Armenia

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US Peace Corps
Armenia


Status: ACTIVE
Staging:


American Overseas Staff (FY2010): FP 04 (Larsen, Amy, H, $ 73,743), FP 03 (Bruno, Nicholas, J, $ 93,740)


Latest Early Termination Rates (FOIA 11-058):

(2008 34 %),  (2007 37 %),  (2006 30 %), 2005 42 %

Peace Corps Journals - Armenia Feedicon.gif

Am-map.gif
Peace Corps Welcome Book
Region:

Eastern Europe and Central Asia

Country Director:

Lee Lacy

Sectors:

Education
(APCD: Gayane Zargaryan)
Environment
(APCD: Armen Tiraturyan)
Health
(APCD: Yeghiazaryan, Susanna)
Business
(APCD: Arshak Hovhannisyan)

Program Dates:

1992 - Present

Current Volunteers:

85

Total Volunteers:

583

Languages Spoken:

Armenian, Russian, Georgian, Yazidi, Turkish, and Azeri

Flag:

Flag of Armenia.svg


Peace Corps Volunteers assist the government of Armenia in an effort to address multiple development challenges. Currently, the Peace Corps places its emphasis on sustainable capacity-building projects in the areas of teaching English as a foreign language (TEFL), community and business development (CBD), environmental education (EE), and community health education (CHE). The objective is not to teach Armenians “American” values, but to help them help themselves within their own cultural framework.


Contents

Peace Corps History

Main article: History of Peace Corps in Armenia

The Peace Corps program in Armenia began in 1992. During the first years, conditions were very difficult, with no electricity or heat. The country was reeling from the aftermath of the devastating 1988 earthquake, the breakup of the Soviet Union, and a war with Azerbaijan over Nagorno-Karabakh, an Armenian enclave. Since then, more than 500 Volunteers have served in Armenia.


Living Conditions and Volunteer Lifestyle

Main article: Living conditions and volunteer lifestyles in Armenia

During pre-service training, all trainees are required to live with host families. After completing pre-service training and swearing-in, all Volunteers live with host families for a minimum of four months at their permanent site. Living with a host family provides several benefits including accelerated language acquisition; a deeper and more profound cross-cultural understanding; and an improved, in-depth community integration. Being a respected and equal member of a family not only provides strong personal and professional rewards, it can ensure your safety and security as well. Host family accommodations will vary depending on the community. Some may be apartments or separate detached houses; some may have European-style bathrooms while others might use "outhouses" or "squat" toilets. Regardless of the situation, trainees and Volunteers live as the members of their community do. After the four-month period, Volunteers may remain with host families or change to another living situation in their communities depending on availability and personal preferences.

Training

Main article: Training in Armenia

Training is an essential part of Peace Corps service. The goal of the eleven-week program is to give you the skills and information you need to live and work effectively in Armenia. In doing that, we build upon the experiences and expertise you bring to the Peace Corps. The program also gives you the opportunity to practice new skills as they apply to your work in Armenia. We anticipate that you will approach training with an open mind, a desire to learn, and a willingness to become involved. Trainees officially become Volunteers only after successful completion of training.

You will receive training and orientation in components of language, cross-cultural communication, development issues, health and personal safety, and technical skills pertinent to your specific assignment. The skills you learn will serve as the foundation upon which you build your experience as a Peace Corps Volunteer.

Upon arrival in Armenia, you will go to the Peace Corps training center a few hours outside of Yerevan. After a brief orientation period, you will move into a host village within an hour of the training center. In the host village, you and other trainees (about 15 to a village) will live with a Armenian host family for the majority of your training period, allowing you to gain hands-on experience in some of the new skills you are expected to acquire.

Health Care and Safety

Main article: Health care and safety in Armenia

The Peace Corps’ highest priority is maintaining the good health and safety of every Volunteer. Peace Corps medical programs emphasize the preventive, rather than the curative, approach to disease. The Peace Corps in Armenia maintains a clinic with two full-time medical officers, who take care of Volunteers’ primary healthcare needs. Additional medical services, such as testing and basic treatment, are also available in Armenia at local hospitals and clinics. If you become seriously ill, you will be transported to a medical facility in the region or to the United States.

Diversity and Cross-Cultural Issues

Main article: Diversity and cross-cultural issues in Armenia

In Armenia, as in other Peace Corps host countries, Volunteers’ behavior, lifestyle, background, and beliefs are judged in a cultural context very different from their own. Certain personal perspectives or characteristics commonly accepted in the United States may be quite uncommon, unacceptable, or even repressed in Armenia.

Outside of Armenia’s capital, residents of rural communities have had relatively little direct exposure to other cultures, races, religions, and lifestyles. What people view as typical American behavior or norms may be a misconception, such as the belief that all Americans are rich and Caucasian. The people of Armenia are justly known for their generous hospitality to foreigners; however, members of the community in which you will live may display a range of reactions to cultural differences that you present.

Frequently Asked Questions

Main article: FAQs about Peace Corps in Armenia

Packing List

Main article: Packing list for Armenia

This list has been compiled by Volunteers serving in Armenia and is based on their experience. Use it as an informal guide in making your own list, bearing in mind that experience is individual. There is no perfect list! You obviously cannot bring everything we mention, so consider those items that make the most sense to you personally and professionally. You can always have things sent to you later. As you decide what to bring, keep in mind that you have an 80-pound weight restriction on baggage. Do not bring valuables or cherished items that could be lost, stolen, or ruined by the harsh climate. And remember, you can get almost everything you need in Armenia.

Volunteer Blogs

Main article: Blogs of Peace Corps in Armenia

The Final Missive

(From atop of Cambodia's Angkor Temples)

Season's Greeting to all!

Six months have passed since my last update on the blog and I am unsure of where this time has gone. June signaled the beginning of the academic year for all education institutions in the Philippines, thus creating a course load of five classes for myself teamed with various counterparts; the smallest course load I have had the past five years. I taught two teaching methodology classes, two English classes (grammar and literature), and one PE class. When I wasn't preparing my lessons or assessing various assignments, I was involved in teacher trainings throughout the country.

The last six months of my service, I assisted in no less than seven trainings, with only two held at my site. Traveling in the Philippines is exhausting, as you have to catch, planes, boats, pedicabs (motorbikes with side cabs), buses, etc., just to go a few islands to the west. So just as I arrived to the workshop(s) as a resource speaker, or upon my return from the workshop(s), fatigue always seemed to overwhelm me, though the students and teachers warm greetings always turned the languish feelings to attitudes of excitement.

Also, the past year, I had been preparing the Visayas State University women's softball team for the one and annual regional competition that was to be held in late October 2010. The girls worked tediously to become team players and learned not only to manage their time but focus on leadership and skills development. The girls sacrificed much to be a part of a team and were patient with my demands in order to create a disciplined team.

We were able to play a few scrimmages with a few universities in preparation for the regional sports championships, and we were coming off great highs of winning our first game in nearly four years. Our victorious reign was short-lived, as the regional sports championship was cancelled for financial, security, etc. worries (and a bundle of other rumors ). I was devastated for the girls as they had strived so hard to be a competitive team, and yet our chances, as a unit, were taken away. Though tears were shed, soon smiles were had (the Filipino way) and we celebrated what we had accomplished rather than weighing in on what could of happened.

As the first semester came to a close in mid-October, so did my contract and work with the university. Despididas (goodbye parties) were had in the various departments I had assisted, with each despididas having its unforgettable touch. From the university’s administration to the security personnel, I had special moments playing basketball or sharing a merienda (snack break). But most importantly, I had wonderful counterparts in various departments that enabled us to create a two-way cultural avenue in which everyone was learning. Peace Corps work is unsuccessful unless the Peace Corps Volunteer and the assigned counterparts are willing to learn from each other, and in the two tours I participated in, this was done without fear or hesitation from each other.

After warm wishes and "see you laters" from colleagues and family members at VSU, I headed to Manila to close out my four and a half years of Peace Corps work (only a few people ever sign up for two Peace Corps tours like myself) and on November 5th, my service ended. Today, I still don't think it has "sunk" in that I am no longer part of the active Peace Corps community, but too, once you become of member of the Peace Corps, it is hard for you to ever leave this "family".

After meeting up with my Filipino roommate in Cagayan De Oro and venturing to Camiguin (island in the Philippines), I headed to Vietnam and Cambodia for a little over two weeks. I enjoyed my travels to both places, learning about each culture and even more about U.S. history in Vietnam. Each place in Vietnam seemed to sport its own culture and identity, which made Vietnam extremely intriguing. Cambodia, home of the Angkor empire and its array of Wats, fooled my eyes more so than the pyramids of Egypt did. Lastly, the Cambodian people displayed enough smiles and energy that if there were to be a world full of Cambodians, we would have renewable energy from their beaming smiles! :) Their optimism at all ages, despite the suffering and poverty that they witness day-in and day-out, is to be applauded. (Cambodians make roughly $30 a month, per my conversations with folks in Siem Reap).

My travels eventually ended a few days before Thanksgiving, which found me at Epply Airfield in Omaha, Nebraska, USA, in arms of missed family members.

I appreciate the support, letters, packages, and thoughts the past four and a half years of my Peace Corps journey. This has been a shared journey, not a lone journey by myself, and I am deeply thrilled to have been able to communicate or even inculcate you about the Armenian or Filipino cultures. I am also extremely grateful to the Armenians and Filipinos who opened their doors not only to a stranger (me), but opened up their lives and hearts to share with me as well.

As I concluded, I wanted to share with you all some fun and immediate observations in moving back to the U.S.

Here I have written the top five things (tangible) that I have missed from the U.S. (excluding family and friends as they are intangible).

1) Tap Water2) Real Dairy (skim milk and cheeses)3) Driving (Not allowed by Peace Corps)4) Diversity in ethnic foods5) Seasons of weather

Here are three tangible things that I already miss from Armenia and the Philippines (excluding family and friends as they are intangible).

1) Availability of public transport2) Every day warm greetings from students and colleagues3) Fresh fruits and vegetable4) Discounted Book Stores/Peace Corps Book Exchange

5) Not relying on internet on a day-to-day basis

There's been no doubt that my core, soul, and philosophy of life have changed from living a more simplistic life and learning what really IS important in life: family, friends, and love. Not only that, but my zeal to continue a career in education as well as finding better means to allow all learners to succeed in the classroom, have given me such a desire to pursue a Ph.D in which I can shape my experiences and apply research to make educational settings more conducive for the multicultural classrooms found throughout the world.

Lastly, I hope that my experience has encouraged you to breakout of your daily routine to volunteer and give back to others. And I hope you are doing so, or will do so because your heart demands you too, not because you feel "obligated" to it. Believe me, volunteering and finding the time to do so, is the best thing that could happen to you; you will see a whole new perspective of life, and just maybe, maybe you will learn a little more about your true self.

With this said, I sign off wishing the best to come in 2011. Thank you, all of you, for your support! I can't wait to see you all very soon.

Peace,

Syd

Captions for each pic:

1) Electrical wires in Saigon, Vietnam

2) Catching a waterfall in Banue, Ifugao, Philippines

3) Beach near my home

4) Halong Bay, Vietnam

5) Teachers at my site with me and other Peace Corps Volunteers

6) My adorable goddaugher, Alika

7) Another way to transport a motorbike

8) San Jose, Romblon, Philippines

[?]
School Year 2010-11 Has Begun!
Boracay BeachPictures from the top (Boracay Beach 3x) (Banaue Rice Terraces, Batad Hike and Waterfall 6x) (Sagada Training, Sagada Caving and Hiking 7x) (Calatagan Camp 3x)Greetings my fellow amigos and amigas! Alas, I am providing a blog update despite a three month sabbatical of not providing an invigorating missive! The end of March brought the conclusion of the 2009-2010 academic year at the university. Over 850 graduates received their diplomas, with around 100 coming from the College of Education. It was great to watch these students mature from second year students to fourth year students. Observing the bounce and smile, the students grabbed their diplomas from their respective deans which was enticing even if the entire ceremony was nearly five hours long. I was extremely proud of my ten advisees, and some of them are the first in their families to earn a degree in higher educationWith that said, many of the students struggle financially to achieve such a dream, so having them reflect on the past fours years and see the future was exhilarating. The graduating students from the teacher education program needed to submit the final project, a student-teacher profile, which reflected upon their four months of student teaching as well as prepare them for the future which included articles such as a career plan, resume, literature reviews, and vision statements. Knowing that this was a new requirement sent forth by the Philippine Commission on Higher Education (CHED), the Dean of the College of Education asked me to come up with a sample portfolio to model to the approximately 100 graduating students.While doing so as asked, I also inquired to my co-teacher and dean how strict they wanted me to be with the format, professionalism and content of the resume, literature reviews, career plans and reflections. Enthusiastically I was told to go about in American way; and that is exactly what I did…my poor advisees. They handed in rough draft after rough draft. Grammar errors. Un-cited work. Sloppy resumes. The list continued. Each time, I corrected and edited the errors. One student, really stood out during this process, as he excitedly handed in his portfolio and said:“Ma’am, please sign off. I am done. I will graduate!” Unfortunately, his energy and optimism didn’t match his output in his portfolio.It also was the day before the submission of the final draft. Knowing that finances were minimal, and the it was the third draft, I played a small mind battle in my head of whether or not I should make him redo a few sections in his portfolio. I had seen other students‘ portfolios from other advisors and I realized that I had really pushed my ten advisees. I was very particular on their grammatical structures and the format of the citations. It had seemed, that these were not particularly paid attention to by other students’ advisors. Nonetheless, I remembered the dean’s words of allowing me to be “estricto” and I also knew I needed to be consistent. So, I made the student revise his portfolio one last time.He was shocked, begged that he had done a fine job. I told him, positively, that he had 24 hours to return me the final product. He debated a bit then said “thanks” and walked out of the office. Not eight hours later, I had a perfect portfolio by this student. When I signed his clearance, tears of happiness ran down his cheeks. “Ma’am”… "I did it. I didn’t think I could do it…could be a teacher…could graduate! I never thought I could do this, financially and mentally…Thank you!!!” And with that we embraced. That scene would mimic itself many more times on April 8th, as I greeted the ten advisees and other graduates with hugs of congratulations, each having a degree in hand… This summer was very busy in every good sense of the word. After graduation on April 8th, I headed to Luzon (the main island) for a month. My first spot was near Calatagan, Bataganes for a high school aged Eco-Camp. It was great to be back in “Camp Syd” mentality and be out of the “professional teacher ethos”. BOOM-CHICKA-BOOM reigned as the camp hymn just like the Green Camp days in Armenia, but this time, it was an accident. I had a great time with my intimate group during the swimming and snorkeling lessons, as two girls were afraid of the water and by the last day, they threw off the life jackets and snorkeled around the boat discovering various “underwater friends”. One student had so much fun on the first day of lessons, that he decided to take off his flip-flops , against policy, and nicely stepped on a sea urchin…ouch! Luckily, a co-PCV man was around to urinate on his foot to stop the poisoning. This didn’t hinder his future swimming pursuits or snorkeling discoveries the rest of the week…thank god. The camp structure was on educating the student leaders of various high schools the importance of sea life, from mangroves to coral reefs, swimming and snorkeling lessons, recycling, and learning about aquatic life all in a fun and interactive experiential learning environment. The purpose then was to take the knowledge gained, back to their respected communities and schools and become eco-leaders. To this date, this project seems to be quite sustainable as a few school immediately adopted environmental clubs to apply the information learned from camp. Next up, was a 20 hour, three different buses trip to Sagada, Mountain Province. Wow! The journey was breathtaking and so unique. I was up high in the mountains where there was not a trace of bamboo, palms, or sand. There were fir trees, I could see my breath and I had, yes HAD to sleep with a quilt! It reminded me much of Appalachia back in the US. In Sagada, there was a Summer English Institute for sixty local elementary teachers. Six PCVs and counterparts taught and refreshed basic English skills, specifically in speaking and writing. It was a ten day institute filled with some of the best moments of my Philippines tour.Not only was I amazed at the diversity of terrain, but also how aberrant the Igorot culture is. The teachers were shy unlike the those in the Visayas, and foreigners are commonly seen as tourists, not as people interested in assisting them professionally. However, by the end of the week, rapport was established and friendships are still being endured.My favorite class was when we had a debate on overpopulation, a current issue facing most of Asia and in particular, the Philippines. After an hour, I had to stop the debate as the teachers were so into it, and it was time for dinner. It was great to see their fervor as they processed and explained their opinions. They too, had no idea they could carry on a conversation for so long in English! My favorite part of the conference was the last evening we were together. It was a culture exchange program, in which the six of us PCVs, tried to do a country line dance, which I regretfully inform, we did a lousy job. It turned into a caricature and embarrassment as we messed up the subtle steps. Next, the various districts around Sagada did their village dances. Soon they asked us to join in. Without hesitation, Melissa (PCV) and I joined in, others soon followed. As the boys played the gongs, we did our best to reproduce the actions of our fellow counterparts. Regrettably, dancing is a not a fine motor skill I posses, yet it did provide free entertainment and laughs as I meticulously tried every dance movement. The dancing night lasted over two hours with smiles and sweaty bodies embracing each other for the wonderful night. Even though it ended up only as a one-way culture dance exchange, the night was one to remember (and no pictures to prove it :().I took some time off to discover Sagada on my own as well. I went on a four-hour caving expedition, did some hiking, and jumped off a waterfall. The landscape was breathtaking and I still can’t believe that such a place exists in the tropics of the Philippines. I also, took my time getting down to my next stop, and enjoyed the mountainous ride to the world renown Banaue Rice Terraces, hiked in the rain, and enjoyed the rendition of “Banaue Road, Take Me Home” by our hostel manager. My last stop was at PCV Christina’s site in Solano, Nueva Vizcaya for a week long curriculum development workshop with her high school English teachers. There, I was charged with the first year teachers, in which we created a road map of how to teach a small pocket book in a six week timetable. I was just one of four volunteers that came to assist in this endeavor. However, this workshop had to come to a quick end, as PC Philippines put a travel ban for the presidential elections. So I took the eight hour night bus back to Manila to fly out back to Leyte, and then finally, a three hour van ride back to site before the May 10th elections. Once at sight, I caught up on some much needed sleep, and prepared for an all day long summer course. This pretty much filled my time until I would leave for another two-week span of conferencing in the Western Visayas. I enjoyed teaching the summer course, but wow, every day for about six hours requires some intense lesson planning!My final summer escapade was from May 23-June 6th. I joined 22 chosen PCVs to go to Panay in the Western Visayas to do four, 2-day trainings for the four provinces in coordination with the Department of Education (DepEd). It was a marathon in all senses of the imagination. We would teach the same lesson six to eight times a training, sleep on floors, and then pack up and move to the next training. Our food was provided and was heavenly. Sometimes we were entertained with air-conditioned rooms for an evening’s sleep. We would do one training, caravan-travel to the next training the following day and set-up, and then the process repeated itself. In the end, around 1480 teachers were trained. The target was 2000, but hey, some things are just out of your control, such as the government mandated census count in which the teachers had to take part in with interviews. One PCV volunteer really organized this adventure and it was extremely successful. Kudos to you Justin dear! After the trainings, DepEd Aklan, put us up for a nice price at their boarding house in Boracay, the most famous island beach in the Philippines. It is a very small island full of white sandy beaches, restaurants, bars, kite surfing, sailing, etc…you name it, they do it. It is not only heavily promoted to foreigners, but remains a place for Filipinos alike. Two nights and one day was enough for my senses, as I needed to head back before the start of classes. I had to return for my 7 a.m. first class on June 7th. I arrived just in time as the night boat came in around 3 a.m. that same morning. Which now, leads to today. The 2010-11 academic year has been in session for a week. My teaching load seems fair with five classes and I will continue to coach the women’s softball team as well as offer my tutorial services at near by elementary school. There has been a sense of anxiety amongst some, as they see that I am in my last semester at the university. Come November, my time at the university and the Philippines will expire physically, but never spiritually or emotionally.The upcoming months will bring the last of my teacher trainings and the close out of some major projects (curriculum development, reading modules, etc.). Things will slow down and hopefully, will become more sustainable as I slowly let go. I wish all of you happy and relaxing summer. Enjoy the heat (as we do every day here) and the barbecue. Salaam,Syd June: Mom, Sam, Christina, Sheryll, Jenny Anniversaries: Rhea and Man, Stephanie and Brian, Nic and Andrew July: Stacie, Laurel, Todd, Elizabeth, Meghanne [?]
Schools Almost Out For Summer!
Friends in the Philippines Can you find me? Learning the Tausug Dance Yes, proposal writing is so much fun! Teacher Syd Can you find me again? Yes here I am. The campus I work on is quite beautiful. Students learning to use chopsticks in Motor Behavior class My Godchild, Alika, and below her mother, Kim. Native folk dances and costumes Yippee..sliding down the waterfall A sunset on campus. Kuting Reef

