Sunday lunch

The mass at Tatev monastery is a real workout. The service lasts at least two hours, during which the congregation stands. At intervals the faithful must dip to touch the floor, kneel for protracted periods on slabs of stone, and then stand up  again without any chair or rail support. There is much making the sign of the cross– enough to work those troublesome upper arms. At one point the Apostolic priest races round the church chased by those anxious to kiss a four-inch bejeweled cross he carries for that purpose.  He is followed by two spear carriers and again the worshipful must lunge and stretch to reach and kiss the icons borne aloft.  Later another priest holds a heavy bible triumphantly above his head, as though it were a boxer’s championship belt. The chap with the chasuble is Olympic standard. The choir work their chest muscles to good effect. You can listen to them singing here.

I was worn out just trying to keep a silky scarf (supplied to all women as they enter) from slipping off my super-shiny hair and so about an hour into the service I left the church in search of a cool breeze and a seat in the shade outside. A number of other women my age had done the same thing. We sat on a bench beneath an almond tree and chatted. Yes that’s right. Chatted. In Armenian. It all went surprisingly well. Anahit moved so she could get closer to me. “Come for coffee” she said. I couldn’t see anyone with coffee, or anyone selling coffee but I was sure I’d understood. “I have to wait for my friend” I said rather primly, for Lilit, lithe of limb and sound of knee was still doing Apostolic aerobics. “She can come too when the service finishes” said Anahit firmly, and took my arm. Lilit was just coming out of church as we passed the door. Refreshment sounded good to her. Anahit led us to a long, cool stone room tucked away to the side of the church. The room had a table with fifty place settings and a full lunch-cold chicken, plates of pork, several kinds of cheese, peppers, cucumbers, tomatos and fresh herbs plus every kind of soda you can ever imagine. We were ushered to one end of the table and offered red wine from a two gallon plastic bottle. The table was thronged with old people, children, babies and all ages in between. “Eat Eat” said everyone, quite as though they were characters concocted by Lewis Carroll. Alice-like, I had no idea what was going on and no way of finding out. Lilit asked a few questions and ascertained that the group– with Anahit as a leading light–had come from Artashat four hours away, close to where I used to live near Mount Ararat. It was a church outing suggested by their priest, who we had seen taking part in the service. Someone in the group– we never found out who– had had a baby she’d named Tatev. When the priest christened the child he said they should make a pilgrimage to Tatev monastery and so here they all were. They’d brought their own lunch. They had plenty. We should eat. “Anush lini”. Let it be sweet.

The priest, now without his gold hat, gold cape and gold Elvis-style collar came and sat beside us, as did one of the spear carriers, now minus his royal blue surplice. The spear carrier spoke some English. The priest, a man with the look of Demis Roussos, was wearing all black accented by a silver-colored cross both enormous and ornate. Lilit’s cousin, our ride home, called her to see where we were. We exchanged hugs and kisses with half a dozen people round the table and friended a couple on Facebook. I have Anahit’s number and instructions to call her when I am next in Artashat. Anush Lini. Let it be sweet. It was.


Don’t mess with my Toot Toot.

It is time to make toot vodka. Toot is the Armenian name for the mulberry– we have white and dark purple varieties here. The white mulberries, larval-looking but honied in taste, are the most prized. A couple of days ago, we spread tarpaulins on the street outside the house–passing cars were expected to swerve–and got ready to harvest. Artur climbed the tree and shook branches till the white mulberries rained. His mother and youngest daughter were the ground staff–filling old margarine crocks with fruit they wanted to enjoy later. Then Artur shook the fruit from the tarpaulins into giant metal buckets where the berries will ferment. He’ll set up a homemade still outside my bedroom. We are all saving plastic bottles–we’ll have about 70 liters to see us through the winter.
Goris had a mulberry festival this weekend, a small civic attempt to draw tourists to our town. I went to the festival with Pat, a fellow Peace Corps volunteer, also from Maryland. Like me, she came to Peace Corps in her prime, and some decades after graduating college. Like me, she helps local organizations develop strategic thinking and management skills, and helps with branding, marketing, communications and sales plans. It can be uphill work in a country where local customers have no money, and where foreign buyers are unreachable. There is no access to Paypal or Etsy and the postal service is at best capricious. There is no way of taking money direct from the diaspora and no way of being sure that shipping will work. Everyone competes for the dollars of one million tourists who visit Armenia each year. Like me, Pat likes it here, although her two years of service are nearly over. She goes home next month. 

