Armenian Volunteer Corps

Welcome to the Armenian Volunteer Corps (AVC) blog. Here our volunteers and alumni reflect on their experiences living and volunteering in Armenia. For more information about our programs, visit our website, follow us on Facebook or drop us an email: .

Saturday, August 07, 2010

38.576 Pictures a Day

Zach Dyer

We bring you this regularly scheduled interruption to my AVC blog posts to inform you that all my pictures from Armenia from June 3 to August 1 have been uploaded, and put into order and can all be found here. It averages out to just under 40 pictures a day for those 59 days. The next picture update most likely won't be until I come back to the States (in 6 days!) so enjoy these for now. The newly uploaded pictures start in "Hayastan2" and continue through "Hayastan3." And here's two:

Today's picture was taken at Meghvik ('little bee') where I taught English during my two months here. I suppose there are better pictures to illustrate the issue I'm about to explain, but I haven't had a chance to upload pictures in a while and I thought this was a nice picture in any case.

Coming to Armenia to volunteer after having only studied the language for one year prior, and with a different dialect than the one that's spoken in Armenia, I fully expected my stay here to be "a 10-week game of charades" as my mother said on the way to the airport. And while my Armenian has definitely improved, I'm nowhere close to where I would like to be in terms of fluency. Every day is a struggle for us non-speakers trying to get something done with coworkers who can't get their point across, or struggling to tell your host mother that you don't want ice cream tonight when you don't even know the word she uses for ice cream (and if you did, it would take a minute or two to put a logical sentence together).

Week after week I have watched fellow diasporans build strong relationships with local friends, host family members, and coworkers, while I simply have not had the opportunity to do because of the language barrier. Sure, after 10 weeks at the Healthy Centre we developed a pretty strong bond and saying goodbye today was hard for all of us, but I can't help but to be jealous of my coworker, Shant, who on his second day was able to engage one of our younger patients in a way I never could before.

In my third work place, the YMCA in my district, I teach first aid to a group of young people who all (for the most part) speak English. In that class, I, along with Kristene, a volunteer from LA, have successfully taught CPR, how to take and assess blood pressure and pulse, treatment of burns, among other topics. Even though I spend more time at the Healthy Centre and at Meghvik, I can tell that I get more across on a day to day basis at the YMCA where they mostly understand what I am saying.

Again and again I ask myself, "should I have just waited even a year to improve my language skills? Am I getting short-changed an experience of a lifetime because I am not better prepared to communicate with all the people around me I desperately want to be able to?" The answer, I think, lies in the fact that because communication is such a struggle, it takes more of an effort on both parties part to have meaningful conversations and to form lasting relationships. For those of us who don't already know Armenian, we can pretty immediately tell who is earnestly interested in helping us or even just talking to us, and who isn't. If someone on the marshutka takes the whole ride to figure out if you have any brothers or sisters, they're probably worth the conversation, they're actually interested in you. You know what is important to talk about at work, you know that if your mother doesn't try to communicate to you more than once that she'll take care of the dinner table, that it's probably safe to keep on cleaning up.

It's still a difficult question to answer, even on my last day of work, whether it is better to wait until you have the langage skills under your belt to come or not. But then again, why wait to come to Armenia in order to learn the language, when you can come to Armenia to learn the language. And now that I've gotten basic conversation down, there's not much left to prevent me from coming back again, and again, and again.

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