More pictures can be seen at...

http://www.facebook.com/album.php?aid=191241&id=734341578&l=1719470479

http://www.facebook.com/album.php?aid=165150&id=734341578&l=e9695e9334

Happy Spring to all of you!

Life in the Philippines has been interesting. Since I had last written, we had experienced volcanic disturbances and tsunami warnings though nothing transpired from the cautionary advice. However, last Tuesday, this time without warning, a small earthquake rattled its way through Samar and Leyte. I was sitting at my desk at the time when I felt a rumbling noise, similar as if a big logging truck were to pass through campus. But as a looked up, silence grew and the mirror in the office swayed ever so leisurly. Within six seconds, nothing was left but a swift memory and my second earth rocking experience. The quake center was about 120 kilometers from my site. However, there is a rather large mountain range, valley and the Leyte Gulf all in between. Needless to say,the 5.2 measured “linog” (earthquake) feared nothing and growled its way across the Eastern Visayas, leaving its mark through small cracks in the walls.

Despite the exhilarating natural experiences living in the Pacific Ring of Fire, the way of life continues to move forward with optimistic approaches and gentle smiles. At this time, the university, to some extent resembles the calm before the storm, as final exams and graduation requirements are being completed this week. My eyes have checked various papers, edited diverse thesis reports, and doubled verified grades in preparation for the final calculation. While spring seems be to beckoning in your part of the world (or fall for my southern hemisphere friends), summer has arrived and everyone feels the warm pressure to conclude the 2009-2010 academic successfully.

This year graduates a batch of future teachers and development communicators that have really been a driving force in my Peace Corps experience at the university. These students and I had much bonding time in the classroom as well as outside the classroom though implementing HIV/AIDS workshops for high school students and adopting an elementary school for Saturday reading lessons. In all regards, these students could be equivalent to “my first students” here in the Philippines. I taught the majority of their major courses and we united deeper when we inculcated various nonformal educational programs in our outreach programs. I am excited for the students’ future, and a part of me wishes that my Philippine Peace Corps Journey would extend to see them in their respective fields, hopefully applying the knowledge that so earnestly yearned for.

Summer brings less time at the beaches than one would think. Due to my ability to say “yes” to anything, I have found my summer schedule packed with conferences and trainings all throughout the Philippines. I am even squeezing in one summer Eco-Camp as well. The exciting part of all these wonderful but very arduous events, is that I will be travelling out of my region, thus indulging in a new cultures, new languages, new territories, and new food as I hope to edify an assorted number of teachers in several concepts of teacher and English education. I can’t wait to tell my story, upload my pictures, and reflect on my upcoming experiences to all of you. In 60 days this summer, I will be travelling to five regions, doing 33 days of conferencing. Mind you, some places will require me to take boat, airplane, bus, van, bike, etc; thus taking countless days to reach the destination.

….

The past four months have been prosperous as I became a godmother to my dear counterpart’s child, presented a project design and management workshop to the Siasi people, judged various competitions, and wrapped-up annual academic activities. Definitely, the freshest memory is that of the project design and management workshop. This workshop was held in conjunction with USAID to the people of Siasi, Sulu, Philippines. If you Google this location, you will find it as a very small island near Borneo, though still part of the Philippines. So by nature, I was completely intrigued with their way of life. After the workshop, we (PCVs) had opportunities to really get to know our participants by listening to their stories.

Their stories are the ones you read about in development communication journals. A floating school, in which classes are held depending on the tide; during high tide, the water envelopes the walkway to the school thus disabling the students to leave or get to the school building. Or a school beneath a palm tree, providing shade as basic education is conducted. No electricity, no running water, no salaries for the teachers, etc. The stories continued to flow, but doing so in the most sanguine manner; all knowing it is better to have something rather than nothing.

Then came the fun part, the cultural exchange. The people of Siasi come from the Tausug tribe, and most practice Islam. Their manners and behaviors are so sincere, reminding me of the Islam culture colliding with the Hawaiian way of life. The music is refreshing, calm as the wind blows, the garb is full of influence and elegance, and the language has a rhythm and pride in its origin and secular world. Despite the odds, despite the lack of government funds that rarely trickle down to the smallest islands, the people of Siasi are the friendliest of the friendliest in the Philippines. I only wish I had more time to learn with them and see their world with my own eyes. Your eyes, however, can see some, as the pictures above show the smiles, the dress, and the optimistic eyes as I familiarized myself with a small part of the Tausug culture.

….

As the months wind down, I realize that I probably will only update this blog a few more times. Reflecting upon that creates disturbance in my soul as it means my time in Peace Corps is in its final miles of the marathon; my identity that has shaped me into who I am today, will slowly be in its final stage. This has all come into perspective to me in the last month, as the university president and other administers kindly gestured for me to stay an additional year. Half of me wants to ignore the fact that I cannot stay, though I really wish I could. So to satisfy the yearning soul, I have been extended the opportunity to come back after the completion of my doctoral study. Thus, giving me another aim to reach for in the years to come, and satisfying my desire to return.

The school hunting process has been fun, interesting, and challenging with the internet situation. I don’t understand why the develop world needs all these flashy pop-up features on their websites. Yes, I am sure it is eye-catching, but is a major pain for people with dial-up connections to research the pros and cons of an institution for potential application. Whatever the case or opinion, the websites should get right to the point, emphasizing the educational attainment instead of flashing me all this nonsense and wasteful excess that is suppose to “lure” me into applying to the institution. Instead, from the developing world, it makes me not want to ever step foot in that institution. Probably something I would have never mulled over if I were in the US.

Most of the schools that have struck an interest to be seem to be on the East coast, either in the DC or NYC area. I am not sure who will take me, but let’s just hope someone is willing, especially as the education systems are experiencing high tuition rates, stiffer application requirements, and smaller faculties.

So I know that this update is rather insipid and a bit vague, but I am due for some time of informational notice to acknowledge to you all that I am alive and well. I promise the next update, probably in June, will be more electrifying :)

Lastly, to my Armenian friends and family, it was a pleasure to finally speak with you over the phone. Dzez ampi chap em karotel...

Thus I conclude, wishing you all a merry spring. Enjoy March Madness and root for the Lady Huskers. Enjoy Passover, Easter or the weekend; Pick a flower for one you love, and hug another for no reason at all.

Peace to you all and forever, Syd March: Monica, Whit, Cliff, Jan, Lindy, Tatev, Satenik, Steck, Jamie, Laurel and Joey’s Anniversary April: Danny, Aunt Barb, Nancy, Matt, Leigh, Mom and Dad’s 31stMay: Heather, Jeff, Alex, Ant, Bern, Torgom, Jamie, Pam, Laszlo

Extra info on the Tausug Tribe... Retrieved on March 15th, 2010 from: http://www.seasite.niu.edu/Tagalog/Cynthia/Mindanao/ethnolingusticgroups.htm

Tausug

Tausug (people of the current) were the fisrt tribe in the archipelago to be converted to Islam. They are historically, the ruling people of the ancient Sultanate of Jolo, and regard themselves supeiror to other Philippine Muslims. They generally live a combative, "very mascular" life, where violence is often an expression of the social process. They are traders, fishermen and artisans of fine Muslim textiles and metal works.

Tausug Wisdom - To the Tausug, a proverb is masaalla, a word of Arabic origin. Some are pittuwa, or advice about life. Proverbs are part of daman or symbolic speech, which includes riddles and courtship dialogue.

Some proverbs follow: Tausug: In lasa iban uba di hikatapuk. Tagalog: Ang pag-ibig at ubo ay hindi maitatago. English: Love and a cough cannot be hidden. Tausug: In ulang natutuy mada sin sug. Tagalog: Ang natutulog na alimango ay matatangay ng agaos. English: A sleeping crab will be carried by the current. Tausug: Wayruun asu bang way kayu. Tagalog: Kung walang usok, wala ring apoy. English: There is no smoke where there is no fire. Tausug: Atay nagduruwaruwa wayruun kasungan niya. Tagalog: Kung ang isa ay hindi makapag disisyon, siya ay walang kinabukasan. English: One who cannot decide will have no future. Tausug: Ayaw mangaku daug salugay buhi. Tagalog: (1) Huwag aaminin ang pagkatalo haggang ikaw ay nabubuhay. or (2) Hanggang maybuhay, may pag asa. English: Never admit defeat as long as you live. Sources: Insight Guides: Philippines and Filway's Philippine Almanac Centennial Edition

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Final Update for 2009
College of Education Family, My Host Mother and Me
VSU Holiday lights and family
Trip to Biliran Leyte..Water, sand, and hikes
Our Turkey Day festivities
Mike and I at UNO Hockey Game, Omaha, NE
Reunion in Santa Fe, NM
Whit's Wedding...Hi Laurel!
Greetings and Gobbles to all of you!
Ting, ting, ting….the gentle rains have arrived! After escaping the devastation of the typhoons that rolled in the Manila area from August to October, the rainy season has officially arrived in my neck of the woods. Truth be told, I love the rainy season! The weather is much cooler, I don’t sweat as much, therefore my soggy body doesn’t threaten the students, the dogs tend not to bark as much nor mate, and lastly, it is my only sense of feeling “winter”. Currently, the temperature drops to about 70F, and for me, that requires no fan, no tank-top to sleep in, and believe it not, covers on the bed.For the many advantages of the rainy season, it does bring slight drawbacks. One being, washed clothes (remember no dryers, everything is done laboriously) taking days to dry. Another, being random clothes you thought were dry in your wardrobe are now covered in slight mold as the moisture leaves its trail on about everything. Thirdly, the mosquitoes come out by the bushels. It has been quite entertaining watching the mosquitoes suck my blood, as now I have attained the education to determine if this little gal is trying to transmit dengue or malaria to me. Given the region I am, the odds of me contracting malaria are about the same as the Washington Redskins winning the Super Bowl this year. So dengue is the main threat, and yes, there is no cure. Lastly, my exercise routine becomes near dormant as the rain finds it common pattern to be in the morning and late afternoon/evening hours. Perfect timing, thanks rain
The second semester has begun (November) and I am very pleased with my class load. I am teaching, co-teaching rather, seven courses with seven different professors. I am so lucky, as the classes I teach are ones I am utterly zealous about such as Foundations of Recreation and Leisure, Motor Behavior Skills (Thank you undergrad and UNO for this knowledge), Principle of Teachings, Methods Classes, Nonformal education, and a science reporting class. In between classes and planning, there is a softball team to coach and to mentor, as well as a literacy program at a local village. Last but not least, is my favorite new activity, a reading club. Currently the students (all four of them) finished their first book, The Diary of Anne Frank. We had our club meetings after the assigned readings, and I was just blown away. The students, all females, age 18, were so passionate about the book and intrigued about the Holocaust. They immediate could relate to the similar adolescent struggles of Anne. They are so inquiring about Judaism, the Jewish culture, and the history of the holocaust. Their beautiful brown eyes lit up with such interest that it honestly reaches deep into any teacher’s heart. They even told me, that they have GOOGLE’d (yes Sam, google’d, not Yahoo’d) to learn more about the situation. Ahhh sigh….students becoming self-directed in their learning efforts
These young ladies have spread word about the book, that I have a long list of students waiting to read the book. I am going to make it a mandatory read for some of the future teachers. Thanks to Barbara Rubin et al, who have mailed boxes of young reader books depicting the Holocaust. We are anxiously awaiting the arrival of the mass copies of these books! Based on my inquiry to the students, they state that WWII’s history is mostly taught from the Asian front. And as you may recall, there is still much to study from the Asian front and that atrocities that Japanese brought upon the Filipinos and other Allied Forces (ie: Bataan March). However, since European history during this time is not a focal point, I find it my duty to teach about the man-made calamities that were brought upon innocent individuals.
RECAP OF THE PAST MONTHS
October proved to be a nice break, as I headed back stateside for my younger sister’s wedding. It was a beautiful ceremony filled with droll and sincere moments. It was wonderful to see so many family members and friends through a special ceremony. It was the longest I had been state-side since May 2006, so I took every opportunity to see many family members and friends, which welcomed me to “the good life” of Nebraska, the adobes of Mexican food and friends in Sante Fe, delicious food and hospitality in Cleveland, and reunions and laughter in DC.
November brought the beginning of the second semester and opulent cultural exchanges. Thanksgiving Day was celebrated in the College of Education, with a brief potluck of Filipino dishes, and traditional turkey day delicacies. Questions posed, answers resolved, food devoured. It was a great time. Thanksgiving weekend proved to be yet another beautiful weekend, where five PCVs joined together and celebrated a massive Thanksgiving dinner at another PCV’s host family’s home. We learned to kill a live turkey and roast it for hours. We prepared sweet potato casseroles, macaroni and cheese, cinnamon rolls, stuffing, deviled eggs, and so much more. Most homes in the Filipinos do not have ovens, so we were able to use the HUGE wood stove at the local bakery to cook three dishes. The dinner was well attended by everyone and stories shared. The next day, we went to a beach and did some hiking (see pics above). It was a nice break.
December brought the “Visayas Women in Sport Congress” sponsored by the Philippine Sports Commission. I was a guest speaker and was able to connect with many individuals involved in this movement. It was a blessing to have networked with some many passionate people. Next up, was the annual PC conference, where there were a multitude of medical checks conducted, and a chance to see my “batchmates”. Some of them I hadn’t seen in over a year. A karaoke contest was conducted by my group, in which yours truly participated in a duet of “Total Eclipse of the Heart”. It wasn’t quite an award winning performance, but a blast to participate. During that week we also sent our goodbyes to one of the PC staff members, Kavita, who will be now be working at the PC Guyana’s office.
The university dismissed it classes on December 18th, so I will be just getting some lesson plans together, cleaning (mass cleaning) the house, reading, and enjoying some free time until classes resume on January 4th. I am sure there will be some beloved hammock time, books read, and basketball played. Campus will be quiet as many people have left to spend the holidays with their families (students and faculty alike). I will celebrate the holidays with my host family and friends.
As the year comes to an end, I want to thank everyone who has continued to support me in my international endeavors. I am approaching my final year of PC and the time has passed with such alacrity. Though the Philippines has experience many tragic events this passed year, especially in the past five months, I am blessed to have such a small part in such a wonderful country. As many of you gather around the hearth for your holiday celebrations please kindly remember those who are in evacuation centers because of a threatening volcano, those who are attending funerals from the massacre held in Maguidanao, and those who are still homeless from the various typhoons that devastated the Philippines.
Peace upon you as the year/decade makes it final journey.
Happy Holidays. Maayong Pasko og Bagong Tuig. Shnorhavor amanor!
Syd
Top of Syd’s Reads for 2009 (read 31 books this year)Blum, Jenna. Those Who Save UsDesai, Kiran. The Inheritance LossEugenides, Jeffery. Middlesex Forsyth, Frederick. The Odessa FilesGhosh, Amitar. The Hungry TideGilbert, Elizabeth. Eat, Love, PrayKeating, Barbara and Stephanie. Blood SistersMathabane, Mark. Kaffir BoyMoore. Christopher. Lamb Orwell, George. Burmese DaysStewart, Rory. The Places In Between
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Ting-Bagyo (Typhoon Season)