Armenians do not come easily to capitalism, perhaps because of their recent Soviet past, and perhaps because they are just too kind and generous to charge anyone for anything. At the festival, held in a bumpy, downward sloping field, they offer plates of fish stew, bean salad, dolma and beetroot vinaigrette to enjoy with free drinks. People pillage small stalls to pile their plates, picking through the food they want to try, and leaving the displays looking like Tom Jones’ dinner table several hours after Fielding’s description of the feast. It is an unholy, unhygienic mess.

The stall holders do sell packaged mulberry products– vodka, wine, a syrup that is good for the throat, and jam.  A liter of wine in an old Coke bottle will cost 1000 Armenian dram– about $2.  Half a liter of vodka in a water bottle costs $3. No one has bothered to switch the labels from the original bottles. I fear for the toddler who reaches into his mother’s shopping bag for a thirst-quenching glug  from what looks to be a bottle of Jermuk’s finest spring water. A mouthful of mulberry ori is far from mother’s milk. 

Sitting on a haybale in the shade, Pat and I watched people eating mulberries straight from the trees and kept an eye on a game of nardi– the local name for backgammon. We ate pistachio nougat and baklava while she drank a tot of vodka and I sampled the local red wine.  We got chatting to a gay couple from Australia. They had just come from Iran, a couple of hundred miles south of here, and they are on their way to Georgia, many hours of travel north, after a short trip to Nagorno-Karabakh, which is just down the road. “Try the beetroot with the sheep cheese” said the taller Aussie. “And get your mulberry wine from the French guy over there.”  Homosexuality is illegal in Armenia and, let’s face it, not likely to win friends in Iran. I asked the less lanky antipodean if they had felt under threat. “Not at all” he said. “Iran is surprisingly secular. It was Ramadan when we were there but no-one we stayed with was fasting. Everyone was very friendly–glad to see us. It’s not at all like you see on TV.” I fear I may never know. Current US/Iran relations mean that Peace Corps Volunteers are forbidden to travel to Tehran.

Three teenage boys rode by on a hijacked donkey. Vodka may have been involved. An Armenian grandfather showed off his overdressed baby to this American grandmother. A Japanese American with a man bun sampled the green beans, fish dolma and red currants. We ate cherries and talked to a Czech tourist. 10-year-old boys in itchy vests of Armenian design got ready to dance. The duduk player blew out his cheeks one last time. His instrument, uniquely Armenian, sounds like a mix between a gazoo and irish pipes.  A beautifully melancholy sound.

Double Trouble

img_3804-2Robert zoomed by his mother as she was painting her nails. He knocked the coffee table with his toy truck and nearly sent her bottle of blue nail polish flying. “Don’t do that” said Aleta. (She says it a lot. Robert pays no attention. He is four years old and bashes on, unrepentant and undeterred.) չի կարէւի. Ch’ kareli. Don’t do that. It was the first phrase I picked up when I moved in here.

Grabbing her son, Aleta pulled a piece of cotton wool from the roll in front of her and soaked it with vodka, a bottle of which was also on the coffee table. “Come here” she said. Արի Ari! Then she wiped Robert’s sticky face and grubby hands with the wet wad, scrubbing hard. Next she yanked off Robert’s dusty shoes and gave them a good going over with the vodka wipe. They came up lovely. I must try it.

Vodka is cheaper than bottled water here. Aleta’s bottle had a commercial label but it may have been refilled many times over with spirit distilled from local produce. Should you ever drink vodka in Armenia, certainly don’t trust any label unless you see the seal broken on the bottle. It could be anything in there. For all I know, this particular vodka had also served as nail polish remover. You have been warned.

FullSizeRender (12)
Robert stood still just long enough for this photo with his grandmother.  We’re growing beans. 

 

A Still Morning

The people across the road have a still and this morning are making 70 liters of grape vodka to sell at the market. I know it is good because after breakfast I went over to test the product. I ran a freshly showered finger under the stream trickling into the cotton covered bucket and rubbed it over my teeth and gums. Good stuff. I skipped to school and passed a man with a cow along the way. If you can see them, they were definitely there. 

He Got This

 

This story is my son’s and is shared with his permission. 

I cried today for the first time since arriving in Armenia. It was only a tear or two, and it wasn’t because I felt isolated and far from my family.  I cried because I heard from my son.

