16 months in a foreign land

With the arrival of October and the cold weather I got so used to last winter, I am sitting in my house next to my electric heater. I would prefer to be starting my fire right about now, but wood has still not arrived in my village. The beginning of this month also marks the 16th month I have been living in this tiny village in a tiny country in the southern Caucasian mountains. Well, I’ve actually only been in this specific village for just over a year, but it sounded better the other way.

The start of my second year of Peace Corps service has included many of the same difficulties and pleasures of the first, with some new additions. I had the joy of moving from my house on short notice, though luckily I moved approximately 15-20 feet west of where I was before. With this move, I lost my outdoor water source, but gained a closet and a decent Soviet-era fold-down couch upon which I can sit and read much more comfortably than before. In my new yard, I also have the added bonus of being able to eat (and store?) virtually all of the apples and pears I could possibly desire. Because of the loss of my water source, I am now bringing all of my water from the center of the village. Laundry, dishes, cooking, and drinking all are being done with this water until my landlord (and principal) finally sets up the promised hose/sink outside. On a related note, I’m not sure whether I am proud or ashamed (or simply don’t care anymore) to say that my last shower in September was on the 8th. Subsequent bathing has been limited to the head, feet, and baby wipe-showers for the rest of my body.

I’ve been spending a fair amount of time at school with classes and after school clubs and tutoring. In all, I probably spend about five or six hours at school per day, which doesn’t sound like much for anyone working a full-time job in the states, but is actually pretty substantial for a Peace Corps volunteer!

My language skills have recovered from my summer travels, and I feel like I can communicate on a fairly fluent level. During our summer language exam, I received and Advance Low, but to be honest, this really doesn’t mean anything. A wide range of PCVs of various levels achieve this score, so it tells me little about how well I speak. If I were to assess myself, I would definitely say I am fully conversational – better than I ever was in Spanish. There are few times when I need to ask people to repeat something they say to me or ask what a particular word means, though it does still happen. I would still hesitate to call myself “fluent” because my language is so specific to my region and village life that I wouldn’t be able to function in any type of official setting. For example, I still have trouble listening to the news in Armenian because the topics and vocabulary used are simply not present in everyday conversations in my village. But because I can communicate with the people around me, it doesn’t really matter. None of my future plans require me to become fluent in the “standard” form of Armenian.

I’m looking forward to the winter because I have a reading list stacked up for the long and frigid days. A taste: another Dostoyevsky novel, Jack London, Vonnegut, Mikhail Bakunin and other anarchist literature, Cornel West, Philip Yancey, Upton Sinclair, Dickens, Robert Reich, and other lesser known works. I recently finished a history of Afghanistan, Carter’s book on Israel/Palestine, my second round of Bonhoeffer’s The Cost of Discipleship (fantastic), and near the end of my first full book in Spanish, Antes de Ser Libre.

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