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.
Posts Tagged ‘travel’
Last night I called my landfamily in Armenia. I haven’t in weeks. I knew it would be hard to keep in touch. They don’t have internet. They live in another hemisphere. They wake up when I go to sleep. But still, I saw them everyday for almost two years, and the morning I left made all of us cry until we just couldn’t anymore.
I called them sitting in the living room of my Texas home. I heard Serine’s voice, and there it was, the first cry since I landed in Texas over a month ago. They passed the phone around. I tried asking Meri and Greta about their upcoming first day of school. Greta will be starting kindergarten on the first. Neither of them could tell me much, passing the phone quickly on. Serine said they have been asking to talk to me everyday but that now they couldn’t get passed a few seconds on the phone without crying. She said they watch my house video everyday.
“We’re adding a room to your house,” she told me.
“Yes, on the side where we were growing potatoes. Now when you come you can bring your family.”
A month ago I wrote about how Armenia felt like a dream, like this place I had just inhabited but now seems so distant it’s almost unreal. But yesterday I talked with Serine, Artur, Meri, and Greta. For the first time since I left Armenia I felt this weight of loss, this deep love for a place that I know is just half a planet out of reach.
I miss everything. I miss lunches at World Vision. I miss the Clooker sweeping around my feet in the morning. I miss calling to my neighbors on my walk home. I miss the handshake of the vegetable man and the smell of the bakery. I miss pizza nights with the other American in town. I miss the mountain outside my window. I miss having a bowl of borsht in my landfamily’s kitchen. I miss long walks to the fortress outside of Stepanavan. I miss the clack of nardi stones on the worn, wooden game board. I even miss the comments and kindness from blog friends I made along the way.
I miss everything about my life there. I am taking this moment to recognize that I am really sad not to be there anymore. Next up: rejoicing that I was so lucky to live there at all.
After five days I still haven’t finished unpacking. Armenia feels like a dream I keep trying to sleep my way back to. The world won’t stop spinning long enough for me to get my bearings, but slowly I seem anyway to make my way through the day in this familiar and yet unfamiliar small, Texan hometown of mine.
Here are some of the first things I noticed:
-Hot. So hot. If in the near future you can’t find me, just look around for puddles.
-My sister is tall. She hid from me at the airport, then tapped me on the shoulder mid-other-brother hug. I turned around to see this beautiful, young woman standing where my little sister should have been. Still, goodness if she isn’t the same, bright star I left two years ago, same smile, same laugh. She was just passing by my room and walked in simply for another hug.
-The shiny, heavy silverware. It’s pretty how the end of forks and spoons tapers into leaves and roses, how the edges are rounded, how clearly they reflect my face upside-down. I do the dishes and handle them a little slowly just to look at them.
-The whirring of fans in the morning. In Armenia, my house’s only morning sounds were birds singing outside the window and my breathing. Now I hear the air conditioner and the fan in every occupied room.
-The colors. The dark green of trees, the Arizona Cypress, the Ashe Juniper. The crushed, stalky yellow of dried grass in yards too heat-blanched to give more than some spots of faint green. The blue of pool water. The comforting, deep brown of a cup of Armenian coffee.
-My Texan accent. It is coming back. It is coming back strong
-My Armenian accent. I keep un-aspirating my T’s and saying my vowels funny. This is based on reports from my mother who keeps asking me to repeat things I’m fairly certain I said in plain English (whatever that is).
-My need to kiss. I keep forgetting that a kiss on the cheek is not an American tradition.
-General awe. There are certain times I find myself looking all around with my eyes wide and my jaw open, thinking, “I’m sorry; am I here, like actually HERE, right now?”
Then there’s the new dog, the vertigo, the shiny gym equipment, the sound of tires on paved roads, etc., etc.
There will be more. I wish I had made a similar list in Armenia.
Posted in home, milestones, peace corps volunteers, tagged america, armenia, family, home, moving, peace corps, peace corps volunteers, personal, returned peace corps volunteers, travel on July 18, 2011 | 2 Comments »
After a week of tears and hugs and the kindest words said to me by the kindest friends, I have arrived in this tiny town in Texas.