I didn’t see Tony in the month before I came to Armenia. He was completing a rehab program that didn’t allow visitors. He and I  were permitted a phonecall on the day I left for the airport, but I hadn’t heard from him since. I knew that was the rule of his program, but still I wondered and worried about him. Did he stick with it? Did he have what he needed? Did his sister drop off what I asked her to, and did it get to him?

tony2Being unsure about Tony’s well-being has been a feature of the last six years or so. DNA translates as Drink, Narcotics and Addiction for Tony. Add heartbreak and deep seated pain, plus a need to self-medicate some mega mood swings, and from his late teenage years it was clear he’d need a sidewalk to call his own. At times, he has chosen not to be in touch, sliding from homeless shelter to street corner, with none of us around. At times I have chosen not to see him. Occasional exchanges have been painful, non-productive and potentially explosive for us both. He had a baby and I found out about her from Facebook. He got in trouble with the law and I knew only because the summons came to my house, the nearest thing he has ever had to a permanent address. Through it all, he never asked for anything, and insisted on his right to live his life his own way. He is nothing if not proud. I have always loved and admired his spirit, even when I am mad with him, and sick with fear for him.

Since New Year, Tony has been working to save his own life. The chance to join a residential rehab program came after successful completion of thrice daily meetings, a series of clean urine tests and successive successful outpatient appointments. I was content not to see him before I left Washington DC because, for the first time in years, I knew where he was, and that he was safe and (getting) well.

Tony contacted me today — coincidentally Mother’s Day in Armenia, something he couldn’t have known—to let me know that he will move into a transition program this week. In the photo he sent he looks as though someone smoothed all the crags and fissures and  crevasses from his features.  He has always been an astonishingly good looking person, but in the last years his skin and eyes have dulled. In today’s photo he was shining. 

tony1It was not until this year that I heard Tony label himself as someone with a chronic illness,someone who knew himself well enough to know he needed help. The words stabbed me, but his ability to say them was vital. His upcoming return to the outside world will be tough, even with the support of the transition team. My own experience of giving things up has not been an unqualified success and so I really admire his determination and his courage. I am thrilled that he has not lost his ability to hope and dream. Tony has it in him to be a wonderful father, partner and family member. He is a natural teacher, leader and advocate. Through music and poetry he can show his heart and touch anyone’s. Through jokes and acting crazy he can bring joy to everyone’s day. Through his ability with a basketball he can nurture and mentor others, and give anyone a good game. He is an amateur cook who, with training,could do really well in a professional kitchen. He is a skilled handyman for whom IKEA flat packs hold no fears. He’d be a great grassroots politician.  All of this is possible now, and anything else he wants.

Six months ago, I really feared Tony (27) would not see his thirtieth birthday. In my head, I’d rehearse his obituary and his funeral. I’d think how to talk to his daughter about her dad. Now, I really, truly believe that he can have his life.  Recovery will be slow, there may be setbacks and for a long while it will be all-consuming. But the boy who used to say he was afraid of nothing now knows what can do him harm. He has already paid a price — shattered health, fractured family, stalled career and delayed development. With luck, his worst is behind him. His future can offer a W9, a driver’s license, a passport, a rental agreement and a wedding day.

It is probably just as well that I am thousands of miles and several time zones away. I have a tendency to fuss, and try to take over. I call him Darling and that annoys him. This opportunity is Tony’s to realize. I am cheering him on in Armenian.

Թոնի ջան, վստահ եմ, որ ամեն ինչ շատ լավ է լինելու xxx

Good job Tony, I know everything will be great. You got this. xxx

Amnesia and Arafat: The World According to Barkis

IMG_2515Margie, a docent and all-round decent person, led the learning at my going-away dinner. Her project board featured maps of Armenia. A pop-quiz quickly confirmed that no one knew where it was. Kevin was closest and Michael (who couldn’t join the party until after his nightly viewing of Jeopardy) was also in the ballpark. As Barkis said later “You probably know where you’re going, but the rest of us have no idea.” In fact, I am only inches ahead of him.MCZC6158

 

With one week to go, I am trying to get real but am still much clearer about what I am leaving behind, than where I am going to. With my house rented, I have been staying with friends and neighbors. What will it be like moving in with people I don’t know? Will I ever again enjoy a shower as warm and powerful as Karen’s? How will my new bed and pillows compare to the bliss of Peggoty’s spare room? I have started to count last times: the last time I will have a dress hemmed at the dry cleaners. The last time I can afford a blow-Shadyside (91 of 265)adry. The last order of crab dip and rockfish (there are only freshwater fish in Armenia.) The last time behind a steering wheel. (Peace Corps does not permit volunteers to drive.) The last time I will sing Jingle Bells with my granddaughter…

