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, June 21, 2011

Notes from Gyumri

July 16, 2011  It's funny being in Armenia again because it doesn't seem as foreign as it used to. Perhaps it's because the streets and fashion look more western. Perhaps it's because it's my fourth time in this country. Or perhaps where I live (Glendale) is becoming more and more like Armenia. Although many of the superficial things I noticed in 2007 have changed, many cultural things linger for better or worse. For better is the sense of community I see among locals living in the same building or in the same neighborhood. For better is the hospitality shown to foreigners or family. For worse is the treatment of women, children, and the environment. For worse is the collective pessimism that remains a stumbling block on the path to a free, independent, and prosperous Armenia.  And then there are the bard trees; apparently I'm allergic to them. I haven't stopped sneezing, coughing, or blowing my nose since I got here. The incessant second-hand smoke and the dusty streets may also be playing a role. I don't mean to come off as a whiner, but I was literally ill for the entire duration of my trip in 2007, and I'm afraid of a similar repitition in 2011.  Actually, being here makes me wonder if I can actually live here. I tell my friends and family that I want to move to Armenia, but I seem to forget sometimes that I am an American. What I mean to say is that a move to Armenia would entail more than a change in location. It would entail sacrifices on almost every level (economic, political, cultural). I say "sacrifices" because, at the moment, I do not see any gains that can made through relocating to Armenia. The only thing that keeps me from abandoning the idea altogether is the psychological conditioning, one might even say brainwashing, I underwent in Armenia school and at home that has instilled in me a longing for my fatherland.   However, I remain hopeful that alongside those "sacrifices," I will discover gains. Big Gains."  July 19, 2011  "One of the volunteers here recently began his Armenian language classes. I asked him, "why are you taking Armenian classes, you speak Western Armenian just fine." He told me that the classes were conducted in Eastern Armenian and that he's taking the classes to expand his vocabulary. I laughed and said, "I'm trying to expand my Eastern Armenian vocabulary as well, that's why I'm taking a Russian language class."  All jokes aside, Russian is a hard language. I've studied English, Armenian, Turkish, and French, and Russian has sounds and rules that make it unlike any of the former languages. It has masculine and feminine. It has vowel harmony. It has pronunciations that I doubt I'll ever master. Never the less, if you are going to be in Armenia (or the region) it pays to know Russian. And why not? My classes only cost me about $4.50 per hour. That's at least 4 times cheaper than in the US.  Language isn't the only aspect of Armenian culture that's been influenced by Russia. Armenia's cuisine, its architecture, and its politics have all been permeated by a Russian, post-soviet culture. For example, the other day I walked to work where I passed billboards with Russian writing, I turned the corner and saw a Russian-style house made out of wood. At work, I spoke to my colleagues about corruption with the police department, the courts, and the universities. Apparently, you have to bribe your way into Armenia's best universities (bribery isn't uniquely post-soviet, but if you're in the post-soviet region, you're likely to come across some form of bribery). At my Depi Hayk forum I got to learn about how the mayor of Gyumri is super-rich and is buying up all the public spaces, like their central park, for what I would expect to be a bargain, to put it lightly. Finally, when I got home I got  to enjoy the borsh dinner that my host mom made me. True story."


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