Volume I Number 1: Welcome to Hayastan

Armenia A12 Peace Corps Volunteers
[Before there were easy to use blogs, there was email. Yes. Email. We communicated with our family and friends through email and had each email posted on our website within a week of sending them out. This is the first of many emails that we sent home. We hope you enjoy them.]

Volume I Number 1: June 20, 2004

Dear Family and Friends,

We are in Armenia and having quite a good time! The food is wonderful, the people are very friendly and the scenery is amazing. Since we left on June 3 from San Jose life has been quite a whirlwind.

We spent a few days in Philadelphia, PA getting to know our fellow Peace Corps trainees. There were meetings on the Peace Corps and what is expected of us. We left on June 6 and flew out of the US via New York, had a layover in Vienna Austria for 13 hours, and landed in Armenia on Tuesday June 8 at 4:45am. The whole group was exhausted from the trip.

Upon arrival in Armenia we were greeted by the local Peace Corps staff. We were driven to a historical site outside of Yerevan (the Armenian capital) The views from the site were breathtaking. The sun was rising, Mount Ararat was in the background, local musicians were playing traditional music, and the doughnuts were yummy. We wish we would have taken a picture or two but we were to tired to really care at the time. We were able to meet current volunteers, give introductions, and then leave to Dilijan.

Dilijan is where we are spending the next three months. Sometime at the end of August we will leave here and move to our permanent site for two years. The first few days in Dilijan were spent at a hotel (called a sanatorium) getting to know the rules and policies, cultural training, what the heck we are going to be doing the next few months, and other stuff. The meals were the same each time so that kind of got old but they were fresh and tasty. The countryside in the Dilijan area is breathtaking. Everything is green and the wildflowers are in full bloom. Trees everywhere and lots of open
space. At the end of the week we were introduced to our host family where we are now spending our time.

Dilijan Host Family
Our host family in Dilijan, Armenia. They are a wonderful family.

Our host family is wonderful. There are 6 in the family. Tigran is the father, Leana is the mother, Sateek (12 year old daughter), Leleet (11 year old daughter), Karin (8 year old boy), and Sateek the grandmother. They have been patient with us and our horrible Armenian vocabulary. We have quite a few laughs as we try to communicate. Little things like where we can find more toilet paper crack a few laughs.

They have a modest house up on a hillside. We have a huge garden, a cow, and some chickens. Out of respect Laura and I eat our meals in the dining room while the family either doesn’t eat or eats in the adjacent kitchen. The kitchen is the central meeting area. We shower about once every three days. Hot water is available on most mornings but never in the evening. Running water is only on in the morning. Electricity is usually 24 hours a day but shuts down in the afternoon every so often. Our toilet is bucket flush only which means we pour a bucket of water in the toilet to flush it. The toilet paper is put in the bucket. This is because the pipes would clog since there isn’t continuous running water. We get use to it. The mother and grandmother work work work all day long. You can find them milking the cow, cleaning out the chicken coup, making fresh bread, washing clothes, cleaning the house, taking care of the kids, entertaining guests, cooking, etc. They do a ton. Our host father is gone all day working or socializing. He is a truck driver for a logging company.

Our meals are served three times a day. We eat breakfast at 8am and usually have bread, cheese, jam, jelly, french toast, hard boiled eggs, pastries, eggs and sausage, and tea. We eat lunch (called dinner here) at 2pm after our language class. For lunch we have bread, cheese, salt, soup, fresh veggies from the garden like tomato, cucumber, herbs like dill and cilantro and onions. Dinner (called supper) is about 8pm and eat bread, cheese, salt, fresh veggies, potatoes (french fries), pasta stuff, mushrooms, crab salad, and dolmas. Our host family will eat supper at 10 or 11 at night and not be in bed until 1am or so. They are on a very different schedule than we are. Everything is very tasty. Bread and salt is served at every meal. It is very sacred and Armenians love it. You would be amazed at the many different varieties of bread that you can make. Surprisingly, we haven’t had to deal with the alcohol very much. We did one night of a little drinking. Laura had two shots of Armenian wine (very tasty) and was finished. I did a few shots of vodka and called it good. If you eat a lot of fatty foods while drinking it helps out a lot.

Our typical day consists of getting out of the house by 8:50am and at our local school at 9am. Everyday we are late because our host mother may not let Laura out of the house because her hair is wet or she needs to change clothes, or we can’t leave until our tea is finished or plates are cleared. It’s quite amusing. We have language class from9 until 1pm. Our language instructors are great and we seem to be picking up the language slowly but surely. We have language on Monday, Tuesday, Friday, and Saturday. After language class we walk home, eat lunch, and have the afternoon free to spend as we wish. Sometimes we walk to the center of Dilijan (about an hour and 15 minutes away), hang out with our site mates (other Peace Corps volunteers), study, sleep, read, or spend time with our host family. On Wednesday and Thursdays we take a bus (called a marshunti) to a school in Dilijan where all the Peace Corps volunteers get together. There are 52 of us and we are spread out in the area at different villages. Our village has 8 of us. So on these days we learn about the culture and history, we learn about our jobs that we will be doing while in Armenia, safety awareness, and take care of any medical needs. These days are from 9 to 6.

Communication is definitely not what it is in America. Our one and only telephone call was from the post office in Dilijan (again over an hour walk) and we were able to talk about 3 minutes each with our parents. Once minute was over a dollar. When we’re making only $2/day at this time, it costs quite a bit for us. We tried to call out from our homes but that didn’t work either (again, we aren’t sure why). The email system in Dilijan is very very very very slow! I can’t overemphasize it. We are in the town of Vanadzor where they have internet cafes. These are pretty good and we can access Hotmail (can’t do it in Dilijan for some reason). So it looks like we will email once every 2 or 3 or 4 weeks. A group of us took a bus to Vanadzor for the day. The drive is about an hour and a half to get here. The post office does deliver mail so that is our best bet at this point. Please send us mail, packages, whatever at the following address:

{Address deleted due to Peace Corps restrictions about posting locations of Peace Corps volunteers on the internet.}

Yes, we can receive letters and packages at this time. We received incorrect information about packages before leaving. Do not send packages through FedEx or any other carrier EXCEPT the US Postal Service. The reason is because we get taxed a very high percentage of the package’s value, plus they wouldn’t get delivered to Dilijan. From what we can tell the US Postal Service is the best route. We would really love to hear about any current (within the month or so) news. We are very much out of the loop.

We have attached pictures to this email. I hope that it works but if not then hopefully they will get on the website at some point. Life is really good. Yes we have had to make adjustments, the life that we once knew doesn’t really exist here, but we are enjoying ourselves. We look forward to hearing from you the next time we check email. Take care and be safe!

Love,

Brett and Laura

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