rocks by the sea in a wealthy neighborhood where a drunk man’s whippy North Turkish traditional music lifted right out of a rigged up car stereo to mix with a teenager’s voice which betrayed his borrowed angst, bellowing”With Arms Wide Open” and beating his guitar for his friends.
Yesterday, we arrived in Istanbul after an overnight bus picked us up in Izmir. Kelly and I visited our friend Sarah there and got to know her fiance Osman. I found myself all day wishing she were with us, waddling through the crowds at the Grand Bazaar and stopping by a corner cafe for tea and coffee.
Izmir is a completely different culture full of sun and college kids and cafes. Istanbul is busier, grungier at first, but already I can tell the culture is more diverse, the cafes are better and more expensive, and the people we’ve met are kind and capable of great conversation.
I’ve been all over the map this trip. My talks in Izmir we’re full of catching up, and from my side that meant talking about the future, after Peace Corps which at this point looks like a million different things. I’ve got a dozen other countries on my radar. London, Barcelona, Boston, Austin, El Salvador, Honduras. Dominican Republic. Everything sounds like a blast.
Why then, when I close my eyes right now and dream, it’s of a house on a quiet street, movie nights with friends, lazy walks through a grocery store, sitting on the side yard with my parents, hugging people I’ve known for years.
I cannot seem to keep all this future whispers quiet. My mind races with elations and fears over choices. And, still, I should be careful not to miss a beat of my Armenian life.
And right now I should enjoy the Istanbul sun and time with new and old friends.
I should be asleep. I’ll be waking up tomorrow at a very early hour, one I’d call unholy except that what could be more holy than a reunion? I’m not even sure I can sleep because… wait for it…
… the reunion is starting in just a few hours.
See that friendship displayed above. That is pure, unadulterated love there, captured in digital form the last time Kelly, Sarah and I were together. That was Texas. This time we’re doing things Eurasia style.
First things first, this one…
… is landing in a matter of hours. HOURS. This friend who travelled with me through Europe, who taught me to knit, who didn’t know what spooning was that one time when we all slept in the parking lot downtown, who, when we pulled over on main street at midnight to dance to “Thriller”, climbed up on my spare tire to play the part of the menacing voice, who in a park in Berlin let us bury her in plate-size fallen leaves, THAT friend is going to be here with me in Armenia tomorrow.
We’re going to eat good food, dance to everything, and talk late into the night. We’re going to walk out to the ravine and soak up my small town in the fall.
Then we’re through some combination of vehicles, we’re going to be seeing this one…
… in Turkey. Yes, the country, not the bird. This one who, after meeting her for the first time told my hippy, peace-love-bean-burritos self that she was studying business to make money and I better be ok with that, but who only last month finished her Peace Corps service in Bulgaria. I used to hang out at her apartment with my roommate and hers. She’d come home from waitressing at that Mexican place, and I’d tease her about smelling all sexy and enchilada-like. We used to go to the Episcopal Church together, both of us taking comfort in the ritual of the service, and the ritual of eating Taco Bueno together afterward.
The three of us will be missing a lot of our friends, likely sharing those little bits we might know about who’s where, when’s their wedding, why she’s living in that city now. We’ll probably talk about Sarah’s engagement, Kelly’s cheffing, my Armenia-ing.
One of our last days together in Abilene we went to get snow cones…
I can say that each of us knew that with Sarah going off to Peace Corps we wouldn’t be together again very soon. There’d be worlds and borders and years between us.
But, y’all, we ARE going to be together. Any minute now.
Posted in panama, travel, writing, tagged beach, daily life, excitement, expectations, friends, isla taboga, island, life, living abroad, mood, panama, personal, photography, scrabble, taboga island, travel, travel writing, volunteering, writing on October 13, 2010 | Leave a Comment »
I happened upon a saved document yesterday, a bit about impressions after a week on Isla Taboga, an island off the coast of Panama City. I had gone with my friend Travis, and for a couple of weeks it was just the two of us waiting for our other two friends to arrive on the ferry. It was supposed to end up on my blog exactly two years ago, but because of lack of internet on the island it stayed on my hard drive. It’s a bit heady, but it took me back to some of those first emotions after arriving to an island that felt a world away. I thought I might share it now, where for me it stands out starkly against the Armenian winter that is fast approaching.
