Hard to believe we began our adventure amidst pouring rain and thunderstorms in the Midwest already a week ago. After a long journey filled with a predictable flight cancellation and delays once we got to hour twenty six we found ourselves being interviewed by our temporary travel partners/film crew in the Moscow airport. Looking forward to seeing that dreary eyed footage where we share our expectations for what we anticipate when in Yerevan (: Less than an hour upon our arrival in country we approach our new home with cameras in tow and are graciously welcomed by our host family with juice and desserts. Despite exhaustion are so happy to be met with such warmth, smiles, and laughter.
With only three days with the documentarians, Stephanie and Joe, we set off to pack a week of experiences into their brief stay. Saturday we shared in a very somber, fittingly drizzly hour with fellow volunteers reflecting and listening to readings at the Yerevan Genocide Memorial (Tsitnernakaberd). The Saturday excursion provided us the opportunity to meet many of our fellow Birthright and Armenian Volunteer Corps (AVC) volunteers. They are an extremely interesting and diverse group that come from all over the world. They currently represent at the very least England, the US, Argentina, France, Jordan, Lebanon, Syria, Australia, and we are sure we must be forgetting some. To hear readings recited in English being translated into Eastern Armenian so that Spanish and French speakers can follow along serves as a great snapshot of how worldly our group truly is.
Sunday we traveled with Stephanie and Joe, our host family (minus the birthday girl, Toma), Ani (our translator and friend) to visit some sights outside of Yerevan. In our many world travels it is hard for anything we have previously seen to compare to the absolute beauty, history, and cultural significance of Geghard Monastery. We also visited the Garni Temple which was built in the hard to wrap your mind around, First Century AD. Making the day all the more exceptional was that it was our host grandmother's (Tateek is Armenian for grandmother) first visit to these sights.
Photos 1-4: Geghard Monastery / Photos 5 & 6: Garni Temple
The day ending there would have been amazing enough but we came home to celebrate Toma's birthday with what seemed like an endless supply of delicious Armenian dishes. We dined with the always appreciative and flexible documentarians, several family members and friends. Countless cheers were shared for Toma, Tateek, and the American guests (including us) with wine and oghee (homemade 130 proof apricot vodka...our esophagi may still be burning). This wonderful night served as a very pleasant welcome and introduction into our Armenian family.
We started our language lesson classes on Tuesday. Our host family has also been extremely patient and helpful in teaching us. Although Annie wouldn't think so we have already learned so much since we arrived and can at least speak in basic (very basic) sentences.
We have both started at your job placements. Annie is working for the Women's Resource Center of Armenia. They are a very progressive feminist organization in an otherwise patriarchal country where she will quite possibly training teachers how to facilitate sexual health programming (likely to adult women as sexual health in schools is not currently taught). There are a variety of other projects that she will also be getting involved in to help support the center with some of their other programming.
John visited his first school Wednesday to observe a group. He will be co-teaching in Sardarapat. The 17 students have a varied level of English comprehensive but all understand most of what we are saying and have a great desire to learn English. They are all very happy to hear I have an Armenian mother! I will teach my first solo lesson today in Hatsik. In all he will be working at three schools (one day each per week) and then be planning/grading, etc in Yerevan two days a week.
You mothers reading this will be happy to know that we have the most adorable and caring host mother and host grandmother constantly caring/worrying/feeding/hugging us. We both feel very blessed to be with great organizations, a wonderful family, in Yerevan during such a historic time, and with a great view of Ararat from our room to boot.