Kyle’s Journey in Armenia

Just Another Peace Corps Blog

24
Jul 2008

Beyond all expectations, we had a perfectly normal final flight out of Yerevan. Despite waking up at 4:30 AM, paying our last 10,000 dram exit tax, and other possible setbacks, we made it on time out of Yerevan and landed early in the international terminal of Moscow’s airport. Phew, we thought, we made it. We were still concerned as we had to make a 20 km transfer to the domestic terminal, which was dimly lit and best described in Lonely Planet as “soulless”. Three hours later we arrived in St. Petersburg (hereafter StP) to a poorly labeled, but general easy to navigate airport. We expected the same badgering taxi drivers and ripoffs as in Armenia, but we were able to take a city bus, followed by a mini-bus, followed by a km of walking to our hostel. The place we stayed at was called 7Bridges, and is basically this English guy’s apartment which he filled with bunk beds and a couple of showers.

Of course, I am referencing this hostel in the past, as I sit here in our new hostel in St. Petersburg. 7Bridges was just very informal, which came at a price of professionalism. We didn’t get sheets until late, things weren’t done when promised, he never received our reservation, and often left his non-English speaking girlfriend to run things. Regardless, we decided to change hostels today, where I’m now writing from, and it’s clean and comfortable. And there’s no bed-bugs (yes, that was a problem).

Likely you’d rather hear about the amazing features of StP then my ranting about hostels. The first day, the 21st, we did not have much time to explore, as we were all exhausted, but the first thing we noticed are the beautiful canals that line the roads. The city is built on the Gulf of Finland, and reminds me a lot of Amsterdam, the way the canals run through it. There’s a lot less of a system, really, but they are beautiful (as is the rest of the city - great parks and gardens) nonetheless.

Old Castle 2 One of the beautiful canals

The second day we really got a taste of StP. We hopped a mini-bus to the Summer Gardens, where our first stop was the Church of the Savior on Spilled Blood, built between 1883-1907 where Alexander II was assassinated. After this we walked through the beautifully manicured Summer Gardens, which Peter the I commissioned for his summer home (well done).

Blood Church Kathy and Heather in Summer Gardens

We continued walking to Peter and Paul’s Fortress, which towers over the Neva River and was built when StP was first founded over 300 years ago. Inside are some truly amazing exhibits. For anyone who knows me, the “Rocketry and Astrophysics” section really brightened my day; they had a real Soviet rocket and lots of interesting propaganda on the Russian space program. I especially reading the poster below about how a Soviet astrophysicist figured out a formula to “conquer the universe”.

Read carefully

A Suyiz Capsule (actual) from the 80s

The cathedral inside the fortress was also beautiful, and reminded me of St. Peter’s in Vatican City, with a lot of gold and a huge alter. Interestingly enough, the entire family of Peter, Catherine, Ivan, and other famous Greats and Terribles have above-ground caskets within the church. Cool, but kind of creepy. The rest of the day we wandered around town on the way back to our hostel, with the only interesting part being a walk through the park where we ran into a lady with a BEAR. Yes, a baby bear. It was actually really sad, as the bear wasn’t happy to be there and exploited for pictures, but it’s certainly something you wouldn’t see in Central Park.

Tomorrow we’re heading out for Peterhof and Catherine’s Palace, which were the summer homes of the two Czars and are supposed to be absolutely beautiful. We are also going to attempt it by only public transportation, which I heard was the only trick Huidini couldn’t do.

To get a better understanding of StP, I’d recommend looking at all my pictures, which are now online (and shouldn’t be updated daily). The URL is http://www.flickr.com/photos/kgiff. Dobry noche!

20
Jul 2008
Posted by Kyle at 10:49 pm | 1 Comment »

So, it’s official. I’m a Returned Peace Corps Volunteer! After 25 months and 21 days, I’m ready to leave Armenia tomorrow morning to start the next phase of my life. I can’t believe the day is finally here!

I’ve spent my last few weeks in Armenia saying my last goodbyes, selling my wares (computer, cell phone, etc), and planning for my great adventure across Siberia and to the Olympics. Last Saturday I left for the International Outreach Camp, which I worked at last year, and spent 5 days there as an “intern”. I helped design the camp over the past year, and while I was only there for a few days, everything was going really well, and so much better than last year. We all decided that when the camp director was using free time as free time, we did something right. The campers, staff and teachers are all amazing, and I applaud their efforts for putting together a great program. Sorry I don’t have pictures - I’ll get those online one day.

So, tomorrow morning at 7:30, I will pay my last 10,000 dram exit tax and leave the country I’ve called home for two years. It will certainly be a bittersweet departure; I’m leaving behind so many good friends, and a lot of successes, both projects in Noyemberyan and cultural exchanges with Armenian people. I feel really good about my service here in Peace Corps, and can’t wait to share my experiences with others when I get home.

Home, home, home. That’s actually not a place I’ll be for a while. Tomorrow I’ll get into St. Petersburg around 1 in the afternoon, and begin my trek across three of the largest, least accessible countries in the world (trust me, when I get into the visa stories…). Here is my schedule, for those who care:

  • July 21-25: St. Petersburg, Russia
  • July 26-29: Moscow, Russia (via overnight train)
  • July 29-August 3: ON THE TRANS-SIBERIAN RAILROAD!
  • August 3-7: Ulan Bator, Mongolia (and the beautiful countryside around it)
  • August 8-12: Beijing (via overnight train) for the 2008 SUMMER OLYMPICS!
  • August 13: Hong Kong (via overnight train)
  • August 14: Arrive at Kansas City International Airport, 11 PM - AMERICA!!!