I took three flights, two with one of my fellow Peace Corps adventurers, and then a third alone. I followed that up with a missed connection which resulted in a very disappointed family and a slumber party for me in the Atlanta airport with very friendly strangers. I finally arrived two mornings ago to the hugs you see above (thanks for the pic, Mom!) and a bag of Shipley’s donut holes.
There was a party that night with so many of my very favorite things like tostada fixings, chips and dip, pulled brisket sandwiches, watermelon, and fresh fruit and veg galore. It was quite the fatted calf. And goodness did I ever feel so welcomed in my life. Moments before the first guest arrived I threw up my maps of Armenia, Yerevan, Stepanavan, as well as pictures that so recently hung on my Stepanavan cottage wall, and then it was five hours of talking with old friends from church and down the street, new friends that have heard about Armenia through my mom and dad, and teenage friends of my sister, who like her, were just the tiniest little people before I left.
At church the next night I was asked to talk about Armenia and Stepanvan and World Vision and my dear friends that I carried here in my heart. And those kind Texas people asked all the right questions and before I knew it I’d already talked about Privolnoye and my World Vision crew and Meri and Greta and sights and sounds and tastes and dreams I have about returning to that place.
This morning I woke up in a room that my mom and tiniest sister spent hours preparing for me. The drawers are waiting to hold my newly machine washed clothes, and the walls are ready for pictures. My older sister and our oldest brother were both here for the party, hugging and smiling, refilling my glass and making sure there were helping me land, and when they left to go back to their houses I wanted to beg them to stay. We’re all here now, and my family is helping me land with ease. While I haven’t got all my emotions together I find myself not wanting them to leave my sight because believe it or not a whole world seemed to just blink out a few days ago, and my subconscious fears are wanting to scramble and hold on to everything I love.
And there it is, I just named the unnamed tension I feel in my chest. I just had a realization in this very moment that there Armenia went, and in a blink returned a world I love, and it just feels like the world is spinning faster than I remember it.
So happy my family is helping me adjust to this new whirling world. So much missing the rhythm of my life in Stepanvan.
Posted in armenia, culture, friends, holiday, landfamily, milestones, moving, my town, peace corps volunteers, tagged armenia, community, easter, easter in armenia, friends, herbs bread, into the wild, jingyalov hats, kids, leaving, living abroad, milestones, nardi, peace corps, peace corps armenia, peace corps volunteers, personal, photography, travel, volunteering on July 6, 2011 | 9 Comments »
I woke up in a panic this morning. Five days left before I leave Stepanavan. Two of those days will be spent doing a camp in a village near here, so in truth, we’re talking three short days here before I cram everything I own, and something things Peace Corps owns, into a taxi and ride to the capital.
Good news, I did not stay sick, and Easter-In-June was a wild success.
Bad news, I don’t have time for a good post. I have pictures to get printed, camp materials to gather, unseen waterfalls to find, and flesh and blood people I need to reach out and touch to remind myself that I’m still here. I’m having that behind-glass feeling again that makes me want to touch everything before it becomes yesterday’s.
I will say that the last few days have included a taco dinner, uncountable and quickly eaten batches of chocolate chip cookies, Easter celebrations, visiting friends, games, long talks, and sunsets that make me cry. What am I saying? Everything is making me cry. Including the crying ladies at the grocery store, the long speeches about how they will miss me and never forget me, and the Clooker sitting down at the desk across from me, then immediately getting up to kiss me, pressing her tears-wet cheek to mine.
I’ve got things to get to. However, I do need to say that you are one of the main reasons I am here right now. I would never have finished Peace Corps with having you to share it with. I came here to put down some words, show my family some photos, and I found friends to write to, people who let share my love of this place. You win. I owe you big time.
Thank you for sticking around. Thank you for forgiving my faults. And thank you for letting me know you’re around, seeing me through this.
I’m not sure if I’ll write in the next week, with all the moving across the planet; however, I assure you that I’ll be writing about readjusting to Texas, and then the move to someplace new, Stateside or otherwise.