Expectations. Every time you imagine a place it is different than what you expected. Every time. The real always affords a more complete picture for the mind’s eye, the mind’s ear, its nose, tongue and fingertips. The mind’s map has streets; the mind’s census has a list of the mind’s names for men and women (the lady at the ‘China shop’, the umbrella guy, the men who drink by the park gate). You had some very sparse collection of these things before in your pre-arrival ideas. Now those are gone and replaced.
I have been here one week now, long enough to have the new set of perceptions, short enough to remember the old ones.
The pre-arrival ideas of a beach front house which let out onto a long sandy beach that reached towards the horizon, the back door that leads out onto a sandy terrace, the surroundings a tangle of green, thick enough to hide us from everything, they are all replaced. Now there is the real house. The house up the hill on a thin road, the pad locked gate with pink flowers running up chain link, the porch where we sit with our light dinner and watch the tuna boats at dusk turn on their crisp lights which glitter over the water in the straight, they have stepped in and given the tangible Taboga.
There are two rooms. I took the one with the double bed which I’m beginning to believe has tangible bugs in it tangibly biting red marks in my tangible skin. I will tangibly wash the sheets today, I think.
The kitchen is small and remarkably clean. The living area provides a place to sit and read and opposing padded wicker armchairs which are the perfect perch for the daily Scrabble game. Travis has yet to beat me, but his moment is coming. I am warding it of with brain-storming sessions on eight letter words. I am saving ‘xenolith’ for a special occasion. The radio has only two volumes: soft and take-the-wall-hangings-down-and-cover-your-ears-because-this-is-ungodly. So we use my computer when need to hear something besides our own voices. We have watched one movie so far.
Our neighbors sit out all weekend on the porch and get louder with greater quantities of dark wine and cerveza. Most of the people who live in the pueblo are aloof to our presence having seen us before, or at least someone very similar who came and left and will come again. We have met some really interesting people. A couple vacationing from Sacramento who go fishing and who invited us over last night to watch the presidential debate over tea and Snickers. A couple of Panamanian college guys in for the weekend from the city who let us sit on their porch and listen to their Beatles compilation. An American woman who has lived here for three years with her husband and her german shepherd.
Our first walk to the beach was very tangible. Sitting down to the high tide we surveyed a mix of coconuts, beer bottles and twisted plastic bits. That we were not removed far from civilization was evidenced by the debris and further confirmed by Aunt Jemima floating half full in the surf. The beach was frank, ‘We are what we are; you are here and will need to adjust your perceptions.’ Consider them adjusted.
On our second and now daily trips to the beach, Travis and I have been received by the beach with a more laid back tone. The reminders of potato chips, Coca-Cola, and most of all alcohol vary in frequency, but generally, with the first trashy message already taken, the beach let us off the hook and showed us instead the crabs, old boat hulls, sea shells and sun that we’d hoped for. Now we stay there for hours at a time, reading, dozing, walking, swimming, collecting. We watch the brown pelicans ride drafts, the ferry come in and go out, and the tide rise to our feet. The sun is out, and we have enjoyed a beach dotted with umbrellas and the same beach abandoned, leaving us floating in our own globe of island paradise.
These daily beach times are a change in my perception as well. I had hoped for more time in the city. I am American, after all, and how would I get along without a plan, without a schedule of productivity. My pre-arrival expectations are again put out. What I thought would be afternoons volunteering in city barrios is now all day at the beach. I am embarrassed really. Searching out the opportunities that were set in my mind has turned out like digging for a shoe I might have left out on the sand last night. I will dig, but likely, the tide has pulled it out into the sea leaving me to accept the loss and make the most of one shoe. Most days the sea offers clear sky, some nice shells and a laze on the sand. Some days the tide pulls up a used condom.