Niya and I were in Target the other day and cut through the diaper aisle with our cart. “I don’t wear diapers” Niya announced loudly “I’m a big girl. I wear pull-ups.” Other shoppers nodded approvingly. She adjusted her volume to reach a wider audience “Grandma wears diapers.” People smiled uneasily. I do NOT wear diapers. At least not yet. Based on advice from current Peace Corps volunteers, this may be a mistake because, for Americans in Armenia, it seems unfortunate intestinal incidents are pretty much guaranteed. I stocked up on Wet Wipes and will let you know if a pass on padded panties turns out to be an error of judgement. Something for you to look forward to.

Which brings us to Doo Doo shots, an Armenian drink I learned about today, featuring vodka and all the other ingredients of a Bloody Mary, without the space-wasting tomato juice. This, with Mulberry vodka and apricot brandy, are also mentioned in warning dispatches. Best be wary. The Armenians also make wine and have evidence that wine has been made in their mountains for at least 6000 years. Today’s grapes are from a strain of vines believed to have been planted by Noah shortly after he disembarked the Ark. A mention of Noah, brings me back to Barkis, still musing on my upcoming adventure: “You are off to Amnesia” he said “and you’ll see Mount Arafat …”. Margie clearly has more work to do.

ENCQ5315

 

 

Tips for Lady Travelers

My beautiful Riad is in the northernmost part of the Northern Medina, close to a launderette, a number of scooter repair shops, some foundry workers and an Islamic saint’s tomb which non- Muslims are not permitted to enter. The riad’s rooms are gorgeous, the service friendly and the hot water plentiful. The breakfast includes crepes with honey and lemon, and bread with homemade orange marmalade, fresh orange juice and coffee. Today I also got two fried eggs. Every day starts well, but I go to bed hungry more often than not.  The Riad has only a small number of rooms and only a few are filled at this time of year. Although their website boasts a restaurant and room service, any evening meal would have to be ordered a day in advance. While sitting alone in a busy restaurant is something I enjoy– the perfect combination of eating and people watching– it would feel a bit bleak to hurry home at night for a lonely tagine in a dark and deserted courtyard. If I were better organized, I would buy bread and oranges while out and about, and supplement those with dates or figs and nuts. If I were more energetic and less stingy I would book a central restaurant and cabs and go out every evening at 8pm. In fact, I walk home as it gets dark about 6pm, rest my aching legs,  and then decide that going out again is too much trouble, for no restaurants are walkable from where I am staying. For this reason I recommend accommodations closer to the action in the Medina when you come to Marrakech. The rest of my tips may be useful only to other middle aged white women with bad knees but I share them here nonetheless: 

  • When shopping the souks, decide what the object of your desire is worth to you. Ask the vendor to name his price. Offer in return about half of what you are willing to pay, regardless of what he says. Bargain with a smile. If it makes sense to take home two or three of the desired purchase, reduce the unit price by bulking up. Above all don’t be a jerk.  That last 50 pence you are haggling over will probably mean more in their pocket than in yours. Once you’ve bought want you want, don’t fret about the price you paid,  or compare it in other places. You decided what your must-have was worth to you, remember?  If you can’t make a deal, move on. Someone else will have what you want at a price you will be happy to pay. If they don’t, it suggests your expectations may be entirely unreasonable 
  • Negotiate cab fares before your journey starts. I have been quoted 350 dh for journeys then completed happily for only 50dh. 20dh is often plenty. 
  • Know you will get lost when you are walking. Accept it. Enjoy it. Sit down and have a cup of mint tea. You may want to ask the waiter to hold the sugar. Look at your map. Don’t assume that everyone who offers directions is out to scam you. Equally, don’t assume that any directions given are accurate. (See previous post on this vexatious subject). 
  • Don’t yell or be otherwise abusive to any would-be guide or salesman. You will bump into them again and again. 
  • Don’t assume that anyone who calls after you”remember me?” or “you came back, you promised you’d come back” has ever laid eyes on you before. I have a particularly good memory for faces and so when this was tried on me I said “I don’t think so– tell me where it was we met?”  My alleged chum muttered something about a hotel and moved on. On the other hand, people you have bought from WILL remember you when you next walk past and will run joyously after you. “You like your scarf?” “You take tea with me?” I always do. You can’t have too much tea, the young men are easy on the eye , and if you can help them move their use of English beyond “only look, no buy” you will be doing them a lifelong favour.  
  • If you seek strong drink, be prepared to climb stairs for it. Very few restaurants in the Medina are licensed and those that do sell booze are bound by law not to do so within sight of a mosque. This means that bars are built on rooftop decks. Stairs are uneven and hazardous even on the sober ascent. When I first arrived in Marrakech I wondered where all the tourists were. One afternoon I scaled the heights of the Cafe Arabe and found half of Europe encamped on the terrace, sucking on bottles of beer and double vodkas with sprite.   You do NOT want to be one of those people.  Stay on ground level and stick to the tea. 
  • If you want to visit the Majorelle Gardens get up early so you don’t have to queue. I failed to do this today and am thus having–yes you guessed it– a mint tea while hoping that the crowds will subside. There are some high end Moroccan designer shops near the gardens on the Rue Yves Laurent ( he used to own the gardens) which I liked better than those on Rue Mohammed V. Overall, I see little to recommend the Ville Nouvelle, unless you have an overpowering need for a MacDonalds or a trip to H&M. It, like the Jemaa el Fna is more depressing than delightful
  • Hammans. Do it. You will never feel as clean again. They will give you your hand-knitted scrubbie to take home. Forego this. You can use the space to stuff in an extra scarf. 

