Bari galust hayastan! Welcome to Armenia!
The three bracelets pictured at the bottom of this article tell a story. Just as my wrist was encircled with the bracelets of Niger, it will now wear the lovely silver bracelet bearing the Armenian cross. Soon, Dave and I will be surrounded by and immersed into the lives of our new Armenian hosts. Only a few months ago we left our caring host family in Niger who encompassed us with love and concern, always looking out for us. Those bracelets are treasures, one from a former Peace Corps volunteer in Niger and one purchased in a Peace Corps shop carrying local women’s handiwork. The third is from Lisa, a dear friend in the US, who gave it to me to assure safety in our travels to Armenia. These bracelets signify our journey which started in Niger, Africa and is making a huge circle towards another part of the world, Armenia, Eastern Europe. Hopefully, the circle will be completed with full service and accomplishments of goals fostered by the Peace Corps.
Dave and I approach transitioning into another country knowing that it will require enormous time, intense intellectual involvement and strong emotional commitment to be successful. We have learned an incredible amount via social networking and personal communications from our former Peace Corps peers who are now in new villages and countries. They say in a nutshell, “ You cannot compare Niger or the Niger Peace Corps staff to any other.” They also say for us not to compare the volunteers in our first group with our group headed to Armenia, and not to expect to find Tondi, the superb Director of Training and father figure to all of us in Niger. We are advised not to jump to immediate conclusions about our country, our assignment or our training staff—or our work. These pieces of advice are passed on to us because these former volunteers with Peace Corps Niger say there is NO comparison between experiences which will be so very different in so many ways. We know we cannot dismiss the impact of hardcore Peace Corps Niger, nor will we forget it, or even want to. But…..it’s time to move on.
Departure for Armenia is less than a week away. We’ve studied the language as best we can and researched the country. We feel better prepared than prior to leaving for Niger yet still harbor some anxieties about what is ahead, mixed with excitement and curiosity. Thanks to Peace Corps volunteers already in Armenia who’ve answered endless questions via the A-19 er’s Facebook page, the preparation and packing process has been eased somewhat. Staging in Philadelphia comes next, then a connecting flight from New York to Vienna (I can taste the famous Sacher Tortes now!!!), concluded by arrival in Yerevan, Armenia, the country’s capital city. We are contemplating everything, wondering with wide open eyes just as a child does before Christmas. What will our training group be like? Where will we live? Will we know enough language to actually talk with our host family? What about the students in my English class, will they be able to relate to an older American teacher with minimal teaching experience but years of life experience? Will Dave’s role in business development really challenge him as well as provide a route for his adding to the advancement of a developing country? And is everything preceded by a toast with local vodka?
All the while, we hear from our friends from Niger, now in countries all over the world. We receive e-mails and phone calls biding us farewell and wishing us good luck. We will even have breakfast on June 1 with Michele, a Returned Peace Corps volunteer from Niger, who lives close enough to Philadelphia to come and see us off. We are excited as though standing on the precipice of a majestic mountain just waiting to step off into the unknown. Our hopes are high that this time we’ll be able to really contribute to what our new country needs. David and I will reach out to the people of Armenia and share our knowledge through teaching and small business development. We may learn more than our Armenian counterparts but that will further complete the circle and the bonds between people of two very different countries. This cultural exchange makes up 2 Peace Corps goals, and we share the belief that they are well worth the effort to achieve.
To Lisa who gave me the bracelet with the Armenian Cross, I say “Shnorhakalutyun” or thank you, and we will definitely travel safely.
Good-bye Niger. Judy and Dave