‘Cheaper than water’

Just finishing up the first week of the intensive 12-week Peace Corps training in Armenia. What have I learned? “Vodka is cheaper than water here.” That’s a direct quote from a presenter who would probably prefer to remain nameless. The point was that alcohol is available in abundance but that PCVs (that’s Peace Corps Volunteers) should not succumb to the lure of the demon rum. Er, vodka. And the water is fine to drink, although they are giving us standard PC issue water filters.

My village buddies and language partners for the next 11 weeks, and Language and Culture Facilitator (LCF) Sateenika. From left: Cathy, Marti and Paul. The cards are their names in Armenian. Photo Marcie Miller

My village buddies and language partners for the next 11 weeks, and Language and Culture Facilitator (LCF) Satinika. From left: Cathy, Marti and Paul. The cards are their names in Armenian.  Photo copyright Marcie Miller

After a year and a half of applications, interviews and interminable medical tests, now I “just” have to make it through these 12 weeks of PST (Pre-Service Training), and I will be sworn in and officially become a PCV. Classes are five and a half days a week and include intensive language training, TEFL training (so I know how to teach), safety and culture. At the end of the training we will be able to yell for help after we have offended and angered the locals, or “nationals” as the PC calls them.

There are 42 of us A23s (the 23rd group of PCVs in Armenia), the largest group ever. The trainers keep saying this is also the most diverse group they have ever had. Sitting around the large u-shaped conference table, we do fairly well resemble the United Nations. The ages range from 21 to 74, evenly split between male and female. Half a dozen were born outside the U.S. and there are 8 of us in the 50-plus bracket, far outstripping the PC average of 7 percent.

Diverse as we are, the bonding began immediately at staging in Philadelphia, as we shared “the most interesting thing” in our luggage, stared at name tags (while trying not to look like we were), learned a little of what to expect in the next 27 months, and role played scenarios we might encounter as a volunteer in a developing country. If I get cat-called while walking to school I’m set.

Of course there’s no better way to bond than a 24-hour trip via bus and airplane to parts unknown. After a bus ride from Philadelphia to JFK airport, changing planes and terminals in Paris while trying to keep 42 people together, we finally arrived in Yerevan, the capital of Armenia, at about 10 p.m. Thursday. Only one unfortunate person lost a bag; pretty good for the roughly 120 pieces of luggage in tow. The cheering of the PCVs and staff there to greet us was uplifting, and gave us enough of a boost to make the final trek by bus to Aghveran Park Resort outside of Yerevan. A gift bag on the bus containing a warm welcome note (Bari galust Hayastan!) and much needed candy was a nice touch.

This is an oasis in the mountains, far removed from the reality of life in Armenia which we will face soon enough. The Peace Corps, in their ultra-organized fashion, has seen to every detail, from free meals to comfortable beds and hot showers. I suspect that when we are immersed in the day to day “challenges” of life here, we will look back fondly on these halcyon days, when we were all so fresh and green and our biggest worry was properly saying “bari looys” (good morning) to the wait staff.

Monday we will break up into smaller groups to move to the small villages where we will settle in for the rest of training. I’m looking forward to this taste of the “real” Armenia. It’s scary, but it’s nice to know I’m sharing this experience with such an amazing group of people. Go A23s!

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