Warning: at least one cow was seriously harmed before these pictures were taken. 

The Night We Shut The Place Down

The weathered wood sprite danced towards the door, shouting over a tweeded shoulder at someone unseen.

“I’m away on now. Sure, I’ll see you through the week”

If Richard Burton had been from Belfast, this is how he would have sounded: vocal chords toughened by cigarettes and soaked every day in whiskey. Like Richard Burton, the wee man declaimed as though to a packed auditorium. He was, in fact, in a quietly comfortable, reasonably upscale restaurant in Shepherd’s Bush where I was peaceably enjoying mushroom risotto and a glass of red wine.

“Where are you from?” I raised my own voice to match his, guldering from my seat in the corner. All heads in the restaurant swivelled from him to me. Out of the corner of my eye, I half-saw the restaurant owner shake his head.

“The Ormy road” he said.

“C’mere” said I, gesturing that he should join me. “What part of the Ormeau Road?”

I knew the road of course, and an enjoyable, roisterous conversation ensued about the Ormeau Park golf course, the Nazareth convent, the bakery and the gas works. The wee man was in full voice–no volume control.

“What brings you here?” I said, after we had exhausted conversation about the Parador and the Errigle Inn, the Curzon cinema and the Oriel Pharmacy.

“Ah sure I just came in to get a drink off a friend who works in the kitchen” said my new best friend. “He lives below me, just up the street a bit”

“You didn’t eat here then?”

“Dear God no. Far too effing expensive. Not for the likes of me. I hardly eat anyway—stick to the whiskey” A phlegmy laugh. “No I just called in to see Stephen. I was on my way home when you shouted.”

Behind him, the restaurant owner came into focus. He was sorrowfully polishing a glass with a look of a man who knew the night’s business was done.

I looked more closely at my table companion, and could see the puck was down on his luck. His head was the size a coconut, and similarly rough and whiskered. Under his tweed jacket he wore a jumper of patterned acrylic. It had been some time since he’d visited a dentist. But his Belfast-Burton eyes burned bright. He was dapper in a derelict kind of way.

“Are you working?” I asked.

“I’ve a wee job at the convent doing maintenance” he said.

My ears pricked up. “You could maybe help me find someone to get rid of a wardrobe with a smashed glass door?”

“Just effing buck it out on the street. Let the council take care of it. Get a friend to help you at night—effing hurl it out. That’s what I effing do. Say you know nothing about it if anyone effing asks. That’s what I did with my boiler. Just effed it effing out.”

He was on a roll now. Around us, tables emptied.

“They’ve my gas off. Effing disconnected it.  I can do without it. Eff them. Bucked it effing out.”

“Cold in winter though” I murmured, noticing that the last family in the restaurant were gesturing for their bill.

“Cold? Cold’s no bother. I have no glass in my windies in the flat. Have them covered with chicken wire to keep the pigeons out”

I air-scribbled for my own bill. It arrived with speed.

“I’m sure it’s dear” said the wee man, looking as I pulled notes from my wallet. I felt a stab of shame.

“Here” I said, proffering a fiver.

“Ah, you don’t need to do that” said Jono, for we were now on first name terms. He pocketed the note.

“Get yourself some chicken wire.”