So I am taking what opportunities I can and waiting for tomorrow’s surf.
Posted in armenia, coffee, culture, home, landfamily, language learning, milestones, my town, office, peace corps volunteers, spring chicken, tradition, travel, village, yerevan, tagged armenia, cross-cultural experiences, cultural integration, culture, family, food, friends, home, life, living abroad, milestones, missing, mom, mothers, new friends, peace corps, peace corps volunteers, personal, travel, volunteering on September 21, 2010 | 13 Comments »
Most of the past week I think I’ll save for my novel/memoir/perpetually-put-off-piece-of-literature. That is both a artistic decision, and a way of avoiding the impossibility of putting into words this past week with me, Mom, and Armenia. But, despite the length, consider this a taste.
I saw her at first down the hallway, behind the glass partition, my mother looking much skinnier, a little lost, and washed over with anticipation. She saw me jumping up above the crowd, waving one arm and holding a bouquet of flowers in the other, this little collection of green, white and lavender, a message to my mom that despite the craziness of her first trip abroad, there is beauty, simplicity, joy and calm ahead.
Of course, directly after the bouquet presentation and tearful hugs came a walk through a dark, cement parking garage guided by a less-than-polished, self-proclaimed taxi driver. In between waves of joy and disbelief that she was actually here, our hands holding each others hands, my mother said, “This doesn’t feel safe. Are you sure we’re going to a taxi?”
“Yes, Mom, don’t worry. I’ve got you.” I was not 100% sure that this man was legitimate, but I was sure that I was so full of love right then that I would have crushed this little man into crumpled nothingness should he even try to threaten the joy. Plus my friend Chris was recording her arrival, walking behind us with a HD camcorder. If the taxi driver took us out, my mother and I would be recorded as innocents, full of life and love, and the taxi driver would be immortalized as a love-killing, evil monster.
We did however end up at the prearranged hostel room, both of us too excited not to walk around Yerevan, taking in the joy which the city wind whisked around us. We ate falafel at Habibi then walked to the Cafe Rich and drank cafe glazses. Our conversations circled around a few subjects but always came back to this:
Me: “Mom, I just can’t believe you’re right here. Right here. Flesh. Bones. Smile even. My mom!”
Mom: “I know. I know!”
There were, of course, updates on everyone from my sister’s boyfriend to a high school friend’s mom. I can still see her sitting right there in the outdoor cafe, across the table from me, holding a swirl of coffee and ice cream, framed on one side by a tv playing Lady Gaga’s “Poker Face” and on the other side by the artificial Swan Pond reflecting the street lights with Armenian lovers and families and friends circling it. I imagined their conversations, unique and mundane, all of us sharing the same air while my mom and I sat and enjoyed a dream of mine coming true.
I know this may feel dramatic. It’s a mom; it’s a visit. I can try to explain. Growing up, I thought everyone had the same life I had, going to little brick elementary schools, escaping to the toy aisle in Wal-Mart while my parents shopped, carrying cartoon-inspired lunchboxes, watching flat highways roll by through minivan windows on the way to our grandparents’ house. High school mission trips to Mexico broke the bubble, and all the sudden the world opened.
The young traveler’s epiphany: for every unique fingerprint there comes an entire unique life with as many variations to it as there are drops of water in the sea.
I told my mother I’d like to spend my first college summer abroad. She told me, “If you can find the money, go ahead.” She would later confide that she didn’t think I’d be able to, and was surprised and even a bit worried when I told her I’d spend my summer working for a church in Auckland, New Zealand.
I spent a collective year of my four in college living and traveling through other countries, full of wonder and joy at each new life I got to know and love. I changed; I saw the world.
It didn’t stop after college, with 5 months in Kolkata, 3 in Panama, and a year working in refugee resettlement in West Texas. And now I have lived 16 months in Armenia. What has changed, or what has intensified I should say, is my desire to share these experiences with family. Let’s bypass for now my hope to find someone who wants to build a family around this kind of world-chasing life. Since those first trips to Mexico I have wanted to visit these places with my mom, my dad, my sisters, and with my brother’s family.
