It’s raining and I’m packing to leave Armenia, my two years in the Peace Corps now finished. I’ve been feeling unsettled, finally remembering that I’m supposed to feel that way since I’m in a transition period – what some psychotherapists call “destructuring, transitioning, restructuring.” This sudden awareness strikes me like a finger-thump to the head. Duh.
Two days ago my Ijevan apartment was strewn with everything I’d pulled from drawers, shelves, bags and under my bed. This chaotic array is now organized into distinct piles, much of it in suitcases. I’m reintegrated, or perhaps my stuff is, my mind lagging behind with various mental movies playing scenes from 27 months of “This Armenian Life.” As I view this reel, I remind myself I’m destructuring the experience by pulling it apart, laying it all out, discarding some of it and repacking the rest in brain boxes for deep storage or near future access.
Soon I’ll transition to four months in the U.S. over the winter holidays, couch-surfing with family and friends until my life restructures into a new Peace Corp service stint – “This Jamaican Life.” Yes, I signed up again for another two years of muddy roads and squat toilets, this time in the deep rural mountains of an island with a mix of English and Patois, tourist destinations and the squalor of poverty. I’ll be a literacy volunteer for kids ages 7 to 14 who aren’t doing well in school and need help with English. Mostly, I imagine, they need help with giving a shit about themselves, poverty consuming large amounts of self-respect and motivation. I’m looking forward to meeting them.
But I’m getting ahead of myself. The same psychotherapists warn that transitions should be taken gradually, savoring the apprehension and excitement of an undelineated future.
Things took a turn for the better toward the end of my service here as an NGO Specialist – love the title. The Peace Corps says that sometimes just as you get full traction in your work it’s time to leave. For that reason, some people stay on for another year. Some other volunteers are doing just that. Not me. Though another year would produce greater satisfaction I think, I’m ready to go, to transition to the next good thing.
In my last months here, I met an Armenian woman who completely inspired me, like finding a gemstone in the crumbling walls of a monastery, bright possibility emerging out of the dusty mortar of a rich, but troubled past. Emilia heads a youth center in one of the most charming Armenian villages I’ve yet seen — Margahovit in the Lori region of the north country. She’s progressive and asked for a strategic planning workshop – my favorite! Over time she and I and her volunteer staff crafted a plan for organizational and staff development that’s promising. It’ll support and help grow the youth programs so needed in her community. I’m totally psyched and asked for one of the newer volunteers to be assigned to her to implement this plan. One was assigned and he’s the perfect counterpart for her energy, innovation, intelligence and creativity. Cool, huh?
As part of putting closure to my time here and saying my goodbyes, I recently visited Aygezard, the village where I lived for our pre-service training during our first three months in Armenia. I went with friends who’d also lived there – friends I’m also having to say goodbye to. We spent an afternoon walking around the small village, stopping to sit on the benches where we’d rested between training classes – benches where we’d gotten to know and trust each other. I’ll miss these and all my friends terribly.
These friends and I each also visited the host families we’d lived with during training. In my family, Papa died last spring, an expected but still big blow to the whole family. But Mama and her daughter Nara welcomed me warmly as did Nara’s brother and his son who’ve come from Ukraine to handle the fall harvest of Papa’s grape vineyards up on the hillside. They’ll return in the spring to ready the new vineyard growth and tend to the apricot orchard. The grapes were small this year, the harvest half of last year’s. “Little rain,” Mama said. “But normal. Each year is different,” she added, her faith in god and the elements never letting her down. I noted that all her amazing roses were gone from the garden in front of the house. “They’re with Papa at his grave,” she answered. She takes a bunch to him every week. In the living room she showed me a new picture on the wall. I was stunned. It was a photo of Papa in the vineyard that I’d taken two years ago. They had it enlarged and photoshopped in Mama and Nara from other photos taken that day. I hugged Mama hard — as I hugged her again when it was time for me to leave. And I cried a flood of tears as I said goodbye – “Hadjo Mama.”
And hadjo Hayastan – an Armenia I’ll miss very much and be forever grateful to have landed in unexpectedly while on the way to Azerbaijan. Like the photo collage, my memories will shift and change my experience, ensuring that the best and happiest moments survive. Transitions. Restructuring. This long life moves on.