In the meantime, here’s a few photos which I promise are worth checking out, if only to see my landfamily wearing rabbit ears. They are amazing. Oh, good grief. The tears again.
I will miss this place. A lot.
Posted in armenia, home, landfamily, milestones, peace corps volunteers, tagged armenia, family, life, peace corps, peace corps house, peace corps volunteers, stepanavan, travel on June 21, 2011 | 3 Comments »
This started as a tiny effort to show you guys my house here in Stepanavan. It became a multi-day ordeal as I waited for each cloudy day’s hour of sunlight to do another take. It became a THING, an event my landsisters and I did every afternoon for almost a week. They loved it, began to tell visitors to their house that they had to help me make a video, that they were my ‘astghiknere’, my little stars. (You can see Greta explaining this to her grandmother in the video.)
I have never felt more myself than I have in this little cottage. It has been a refuge from the cold winter. It has been my favorite reading spot. I have laid out my mattresses for many sleepovers on the cottage floor. I have reveled in morning light coming in through the windows, beckoning me to get out of bed, eat breakfast and read, and then dance my way through daily chores. Every inch of the place feels like me, more than any space ever has. I am the first person to ever live in this house, and right now, for three more weeks, it feels all mine.
(There are a lot of Peace Corps House videos up on Youtube. I like to peruse them and imagine my life around the world. Here’s a friend of mine and her Peace Corps House in Sevan, Armenia. Here’s another friend’s home in Honduras. Take a look around the vids; tell me which ones get you dreaming about life in a new place.)
I took took my language proficiency index exam in Armenian last week. I scored Advanced-Low, which I feel great about. Still, today is exactly one month until I leave my life in Stepanavan behind, and moments ago I was eating dinner with my co-workers, unable to follow the conversation. I might have, I bet, if I listened very closely. But I instead nodded, I smiled at appropriate times, and as I have done almost daily for two years, I let my mind drift. This drifting is familiar to anyone living around an unfamiliar language, and even after learning to speak a new tongue, the habit of drifting is hard to break.
Usually, my mind wanders among go-to drifting topics, pulls them out like worn folders from a file drawer. I think about relationships. I dream about my future life in the US. I wonder about the lives of my friends and family. I worry about work.
This time however, I kept my mind at the table and thought about my office friends. I thought about Davit’s charm, how he sets the table at ease with deep-voiced interjections and warm laugh. I watched the sibling like bickering between Alvart the Clooker and Arman who argued over the location of the tea break’s remaining snacks. As usual Hasmik jumped into the lunch time conversations with questions and prompts that seem to keep the conversation moving. Armen made sure everyone has good food on their plate before piling a big-boy sized portion onto his. And after another one of Edgar’s room-raising anecdotes set everyone chuckling, I realized that here is a family. Every single one of them has a beat in the rhythm of this place, and because I work here I do, too. They would have to tell you what part I play, but I know I play it because as soon as I walk in from being away I fit directly into the flow as if I never left.
As soon as I hear my name mentioned at the table I start listening again, and it’s Davit asking me something. I have no idea what he said, so I nod and say, “Mmhmm,” and see if the conversation will end or keep on and clue me in. But this time he knows.
“Inke chi haskanum,” he says. (“He doesn’t understand.”)
Somehow I am touched that he knows me well enough to know the difference between my understanding and my merely wanting to. Despite my trying to hide it, he knows the cues that say I haven’t followed a word.
“Asel em, ko oratsuitsi vra es jinjum orere minchev gnalu?” (“I said, ‘Are you marking off the days on your calendar until you leave?’”)
“Che, che.” I tell him I can’t do that because I don’t want to think about how soon the leaving starts.
“You don’t want to go?”
“I want to be home. I don’t want to leave. I want to live in both places at once.”
“Apres,” (“You should live”) he says, and with that common affirmation he leaves me to drift into a dream of a life on two sides of the world.
I wrote this in the spring of 2009 while I was living and working in Kolkata, India, a few months before leaving for Peace Corps. I reread it recently and wanted to share it here.
On a muggy, still, Tuesday morning, Mangal and I walked through a Kolkata slum called Boro Ghati. We met a woman; her image is still with me.