I feel like every time I have begun my blog updates, it follows the pattern of “…it has been long overdue since my last update…” This seems to my personal theme the past four years. But nonetheless, here it is, the anticipated tardy journal entry from your Peace Corps zealot, a peripatetic by nature.

First, I must regard the concerns and comments of the latest typhoon that struck devastation in the Philippines, particularly that in the Metro Manila area. It is quite a distressing scene in most parts of Manila, despite the aid and relief that is in progress. I was not directly affected by the events of Typhoon Ondoy as I am far southeast of the Manila area. We received a large amount of heavy rains/thunderstorms, but it was short-lived. However, there were some Peace Corps staff and volunteers caught in the middle of the flooding, some escaping to higher grounds, watching their cars float away; another in shoulder-deep water escaping the taxi that was soon to be looted; others are still unreachable and we are just hoping for their safety. Over a half million people are not only homeless, but have no possessions besides the clothes on their backs. It has been inspiring to see how the nation has been united. Here at the university we are doing a food and clothing drive in response to the tragic and horrifying event. And just when the sun has graced us with his presence, the outbreak of another typhoon, a super typhoon, is quickly approaching the Eastern side of the Philippines. It will hit us this evening. I am starting to buy-in to the concept of typhoon season.

Before the rains came, life was on its normal pace of alacrity. July ended with a bang and August rendered to be a vacation month, as there are three national holidays, the death of a former hero-later president, Pres. Cory Aquino, the university’s 85th anniversary celebration (leaving classes shorten or cancelled), and mid-term week. The time breezed by despite the lack of formal education.

The anniversary celebration was an anthology of activities from beauty pageants, to farmer’s field day, to native dance troop numbers, to sports competitions. There were bazaars, markets, and food vendors from all over. I sure did get my abstemious fill of cheesy popcorn, gauche hamburgers but tasty ice cream. There were an additional 4000 people on campus for the week’s event. For all my Falls City-ians, you may compared it a glorified Cobblestone, but cut out the demo derby and tractor pull, and add a more tropical-agriculture experience such as bamboo pole racing and abaca trunk shedding.

Also in August, a former PCV colleague of mine from Armenia, Laszlo, dropped by for a visit. It just so happened to be the same weekend as my birthday, so a few of us gathered for a weekend of island hopping and camping. The next day was followed up with some hiking and caving. I had never been caving before and found it very pleasing. I saw many deleterious organisms such as millipedes (or maybe they were centipedes…didn’t want to stick around to count the legs), water snakes, bats, and the craziest looking spiders and insects that I have ever seen. The second cave took us up a former coconut covered mountain (deforestation) into a small village of about six homes. We stopped by the villager officer’s home to acknowledge our presence, and trekked on. The cave was submerged in water and took some rock grabbing skills in order not to fall into holes that were naked to the eye. The stalagmites were in great forms (again, rookie caver) as not many people have been in these caves except the locals. It was a great experience and a good way to chill off after a hot hike. It was a day of 10k of trekking, exploring two caves and stunning sites.

In late August, the senior education college students and I started a reading program at a local elementary school. It has been very successful and fun. It provides a pragmatic experience for the teachers-to-be and also allows me to work with the much adorable younger population.

September was full of conferences. I presented a program design and management training for a school district north to where I am currently residing. It was very fun, but exhausting as I was the main resource person for 100 participants for the two days of implementation. Next, was an English Workshop for the local elementary and high school teachers in the local district. There were 50 participants for the three day event. Next and finally, came a conference with the Peace Corps in conjunction with the new batch of volunteers that arrived in the country in August. It was humbling to reflect upon my year of service here and to lend a hand or two the newbies as well as their Filipino counterparts. I enjoyed the pampering of being in air-conditioning as well as a shower that also included hot water. However, soon the hot water was too hot and the air-conditioning was too cold, so I just preferred the normal; an electric fan and a bucket with a scoop.

Also in September it was the first annual celebration of “World Teacher Appreciation Month” at the university. It started with a parade (a familiar thing for any celebration in the Philippines), an opening ceremony, followed by a movie. I was in charged of this endeavor so I found it must appropriate to have the faculty and students watch “Freedom Writers”. It was interesting watching the reactions of 500 movie goers, especially when it came to the diversity of the characters. The reactions by the audience to the actions of some of the characters in the movies only confirmed my fervor to carry out a multicultural approach to my classes. By the end of the movies, tears had dropped from some cheeks and I was approached by the Dean of the College of Education who had requested the video. She must have been inspired because she would like all future educators to watch this movie before they graduate from the College. This followed by many other requests for the movie as well; inspiring them a bit further in their daily work. All of this sure did bring a beaming grin across my face.

On a social note, I have been busy attending fiestas and birthday parties indulging on roasted pigs, various spaghetti plates, and exotic fruit. Just when I thought I have tried every fruit in the Philippines, another one appears in front of my eyes….

…The softball team is progressing well and hopefully will be prepared for the annual sporting event (region-wide, covering two islands) at the end of the month. The rains have thwarted our practices, but what is there to expect during typhoon season? :)

Since I have been delaying the update of the blog, I have missed several birthdays and anniversaries to “shout out”. I hope you received my personal facebook messages or a note in your inbox to acknowledge my greetings to you. There are only two shout outs I will give now, the first to my younger sister and her fiancé, who will tie the knot in two weeks :) The other is to my dear Satenik S. who is dominating her FLEX interviews J

Here’s hoping the F’s are keeping the Americans happy (Family, Football, Friends, and Fall), and here’s hoping the potato harvest is successful in Armenia!

With warm regards,

Syd PS. The internet is too slow for pictures, so please check out the latest pictures at these websites..

http://www.facebook.com/album.php?aid=140815&id=734341578&l=dfa74bbe7e

http://www.facebook.com/album.php?aid=129787&id=734341578&l=b33ce85762

http://www.facebook.com/album.php?aid=129782&id=734341578&l=4190520e0a

http://www.generalcomputing.com/csalad/gallery2/v/2009/0906D/

this are pics from my friend Laszlo :)

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Transportation in the PI and Random Thoughts
Pictures taken by my education task force friend, Christina Chung.Ah, the rain! As it beats unswervingly on the various palms, the tin roofs, the pavement; the bonhomie relaxes me just as the sudden rush of water falling steadily from a waterfall. Ting-habagat (Northwest Monsoon Season) has arrived, gently marking her presence on the Philippines, bringing heavy rain that beats very so rhythmically, blossomsbuds of beauty, and of course, stimulates the endless mating of frogs in only a scintilla of water. I am keen to the rain, it unwinds me and finds me indulged into my rhetorical duties of life: reading, writing, pondering and listening.During one of the last sleepy, raining, hayahay (relaxing) days, I was pondering on the mode of transportation. I believe I don’t correctly visualize the Philippines for you and the mode of transportation is fun and exciting here.First, Filipinos heavily rely on public transportation, just like Armenia did as well as 85% of the world…it is just that I grew in the other 15%. The first mode of transportation that I adore on the island is the bus system. They have windows that a child could easily fall from, but I love the wind bracing my face and blowing my hair as the bus speeds down the road that is barely wide enough for two buses. The buses are nicely decorated with spray paint showing aesthetic meaning that would most commonly be ignored.Next up are the put-puts, otherwise known as the “the guy with the bicycle that has a cart attached to it”. This carrying mechanism is most commonly found in towns, in which a person needs to get from one store to another. These put-puts require large amounts of physical exertion especially if a Westerner is going along for the ride. Westerners tend to be about a size and half bigger than the regular Filipino. Therefore, I would venture to speculate that 1.5 Westerner(s) could fit in a cart that a put-put peddles, compared to three Filipinos.Thirdly, are Jeepneys. (see pic above) These are found everywhere, and are highly decorated modes of transportation that will travel shortest distance a bus would. The Jeepney idea was left over from the American colonization days, when the Americans slowly moved out of the Philippines, leaving their military equipment behind. The Filipinos restored these durable vehicles as their public transport, beautifying them into highlighted graphics of glory, God, the USA, and peace.Fourthly, there are multi-cabs. These are little van-like organisms that have an open end as it cab, and we cram as many people in it as possible, as there is always room for “just one more”. I am most familiar with this transport, as it gets me from the university to town when I am craving ice cream.Then we have the boats, which are liberating as you cross the sea/ocean seeing various island groups, jumping fish, and occasionally a pod of dolphins. There are many types of boats here; some seem to have seen their better days, but are more reliable than you would have ever imagined. Others are fast ferries, the more touristy open. Sometimes I take this option if I want microwave popcorn and a good movie; though I prefer the open air boat that takes about four to six hours, as nature and I unite through tiny little droplets of water.Lastly, there are taxis in the biggest of cities (not that exciting), air conditioned buses (which are nauseating to me), vans (small, crammed, and rarely the air conditioning works) and airplanes that connect us to the main islands.Other notes….Recently, I received my Peace Corps financial history report. I have just reached my third anniversary with Peace Corps, meaning I am entering my fourth year of rustic living and learning. I have cried, laughed, broke down, and rejoiced in the past three years at my challenges, mistakes, and successes. Yet, I choose and continue this journey with the unknown ahead, only eager to see why awaits me.The financial record showed that I have made about $5900 since my inception to the PC. Which means, I have barely made 2K the each year the past three years (and yes, there are some taxes to lower this number even more); yet I believe that I am richer than a number of individuals. The experiences that I have come across the past three years outweigh the monetary sign above and in the end, I have the faith that those opportunities (and the ones to come) will and have made me a better person, not just for myself, but for you, others and for our country.(The countries in which I have lived in, annually, make a gross income around 1500 USD, and they feed numbers of people off this smidgen of salary. Again, they live richer lives in so many ways that we can’t imagine).…The fourth of July was celebrated by many PCVs and university staff as it is a shared holiday between the two cultures as well; American-Filipino Friendship Day. A small bbq, American football, Frisbee, softball, and a quiz show were all part of the activities planned as well as swimming and relaxing on the shores of Camote Sea. It was a good time by all, celebrating the exchange of common brotherhood between two countries.…I have been playing a lot of basketball of late and I am the only female that does so. Sometimes little kids asked me if I am a boy or girl. Of course, I answer that I am female, and then they look at me so innocently and verbalize, “But girls don’t play basketball”…ah gender lessons 101! I can’t blame these ingenuous thoughts by the young, as in the Philippines, especially here on campus, there are many gay and transgender individuals, mostly coming from the male side. So to see a male in girl clothing, make-up, hair -tied back, with jewelry is really a common scene; and then I just confuse the picture by being feminine and carrying an orange ball around!I was asked to play basketball by some of the administration staff (of course, males). They requested that I should be part of their university team. I nodded the request and now I have a uniform and I am playing with people who could have witnessed my first words to my graduation; in other words; they are the same age as my father. We have a blast.We play on the concrete and with street balls that lose their grip after about six times playing with them. Beggers can’t be choosers, so I am just fortunate that between about twenty of us, there are about two balls we use.Speaking of sports, the softball team is reporting and I am back on my coaching duties. The team is going to be strong this year and I am excited to see how they will perform during our university games that will be held in October. They don’t get pleasure from the conditioning part of practice, but I do it with them and let them beat me once in awhile so they can bathe in glory. So as you can see, my competition edge is slowly fading away from me; but I don’t think it will fully ever die!…We had a signal 2 typhoon the other week. Not much to divulge but small winds and heavy rains that caused some minor flooding. The elementary and high schools were dismissed, but college remained in session, though the lack of electricity and gloomy skies made it impossible to read the information from the blackboard. Once I finished work that day, I convinced my roommate to head yonder to the sea and check out the tide. It was high and breached its limit, but no damage.Oh, and thank you Americans! I love the fact you donate your used clothing and shoes, so that I can buy them for a couple of dollars! Not only that, I picked up a pair of old used Nike shoes as well. These shoes lasted only two days before their true colors came through and the soles fell off. However, I have new soles and I look quite intimidating with my black-used-cheaply but well-done re-soled shoes! Secondhand stores are simply amazing.…I will be doing trainings for much of July and in August, brings a PCV friend from Armenia to visit, as well as the anniversary of the university (like homecoming). Time is rolling by quickly, and I am still enjoying every drip of sweat that falls from my brow.As my classmates united for our ten year high school anniversary, I wish that I could have joined them in reminiscing the naïve and youthful days as inexperienced adolescent ready to take on the world, and now as adults. Out of 16 of us Falls City Sacred Heart grads of 1999, I am pretty sure there is less than ¼ of us not married; including yours truly who doesn’t see that in the new future.I hope the summer is bringing forth many delicious juicy watermelons, melting sweet ice cream in your mouth, and some quality relaxation time. Enjoy the water, baseball, and life!In peace,SydBirthdays: Mom, Sam, Stacie W. Courtney, Uncle Julian, LaurelAnniversaries: Sue/Brad, Andrea/Nick, Rhea/Craig, Steph/BrianWeddings: Sarah and Dominic, Bern and MichelleEngagements: Aruss and Jody :) [?]
LAST BELL-VERJIN ZANG

My homeroom Class (not everyone) Go Blue Team!

Yikes! I cannot believe that two months have past since I last updated the world on my Filipino life! Here I thought, “Wow, it is summer-time; days full of beach, good books, some ice cream, and a mango or two.” Unfortunately not all fantasies come true, even if you have already been to Disneyland.

Graduation occurred the first week in April and it was a fascinating exercise; a total of 600 some odd graduates and around 100 of them graduating with honors. The ceremony itself was quite traditional to what may be seen in America, but I am not sure if a graduation ceremony back home would still have an attentive audience after six hours, in a warm, humid day in the Philippines. Even with this temperature, the faculty, staff, and soon-to-be graduates looked prestigious and restful in their garb. Celebrations followed the ceremony with roasted pig, desserts, pansit (Filipino dish), kinilaw (Filipino side), and of course, rice.

Then for the faculty it was back to work, before the Holy Week approached. Holy Week in the Philippines is intense and can be very frightening for the non-Catholic. Palm Sunday starts the festivities and then Holy Week is the most dedicated time of observance. Marches, parades, and the like are happening throughout the barangays (villages), towns, and cities; all depicting the suffering of Jesus. The Stations of the Cross are dispersed kilometers a part, as “Jesus” proceeds with his final walk. Up north in Luzon, there are places where self-crucifixions take place (no worries, no one really dies). Many people fast during this time as well which I would presume is difficult here, as typically there are meriendas (snack) twice a day. Finally comes the Easter Vigil mass which is rejoiced in much glory.

