I’m still sorting through pictures and thoughts about Turkey. That post will come soon enough. However, upon landing in my cottage a couple of days ago, my thoughts have moved quickly off of what feels like a dream of water-pipes, Ikea, cheesy bread, and Turkish hipsters.
I’m home in Armenia, and after arriving here on Sunday, the first days of the week found me hosting Danelle, a new volunteer who arrived this summer and now works at a kindergarten and at a children’s NGO in a small town by the Georgian border. We spent some time comparing our experiences which led me to recall how I felt around this time about a year ago.
A year ago I was considering going home. After a couple of months the previous spring working for an organization in Kolkata slums, I came into Peace Corps not expecting to enjoy it. I originaly gave myself six months to either love it or leave it. This time last year I wasn’t sure if I was loving it and told a friend I would go to our All Volunteer conference and would make a decision afterward to stay or go.
Around this time last year, I took this picture:
I actually found it a couple of days ago when sifting through files, looking for something to submit for our volunteer photo contest, something for the category “I, Volunteer”, something that was supposed to shed light on ‘the volunteer experience’.
I was sick then, as I am now. I had a sore throat. I hadn’t slept through the night for days. I would wake up at night, the freezing air sitting heavy on my cottage without the threat of central heating. I’d turned on Friends. (I explained to a fellow volunteer, “I watch television shows so much more than movies here. I used to prefer a movie alone at home. But now I’m watching Friends because, as lame as it sounds, I like that fact that when I turn off my computer at night, I know I’m going to hear the same voices in my living room tomorrow.)
That night, without a flashlight to look in the mirror, I felt a flash of brilliance and whipped out my Canon for a shot at my tonsils. Despite being equipped with a Digital Macro setting, the Canon didn’t do the trick but instead gave me pink, cavernous blurs, a slobbery abyss to stare at and wonder if indeed I had strep or some kind of something growing on my stinging throat.
I was in a state of loneliness I had never reached before. My Armenian community was trying, but at the time I was still hoping for something akin to movie nights, late night taco runs, or long kitchen chats that, often without our full appreciation, keep our souls afloat. I was longing for social structures I understood. I was longing for a place that felt like a comfortable fit. I was longing for a friend that could take a look down my throat and tell me how sick I might be.
I have since, of course, come to feel quite at home here. I treasure my landfamily. On Kelly’s first night here my coworkers were holding a party for work birthdays in August, and during my toast to them, I could hardly hold back tears saying how proud I was to be able to introduce Kelly to my Armenian friends. I will likely be sitting in Texas this time next year wishing for a khorovats with friends and whispering to myself those Armenian phrases that have been stitched into my soul fabric. The tables have turned, and I know I’ll be in Texas wishing for some Armenianess, wishing, for example, that I could walk into a neighbor’s home on a whim and sit down to warm smiles, good conversation and a steaming cup of coffee.
I am so thankful that I can say, “I love it here.” But my time in this place has surely not been without its moments of profound loneliness, and as I begin to round the homes stretch of my term of service in Armenia, I think I’ll be hoping to find out how all of this, the bright days and dark moments, have shaped me into the person I will be in the years to come.