And Now for Something Completely Different…

Barev! Welcome to my blog about my Peace Corps assignment to Armenia, Aug. 2015 through Nov. 2017.

I’ve been assigned to teach secondary level English as well as help the teachers there improve their English and develop new lesson plans. I chose Armenia because the assignment also includes earning a TEFL (Teaching English as a Foreign Language) certificate. That’s a great bonus.

When I tell people my plan, the two things they always ask are, “Where’s that?” and “Is it safe?” Armenia is a very small country sandwiched between Turkey to the west, Georgia to the north, Azerbaijan to the east and a teeny bit of Iran to the south. It’s called the “crossroads of Europe,” and is on the fabled Silk Road. You can learn more about it here.

Armenia adopted Christianity as the national religion in 300 AD, making it the oldest Christian nation. It's riddled with amazing religious sites such as Tatev Monastery.

Armenia adopted Christianity as the national religion in 300 AD, making it the world’s oldest Christian nation. It’s riddled with amazing religious sites such as Tatev Monastery. Photo courtesy Tourism Armenia

And as far as “is it safe” goes, I always reply, “is anywhere safe?” Sadly, one is more likely to get gunned down or run over on Main Street , USA than in Armenia. And the Peace Corps is very, very safety conscious. We can’t even drive a motor vehicle of any kind!

Oh, and the third question: “Why??” That one is harder. Why would a 57-year-old woman want to endure the hardship of living in a dirt poor country, earning the equivalent of the local wage and struggling to communicate in a language spoken by virtually no one but Armenians? Glutton for punishment, hopeless romantic, chronic do-gooder, crazy, take your pick. At the two-hour candidate interview I think I blathered something about wanting to make the world a better place, serve my fellow man, make a difference. It’s all a blur, but really it’s a bit of all of the above. And, why not? The American job market has not been kind to me, maybe it’s time to try something different. Four years of college and 10 years of struggling to make it as a journalist had gotten me exactly nowhere. But the degree did qualify me to apply for the Peace Corps.

Most people think of the Peace Corps as something one does after graduating from college, but in fact they take volunteers of all ages — the oldest was in his 80s! If you can pass the physical, you’re in. Seniors are still less than 10% of the corps, but still, it’s nice to be wanted. There’s an interesting article about it here.

The Journey So Far

It’s still four months until I leave, but it’s already been a long road. I first got the idea in December, 2013 when I felt like I needed something else to live for other than my low wage dead-end job. I needed a Plan B.

I filled out the lengthy online application in January 2014 and was surprised to be invited to Seattle for an interview in March. At that time you couldn’t choose specifically where you wanted to go, but you could say where you didn’t want to go. I said I would go anywhere but Africa (been there done that, don’t care to go back), but that I would prefer Eastern Europe. Duly noted by the recruiter.

Several weeks later the recruiter emailed to say he thought I would be a good candidate and was forwarding my application on to Washington, D. C. I was officially a Peace Corps candidate! Mid-summer I found out the Peace Corps had made a radical change, and now allowed candidates to list their top three location preferences. The practice was to look at a candidate’s skills and decide where to place them, then issue a take-it-or-leave-it letter of invitation.

I emailed the recruiter and said I wanted to get in on the new deal! He said fine, just let them know. As I said, I chose Armenia for the certificate opportunity, but also because it looked like a fascinating country, and definitely off the beaten track!

In December I got the official invitation to serve in Armenia, along with a slew of paperwork related to the daunting medical clearance process. Clearance included a mammogram, colonoscopy, ECG, complete blood panel, tests for HIV, Hep B and C, and vaccinations for, or proof of vaccination for, polio, MMR, TDP and chicken pox (or shingles for the over 50’s), plus a TB test. They also wanted full dental Xrays plus all dental work completed before leaving the country. Whew!

My doctor said they make the paperwork onerous just to weed out people who can’t handle meaningless bureaucracy. She could be on to something.

It’s also not cheap to volunteer. With all the medical tests, shots and dental work, I’m in over $2,000. I have started a Go Fund Me page to try to put a dent in that, as well as go toward expenses such as my storage fees, and to buy supplies for the schools (I’m sure they will need them). The Peace Corps pays volunteers the equivalent of the living wage in the country, so that you will live on the level of the people you are working with. I think that’s a great idea, but I don’t think it’s going to leave any extra at the end of the month (kind of like now).

Many, many thanks to the friends who have donated more than $400 so far.

If you’ve read this far and are interested in donating, you can find it here.

The next entry will be far shorter, and if you’ve read this far, thank you very much!!

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