However, I was actually looking forward to giving up something for Lent and attending Easter Sunday Mass as part of tradition. Soon, I realized that the act of giving up something for Lent is not commonly practiced at my site, and well, Easter Sunday Mass was very anti-climatic as it was just a normal mass. Also, there is some type of attachment some Americans get with the Easter Bunny, Peeps, colored eggs, and candy. I regret to say, none of the above was seen at my site. (Though I did receive some Easter candy from a dear friend last week).

The following week, I was off to Cebu for an 8-month check up with my batch-mates and the PC. It was a nice little break full of meetings and late nights with friends we hadn’t seen since swearing in. Also, there was a language camp to help guide us with some self-directed language learning techniques, considering many of us are learning a language that is only spoken, not taught. After the confidence boost of language instruction, we had some PC policy meetings and sector updates. Here, a project I have been collaborating with other PCV was presented. We proposed a new training program for the education volunteers. The curriculum was presented and approved by the staff, and now we are on the final stages of organizing this new training curriculum/module. After much work and many hours researching proper ESL techniques, I feel that much weight has been released from my shoulders.

After the conference/language camp, I stayed in Cebu for a doctor’s appointment as I had been having digestive problems for three months. With tests done and samples turned in, my diagnosis was okay and I went home with a small box full of medicine. Things are still “normal” at the moment.

I came home for a couple of days to check in with my work colleagues, only to turn around to head back to Cebu for another training/camp, but this time, I was not scheduled to be the participant, but a trainer. The training/camp was for elementary teachers living in Mindanao. Mindanao is the large island in the southern Philippines. Some parts of this region are unsafe and disturbed by occasional war. USAID has a many projects in Mindanao and one of these is called “Tudlo Mindanao”, simply meaning ‘Teach Mindanao’. As PCVs, we were interviewed and selected for this event, and are co-facilitators with Mindanao counterparts. My counterpart had been a facilitator for three years and we were responsible for teaching methodology courses for the next two weeks. We had an awesome classroom dynamic together and our homeroom class was always full of enthusiasm and smiles. Other courses worked on improving English skills for the elementary teachers.

The setting of the training was like as summer camp, so as many of you can conclude, I was definitely in my “environment”. We taught all day, and in the evening there were additional activities for participants if they were interested; ballroom dancing, jewelry making, cooking, etc. Other nights, participants and PCVs spent the night away working on their “cultural” presentations for the last night’s closing cultural ceremonies. As many of the participants displayed their indigenous traditions, dances, and garments, many of us Americans were left stuck-in-the-mud, as what could we really do to show our culture. Throw a baseball? Use comedy to display our cultural values of punctuality, determination, individuality, etc? How boring! So we did a music video which can be seen at this web address. http://vimeo.com/4643426 (the Blue Team was my homeroom) It has become a tradition to make a PCV music video for the past three years of Tudlo.

The training, itself, was simply eye-opening. Going into Tudlo experience, I had heard nothing but wonderful things about the program, so it was easy to just follow expectations. However, knowing that views are commonly biased towards individuals, I came into Tudlo with positive energy and my own set of expectations, and the results of my hopes exceeded all measures.

I am one who lives for cultural exchanges and to be honest, this is very difficult to find with so much western influence and post American imperialism grounded in the Philippines; to find the purest forms of an endemic culture. Intrinsically I was able to feel, hear, see, and touch this type of exchange with various cultures coming from Mindanao at Tudlo.

For example, in one classroom alone, I had 24 participants that spoke 9 different languages and/or dialects. In another classroom setting, an individual had never met a nice and disciplined Muslim before and generalizations about both religions were quickly dissolved after open discussion. Christians were standing by their Muslim friends/counterparts at a time other Christians assumed the stereotypes. When I think about this discussion, it still brings goose bumps to my arms. It was one of the most amazing discussions I have ever witnessed in my life and it continues to give me belief that simple education can create a peaceful world.

I am forever grateful that I had such an opportunity to connect with some many individuals who were utterly thankful for the new knowledge learned, but more importantly for the new friendships that were made from all parts of the Philippines. One lady, in our closing interview stated, “Thank you Ma’am Syd. You are the first foreigner that has ever been nice to me. I really treasure you and how helpful you and your American friends were to us.” Another one said, “I didn’t know I could speak such English. When I went to SM (a shopping mall in Cebu), I was talking and didn’t realize it was in English, until the security guard asked me to speak Bisayan as I asked him a question in English.” Again, as I have mentioned before, it is not about replacing the native tongue of the participants, but giving them the confidence to use English as another tool in their life toolboxes.

My favorite part of this program is when one teacher pulled me aside and had this conversation in sbroken English.

“What do you know about schools in the Philippines? Don’t you get a big money to be here? Has your school ever been bombed? Are your students afraid come to school?”

Wow, I stood there without any answers. How do I relate? I simply looked her in the eyes, and said, “Ma’am, no I cannot relate to your daily battles. That is why I am here to learn from you too, so we can work together to make your life as a teacher much easier”. Later, I explained the concept of volunteerism and the role of PC.

This was a good conversation; it put me in my place and made me count those numerous blessings that I have which tend to be overlooked on a daily basis.

The most alluring part of what I have just described above is that these are just some of my stories and there are many others from PCVs alike. It was such an empowering experience for me, and just another story how much I have gained working with people of other cultures…more than what I could ever give them in technical training/skills. I still feel the same about my service in Armenia…There is nothing I could or can do to equate how much I learned from the Armenians.

…Which now brings me to date.

I took the GRE last week, and the preliminary results are higher than expected. It is a waiting game for the final results. Next step, deciding what institutions would like me in their classrooms. School will resume on June 8th, as many people back in the US are graduating/graduated and my Armenian friends will soon celebrate the Verjin Zang on the 25th, signaling the end of the school year. For me, my book list has grown, and the dreamy days of laying in a hammock with my book and mangoes are realistic…it is scheduled for Saturday :) Avocados are in season, so guacamole is on the menu… now I need to convince my friends here that an avocado is not always used a fruit.

Enjoy your Memorial Weekend Americans…and take time to reflect on the real reason why you get that following Monday off…then you will come to appreciate why life in the US is really good, even on the bad days.

Happy Summer to you all!

Ayo-ayo, ingat, amping, hajogh-majogh, take care,

Syd

Birthdays had and to be had: Lindy, Moni, RPCV Nancy, Heather, Kristen, Aunt Bard, Upchuck Katie, Ant, Alex, Bern, Jeff, Mom, Sam, Courtney, Artur, Anna, Meri

Anniversaries: Lindsey/Nick, Andrea/Nic, Rhea/Craig, Steph/Brian, Mom/Dad #30

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Feelin Hot Hot Hot!

Happy Spring :)

The pictures above are from a recent snorkeling trip not too far from the island. Also is the smallest primate in the world :O)

Well, while most of you are eagerly awaiting warm weather, let me share with you mine, as summer has officially rolled around in my neck of the world! Which means, SCHOOL’S OUT FOR SUMMER! (yes, you may sing this little ditty if you like). But as the university has closed its classroom doors, life is still active on all portions of campus.

This summer won’t be dreary for me, as I will be going on a tour of teacher-trainings, helping with development and expansion of the English curricula, and teaching a Frisbee course in the PE department. Not to mention, there will be times where I might just leave work a bit early to catch the sunset or read in my hammock, which fits nicely on the beach here. I am assuming summer will pass with alacrity which before I know it, June will arrive bringing in the new academic year of 2009-10. So as you all are preparing your summer plans, I will be studying new faces and new names.

Many of you have been on my PC journey from day one and have inquired about the differences/similarities of PC Armenia and PC Philippines. While the countries are similar in many plausible ways, there are some rather exclusive distinctions between the two.

First and foremost, you simply cannot contrast the two countries. First, Armenia was landlocked only claiming the waters of LakeSevan. Secondly, Armenia, though small in size (some say similar to the size of Maryland) has 32 micro-climates and three main mountain ranges that intersect each other. I had the coldest of winters at my site, and experienced some very hot summers in the valleys of Armenia.

The Philippines, however, is an archipelago of over 7000 islands, sits in the Pacific Ring of fire, and experiences typhoons to landslides. I am surrounded by not only water, but jungle-like mountains that have homed the tarsier (see above…world’s smallest primate).

Though these are the obvious differences, I have decided to break down into categories for a clearer view of just how special each experience has been/is. Some will be funny, some serious, and some for your additional learning attainment. If like for me to add any other category just let me know.

Category

Armenia

Philippines

Water Availability

Sometimes it froze

On my island, always have it

Bathing

Heated bucket baths

Non heated cold bucket baths

Meat

Chicken, Pork, Lamb, Beef

Chicken, Pork, Beef. Lamb, Caribou

(I have tried dog too)

Ice Cream Availability

If lucky, five months out of the year

ALL THE TIME :)

Favorite Food

OH LORD I MISS SEPAS, Borsht, Lavish, Kebabs, Xorats (bbq), fresh veggies, Arakelyan Langit, hats, tapots kartofel (fried potatoes) & I miss dolma a little bit

Fried chicken, Pancit (all types), Halo Halo, Katambak (yummy fish), chicken curry, and lechon (roasted pig), seaweed, ganas, and I love some UBEY

Staple Foods

Bread, Cheese, Greens, Potatoes

Fish, Rice

One-in-a-lifetime food try

Liver Blinchik

Balot

School Year

Sept. 1-May 25

June 14- March 20

Christmas Day

January 6th

December 25th

Dominate Religion

Armenian Apostolic

Roman Catholic

Degrees from the Equator

40

9

Culture

Communal, super hospitable

Communal, super friendly

Favorite Musical Instrument

Duduk and/or Piano

Acoustic Guitar

History

Old and very interesting

Old and very interesting

People living in Country

Approx 3 million

Approx. 90 million

Supplies given by Peace Corps

Heater, Gas stove, Water filter

Life Jacket, and endless supply of sunscreen, mosquito net

Extra Trainings by Peace Corps

Hypothermia, how to keep your house warm

Water safety…what to do if your boat sinks

Languages/Dialects

2 languages (eastern/western) and up to 60 dialects

Around 170 languages

Language I learned

Armenian (different alphabet)

Cebuano/Bisaya (Latin alphabet)

Average Temperate at Site

about 65F (depending where you live)

85.8 F

Number of People Living in Host family home

6 including me

(though normal is around 8)

10 including me

Favorite thing….

People

People

Second favorite thing

Language

Nature

Number of PCVs serving in country

88

120+

Flag Colors

KARMIR, KAPYUT, TSRANAGYUN! (red,blue,orange)

Yellow sun and stars, Red, White, and Blue

Holidays and Celebrations

Many—FUN!

Many—FUN!

So quite interesting, eh?

Back to the updates…

Misfortune was sent across the nation on February 13th, and I went to the US for a quick trip (12 days) and met my dear friends there for a funeral of our dear friend, Lorin Maurer, who was on Continental Flight 3407. Though it was wonderful to be united with a wonderful group of friends, it was the most poignant way for a reunion. I am blessed to have many friends who picked me up in DC, clothed me in winter clothes, drove me to PA to the services, and then drove me half way back to Nebraska. What a wonderful group of friends! (A Shout Out to: Niq, Moni, Cis, Stacie, J, Bobby, Colby, Rhonda, V, Nate and Dave!)

I did have time to see my family and watch members of the family brave a snow storm ( I was so excited to see snow, and to use a blanket while sleeping) to see me. Card games, movies, food and drinks were shared by all, and little sleep was had (as my nephews and niece, adding to five, shared a room with Aunt Syd). It was great to see each and everyone, especially those little tikes that mean so much to me!

I also met up with my Pen Pals from Hiawatha and was able to speak about the Philippines to students in high school and elementary, at three different schools. It was so wonderful to share my experiences to keen listeners. But just as all the fun had started, soon I was boarding the transcontinental flight back to the Philippines.

I was then graced by a visit from a dear friend of the Armenian PC days, and we did do some island hopping and site seeing around the area (most of the photos are from this excursion). But yet, as all fun times quickly end, she left and then I was facing the end of the school year. Which frankly, leaves me to today, writing this update.

I am lucky to have great internet access (I am just lazy checking it), but rest assure, I am in full tune with the NCAA Women’s and Men’s Final Four tournaments…and with that, I will end with this…

GO SOONERS :)

Warm hugs and big high-fives

Your PCV friend,

Maam Syd or Sydulik

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More Pics
These are some more pics! When I was home, I am with my sisters. Some more snorkeling pictures, and my host sister and I going for a swim  :) [?]
A Good Friend
What do write? How do I articulate my feelings? Less than 12 hours ago, I received shocking news that loyal friend had been a passenger on Continental Connection Flight 3407 from Newark to Buffalo. For unseen reasons at this point, each and every one of us, who had been befriended by Lorin Maurer, are questioning how someone so dear, lively, and august could be taken away from us in such an unpredictable minute.Lorin was a go-getter in every stride. She pushed me as we shared a cubicle wall for some time during our intern years National Collegiate Athletic Association (NCAA) 2003-04. We had some unforgettable times in good Indy: running the Mini-Marathon, competing in the Corporate Challenges, and waiting for our fellow intern, Bobby, to phone us and let us know where the free food was in the office. She held up the “B” side of the department (Branding) and I, the “C” section (Communications).After her NCAA days, Lorin ventured west to the Mountain West Conference in Colorado for a year, before taking a position at Princeton in their Development Office. No matter where she was, Lorin proved to all that she was a dedicated and dependable worker with unlimited smiles. Special warm hugs and sympathy goes out to Maurer family and her boyfriend, Kevin Kuwick.There is no doubt that many people are mourning the loss of Lorin. Her presence lit up the room with high energy and enthusiasm. I know that the Intern Class of 2003-04 is especially being hit hard as we are a team, and now, one of members is not with us anymore. And just like anyone who has been a member of a team; a member is irreplaceable. Lorin touched many lives and her memories will live on, especially within me. Spasiba, Salamat, Mersi, Aprir, Shnorhakalutyun, Thank you, Lorin.Life is precious, it really is. But often times it is too late before we recognize its true enormity, whether is it our lives, or another’s. It takes a loss for us to appreciate it even more. So today, I ask of you, is just give a hug to someone you love. Hug them like you have never hugged before, and be grateful for that anodyne embracement.http://www.dailyprincetonian.com/2009/02/13/22745/http://www.goprincetontigers.com/ViewArticle.dbml?&ATCLID=3669158&DB_OEM_ID=10600 [?]
Rain Rain Go Away, Come Again Another Day (preferably not tomorrow)
Picture one: One of my counterparts, Avril and I, at an islandPicture two: A view of my island (in the distance)The New Year came with fireworks, rain, a thanksgiving dinner, and more rain. This past New Year’s was quite placid compared to the two-week New Year’s extravaganza that I witnessed the previous two years. This year, it was immediate family only, and reminded me much of what we do during the US Thanksgiving holiday. Many prayers of thanks were devoted to others, as long as a nice native home cooked meal, some toasts and glorious desserts, followed by talks which eventually led to drowsy eyes and heads hitting the pillows. After New Years, a group of us “new islanders” headed to the southern tip of the island to catch some rays, snorkel, and relax before school was in session again. However, a small typhoon blew threw, leaving us bunked in our rooms chatting the hours away while our swimming suits stayed packed in our bags. No swimming with whale sharks that weekend. We tried snorkeling before the weather worsened, but were only greeted by swarms of jellyfish; so our outing was quite brief.Classes have been in full gear and I am really enjoying them. My ardor for teaching ameliorates everyday, and I feel so comfortable in the classroom, whether it sits 25 or 100 students. Plus, I am very privileged to have such wonderful students! They are very active in the classroom and are eager to learn, which only make every thing so much fun. Even sometimes, I find myself spending hours on one lesson plan only wondering where the time has gone! My favorite parts of teaching are challenging the students to think critically and to take responsibility for their learning and secondly, curriculum development. I have lived and died on Bloom’s Taxonomy, reaching to grasp the students’ highest potentials, as well as encouraging the future teachers to use creative skills in their future classrooms, as this process allows the freedom of the soul to articulate oneself. Finally, implementing active learning has been a blast, as research shows that more information is retain by learners, it they DO the action what is supposed to be learned!To clarify even more deeply of how AMAZING the students are here, I have to give you a prime example. In early January, a counterpart and I went to Manila to attend a small HIV/AIDS conference. HIV/AIDS has always been an interest of mine after my travels in South Africa, and then again as I served as an awareness educator in Armenia. The Philippines is considered a “low prevalent” country, but cases are on the rise as the population expands, workers go abroad, and the youth become more curious. So, we went the conference and left the conference with a project design of how to implement awareness programs. We decided on using the university’s multimedia outlets: through radio spots; poster design, and feature story and/or column writing. Also, we trained five peer educators (college students) in HIV/AIDS education.Just recently the peer educators conducted a five hour education section on another island…all by themselves! Now they have two more appointments on the island as the students spread the understanding of HIV/AIDS! They are training others as well to become peer educators. Our initial impact was around 400 students, and we have already targeted that number with two events still left (which could reach 500 more students!). The students have really taking their own initiative with this responsiveness and are very passionate as they teach! I am very proud of them! They are even helping me structure the curriculum now ;)I am continuing to coach softball and have witness a vast amount of improvement in the girls. Their hand and eye coordination is incredible and they understand the game very well. We should have a first game and only game of the before school gets out at the end of February to assess what we actually can do in a game like situation ;) Exciting times! Oh, by the way, our summer time here is March through June. I cannot wait to tell you all about it, as it is suppose to get hotter than the dickens here. Well, I just may melt as it is always “pretty warm” here already :) For the social side of my life, I spent time with my host family and some colleagues. We have been star gazing, sunset watching, as well as their endless attempts to teach me the language which tries their patience! hehe On my own, I have been studying the language as well as preparing to retake the GRE as my scores have expired. I am slowly improving my vocabulary skills and revamping my old math skills. I find myself questioning whether or not is really essential if I know the formula for the area of trapezoid to get into graduate school. Oh well, the standards we live by :)Soon, the rains will abate and summer will be here. Trainings and galore of trainings for English teachers will be held throughout the country and I will part take in this accretion of knowledge expansion: for me and the teachers ;)All in all, things are good here. I live with a wonderful host family, work with amazing people, and am enjoying life. But before I end, two big congratulations are in order:Congratulations to my younger sister, Whitney, and her fiancé, as they plan to wed in October.Second set of congratulations to Dominic and Sarah, PCV friends who found each other’s hearts in Armenia and plan to say the vows in August ;)Here’s hoping all is well and safe with you!Happy Valentine’s Day, President’s Day, International Women’s Day (March 8th) and St. Patty’s Cheers,Syd, Birthdays for Feb and March: Dad, Connie S., Eileen K., Eloise, Whitney, Cliff, Jan G, Kristen, Monica, Jamie W., Lindy R., Satenik janAnniversaries: Laurel and Joe [?]
Here's to a Wonderful 2008!

