And the winner is…

You know that moment when, after careful consideration and a large dose of courage, you take a deep breath and step out onto a suspension bridge, and get to the midpoint where it’s swaying as you tread softly, your legs shaking a little as you looking down at the yawning abyss below you, but you know that the other end, the blessed solid ground, is just a few more steps? That was this week.

While we reached the midpoint of Pre-Service Training on Sept. 30, this week we learned where we would be living for the next two years of our lives; our permanent sites.

Wednesday, Oct. 7 at 1 p.m. all 40 trainees gathered on the playground of the grade school where we have been holding classes for the last month. Spread before us was a map of Armenia, painted on the asphalt playground, with the names of all the places where we would be placed. The plan was that as we learned our site, we were to stand on the place name on the map. It was a great visual of how close or how far we would be from our fellow volunteers.

The PC directors put a great deal of work into choosing who goes where, matching community needs and requests to volunteers’ skills, abilities, desires, goals and personalities. For seven weeks we’ve been watched and evaluated, tested and scored, sometimes overtly, most often surreptitiously. Volunteers cover two sectors, Teaching English as a Foreign Language (TEFL) and Community and Youth Development (CYD).

We have become close to our fellow PCTs, forming friendships (and sometimes more) that now threatened to be split apart as we awaited our fate. As the program directors called our names we stepped forward and were handed a thin, fortune cookie-like strip of paper. One small piece of paper with our future writ large. Mine: “Syunik marz, Goris high school.”

Peace Corps Trainees stand on their permanent sites. I'm in the second row, next to my site mate Pat, who is in red. Photo courtesy Peace Corps Armenia.

Peace Corps Trainees stand on their permanent sites. I’m in the second row, next to my site mate Pat, who is in red. Photo courtesy Peace Corps Armenia.

And there it was, nearly two years of waiting boiled down to a few simple words: the region, the city, the school. And to my relief and joy, Goris was exactly where I wanted to go. While some trainees weren’t thrilled with their sites, I felt like I’d won the site selection lottery.

I first learned of the existence of this town in the southernmost part of this small country last summer in Seattle, at a Peace Corps sendoff party at UW. There I met Liana Sahakyan, a bundle of energy who was attending the University of Washington on a fellowship for the summer, and who runs a non-profit women’s organization in Goris. In the warm, welcoming Armenian way, she immediately invited me to come and visit and even work with her in Goris. I think she may have had something to do with my placement, but the Peace Corps is keeping mum on that.

Goris, pronounced Go-REES, is a medium-sized city by Armenian standards, but oddly almost the same size as my hometown of Port Angeles: 20,000. It’s nestled between two mountain ranges at about 4,000 feet, and is famous for its unique cave dwellings. That’s right, cave dwellings. People don’t live in them anymore, but they are still used for storage. You can bet I’ll have my eye out for a rehab project.

A view of some of the caves carved into the spires of Goris.

A view of some of the caves carved into the rocky hillsides of Goris.

Goris is ancient even by Armenian standards, first mentioned in records going back to the 8th century B.C. In 1870 the “new” town of Goris was built on the opposite river bank, designed by a German architect. It’s called one of the most charming towns in Armenia, having escaped the Soviet Union concrete block construction that blights the rest of this beautiful country.

This coming weekend we will go with our Armenian teaching counterparts to our sites for a three day visit, where we will meet our new host families.

My current host family is very sad to see me leave, but that’s a good thing. I will miss them too, and have been told I must come back for every holiday, but I’m looking forward to what’s on the other end of this suspension bridge. One step at a time.



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