Birthright Armenia, Musings

[Blog] Week One, Ups and Downs

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This week has been full of what feels like a thousand ups and downs. A part of me has a hard time believing I’ve only been here for a little over seven days, because it feels like so much has already happened. Another part of me, just as big as the first, is still convinced that I’ve just gotten here. In a way, both of them are right.

Like I mentioned last week, Yerevan is truly a lovely city. There’s so much stone used in the architecture, and that same stone is often carved beautifully as well. Even when it’s not, the color is amazing and like nothing I’ve had the pleasure to see before, at least not all in the same place. The History Museum of Armenia is built out of pale, whitish stone. Much of the rest of Republic Square (Հանրապետություն Հրապարակ), including the main government building, uses reddish stone of several different shades. Another building, the Tufenkian Historic Yerevan Hotel is built mainly with a very dark stone, but its accent are a striking, russet color. As if that wasn’t enough, there are also parks everywhere. It’s absolutely incredible.

My ability with the language is improving by leaps and bounds, which is probably the coolest thing to me so far. When I got here, I could read most of the words I saw on signs all around– by which I mean I could sound them out without understanding them– but when it came to listening, I was lucky to pick out a word or two in every third sentence. Given that my host mom doesn’t speak English, this added a certain challenge to the first couple days, though her patience and kindness helped me begin to learn and recognize words even before I started the five day crash course offered by the Birthright program.

I should also mention (again?) that my wonderful cousin is in Yerevan as well, and having her here to show me the ropes has made everything so much easier than I believe it would have been otherwise. I don’t think I can overstate the effect of knowing that there’s someone in the city who already knows me and who I can ask for help should I need it. I know the Birthright staff are available and more than happy to support us all if necessary, but there’s nothing quite like family.

If I only talked about the good and the easy, though, I would not be doing justice to this experience. The hard parts are what will help me grow as a person, despite how frustrating they are now. Or perhaps more accurately, because of how frustrating they are now. If the discomfort these experiences cause is an indication of an area where I am weak (say, for example, being willing to make mistakes), then maybe that’s the first step in getting better. I may need someone to remind me of this four or five times a week.

So here’s a couple of the things that have proven the most difficult so far.

The first, unsurprisingly, is the language. And I know I listed it up above as well and counted it as one of the coolest things about being here. That’s true, of course, but it belongs down here as well. There have been a couple of times I’ve caught myself choosing not to do something because of the language barrier, and that doesn’t count all the times I’ve hesitated before choosing to do something after all. To be perfectly honest, I’m not sure how much of this is real and how much is perceived, either. Most people I’ve interacted with know far more English than I know Armenian, and are more than happy to use it. It’s just me annoyed with myself for not being able to speak the language.

The second is how tired I still am. As far as I can tell, the jetlag has worn off, and I’m not having any more trouble going to bed and getting up at decent hours than I did at home. If anything, it’s a little easier. That being said, I’m finding it far harder than I expected to get the writing done that I would like to. Even my minimum goal is proving hard to reach. For example, this blog is going up more than four hours later than I wanted it to. Also, my partially written short story that I wanted to finish this week is still only partially written, and not for lack of trying. I just haven’t had the energy to force it into existence like I might have back home. And despite the fact that it’s perfectly understandable and (hopefully!) a sign that I’m engaging with my new surroundings, it’s vexing and makes it hard not to feel like I’m just not trying hard enough.

On the bright side, I’m aware that both of these are good examples of a normal experience on an adventure like this. I may not feel like it right at the moment, but these are, in their own way, a good sign. It means I’m letting the country affect me. There’s a couple of cliches that apply here, I think. No pain, no gain, for one.

Also, today was a good day. A long day, and I was almost giddy every time I remembered it was Friday, but definitely a good day. It was the fourth day of my intensive language class, and I can feel it all starting to sink it. It’s getting easier to come out of my shell. I can truly say that I’m excited to be here.

I’m also truly excited to go to bed for the night, so I think I’d best sign off and wrap up this beast of a post before it gets any longer. Thank you all for following my adventure, and look forward to a new update (sometime) next Friday. To those of you interested in reading my short stories, I promise I’m still writing. I hesitate to give a definite time to expect the next one to go up, but it is coming and this weekend looks like it should be good for writing. Thanks for sticking with me!

Until next week!

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