nice view of campus...host parents

Well the holiday seasons surrounds us, and I cannot help but recall the wonderful joy and spirit felt around these holidays when I was living in Armenia. Recently I had time to look back at the pictures and witness through these pictures; personal growth. Though this year will come to an end and new beginning without dolma, blinchik, or cakes of all sorts, tastes, and sizes, it will approach, yet, a new beginning for all of us. Time for your new year’s resolutions (if you ever start them in the first place), a relaxing break from your hard work, and a time to enjoy the presence of the three “Fs”: Family, Friends and Football.

This holiday was much tougher than usual, as I wish dearly to be near my family. To me, it is not as much as being able to give presents, but to be present in their presence…but I guess sometimes we just can’t have all of our eggs in one basket(ball).

Time is passing by steadily here in the PI (Philippine Islands). The university is excited to have me as part as their team and with that, comes some interesting and fun jobs. I enjoy teaching a diversity of courses in a team-teaching approach, where I share the classroom time with a Filipino teacher. My course load incorporates the subject areas of: journalism, mass communications, speech, pronunciation, ESL teaching methods, and of course, English Grammar and Composition. I really enjoy teaching and working with the Filipinos. We have wonderful times inside and outside of the classroom. The students are charming and for the most part, eager to learn. The students I have in my classroom are from first year to third year.

Speaking of the students, I was so proud of them. Before Thanksgiving, I informed one class of World AIDS Awareness Day on December 1st. They became very excited about this, and asked for more information. So with the help of a couple of organizations, we got some facts and figures of HIV/AIDS in the Philippines. I put forward this information, and the students organized and implemented an awareness parade on campus alongside with a symposium with about 90 participants in attendance. I was so proud of their willingness to initiate to become educated on such a global topic. Now, a faculty advisor and I will be attending an HIV/AIDS awareness workshop sponsored by PC in January. …..Goes to say…If you teach a man to fish….

Thanksgiving brought a togetherness that was least expected. My host mother and some other faculty were in a very serious car accident in a metro area about two hours from my site. The accident left them hospitalized for four days, with surgeries, broken bones, and head trauma. Thankfully everyone survived to tell about it. The extraordinary part of this is that we had a thanksgiving mass held in their honor, actually, on the American Thanksgiving holiday. It was quite exceptional to embrace a dual-thanksgiving on that special day.

That weekend, some of the PCVs on the island gathered at my site, where we had a Thanksgiving dinner shared with some of my friends and family here at the university. Mashed potatoes were served, replacing rice, allowing some in attendance to experience their first meal without rice. There was no turkey, but whole chickens to capture Thanksgiving’s food essence. Pumpkin pie was replaced with brownies and ice cream.

The month of December has been busy, but not quite a blur. I am really focusing on the language and trying to acquire better skills, as it is so easy to get around with English. I am disappointed in my lack of studying, so I hope to make up some ground this break. I have been reading a lot, and have just read the most fascinating fiction book in my life! All Returned PCVs should read this book, and likewise, anyone who has ever lived in another culture. The Poisonwood Bible by Barbara Kingsolver is an alluring book of a Georgian family (USA) who moves to the Congo to spread Christianity. The book is told through the eyes of their four daughters ranging from the ages of 5-16. It tells the physical exertion of culture adaptation, language learning faux pas, and realization that what we have been taught to believe, may not be compatible with what people in that region have been doing their whole life. It gives you a moral that cultures have a rhyme and reason in the things they believe. Truly an amazing book that must be read before you kick the bucket….a must.

I have also finished another book about adult teaching methods by Jane Vella, a must read for educators out there, as well as a book surrounding love, the Great Depression, and the circus. An interesting combination to give a great story called Water for Elephants written by Sara Gruen.

So as you can see, my life is expanding through pages and mangos J My fifth year without a TV and I fill like I haven’t missed a beat. I just hope my vocabulary is improving as well, as I am preparing to take the GRE this summer (my scores are ready expired…where has the time gone?) in preparation to enroll in a Phd program focusing on culture and teaching upon my return to the States in 2011. Hey, the early bird gets the worm, you snooze you lose, no need to procrastinate.

The holidays here were fun and low key. I attended Misa de Gallo (midnight mass) with my host family, and then we had Noche Buena (feast of food of Christmas Eve). Christmas Day was spent with other faculty and staff at a local place, singing videoke (karaoke, this is a Filipino favorite), eating lechon (roasted whole pig) and playing games. After my rendition of “Bohemian Rhapsody” in videoke, the university President nicely reminded me I have two years to get better…oh well, we can’t be all stars in everything.

For the rest of the break, I have spending time with my host family, reading, visiting people, enjoying numerous fiestas, and trying not to get drenched from the rain showers, as it has arrived…the rainy season. Plus the best part, I enjoy staying up until 11pm and waking up PAST 6am…such a rebel I have become :)

As two thousandth and eighth year comes to a close, I am reminded just how wonderful it has to have a great support network of remarkable family, friends, colleagues, and people. Really, I am the luckiest person alive! Thank you all.

Here’s wishing you a prosperous 2009!

Malipayong Bagong Tuig (have a happy new year)

Daghang Gakos (Many hugs)

Syd

Birthdays: Bobby D., Loren M., Dominic M., Brian H., Rhonda P., Penny P., Alex H., Aunt Ann, Ani jan, Torgorm jan, Nanay,