“I’ll probably get some cigarettes”

“Awfully bad for you…”

“Ah sure, the harm is done”

At the bar in the now empty restaurant, the owner nodded ruefully. The harm was indeed done.

“Sorry” I mouthed at the owner as we left. He didn’t say to come back soon.

On the dark, wet pavement Jono shook my hand, eager to get off to the off-licence. .

“If you’re ever passing the convent just come in and ask for me. If they don’t know me just say you’re looking the man in the white overalls. I’ll be up a ladder somewhere. I might not remember you, but sure I’ll know you when I see you”.

That’s where we left it.

Behind us, the lights went off in the restaurant. It was 9pm.

Cold Feet?

download-1I don’t own a pair of socks, and although I have many pairs of shoes, I prefer my feet to be bare when I am in the house. This won’t do in Armenia, where I now know people always wear slippers when they are lounging at home. It’s not just because of the cold, it is a culturally expected behaviour and it won’t do to do otherwise. (BTW, should you find yourself living in the shadow of Mount Ararat, also be careful not to put your handbag on the floor–it’s just not done.)The need to remember to cover my feet is new on my list of worries when I imagine myself in Armenia. The sock thing sounds small, but it’s not something that comes naturally to me. It therefore requires noticing, and remembering and planning and doing, which can be the last straw on difficult days when you retreat from the outside world and don’t want to try anymore.

I know about the slippers thanks to an excellent blog written by Peace Corps Volunteer downloadEmily Brandt.Because of a shortage of water, Emily showered only twice a week using a bucket and jug. I’ll be ok with that bit I think-I am naturally grubby and it will be a relief not to have to step unsupported into and out of a shower over the side of a bath as I now do in London. I tripped this week and have a bruise the size of a frisbee above my right knee. It hurts. In the winter, Emily spent a lot of time in bed, blogging when her hands were warm enough. That will work for me too, and is already something I do on a year-round basis. Perhaps I can get Steptoe  mittens to help with blogging below zero? Overall, I feel about gloves the way I do about socks–they are constricting and hard to keep track of, but it does seem a bedroom pair would be an advantage in the Armenian winter.

What about books? Worth packing and carrying, or better to use an electronic reader? Then there are crosswords,so much nicer to complete with a pen than on a keyboard, and essential in a world where one can’t get hold of the weekend Telegraph. I’ll take Scrabble of course. I like UNO too, and have the language basics to play it in Armenian. (Irok’!)  The packing guide provided by the Peace Corps lists yak traks and thermal underlayers. Better to buy them in the US sales before I go, or get them there? I practice standing in outdoor clothing shops and try to imagine myself engaged in a conversation about snow boots and compact sleeping bags, but I am some way off forming the words. A friend advised waffle towels from Ikea and sleeping bag liners instead of sheets–lighter to pack and much easier to wash and dry, she says. I’m sure she’s right.

Emily advises that PCVs should take every opportunity to go out and get involved with their hosts’ extended family and the community in which they serve. I will have to fight a tendency to burrow. Emily shares cautionary tales of Americans who fell foul of one too many vodka toasts–at 70% proof, hardly a surprise. Be careful Liz, and remember you are representing your country–the upright American one, not the one that more commonly falls down drunk. Emily talks about the special occasion khorovats–grilled meats, piled high. My herbivore stomach grumbles at the thought and I fear still more excruciating social shame: in some places, the toilet is only a hole in the ground.

Other nagging concerns: will I fit in with my host family or will they see me as idle, lazy, large and useless when it’s clear I don’t know how to wash clothes well, and am more practised at cluttering than cleaning up?  Will my mugs and books and shoes and other debris from every day life become mines or snares that threaten household happiness?  Oh please Peace Corps, can I have a family with stacks and piles on every surface and dishes in the sink?

download-2Emily served every day of her 27 months in Armenia, and now recruits for the Peace Corps. She found it tough and her candour chips the sugar-coating off my romantic view of soft diplomacy and international service. This will be more Survivor than The Sound of Music. Reading her blog makes me wish I was on my way today, for I am terrified that I will spend more time waiting to go to Armenia–talking about it, getting cheered on for it, and packing a play box version of a traveller’s trunk, than I will be able endure away from home and its familiar comforts. I have a Trump-level distaste for losing face and could not stand the shame. More importantly, if I flake, I would be costing some one else a place, wasting tax-payers money, and letting down the projects I am slated to support. Oh please don’t let that happen. Let me be up to this. I really want to do it.