It has torn at my soul, this feeling of being in love with people all over the world, being pulled to La Laguna, Mexico, missing my Indian family, and being so far away from my Texas loves. After a short collection of months, I’ll be a mess of collected memories, current tears, and full full full of joy and love for my Armenian home and the friends I cherish here.
And so, here for just this brief, bright week, my mother did what I’ve dreamed someone in my family would one day want to do and make it happen. My mother visited a distant country I love, experienced every place I love, met souls I’ve fallen in love with and fell in love with them herself.
We traveled by rickety marshutka to my old host family, that summer home of mine. Within the first five minutes, sitting in my family’s general store, neighbors gifted us with a plastic bag full of live crawfish. Later my mom cried giving a toast at the feast they set out for us, already full to the brim with the love they showed us. I watched her during our morning hike, wondering at the dry yellows and silvers and light blues rolling through the valley. I named the surrounding villages, speaking for her the unfamiliar sounds of a language she’d never heard.
She spent five days in my valley town. We feasted on khorovats, danced at her birthday party, hiked to my favorite spot in town. Every morning she’d shower and then head over to my land mom’s porch for a cup of Armenian coffee. She couldn’t use her low-voltage hair dryer here which led to the blessing of my land mom doing her hair. She fell in love with my friends at work, visiting their homes for so many cups of coffee and tastes of Armenian life. At night she came home to more coffee with the landfamily and finally, long talks with me in my little cottage, with cups of tea and desperate attempts to stay awake to treasure the fact that here we sat in Armenia together.
She even tried to learn some of the language, finally mastering shnorakalutsyun but leaving without mastering the french ‘r’ in deghts. I translated for her, feeling the blossom of new friendship open through me as she sat and talked with the clooker, with my coworkers, with my tiny little landsisters.
She brought a smorgasbord of gifts for me: Rosita’s refried beans, 80 ounces of Reese’s Peanut Butter cups, 9 pounds of brown suger, and my loving Aunt’s hand-tossed Puppy Chow. She filled my spice cabinet to overflowing and brought more Hanes socks and underwear to try to outlast the wear-and-tear of handwashing. And she brought so many gifts for my Armenian friends that she was wrapping the last handmade bit of jewelery around my friend Gayane’s wrist while we walked to our marshutka on the way out of town. A volunteer from our office had accompanied us and without a pre-planned gift, my mom dug into her make-up bag and pulled out eye-shadow, telling her that with such beautiful eyes she should could easily pull of some wild blue and shocking pink. Gayane, one of the Armenians who fell in love back, waved to my mom and me through the marshutka window as we rolled out of the parking lot and back to Yerevan.
The last two days were a mix of stress and the coming departure. My mom recalled a Kolkata story of mine, quoting my little Indian brother, who upon seeing the white curb lines that signaled the coming airport entrance, sat back in the bus seat next to me, sighed and said, “Oh, no.”
“What is it, Martin?” I asked, confused as to the change in mood right after a series of goofy-face pictures we’d taken.
He looked out the window again. “This is where the missing starts.”
We stressed each other out shopping in the Vernassage, her wanting to bring back some worthy gifts to our family in Texas, and me at the end of my ability to calmly translate Armenian to English and dollars to dram. But the moments I’ll remember most about that last day in Yerevan are my mom insisting that we sit with Zeena, our homestay host, while she told us about growing up in Soviet Armenia, about running from Turkey in 1915, about her life hosting Americans with her sister in their home, about her sister’s recent passing, about her brilliant father, about her own career working with the early, room-filling super computers.
And there my mother sat, soaking up all the good, radiating compassion, looking at that old, amazing soul with love and wonder.
At the airport we put off goodbye with two cups of coffee and an apple crumble. We sat on uncomfortable chairs, holding hands and talking about simple things like my sister’s percussion lessons and her making Armenian coffee for my dad. We hugged each other some twenty times before she finally walked through through to security. I watched her through the crack in the glass partition, and when she turned around to catch a glimpse of me, I jumped up above the glass and waved.