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All Sworn-In Again
Some friends from my training site (picture from my buddy, Heather K, from WI)...My PC pal, Matt and I...to the bottom, our first swear-in with the PC Armenia Tour, and to the second bottom left....our in with PC Philippines :)
GOBBLE GOBBLE GOBBLE:)
Happy Thanksgiving.Oh, alas, many of you are happy that I have finally updated my blog! (Smile). I know, I need to become more conscious of updating, but time just flies by for me that I tend to forget or put it off; my sincere apologies.As the turkeys are quickly running away from their hunters, I am sitting in my room, sweating, with a fan drilled on my face. (No, I don’t have internet in my room. I type all my blog updates on my personal laptop and then post them). And this is the rainy season…yikes. Supposedly, December and January bring the colder months, which I can’t wait! After long winters in Armenia, I begged never to see snow for some time. I got my wish and now I am in full regrets.But don’t get me wrong, the heat hasn’t beaten me, and I am slowly beating it; one day at a time. I have been able to dodge about three typhoons as well, but soon enough I will see a typhoon, feel a typhoon, and hear a typhoon.I have officially moved to my permanent site and I am the luckiest fool ever, because it is an idea place. I live on campus with a faculty member, her son, and relatives. We have a wonderful time and there have been many nights I have laughed so hard my abdominals hurt the next day. I guess that is what happens when you have too middle children as the oldest people in the house (host mother and I). Today we had an amazing day together at the beach. I even taught some little friends how to throw a Frisbee.I am working at a university and my subjects are across many disciplines. I am an instructor for English grammar, pronunciation, speech, teaching strategies and methods, as well as some journalism courses. I team-teach a majority of these courses, and some of them will eventually be team-taught to ensure sustainability, because as you know, we retain more from learning if we actually do it. The faculties are fun, wonderful, and always ready with some humor or to assist me one way or another. The campus is small, gorgeous, and very communal; where everyone knows your name…especially if you are the white female American :0)The students typically come to higher education at age 16, a bit younger than the average US freshman. I have students all the way up to fourth year, who come into the university with average language skills. My job is a bit different than in Armenia, where I was taught beginner English, and here I teach more accuracy and fluency.I also have some extracurricular activities up my sleeves. Soon, I will meet with others to discuss the future of some teacher trainings for village/surrounding communities’ teachers, as well, as being the head softball coach ;) Yep, you have read that correctly. Last year, the team had to forfeit the season because there wasn’t a coach with the ability to teach the sport. Once word got around that I had a ball and glove in my room at the house, I was soon nominated the coach and the girls will report this week. Softball is young here, so we will have some good times ahead…however, our season hits its peak in October.Also, collegiate sports here are a bit different than the arms race seen in the US. No salary (I couldn’t take it anyway, because PCVs aren’t able to accept salaries), no extra benefits, students don’t get scholarships, etc; just for the love of the game. Needless to say, I am excited about this opportunity and we will see what happens…but first we need a team ;)Though my permanent site is wonderful, I do miss my first host family! We had some amazing times together and the day I left was All Soul’s Day, a big celebration in the Philippines, as well as other Catholic countries. We went to the cemetery with a cooler of food and drinks. I was a bit skeptical of what was going on. Are we going to have a party at the cemetery? Well, we sure did along with everyone else in town! All Soul’s Day is one big party on top of the graves! Kids running around, vendors with food and light toys, music, big bingo games, etc; and we lit candles as well. It was the happiest All Soul’s Day that I have ever celebrated. And that just shows how the Filipino people…always joyful and happy despite the poverty and curveballs thrown at them.Just imagine this: The Philippines is situated in the Pacific Ring of Fire volcanic and earthquake prone region. It has two typhoon seasons encompassing the entire year. Because of deforestation landslides are common. The food crisis only gets worse for the price of rice and flour, but yet everyone walks around with a smile their face…it is amazing.There is a Filipino saying, “Bahala na”, which means, basically, it is what it is, and it is in God’s hands, meaning out of our control. The saying is so powerful in many ways. For theorists, it is makes sense, for those who need answers, this saying might not fit your stereotype, but for the Philippines is it perfect.I don’t really have any “exciting” updates. I am safe and sound. I love life. I miss Armenian dearly and dzez shat em sirum ev karotum: Dzez misht em hishum ev liqr pachiner@ u jerm grkumner anum em. (Kneres, filippinerrum, hayereni "typing" chka). For everyone else, I miss you too, send you many hugs, and wish you a safe an enjoyable holiday season. Enjoy the snow and hot cocoa.Yours truly,SydHappy Birthday: Lindsey H., Betty T., Anita N., Dennis B., Dom M., Brian H., Ellen H., Phyllis B., Jessica H., Mike F.
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Last update in the Bush era
Picture #1: My host mom and I eating Halo-Halo in coconut bowlsPicture #2 and #3: Apo Island, yes my camera lens is wet.
Picture #4: Our basic method of transportation
Picture #5: A cockfight ready to start
Picture #6: Hiking to the fresh water lakes
Picture #7: Filipino scene
Picture #8: My friend Sheryll and I harvesting her host family's rice
Picture #9: My first balut.
As much anticipated; another update in my PC life journey. For many volunteers, the experience expands around 27 months, but I have opted for the more untraditional route to be more adventurous and try the PC for an additional 27 months! Truth be told, I will be swearing in, again, as a PCV (Peace Corps Volunteer) on Nov. 7th. Many of my batchmates are excited, and for me, I just know how wickedly amazing the new two years will be.But before I get excited about the future, I should recap for you the past month and a half. I did many firsts, only to realize that my once two page “bucket list” is only now growing rapidly!I have become quite the fan of snorkeling was able to expand my knowledge of life under the sea, by venturing out to Apo Island, which is a top-ten scuba diving spot in the world. I learned how to dive with my snorkel and be so close to the vibrant life and color of my new friends. I saw schools of jackfish and every creature from Finding Nemo. (However, I think for meals, I have eaten some of the Finding Nemo characters). I can’t explain the beauty. The Discovery Channel and National Geographic do give justice with their documentaries of the coral and fish life here in the Philippines, yet on the other hand, experiencing with your own eyes, makes reality pure. (My friend had an underwater camera and I will get those pics soon to show you what I have seen)!I have also traveled to a couple other islands for work with PC, realizing that more Filipinos communicate through English, as the native/regional languages are not commonly understood amongst each other. Every island has its own identity, which is fun to see, especially as there are over 7000 islands here, with about 4500 habitable.Just last weekend I went hiking with some friends up the mountains to approach two freshwater lakes. Wow, they were crystal clear, and they looked like glass! There was something genuine slicing the kayak paddle through the water.It was quite a hike, as it was more junglish than anything. Coconut trees, mango trees, vines and bamboo everywhere, quite different than hiking in the Rockies or Armenia.I hope to go dolphin and whale watching at the end of the month and visit other white sandy beaches.But yes, it is not always games and travel. I do work and study! I really enjoy working at the university! The higher educational system of the Philippines takes on many characteristics which are commonly found in the US system. Administratively and structurally, the Board of Regents and faculty system work in the same manner. There is a presence of college athletics, but it doesn’t drive the university. Competitions are limited but they do bring a good fan-turnout. Research and scholarship are valued highly at the university I will be working at, but not as much where I am now. Faculty autonomy is not as grand as it is in the US, and the focus on post-graduate programs has importance, though many go abroad for this experience.I mostly teach English instruction, provide teacher trainings in active learning and alternative assessment methods, ESL methodology and strategies, research ideas and support, as well as help in the recreational and physical education departments. At my permanent site, I will also be creating modules with the department heads on a practicum for prospective teachers and enhancing the adopt-a-school program to reach out to the villages. Overall, my work crosses four colleges and many more departments and certainly there is a lot of learning to gain and give in the next 24 months. For the material idealism, I even have a couple of offices on campus.Bloom’s Taxonomy and the concepts of Adult and Higher Education have become life-long friends. I feel that all my past experiences in intercollegiate athletics, higher education, and my Armenian experience have prepared me to do some challenging but wonderful work in the months to come. That in itself is super exciting to me.I also have had the experience of seeing cock fights, a traditional Filipino Sunday event, and harvesting rice, which is muddy, back-bending, fun work. Well fun, I guess, because I and my partner only did it for a couple of hours, but supposedly produced 500 kilos of rice. There is no way we could work that speed for another hour yet alone days!I feel very integrated in the community. On my morning walks or basketball games, the “good mornings” have been replaced with the Cebuano “maayong buntag”, and the basketball games have become the multicultural. Courtesy “honks” have been exchanged for “Hi Syd” acknowledgements. In all, the smiles of the Filipinos from the morning light to the shines of the moon are rewarding in so many ways.Other than that, I am enjoying all the seafood and fruits. I have missed major typhoons, but have learned to love the rain as it brings cooler weather. I have become one with the environment, respecting the lizards, spiders, and other silly creatures. I have not become one with one member of the environment though…the flying cockroaches. Mind over matter, I soon will be friends with them.I have tried almost every Filipino food, from balut (google it), to letchon (roasted pig), to any type of raw fish or rice fixing. Water is still my liquid though tea has provided the solution to many thirst quenching days. My dessert of choice is Turon (fried banana crepe) Halo-Halo (shaved ice, ubey ice cream, corn, coconut milk, jelly cubes served in a coconut shell), and of course ubey. Ubey is a purple root crop grown here in the Philippines. It is the only root crop or vegetable for that matter, which I have eaten as ice cream. All I know is that I enjoy this violet deliciousness. I do, however, miss my Armenian cheese, dolma, and lavash.I am constantly providing entertainment with my language skills, as I mixed up the letters of the words, or I simply do not put stress or emphasis on glottal stops, which makes a difference in the meanings of the words, even when they are spelled the same. The word vegetable soon becomes the male’s gender part, or lizard becomes the verb for passing gas. In all, we laugh and learn.Well, that is about it. Next time I write, I will be at the comforts of my new home, new faculty, and host family. More stories and pictures to come, and other year to wait for the Cubs to win the World Series.
Until then, enjoy the beauty of autumn, the crackling of leaves beneath your feet as you walk, the cool-cuddling weather, and of course the sites and sounds of football. Lastly, don't forget to vote...my vote is traveling over 12,900km; make sure your votes counts as well.Ayo Ayu- Take CareSydHappy Birthday to: Lauren Mac, Kathy Murdock, Cheryl, Jill, Suzanne, Stacy, Vanessa, Kevin
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From the Philippines Part 1
The beach again :)The beach near my house...A sunset outside of Manila....
Hi
Everyone…greetings from the Philippines! Wow, this place is sooooo amazing. From the white sandy beaches, to the coral, to the genuineness of the people, I am simply overwhelmed. Most people can understand English, which is must different from the past couple of years, which has enabled me to engage in more conversations right away, without playing the game of charades.My host family is wonderful. I have a family of a mother, father, and two host brothers; one who is a senior and the other who is studying at the university. My host family owns a shop and works day and day out. They are also musicians and the younger son plays in a popular band and the father manages the band. Dinner time is around 8pm and it is always full of what happened during the day and the new language skills I have acquired. Needless to say, it is quite entertaining and we joke around quite a bit. (I go to bed early, because the sun comes up at 530 and goes down at 630)The language I am studying is Visayan/Cebuano. There are over 85 languages in the Philippines, not dialects, but LANGUAGES. Tagalog is the national language, next is English, and funny enough Cebuano and Ilongo. So far, so good with studying the language which alphabet is much like that of the Spanish alphabet. I enjoy testing my limits with the language and watching the Filipinos faces, as they are trying to figure out what in the heck I am trying to translate in my head. I have already made some entertaining comments. One day, I was trying to say, “ I like vegetables”, when I said “I like the ‘male part’”, not a mistake you would like to make….thank the Lord that my host family found humor out of it. They are thrilled I want to speak their language, and are enjoying my progression. My host mother speaks fluent English, so she is great teacher as well.Living arrangements are quite different from what I came from in Armenia. Not good, not bad, just different. I have cable TV in my room, air-con in my room (though I refuse to use it…I’m in Peace Corps), and running water all day, all the time with a shower. It is quite overwhelming to be honest, and I have seen a bucket in the bathroom, so I continue my bucket rises/baths. I like them better anyways. Also, we spent our first couple of days in Manila, the capital city of the Philippines….wow! About 16 million people live there and I was freaked out! Living in the village in Armenia, and then going back to Nebraska for a couple of days; this was way too many people….so you can imagine, as my fellow Armenian PCVs are adjusting to cultural shock in the US, I am going through my own cultural shock here in the Philippines….mostly of which is the realization that I am not in Armenia anymore….my comfort zone.I live off the beach, and I can see it from the road. Last week, I went snorkeling with some other friends…for free. I saw some of the most amazing coral and water life; and the bluest/clearest water. From barracudas to blue starfish, this place is another planet under the water. The island I live on, has some of the best scuba diving/snorkeling places in the world….looks like I will have the chance to overcome my fear of scuba diving! The beaches are covered with red, black, white, or normal sand. Being landlocked my whole life, you can just imagine how my brain is absorbing everything at the moment.The staple food for me has changed from the glorious potatoes of Vardenik, Armenia, to the rice and yummy fish of the Philippines. I am eating it all, and half the time I don’t know what I am eating. I ate pig’s head and had no idea. I ate the traditional Filipino food, balut, which is like a hard-boiled egg, with a chicken embryo in it…mine was only 14 days old….tastes like chicken, but I think one time is enough…I am not a fan of hard boiled eggs to be honest.I can’t even describe how amazing the fruit is. I have had so many types of new fruit: mango, jack fruit, durian, and many others that I still do not know the English names yet. I just try everything, and so far the stomach has held up! Even the fish, it is sooooooooo good!I have started a practicum with a teacher at the university for the next three months, as this is the training time and after that, I will move to another island. The higher education system is stemmed from the US higher educational system, which is fun to see in another cultural setting. There was homecoming the other day, and the bands were playing “Indiana Jones' Theme Song”, cheerleaders were being tossed, etc. However, it is combined with the Filipino side, which makes it really fun to watch the cross-cultural immersion.And the heat…My body is still adjusting and I sweat profusely every day and drink 3 liters of water a day! I hope to reach homeostasis soon! The evenings are nice and so are the mornings, which also provide indescribable sunsets positioning among the water.The Philippines is quite interesting, to be honest. Over seven thousand islands, with English, seeming to be the common language between the islands. The culture has influences from Malaysia, China, and the United States with the a history that dates back 30,000 years….and in the next 27 months I will keep you posted about the Philippines as I get to discover it with my own eyes!Peace,SydAnniversaries: Sam and ChaddBirthdays: Carter, Jack B., Ethan, Armen, Kevin B., Rhonda, Justinn, Nate, AndreaWeddings: Nate and Kelly
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US OF A :)
Wow, about three weeks have passed since my feet landed on US soil, and now it is time to move onto the Philippines! It was wonderful to take in time with family and friends and catch up on everything and where things were left off 26 months ago. It is such a satisfactory feeling knowing that none of us "skipped a beat" and watch the conversational lines pick up as if no time had elapsed.My travels in the States kept me mostly in Nebraska, enjoying my parents’ new home, visiting my sisters' families, catching up with some track and field teammates from the undergraduate years, a trip to Indianapolis to see friends with big smiles, and of course indulging myself in the victories of the Chicago Cubs! My parents and I took my nephews to their first Cubs game at the Friendly Confines, only for them to experience a grand slam and a 11-4 win....Go Cubs go, go Cubs go...hey, Chicago, what do you say....Cubs are gonna win today :)Of course, I ate WAY TO MUCH junk food and realized that my taste buds aren’t quite adaptable to the oversized and tart American fruits. But I did enjoy some Nebraska beef and American ice cream.For those of you whom I saw, it was ABSOLUTELY AMAZING to see you and for those of you who I just missed, just know that next time I am in "town" you are on my list.Take care and enjoy this last part of summer. Next time I will write, I will be in the studying Tagalog on the islands...SYD [?]
More Photos
My village :)
My goodbye Party and counterpart
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Update at last! :)
Reach out and give a hug!!!
Love the rains!
Okay, Okay. I know it has been since March since I updated you all. Things here have been nothing but busy and I have enjoyed every second, and been frustrated at times too.So what have I been up to? Well, I spent the month of April preparing for the second National Spelling Bee in Armenia. I help communities jump start with their local competitions and soon, over 300 participants were spelling words left and right. We had over 70 kids advance to the national contest in May, representing grades 7th-11th. Kids from all over Armenian participated, creating a unique environment, as the kids typically don’t travel out of their regions. Sites traveled up to 8 hours, through 49 switchbacks in the mountains, rainstorms, hail, etc, just to get their chance at becoming the national spelling bee champion! Prizes were awarded (Boggle, Scrabble, Pictionary, 20 questions, Armenian-English Dictionaries, English Dictionaries, crayons, markers, etc) as well as some fancy certificates. Those who couldn’t make the trip in one day, about 30 participants, stayed the night at the hostel in Yerevan. We booked out the entire hostel and had a pizza party. For many, it was their first time in the capital city, so walking tours and site sighting were common activities, as well as getting to know the other kids in their bunk rooms.The evaluations are just now coming back, and they seem to be pretty positive. I was honored to co-chair such an event, and got a little nervous when the US Charge d’Affaires to Armenia came to give opening remarks! All in all, it was a wonderful experience, filled with event management fall-outs that seem to work their way out.Simultaneously, I am co-chairing a Trans-Caucasus Creative Writing Essay contest between, Armenia, Georgia, and Azerbaijan. Here over 2,500 students from 6th-11th primary forms, and 1st-4th year university/college students from all three countries participated. Winners have been announced and Armenia did fair. Now we are in the process of publishing all the countries’ winners in a booklet that is soon to hit the press. After that, another grant will be closed.I spent 10 fabulous days in April (sorry going backwards) in Kiev, Ukraine for American Councils Future Leaders Exchange Program (FLEX) Pre-Departure Orientation (PDO) Training. Here, I collaborated with FLEX alumni and together we will teach 8 days of American Culture Training to 42 students from Armenia who will study in American high schools for the academic year 2009 later in the month. It has already been a rewarding experience, and I cannot wait for the actual PDO to start! The training itself, was a blast, meeting everyone from all former CIS countries. Some were Fulbright students, others PCVs, and other volunteers. What a great dynamic of people in one room! Every teacher is paired with FLEX alumni from their country. So again, it was great to see what one year in a democratic society has done to these students! Their confidence, responsibility habits, and character skills really stick out compared to their peers in their respective countries. Don’t get me wrong, many of them also have seemed to pick up some bad habits in the US, such as smoking, junk food eating, and a very informal dress code :0)
Before the conference, my PCV buddy, Sarah and I, spent 5 days sightseeing around Kiev, which proved to be quite interesting, as neither of us knew Ukrainian or Russian. Thank God I had a vague idea in how to read Russian letters, as that got us around on the metro. Kiev is still very Soviet in many ways, but represents a much more European attitude than Armenia. The city is beautiful with many parks and old churches and museums. We investigated going up to Chernobyl, but English tours were quite pricy, so we settled for the museum as well. Of course, being closer to Europe, we had some TGI Fridays and various trips to the Sushi bar. Usually I am not a fan of chain restaurants, but the “nachos” had been calling my name for the past two years.
As a pair, we tried something new as far as our lodging plans went. We “couchsurfed” it with a great girl Anna and her roommate Zebig. Anna was amazing, and through her we met extraordinary people from all over the world who were also staying with her. We had such a blast, that we ended up staying five nights with her. A funny story, is that I kept calling her Anna jan, as “jan” is a ending used with names in Armenian, meaning someone that is dear to you. Soon, she was like “Wait, my friend Levon calls me that.” Sarah and I looked at each other at just laughed, as Levon is a very popular Armenian name! So, as odds put it, we met Levon, as he came over to Anna’s home and he brought his Armenian hospitality and later we went ice skating until 2am! It was a blast. Truth to be told, Armenia has followed me everywhere on my trips, and it is not a bad thing at all :0)
