The snow has finally come to Goris, and I’m finishing my third week at my permanent site. How’s it going? The snow is really lovely.
I’m assistant teaching high school, and I can say kids are the same everywhere. The eager, bright girls sit in the front of the class, answering every question, while the boys sit in the back, talking, playing on their phones or just plain sleeping.
But most distressing, my counterparts, the long-time Armenian teachers, just ignore them, or wait until they get so loud they drown out the lesson. Then the teacher erupts and spews a shrill stream of rapid-fire Armenian at them. That quiets them down for about five minutes.
The teachers know that for the 12th grade, or form, boys, English class is just a time killer. Military service is mandatory for all males. They enter as soon as they graduate or turn 18, whichever comes last. Every school has a military teacher, and military defense is part of the curriculum. One day the military teacher (officer?) brought an AK-47 to school, casually leaning it against the wall in the teachers’ lounge until he needed it for show and tell. While that was startling to my shell-shocked western sensibilities, it also showed how safe it is here. There has never been a school shooting in Armenia. Knock on wood.
The students’ slothful behavior is not a total surprise — I’ve heard horror stories from other TELF teachers, and that high school is the “most challenging” to teach. Peace Corps makes the assignments, so I didn’t have a choice. Part of our pledge is to be willing to serve where we are assigned.
But it’s not all bad. Far from it. The students who greet me in the hall every day with big smiles and “good morning Mees Meeler!” are a delight, as are those students who really do want to learn. It’s a safe bet that, after at least five years of studying English, none of them have spoken to a real live native English speaker. Most of them have lived in Goris all their lives, with rare forays into the capitol. And while classes adhere to the mind-numbing national curriculum, many volunteers say they find the most reward from after school clubs and secondary projects where they have more opportunity for creativity. I’m looking forward to that.
My school, avac debrots #chors (high school #4), is the only stand-alone high school in the city, and it’s been renovated with all the mod cons, as they say. There is a computer room where students give PowerPoint presentations, the classrooms are clean and new, and the halls are spacious and decorated with student art and greenery. Other than the fact that I still can’t speak the language and I’m 6,000 miles from home, it’s hard to believe this is a Peace Corps assignment.
Armenia is a developing country, and the living and work situations for the volunteers vary widely. Everyone says I won the lottery with placement in Goris, and it is a lovely town. There are other volunteers here to support one another, and there’s a good café. On the other end of the spectrum is my friend Cathy, who was placed in the southern end of the country, in sight of Iran. She is in a tiny village, alone, living with bucket baths for which she has to heat the water in a large tub. I feel like this is the middle of nowhere, but she’s six hours farther.
I miss her and my friends and family from our first little village, as we’re now flung across the country. Armenia would fit into southern California, but with the bad roads and poor transportation system, travel is an arduous undertaking. The only transportation from my city of 20,000 to the capitol is by private taxi. And then you have to have four people in the cab before they will leave. The trip is a four-hour white-knuckle thriller, dodging livestock, passing on blind corners and of course, no seat belts.
But today the snow has begun to fall across the country and all is quiet. We are hunkered down for the night, connected by the internet, watching movies or reading and wishing we weren’t so far apart. It will take a while to adjust to this new reality.