I will do my best to update my blog (more) regularly as I make this great journey across Asia. If you only visit to learn about Peace Corps in Armenia, thank you for following my journey in Armenia these last two years. It’s been amazing and I hope everyone who read my posts learned a little about Armenia right there with me. Now, all that’s left to say is, HADGOH ARMENIA!!!

11
Jul 2008
Posted by Kyle at 11:50 pm | 1 Comment »

That’s right - it’s that time to say goodbye. After almost two years of pigs in the streets, no running water, and some of the fondest memories of my life, last week marked my final days in Noyemberyan. I returned home last Monday after a long time away at the Green Camp. I also had a wonderful couple of days in Yerevan with some friends of mine from IOC Camp, and they took me to Etchmiatsin Church near Yerevan. It is the heart of the Armenian Apostolic Church, and very beautiful. We even got a VIP tour of the museum and got to see the gold alphabet and cross that was made (and hidden) during Soviet times, as the churches weren’t allowed to accumulate wealth.

Anyway, after coming home, the goodbyes quickly began. After finishing up some final work, we held our last English club on the 4th of July. We bought some meat and cooked burgers and hot dogs, sang some patriotic tunes, and had a great time til night. After that it was pure craziness - 4 days of meeting with close friends from English clubs or NGOs or the school, small receptions and large parties, a million and one small trinkets given, and a lot of genuine hugs and handshakes.

It’s very difficult to describe my last few days at site. In Armenia, there is little difference between a co-worker and a friend (the Armenian word is actually “work friend”), which is amplified for Peace Corps volunteers. Our counterpart is our closest ally at site, and every person I worked with has helped me out personally in some way these past two years. So, the goodbyes were hard, especially knowing I might never see many of them again. Realistically, Noyemberyan is far, far away from Dallas, but I’ll try to make it back in a few years. I’m sad to go, but my departure has been bittersweet: I also left feeling like I truly accomplished many of the things I wanted to do in Armenia. I also learned so much more and made much closer friends and connections in my community then I ever expected. I will miss The Noy very much, but I know it’s on a good track.

That being said, I’m now in Yerevan. Today I completed my Close of Service survey, medical exam, exit interviews, admin paperwork, etc etc. Only a few days left as a volunteer! For those that don’t know, I am leaving Armenia for good on July 21st. From Yerevan, I will go to St. Petersburg and Moscow, Russia, for 9 days, and then take the 7 day Trans-Siberian train ride (one of my 10 things to do before I die!) to Mongolia and finish in Beijing on August 8th, which happens to coincide with the Opening Ceremony of the Olympics!!!! We are spending 4 days there, visiting the walls and watching some games, then flying home out of Hong Kong. I’ll be moving to Dallas over Labor Day weekend, and settled in with a job and my new house soon thereafter. Weird… life is moving forward.

Before I leave, I’m going to this year’s International Outreach Camp for 5 days, just to see the new students to better understand the future of the program. We did so much work putting the camp together; it’s a shame I won’t be there for the whole program, but I know it will go off well again this year.

So - that’s my story :) I’ll try and post IOC updates and some final pictures. But, thank you all for following my experience these past few years. I hope you’ve learned as much about Peace Corps and Armenia as I have.

4
Jul 2008
Posted by Kyle at 10:43 am | No Comments »

Last week I had the pleasure of attending one of Peace Corps’ premier summer programs, the “Green Camp”. Green Camp is a 5 day camp for students aged 9-13, and teaches them all about ecology themes, including pollution, water quality, trash, etc.

Instead of posting lengthy explanations about all we did, I figured I’d let the photos speak for themselves (with small captions, of course). You can view the rest in the photo gallery.

Green Camp (14) Green Camp (10) (From left: the 42 students of the camp; my team, ???? – the Eagles)

Teams

Green Camp (190) Green Camp (247)Green Camp (18) Green Camp (418) (Clockwise from top-left: the four camp teams [note the lines!]; my team and I – “Baze, number 1!”; the Tigers on the prowl; our end of camp team skits about the environment)

Excursion to the Forest

Green Camp (358) Green Camp (362)Green Camp (333) Green Camp (323) (Clockwise from top-left: picnic time!; our schedule, posted on a tree; taking a minute for some R&R; campers had some time to draw in the forest, make leaf rubbings, etc)

  Team Activities and Games

Green Camp (13) Green Camp (57)
(A huge game of Duck Duck Goose, or “Chicken Chicken Wolf” here; students had to “find” food, shelter, and water in the forest to survive)

Green Camp (21)Green Camp (391) (Explaining the large group games took a dedicated team of counselors; a debrief explaining “why” always followed)

Small Group Games

Green Camp (385) Green Camp (282) Green Camp (228) Green Camp (107) (clockwise from top-left: dirtying the water of Sevan Lake [simulated]; interactive Paper-Rock-Scissors with Trees-Loggers-Mudslides; trash pickup!; a reduce-reuse-recycle relay race)

So as you can see, the camp was a lot of fun, and very very interactive – the students get enough boring lectures during school. Last weekend I also spent an amazing day at visiting the main church of Armenia, Etchmiatsin, for Water Day. But I will write about that later today (as you can tell, I’m kind of behind). Also, today our English Club is heading to the forest to celebrate the 4th of July with burgers, hot dogs, and deviled eggs. Look for pictures of that soon… On that note, to all my American readers, have a very happy and safe Independence Day, and enjoy the fireworks (again) for me!

The views expressed herein are the views of the author and do not express those of Peace Corps Armenia or the United States government.