Back to May. So May 25th is the last day of school and it is pretty much a national holiday. It is referred to the last bell (Verjin Zang-ì»ñçÇÝ ¼³Ý· in Armenian). It is a great time with lots of celebration for the 11th form students. However, I was “thrown” by a surprise party for me put on by my fellow comrades at my school. It was the most touching ceremony and I was honored by their kind and soft words. Later, the students did the same thing for me. It was a lot of emotion to overcome in one day.Also, in May, a Yerevan TV station came down to the village to see how I live. Through two days of endless interviewing and their AMAZING editing power, the clip was shown last week on national television. I have heard good news about it, but yet to see it myself. Doing such an activity in Armenian, wasn’t too bad, but it was exhausting to redo the takes. I hope this is the only time in my life where I have to deal with the paparazzi J (even if there were only three people).Another exciting event was that one the children I used to baby-sit in Indiana, organized a school supply drive for the younger students at my school. This youngster is five years old and he and his preschool mates sent supplies over to 100 students! I was so honored that he did so and to me, only reiterates the power of human will to help others.I had an open free window for one week before the summer camp schedule started up, so I went to visit my dear PCV friend, Leigh, who was leaving for America soon. We did some local sightseeing and attended her school’s last bell ceremony and danced the night away Armenian style. Again, a fabulous memory.Next, Heather, another PCV pal, and I headed down to Kapan (Southern Armenia) to visit our friend Penny and do some sightseeing of Tatev and Devil’s Bridge. Tatev is 9th century monastery and Devil’s Bridge is an earth-made bridge with calcium deposits and stalactites and stalagmites. Very cool as we floated under the bridge in the frigid water. I would have to say that this place is the most interesting and fascinating place in Armenia. I wish I could show you pictures, BUT my camera broke a week before, and then Heather’s camera broke while in transit to Kapan…oh well.We came back from Kapan and enjoyed a very famous Armenian Opera “Anush” at the Opera House in Yerevan. We attended with other PCVs and later hit the Jazz club. The next day it was off to the first Green Camp (remember from last year, I was the education coordinator for all these camps). This would prove to be my last Green Camp and the torch was handed off. It was difficult to do that, as this project has been a baby of mine and a couple other PCVs.Now, there are two more camps to work, with different themes: Girls and Leadership; and going to America. Before I know it, it is time to go home, as the time is going by so quickly! I’ll get some hiking and horse backing riding in with my favorite people from my village and then it is time to pack up my goods and head back to America for a few weeks and then off to the Philippines for an additional 27 months of service.It is a weird feeling wrapping up my service. I can’t wait to see my family and friends, but at the same time, leaving Armenia is like leaving a special part of my life as I have wonderful friends here. I am sure that I am not prepared for the emotions that I will undergo in the next month. This place is my home. This village is my community and the villagers are my family.There’s one more update left…until then, enjoy your summer!Cheers Peace Love HugsSydBirthdays: Sista Sam, Mom, Jeff, Bern, Ant, AlexAnniversaries: Lindsey and Nick, Andrea and Nic, Rhea and , Steph and Brian
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Alas Spring!
Love the snow~ :) This is me trying to cross countriy ski!
As I write, I am reclined in my bed, unmovable, wearing three layers of shirts, topped off with no socks and a pair of shorts. It is a beaming 55 degrees in my home and maybe a blazing 33 degrees outside as it late at night. You may ask, “Why in the world are you in shorts, Syd?” followed by “Why are you unmovable”? Let me explain….With the fresh sunlight and the snow starting to melt, there is a psychological sense that a warm front have moved in. Plus, the Armenian celebrate spring the first of March (always fun to celebrate a month or two in advance)thus, the freedom of shorts, instead of long johns creates some time of freedom for my legs. After this exposure to “leg freedom” I ventured out (in three layers) for the first time since the marathon (Nov 4th) and ran for 40 minutes a couple of days ago and then repeated the action as it “felt so good”. So my legs are sore as heck, and I am enjoying the warm front that has rolled in. Its stay may be short, so I am soaking up the sun before the next snow storm rolls through.With the snow melting, the village has become to what I refer to as a Hershey Kisses Swimming Pool, without the sweet taste. The roads are massive puddles of water and mud, making them impassable. But for me, if there is challenge I will try. That I have been doing until yesterday, when I literally fell into one of these Hershey Chocolate Swimming Pools. It was dark and my flashlight could not embrace the greatness of this lake of mud. I just decided to swim across. When I got home, little water remained, but I managed to clean my self spick and span with just one bucket of water. Which leads to me….…to talk about the professional development skills I have learned in the PC that, unfortunately, has no room on a traditional CV or resume:Walking on Ice…yes it doing and a hard feat to do. I have achieved it!Bathing…Not only do I bath by bucket twice a week (on a lucky week) but I have found how to conserve water. I bath in my rinsing water from my laundry. I have gotten more compliments of how beautiful I look after I did this, so I continue to save my rinse water.Giradia….it is my best friend and it follows me everywhere, always providing company!Petting….I have developed a strong tolerance for allowing unknown children to pet and touch me because I am different. It is so amusing! JToasts…You have a holiday or celebrating in the next couple of months! Call on any PCV who can flatter you with the most amazing words in Armenian or English!Perspective. Perspectives.So what have I been up to since I have last written? Well, I with some fellow American comrades, took a adventure up to northern Armenia for a weekend full of cross country skiing. The area up there was plummeted with snow, which make the “falls” much more soothing. The six of us were trained and coached by former USSR cross country skiing champions, as well as two-time Olympic champions. I definitely have come out as a better skier, that is for sure! The couple was fabulous and so were their children. They were patient, gave us their home for the weekend, and it was one of the most endearing culture exchanges I have ever experienced, and it is special to me as it was done through a beloved colleague of me: sport.Before the skiing journey, my counterpart and I participated in a program management and design conference as trainers. My counterpart did such an amazing job throughout the conference! I was so proud of her! Her confidences soared as she tackled this national conference, using our grant working experiences, and her people skills! In the evening, there was some free time. My friends, Heather, Warren and I gathered an Armenian troop and taught them how to play Skip-Bo. It was a blast for all, but I think my winning Skip-Bo has been hindered, as a bunch of rookies beat me out! JFor the juicy part, Armenia had its president elections on February 19th. The prime minister, Serj Sargsyan came out as the victor, though some would argue it was an unfair outcome. There were peaceful protests, gathering hundreds of thousands of people in the capital of Yerevan. Then suddenly, the peace ended on March 1st, with a dispute breaking the tranquility, and a pure riot broke out, leaving over hundred injured, eight dead, cars flipped and burnt, stores broken into and looted, and a complete mess of Yerevan streets. There was been a state of emergency declared until March 22nd, with military and soldiers patrolling the streets, and tanks lining the center of town. I am told by friends both Armenian and American who live in Yerevan, that the situation in Yerevan has been and is quite stressful, depressing, and sad. All I really know is that the Peace Corps had given no permission to be in or by Yerevan for the past month and the alert recently ended. As of now, the President has sworn in (April 9th) and things seem to be going well.I didn’t know if you had heard about this situation, as my friends and family in Nebraska heard the news from me, but in other heavily populated areas in America, with an Armenian congregation, it was front page news. It is a cheerless event for the country; however, I cannot comment an opinion, because in my village, things could not be more normal. Our classes were never interrupted. The country’s transportation was stopped for a couple of days to the capital city, but that really no had effect here. The only effect I saw was that more villagers must have been making more cakes or eating eggs, because it was the only time since I have been in Armenia that I could find some eggs! :) This could be just a random correlation, but it happened.So with this situation, it has been interesting to see how involved Yerevan has been in my service. For me to reach any other part of the country, I have to go to Yerevan to catch the transport. We have a international writing contest going on and we cannot collect the entries from other sites who sent them to Yerevan. Meetings have been delayed, cancelled, rescheduled, etc. Plus some of my really good pals live in Yerevan and I have not been able to see them. Yerevan is like a little outlet for us PCVs. It has restaurants, showers, warmth, and meltable cheese. There is no doubt that I could live without Yerevan, but it is quite funny to reflect and really how much I have used Yerevan in the past.Speaking of reflection, wow, I cannot believe that there is only four more months of service left. I have been thinking about it, but the villagers have really brought up the topic lately. March 8th is celebrated as Women’s Day and it is heavily celebrated. Many students wrote little holidays cards, with asking me to stay forever. Cute, eh? Then toasts were made, and eventually ended up with a plea for me to stay. It is funny, being trapped in the village without travel permission for the past two months or so, I have really hung out with the villagers on a more regular basis. The people mean the world to me and thinking of not living in Armenia is a distressing thought. These individuals stopped their lives to allow some random goodie tissue kid from the US to live with them; to become part of their daily routines; part of their families. They do so, with great patience, as we are constantly learning the language, having culture faux; I feel as if we come, have an influence on each other, and then leave. There is no doubt in me that these friendships will last, however it does pose the question of “do we really intrude as PCVs?” We come and go with our returns being years ago due to financial reasons. We assist and help in ways that we can, but in the end, and I was SO NAÏVE to this; the PCV gains so much out of the experience. I am taking more from this experience that what I have felt I have offered to the Armenian population. My sole goal to come here was to help. I realized how fortunate I was in the States, and I wanted to pay these actions forward. However, the Armenians have me beat because I don’t think I can ever repay them for the life lessons they have taught me. It is weird, to have a goal that needs to be achieved, only to find out that the receivers of your goal have in turn become the givers, and you, the giver, have become a receiver.Phew, touchy moment there, but this is a common PC story, and as this experience has been shared between all of us…you all deserve the right to know.So lastly, you may be asking yourself a final question, “Hummm, only four months left? What in the world is Syd going to do after Armenia? Will she go and save penguins in Antarctica?”No, my dear Lindsey, I won’t be venturing down to the South Pole to help our dear flipper friends who are suffering from an alternate environment due to global warming. It is quite appealing, and it is a list of things I would like to do, but it is not my calling for the next five years or so….But things are in action, and options have been confirmed. I am headed to the Philippines in August to serve as a lecture and teacher trainer of English in a college. I am swamping snow for humidity and typhoons! J Again it will be a 27 month commitment full of language training, cultural interactions, and adaptations of a new way of life; everything in which I am excited about. Through this experience in Armenia and the support I have received back home; the journey ahead in clear, challenging, and enchanting. I am certain that I have made the correct decision to keep paying forward the goodness I have received just being born in the United States, having wonderful parents, a great family, and unbelievable friends. I am just riding the wave of life and it is wicked fun!Bless be the Groundhog. Candy and Hearts. Love to the US Presidents. Yah Spring! Happy Easter. May Day or Bust. Love the Moms!!!!Peace, loves, hugs, and bless meltable cheese,SydHappy Birthdays: Dad, Rebecca, Eileen, Eloise, Connie, Whitney, Cliff, Jamie, Lindy, Dave (late), Moni, Kristen, Mary, Aunt Barb, Upchuck Katie, PC NancyHappy Anniversary: Mom and Dad, Upchuck Katie, Laurel
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Pictures
Go Marathon!
We watched this sunset on Santorini Island! How beautiful! This is sunset from my village.
The Marathon crew in front of the Akropolis in Athens. Jamie and I found the cereal aisle in Athens. We had cereal four times a day! :)
I cut my hair and bathed for New Years. My host bro took this "flattering" picture of me :)
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Happy New Year
Howdy from the bitter cold of Armenia! I hope this update finds you all warm and happy as 2008 is in full gear! With my water pipes frozen and little warmth, my friend cut my hair….check it out! (PS, I did not edit this, so sorry for grammar error).The holiday season was much more eventful this year. On December 19th, a couple of PCVs and I were chatting about what we were going to do for the holidays. Soon, it was decided that we would gather at my place. With that said, I did not have any heat in my home, and thinking that others would not want to bring layers and layers of clothing to stay warm, I decided to by a gas heater. It was definitely the best investment of 2008 as my two rooms average about 55F rather than 30F! My kitchen and toilet area, however, well, let’s just say your breath can be seen JThe holiday was spent with my dear PCV friends, a small gathering of us, as well as some of my Armenian co-workers. We sang, ate, celebrated, and rejoiced. Not one present was opened, though Santa Claus via Strongsville, Ohio, found his way to my home on Christmas morning. Thank you Santa J My Armenian co-workers speak English, but of course, we us PCVs gather, we speak so quickly and probably with a lot of slang. The Armenians told me that now they understand how us Americans feel when we go through the Armenian celebrations. We understand, but not everything J it was a nice culture exchange to say the least.School let out December 23rd to January 21st. The New Year holiday is the biggest event in Armenia. It is truly celebrated for two straight weeks! It is common to lay a table of delicious fruits, nuts, traditional foods of kufta (smashed meat), and dolma (meat and rice wrapped in grape leaves or cabbage), lots of vodka, champagne, wine, and soda. I think you get my drift. It is quite a festival toasting to all the joys in the world. I visited over 20 homes and with that I consumed God only knows how much food! However, I can give you just a dolma estimate…about five dolma per home…yah, 100 dolma not even counting all the other things I consumed ;)It was a blast with no sleep for the first couple of days. Christmas Day is celebrated on January 6th commemorating the old holiday. There is about a four hour church service and it is one of the few days in which holy water is given to the congregation.During this time, I went back to my training village and spent a couple of days with my first host family, whom I love dearly! We had a wonderful time and I ate too much! In one day, I had four types of khoravats (like barbeque) and needless to say, my body couldn’t’ handle it! LI also visited some other PCVs and some came down my way for work and of course social gathering. Not doubt, most of my time was spent in the village; also preparing for the Armenian National Spelling Bee, Inter-Caucasus Writing Olympics, fixing an English classroom at school, and working on various summer camp curricula. The time has really passed by quickly, that is for sure.Other news, is that I have been selected to serves as a Pre-Departure Orientation Teacher for the FLEX (Future Leaders’ Exchange) in which I will prepare the out-going Armenian students about American families, friends, society, school systems, and cultural. This program is offered to the Eurasia countries in which in-coming 10th form students will study in the US for free under the finance of the US government. It is a wonderful program which students get a chance to live in a democratic society, learn about volunteerism, share cultures, and live in the experience. I am really excited about this opportunity and I cannot wait to start the work. It will require one week training in Moscow in April, followed by a summer two-week program for the students in which I will team-teach with a FLEX Alumni. It will be a great learning experience for all those involved.So it is 2008, that means that my two years of service is in its final leg, so to speak. August 2008 I will be on my way back to the soil of the US, for some time that is. I am not for sure what the future holds, but my options are open. I will say, that this international education and cross culture experience is quite intriguing to me and I would like to find ways in which I could continue this path. Learning to understand each other is just a beginning, experiencing this exchange has a chance to change the world, and I enjoy being apart of this exhilarating ride! But no worries, no matter what, I will be US bound in August.I cannot believe that PC Headquarters is already choosing the Armenian PCVs for the coming year. It is nuts how fast time flies when one gets older….is that a good thing?I thank all of you who sent cards, packages, and nice words via internet during the holidays. It really touches my heart that you all think of me. The holidays, without a doubt, can be the toughest part of service. However, your thoughts make the time pass with warm and tender feelings.Having a year to reflect, I cannot believe some of the quantitative goals I have achieved. Never would I have thought I would go to Egypt and wonders of the world; attempt to scuba dive; win three grants for various projects; successfully implement five environmental camps throughout the country; see Georgia and the Black Sea with dear friends; have my parents cross US borders to visit my life and me; implement various new activities at school; train for a marathon with the support from everyone in the village; complete a marathon; and so much more. Though it had its difficulties, 2007 provided me with a memorable year with lots of Kodak moments. I hope that you all have time to think about your 2007 and see what you have accomplished and what challenges you faced that will bring a new light in 2008!Here’s to you and 2008!SydHappy Birthdays: Dave C, Linda W. Becca (hey rooomie), DadHappy Anniversary: Katie! One year! Way to go Upchuck!Late Bday: Lorin, BobbyNew baby: Cicely and Devard J [?]
Tis the Season for YakTrax!
It’s YakTrax Season!For all you rookies out there, it is officially the season of YakTrax. If you have no idea what “Yaktrax” means, you must not live in a land full of snow and ice! YakTrax are rubber metal shoe things that you put on the bottom of your shoes. This little shoe slipper thing easily shapes your shoes/boots and provides incredible amount of traction. In short, I am just informing you all that the snow has fallen, the ice is residing, and winter has been in full gear for a month in Armenia, or at least where I am. That means that there are only 5.5, yes, 5.5 months of winter left!On a more random note, to conserve water and body heat, I have cut my hair! It is short and so easy! All I do is put some paste and mess up the hair and I am in style! The kids at school love it! They think it is funny, but then they tell me it suits me! Nevertheless, the villagers are not even too surprised with me; they just find me interesting, lovable, and weird. What a package eh? :PAs I always state, time is flying by, and I cannot believe it. There is just so much to do! I just had a fall spelling bee at my school last weekend. It was great to see the improvement from the students from only 6 months ago. This year, we will be hosting the 2nd National Spelling, and I am one of three people implementing this event. Not only that, but we are also implementing a creative writing contest to start at the local levels, and spread to a Trans-Caucasus contest. Critical and creative thinking and writing skills have been used frugally, and using a contest always helps with the incentive to write at a deeper level. The end result of this contest is going to be much more beneficial as the three countries; Azerbaijan, Armenia, and Georgia will have a booklet produced of the winning essays. It is a nice way to increase neighborly relations.In case you haven’t heard, I am trapped in Armenia. All borders around Armenia are closed off; as the most recent border closing of Georgia is due to their Presidential elections will be held in early January. So needless to say, I was not planning on going to Georgia or anything, but just found the concept of being trapped quite entertaining for the time being.In the village, with many thanks to various contributors, we are reconstructing an English Learning Lab at my school. We have started the process, and are laying the floor and putting in windows this week. The cement and rocks have arrived, and the dirty work is soon to begin. As you may have guessed, I can’t wait to help! On another note, I have been very active in editing and recreating summer camp curricula for various camps to be held this summer. I love this work and I still get the goose bumps when I reflect on the experiences we (both Armenians and Americans) had during the camp season last year!Thanksgiving came and went, with only a bit of celebrating. We had our annual Peace Corps Armenia conference in which we all gather for yearly meetings and updates. Here, we also had a Thanksgiving dinner. It was really yummy, I must say. Mixing peas, corn, and everything in my mash potatoes is just heavenly, then later, only to be topped with a real pumpkin pie! For the actual holiday, I was in the village, and made one of the best meals known to the American man; Kraft Macaroni and Cheese! After my meal, I went and hung out with my neighbors and tried to explain to them the purpose of Thanksgiving and all of its rich tradition. The funny thing is Armenians are always deeply expressing their thanks to one another, and my neighbors did not quite understand why we only do this once a year…I do have to agree that one time a year is not enough.This month is super busy for me. We celebrated World’s AIDS Day with a national poster contest, last weekend there were some meetings to discuss the financial future of the youth environmental camps (still unknown) with some of the major NGOs, as well as some teacher-trainings and workshops here and there. My classes and clubs (basketball, English, and Eco) are doing really well. I have no big plans for Christmas this year. I am going to stay in the village and hang out with my friends and students. We are going to have a small Christmas program with the students singing English songs and later we will make some cookies. It should be a great time indeed!The Armenians celebrate Christmas on January 6th, so Christmas on the 25th will pass without the lights and Christmas trees and other traditions that many of you are already pretty sick of! I have in fact; put some Christmas lights up in my living room, only to find out that they don’t work. Also, I have realized that I have a poor holiday song collection. Hopefully the students can sing their hearts out for me as they sing in English the holiday songs!The New Year is the most celebrated holiday in Armenia. Families and friends will spend a lot time baking and preparing of the new year, which its celebration lasts until at least January 6th, their Christmas Day. It is quite exhausting work, and feel sorry for all the women who work so hard! Last year, I believe I visited 26 homes! That means I ate the traditional food, dolma, 26 times, and that does not count the number of toasts! I bet that number reached around 100. And now this year, I know more Armenian, which maybe will fend off the amount of dolma, but increase the amount of toasts...Yikes :)The New Year celebration can be exhausting, as I stated, but it is blast and I can’t wait to celebrate it this year with my Armenian family, as a year has gone by, and some many things have changed. This year, I will be able to chime in all conversations.As far as the language goes, I must be improving because just recently a couple of people called me a ”shatakhos” meaning that I talk too much! Uh-oh! I continue to take some tutor lessons because I want to perfect my grammar knowledge and work on my pronunciation….even though pronunciation gives me trouble in my native tongue as well.Before I end this update, I must give a bit of an update on Greece. If you have not traveled there, it is definitely a spot to go. After participating in the marathon (which I would do again; I had a blast despite the knee trouble), we went to Santorini for some relaxation time. It was the end of the tourist season, so prices were cheap, the fish was still fresh, and it was like we had an island to ourselves! Santorini is quite beautiful and the sunsets are about at romantics as they come. Besides the nine hour boat ride to the island, we were in Athens seeing most of the ancient ruins and touring around the city. It was the first time I had been to a developed country in over a year and a half, and it was funny. I was the total outsider, as I am sure that was shown when all the PCVs screamed in joy when we went to a grocery store (a real grocery store) and the appearances of avocadoes, skim milk, brand name ice cream, and Honey Nut Cheerios made their appearances. Not a day did not go by for one week, where I did not eat at least three bowls of cereal with skim milk! Oh, cereal, how I love thee!The marathon itself was a wonderful experience that I cannot wait to repeat. The course is suppose to be one of the more difficult courses, but we all trained in very high altitude which helped our lungs, though our legs were quite beaten up from running on such rugged surfaces. This pounding eventually won the battle over me, as during the marathon, I was in severe knee pain, and honestly had difficulty walking for three days after the marathon, but finished; only a little slower than I had anticipated. It turned out that I had sprained all ligaments and have water in my knee, which means I can’t do anything for three months! One month has gone by, and my mental state is well. I shot some baskets the other day, and wow, my knee felt it the following day! I am eager, despite the snow and cold, to get out and run again!This update is quick long as it is, so I will end it soon. Here’s wishing you all a safe, healthy and wonderful holiday season. Please know that you all will be thought of, and when you all sing songs, gather around the tree, unwrap presents, or busy baking cookies, I am with you too. Merry Christmas, Happy Hanukah, Happy Kwanza, and Happy New Year. May 2008 be filled with laughter and joy and may you reflect on how lucky you were in 2007!Sending this last post of 2007 with many hugs and love,SydHappy Birthday: Cheryl, Mike, EllenHappy New Baby: Steph and Brian = KatiePictures will come in a week or so... [?]
