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: .

Tuesday, August 03, 2010

Picture a Day: Mountains Beyond Mountains

Zach Dyer

In the same vein as my hometown's Worcester Magazine 1001 words feature, I decided that for my AVC blog posts, I'd rather do more showing than telling. Unfortunately I don't feel I can be quite as succinct as the photographers over at WoMag, so 1300 or so "words" will have to do for each of these 5 posts that I'll use to wrap up my time as a volunteer in Armenia.

“The mountains,” I answered to the AVC coordinator's question about what surprised me about Armenia after my first weekend in the country. “They’re just completely different than anything I’ve ever seen. I expected you know, New England mountains, with trees,” I continued. And while coming into a country whose constitution is newer than the US constitution's latest amendment, a country in which I barely speak the language, a country in which power, gas, and water outages are daily occurrences, it was the mountains that struck me most.

Two months later, starting my last week of work, by and large it's still the mountains that take me by surprise in my daily life here, but in a different sense. If you've ever spent time in Armenia you know that to go almost anywhere you have to go up and down mountains—there simply isn't an "around" option because, climb any mountain and what you find on the other side is yet another green, treeless mountain. My time working here in a number of different organizations has found me in similar situations; to get anywhere, there are at least a couple mountains to get over.

My first project with the Gyumri Healthy Centre, the organization I spend the most time with, was to put together a first aid class for kids of the community. I chose to focus the class on first aid most useful in the summer and naturally included the topic of dehydration. The day I was presenting the lesson plans to the president of the Healthy Centre, I spent at least 30 minutes trying to communicate what dehydration is. While I've always been taught that water is a key component to health, it is widely believed here that water is bad for your heart, will give you high blood pressure, and will make you fat. So before I could suggest teaching children to stay hydrated, I had that mountain to climb. It wasn't until weeks later we were even sure about the Armenian word for dehydration.

Last week I was introduced to the director of ambulatory care in Gyumri and he allowed me to ride in the city's ambulances for the rest of my time here. I asked for a list of the medications they carried on their ambulances so I could make sure I was familiar with them before I actually went on a ride-along, and could keep up with what they were doing. As I was spending hours going through the list of medications they administer in the back of what are often station wagons or mini-vans, I came across the phrase "rarely used in the developed world due to high mortality rates" more often than I would have liked. When I brought this up to the nurse with whom I was speaking the next day she explained to me, the mortality rate is still lower than not giving it at all, and with such a small budget, it's all they can afford. Another mountain.

And while AVC brought me here to "come move mountains," I didn't quite realize that there would a couple to climb before I got to the less stationary ones. Luckily I don't mind hiking.

Zach will be blogging every day this week, his last week of service in Armenia.

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