She sat in a chai stall off the side of the road. The little hut was all woven and collected. Its structure was a tight bunch of crude tethers and brittle strips of bamboo. The dinted tin tea pot, the blackened kettle, the warped spoon and weak cheese-clothe all seemed ‘found’. There was a thick glass jar with some unappealing biscuits. There was an uneven, lacquered bench, shiny and dark grey. The woman sat there, on the high side, her cracked feet hovering over a floor of dusty earth.
She wore a white-turned-dirt-grey sari slung about her shoulders and waist in such a tumbledown way that it betrayed the decreasing mobility of her arms, the fading dexterity of her fingers. The thin fabric was wrinkled like the thick raffia my mother used to stretch and glue to her country crafts in the ’90’s, and I wanted to reach out and touch it, hear it crinkle and feel the tiny folds against the hinges of my fingers. Perhaps her whole form might have collapse in my hands; I would very well be able to roll her up into a paper ball and toss her.
She was missing her front teeth, and her speech had a slurp to it that was detectable despite our differing mother-tongues. Her hair matched her raffia sari in color and fell oily and in dreads, down over her dark brown shoulders. She was the same dark, crust-of-bread color all over. With all her freckles she looked as if she’d gone soft like a banana.
She held a shot-glass size cup of dark, milky chai lightly between her knotty fingers.
Mangal asked her how she was doing, “Ap kyese hei?”
Her slurpy speech turned quickly, shot off like thread on a kicked spinning wheel.
Mangal would later tell me that she was desperately spooling her last few days for us; her brittle words told of ejection from her home by a family that did not want to feed and house a non-working adult. As merely an eater, she was too costly to support. Forget the ties that bind. There was only one here, daily bread, and there is not enough of that to go around.
She spoke as if what she had to say was a glass of water, tipped and running across the table, gathering at the edges, dripping in the air, then sinking in dusty ground. Without skewing her rhythm, she looked directly at me. Our eyes met. Such round, brown, wet eyes welling more and more until tears were finally running from them & hiding within the wrinkles of her face.
Then, her speech stopped as abruptly as it had started; she was spent. Left to her own devices and those of a coming death, she had simply come to this chai stall. There we found her. After she stopped talking, she lifted the glass of chai to her flappy lips and slurped the tea over her gums. The gesture seemed compulsive and desperate, her instincts’ attempt at comfort. It was as if her subconscious was saying to itself, ‘It’s not so bad. See? Tea!’
I looked at her sitting there, sipping tea, her deep brown eyes staring forward.
Mangal touched her shoulder, uttered something and walked on. I reached out and touched her shoulder as well; then I remembered touching the shoulder of my dying great aunt in Lousiana a couple weeks before I came to India. I remembered, after attending a Mass in Houston, dipping my fingers in holy water.
I walked after Mangal, rubbing my thumb across my fingertips.
Aaaaaaah, yes. There it is, a blazing sun slapping my shoulders. I’m in central Armenia for sure.
After sweatering up in cool Goris, the capital brought on some heat exhaustion and a massive headache which wiped me right out for a few hours. But after a cold shower and some gellato, CURED! I was then able to enjoy dusk by the cascade with the my best fulbright scholar (and otherwise) friends, Claire and Imogen, guzzling some sweet Laimon Fresh (a Claire and Brent discovery). Imogen had seized a couple donuts off a pile at the US Embassy’s Independence Day party, and after removing them from their crumpled napkins, we had a vertible street rat feast (re: beginning scenes from Aladdin, late night, scraps of food, feeling poor but free!). Then we went to check out my friend’s new bar, D.I.Y., which had such a creative vibe I immediately felt the need to write a poem, get a tattoo and splatter paint on the walls.
This morning, after a greeting from Tim’s cats, came a moment I’ve been waiting for since last September: breakfast at Gemini Cafe. The place serves crepes and coffee from a corner shop window, and patrons choose from some smart looking small tables sitting under trees up and down the sidewalk. Cool morning air, ham and cheese crepe, my friend Zoe, and a neighborhood feeling worthy of a scene in You’ve Got Mail. This is me taking it in.
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.