My First Marathon...
Hello all from Athens Greece! I thought I would sent a short note, as I have reliable, free, and fast internet in Greece! Yesterday I finished my first marathon. Here is a picture of me running (trying at this point in the race, as it was the final 2oom) and of my PCV pals that ran the race as well! We started in Marathon, GR and finished in the Olympic Stadium in Athens !We are know recovering from sore bodies and indulging on foods such as ice-cream, pizza, beer and other foods that can be found in Armenia, just not in the American-way! When results are posted, I will say. I started the race amazingly, and then followed by severe knee pain, and alas and heartbroken, finished the race, one hour later than my destined time. I was on pace for a 4 hr or less and finished under 5hrs instead. I have never been mentally and physically challenged in my life!
Next stop, we will tour some Greek Islands, and then back to Armenia with a stop at the doctors, to see what in the world I did to my knee while running, recreationally, 42km! I just hope I did not tear anything!
Here is quick blurb on the marathon, that I took from the marathon's website...http://www.athensclassicmarathon.gr/html/ent/017/ent.1017.1.asp...
Among all the Olympic events, the Marathon Race stands out because it was born by a real historic and heroic event. It was a feat accomplished by a news-bearing foot soldier from ancient Athens, who announced - with his last words - the victory of the Greeks against the Persians in the battle of Marathon (490bc). The 42,195m Marathon Race became one of the most competitive events when the Olympic Games were revived in 1896. A Greek athlete by the name of Spyros Louis, running what has ever since been referred to as the 'Original Course' from the ancient city of Marathon to the Panathinaikon Stadium in Athens, won the gold medal of the first modern Olympic Games and became a legend of Greek and international athletics. The Marathon Race has always had a prominent place in the hearts and minds of sports enthusiasts, as it represents the highest effort where the human body, soul and mind are tested to their limits as the runner presses himself/herself to the finish line. SEGAS has the honour and the historic responsibility to organize annually the Athens Classic Marathon on the Original Course. Since 1982, the Athens Classic Marathon has been dedicated to Gregoris Lambrakis, the athlete, scientist and Member of Parliament, who was murdered in the 60s and, by his death, became a symbol for Human Rights. From the year 2001 onwards, Alpha Bank, the official bank of the Athens 2004 Olympic Games and one of the major banking corporations in Greece, has been the Official Sponsor of the Athens Classic Marathon and its valuable support led to the significant upgrade of the event in all aspects. Both SEGAS and Alpha Bank strongly believe that their co-operation will result to the establishment of the Athens Classic Marathon as one of the most popular and best organised Marathon Races globally. Thousands of runners from all over the world are expected to participate in this year's race. Apart from the sporting experience, they will have the chance to enjoy the traditional Greek hospitality, discover the fascinating landscape of our country and explore a city which is constantly improving its standards.
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My Parents Came!!!
GO CUBS! I CAN’T BELIEVE IT! I MUST BE PART OF THE CURSE! BUT THE CUBS BIGGEST FAN IS ROOTIN FOR THEM FROM THE MOUNTAINS OF ARMENIA!Phew, now that I got that out of my system…this picture from my balcony...pretty sunset, eh?Privyet! I thought I would throw some Russian your way, as “Privyet” holds the meaning of “hello”. No, I am not intentionally studying another language. It is just that some Russian words have been incorporated into the Armenian language, as you may know, from the years Armenian was under Soviet leadership. So yes, my stay in Armenia has truly become a “multi-cultured” experience!Well, as you may have known, my parents took off their worn “American shoes” and tested a new pair in Armenian. For one week, I was surrounded by the presence of my wonderful parents, who themselves ventured away from their native land for the first time. We had a wonderful time and I tried to absorb them into the ultimate Armenian experience. We traveled as much as time would allow us (one week in Armenia is short!!!), which took us to my village for three days. Here my Dad was taken back to the days of the bucket baths, and Mom was lectured on village customs…aka No Smoking. They enjoyed every custom meal Armenian has to offer: khoravats, dolma, spas, many salads, meats, and course, the most delicious fruits and vegetables you will ever taste in your life!!!! I think if you asked my parents, they will definitely tell you that they left Armenian with full stomachs, as the hospitality in Armenia is a friendly never-ending affair. I believe they truly enjoyed the village life, though different, and even to this day the villagers are constantly speaking about “Sydi man ev pan ekan!” meaning “Syd’s Mom and Dad came”! They were and still are celebrities in the village. Many villagers commented on how young Mom and Dad looked, and a couple of grandmas mistaken Mom and Dad as my sister and brother. I guess that is a compliment to my parents, but me?? :) Some are even convinced that Dad is a famous actor. Now, I have NO idea where that comes from, but they are convinced that this handsome man, who in fact is my father, is at the moment, on set, preparing for his next movie!We also traveled up to the Mid-Northern Region to see my first host family. Of course, Mom and Dad fit right in with them, and soon, my host dad and Dad were communicating through various hand signals and head nods. The kids loved Mom and thought she was a hit. This trip was followed with an eventful taxi ride home in which made us all chuckle, as random events kept occurring. From the taxi, we saw a sheep fall from a cliff, the taxi driver calling every police man a dog, and we saw just how quickly Dad can put on his seat belt when the cops are approaching. (Seat belt laws just went in effect this year, though most cars do not have seat belt.). It was quick hilarious, as Dad is not known for his “Cat-like” reflexes,Of course we visited the some historical sites of Garni, Geghard, and Noravank. Garni is a restored 1st century temple, which was restored with its pure rocks after an earthquake in the 17th century destroyed it. It is the only pagan temple left in Armenia; as all others were ruined or demolished. Geghard is a 9th century monastery which was carved out of the mountain. It was carved from the top down, and the inscriptions inside of this monastery and its chambers are amazing. Unfortunately it is quite dark inside I am not able to show you this highlights. Lastly, Noravank is known for its beautiful scenery and crazy steps. Here, this monastery sits in the semi-arid part of Armenia. Mom and Dad now can attest that Armenia really does make up about 32 different climates, and they only saw ¼ of the country.The rest of the time, was enjoyed by the 16th anniversary of Armenia’s independence from the Soviet rule, a private little tour of Yerevan, and spending time with my dearest Armenian friends. We chatted and chatted, and ate and ate, with Dad taking in a random nap or two during the conversations. (Jet lagged). But this didn’t’ seem to bother my friends, as they found it quite entertaining and took pictures. They have already stated that they are waiting for my parents’ arrival to Armenia again! In short, my parents were a “hit” in Armenia!As it was magnificent to have my parents interact with what I have been absorbed in the past year and some, it was time for them to head back home, and they time passed too quickly. So, after the departure of my parents, it was back to reality, which was weird. I had spent so much time with them, and all of a sudden they were gone!Despite coming from the low without my parents, the other day I was reminded of the reason why I am in Armenia. You see, during this experience, it is very customary to have ups and downs, and as I said, I was on the descending rollercoaster after my parents left. I took a student to the final round of a competition in which if she passes the third round, she can go to the US and study for free, for one year. She is already a success for making it this far, being the only villager in the competition from our region/marz. Plus, it is the first time a student from our village has participated in such a competition. Again, already a winner. She did well, and advanced to the application stage. Unfortunately her parents would like her stay in Armenia. But it was a huge event for her and the whole village. I am so proud of her!
As I sat watching/helping her fill out her application, I was intrinsically overcome by tears of happiness. In most cases, villagers are overlooked and not given a fair chance. Of course, this is my own opinion and observation, but I truly confide it my findings. Anyways, I sat looking and thinking how she is a “pure” product from the village. I have never tutored her, but only presented the opportunity that the program existed. Normally, word of such programs rarely reached outside of Yerevan, the capital city, without the help of Peace Corps Volunteers. And that is why I am in Armenia. You see, as you all know, I am probably not the best choice for an English teacher, as you may have already known, or have come from the conclusion from my blog updates. Don’t get me wrong, being a native speaker helps tremendously, but really, most of the teachers who know English, can tell me more about the grammar rules that I can dream about! But that is not the sole reason I am here. I am here to present new opportunities. Opportunities in which other people, whether, students, adults, teachers, community members, and the youth have fortune to expand their horizons in so many avenues; through educational programs, learning about the American culture, having pen-pals in the US, providing sports and English clubs free of charge, or my favorite, just sitting and chatting with my neighbors about life. Maybe we watch my cousin’s American wedding or maybe they want to know why my clothes are so different, bright, and colorful. They truly don’t grasp why I don’t like coffee or that I can’t sit down for a long period of time. But they understand that I am different, and that understanding creates an opportunity in which true friendships have been formed. I am surrounded by fantastic people, who appreciate my presence, but even more I have valued the opportunity that they have given me…It is true, what goes around, comes around. But this time, it is coming around too fast!It is already cold. My room is at 50F as we speak, and snow is falling in the mountains already. Yikes! I just got gas in my home, so maybe it will be warm, but it is not hooked up into any type of heating system, just my stove. The sunlight is only around for about 10 hours, which makes my final month of marathon training interesting. Yes, I have decided to participate. I have run more miles these past three months that I did when I was competing in college, holy cow. I ran a 20 miler and didn’t die! The villagers think I am crazy running so much, but they think I am crazy without my running, so I guess it just provides more entertainment for them.Classes are going well. I am really busy this year, and I have my hands in many other secondary projects. But of course, I still have my exchange programs with the students. We really enjoy writing to each other. It is such a highlight!Well, I have provided you with many updates in the past month, so I will let you all rest until November…Until then, I wish the Cubs would have won!!Պաիչիկ և Գրկումներ—Kisses and HugsՍիդ-SydHappy Birthday: Suzanne, Stacy, JillThanks to all of you who sent cards for me through my parents!!!
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WAHOO! School is back
Hello Everyone! Welcome to the second year of my tour! To me, I am in my official second leg, as school in well under way, and it was at this time last year where I started concrete and tangible work. This year looks even more promising, but before I get too far ahead I need to update you what has occurred since my last update.After our mid-service training, I headed back to the village to continue my summer English reading and writing clubs at my home. The students prepared themselves well, and when school started this past September 1st, it was easier to see who had studied over the summer. I spent some time hanging out at the lake and enjoying its beauty and innocence, as you know, it is one of the world’s highest altitude lakes. Duties called me during mid-August to the swearing-in of the new group of volunteers. Wow, my group; we are officially the veterans…scary J This new group is confident and young so good things will come from them. Mid-August also met celebrating my birthday at least five times! I have celebrated my birthday more in Armenia the last two years than I have had in my entire life! It is fun, but can be a bite overwhelming. However, it was a double-special day, as my first shipment of Cheetos arrived that day! Oh, that Chester Cheetah artificial goodness what an indescribable taste, and the crunchy noise was music to my ears! And then, the goody orange crumbs I licked away from my fingers! It sounds funny, but you forget what you don’t have until you see it again. I watched a movie with another volunteer and saw Cheetos in the movie, and since then, the orange deliciousness I craved! Special thanks to my fellow pal Heather’s mother, who has thrown a bag or two in Heather’s packages. Finally, on this day, I was able to spend it with many of my closet friends, both from the Armenian and American sides.August 22nd was a colossal day in Armenia, and I was very excited I was a live witness. This day, Armenia who is rank rather low in the world rankings, played Portugal in the sport of soccer, or as the rest of the world calls it, futbol! Approximately 30,000 fans crowded the stadium that only sits about 25,000. Armenia, with its quick legs, score first, leaving Portugal stuck in their tracks, as everyone in the stadium jumped and hollered in joy. Portugal would eventually tie the game, and the 1-1 score was stuck; proving that Armenia is not this itty-bitty nation, but a strong, prideful, and loyal country. Portugal was a top world team, so it was a HUGE win for Armenia. To be apart of the screaming, yelling, and national pride is something that I will always hold near to my heart.As many of you know, I am a sports fanatic. For instance, it is killing me that the Chicago Cubs are doing so well now, and I am not there to listen, watch or cheer. I am starting to think that I may be apart of the Cubs’ jinx! Anyways, many of you know that I have worked event management in the discipline of sports. This game was so pure without many overbearing marketing posters, banners, and promotions that can be seen at Americas’ sport arenas. The game seemed so pure. There was plenty of security, no concessions, and only one entrance open for 30,000 people. It was scary to enter the stadium as I really thought someone was going to get stepped on, especially the children. Many people were upset about this, so it will be interesting to see if at a later game, the admission procedure changes. What is so interesting about futbol is how the sport itself is like an international language. For the most part, teams competing against each other don’t understand a common language, but they understand the common rules of the game. Yet, many fans come out and cheer their country. It is interesting to see how sport has united people, and in my experience in Armenia, sport has helped with so many off-the-field characteristics, such as a higher self-esteem, leadership, character development, working with a team, etc. Though it has its negatives, sports are good and have had a huge effort on the students I teach, and for the national pride I experienced at the last two futbol games.After the game, I headed with Heather and our Armenian friends to Georgia where we spent some time on the beautiful, clear, stone pebbled beaches of the Black Sea. We even cultured the Armenians to McDonalds in Tbilisi while en-route to the Batumi region. Tbilisi is a wonderful, very European city. The EU Flag blows proudly in the air as the Georgians hope to one day become part of the EU. In Tbilisi, we were able to take advantage of the sulfur baths and cheap massages, though I would be prepared for the massager, as without warning, she took off her clothes as the sulfur bath pools are quite warm. This action took me for a bit of a surprise as the older woman had requested we do the same, but I was not going to do that! But there was not a bed or anything, we would just lie on the marble slab….so I nicely refused and kept my clothes on, while I received a massage from a nude massager…quite an experience I must say.Then it was the night train to Batumi region, where we arrived on the beach of the Black Sea around 630am (that is what the pictures are of). The beach is so calm and gentle and we practically had the beach to ourselves for an hour. It was so peaceful! Soon, Heather and I found out that the majority of the population was speaking Russian, a language we had know idea how to speak. We found that our Armenian skills got us further than our English, as many Armenians were vacationing in the area, and we could communicate with them for translations through our Armenia. It is a good things we know some Armenia! Plus, it was great that we went with Armenians, as they knew Russian!In the area, we visited the botanical gardens, ran on the beach, ate delicious ice cream, and got in a couple of games in of tennis, which I lost horribly to Heather and it was still fun! It was quite relaxing and fun to be with our Armenian friends. In the picture above, it is Heather, myself, as well as Rima and Aida. They gave me the permission to use their picture here! This picture was taken in Sarpi, near the Turkish border. Sarpi had the best beach, as the water was picture perfect and the cliffs gave Heather and I reason to just be crazy and jump off of them!Soon, it was time to end back; so again it was back on the night train, to the marshutni to Armenia. It was a long but fruitful journey, in which I left my camera and other belongings in the marshutni, but with the big hearts of the Armenians and Heather, I was able to retrieve all the belongings.September 1st arrived and school started. I am working at two schools this year, and hopefully four different teachers. Walking into the classroom this year was quite distinctive, as my language skills are better, the students recognize me, and I understand conversations in the teachers’ lounge. Some of our classes were combined, and I was happy to see that the students in which my counterpart and I have taught seemed to have a stronger knowledge base. It eased my tension about assessing our team-teaching, a concept unfamiliar in Armenia! So far, it has worked!As of now, I am impatiently waiting for my parents’ arrival to country and preparing for a marathon for November. Man, it is already tiring! I ran 16 miles the other and there is only one road to run on!! All the marshunti drivers recognize and wave at me, which provides entertainment.Oh, and my last plug is that with my community, we are reconstructing a new classroom, from scratch! Spreading concrete, applying plaster, placing windows, laying carpet, etc. Later, installing a computer, projector, desks, chalkboards, etc! It will be an English Learning Center. Something that is nonexistent in my village, but in great demand. Plus, this will be the best looking classroom in the area, creating an engaging learning environment! And guess what, you all can help! Yes, you can! If you have the time, please go to www.peacecorps.org , and go to DONATE NOW on the left side, next click on DONATE to Volunteer Projects, Eastern Europe, and BAM, there you will see S.Merz and Armenia! I have a description of the project as well. And yes, it is a 100% tax-deductible contribution!! I was inspired to do this by my community, and your endless support and questions in how you could help.Again, I hope you all are well!Big hugs,SydPS. Marshunti is a minibus. It is what is used for transport.Happy Birthday: Carter, Lexi, JackHappy Anniversary: Sister Sam and Chadd
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Since 2000 Peace Corps Volunteers in Armenia have been posting blogs on thier experiences in Armenia. These blogs are personal and reflect a wide range of opinions about Peace Corps and the country of Armenia. The opinions are those of the blog authors and we have posted feeds on one page as central repository of these blogs.

Volunteer Projects

Main article: Volunteer projects of Peace Corps in Armenia

Peace Corps Volunteers in Armenia have initiated many projects in Peace Corps and some have started websites to promote these projects in Armenia and abroad. Some RPCVs have started American nonprofits to provide continued support to the projects they initiated during their Peace Corps service.


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