Welcome to Armenia!

I’m exhausted! Do you want to know what time we finally got to our Airbnb in Yerevan (the capital of Armenia) after the delay in Kiev? 3:30AM! Sarah and I were about ready to collapse. Of course, though, that thing happened where when you’re really tired, you cross a line into being semi-delusional and then you’re all wound up, and it’s hard to fall asleep. We managed to pull ourselves together by around 4:15 and decided to push our wake up time back by a few hours… we were originally planning for 8AM, and there was a zero percent chance of that happening.

The opera house

We rolled out of bed around 11 and managed to get moving by noon. The first thing we wanted to do was get our bearings, so we set off without much of a plan, ready to roll with whatever came our way. Sarah steered us in the direction of the Opera Theater which is in the southern part of an area with a bunch of really well-done public spaces. That’s one of the things we’ve noticed and enjoyed the most about Yerevan so far. Unlike some cities, the public spaces here have plenty of benches and shade trees and other things to make the space actually usable! It’s no fun sitting in on a hot, direct-sun covered bench when you’re trying to take a breather. Plus, there are fountains and little man-made lakes, and it makes the city feel much more livable. There is also a lot of public art which I really enjoyed. Yes, sometimes (often) public art is weird, but it’s fun to look at (and pose with!).

We thought this was funny. We didn’t need to come all the way to Armenia to take this picture… the nearly identical (except it’s red instead of blue) love statue in Philly is much closer to home!

Perfect

Nailed it.

Check out that landscaping. And that beautiful tower crane over the stairs.

From there, we headed up the Yerevan version of the Spanish Steps (in Rome), the Cascade Complex. As someone who’s experienced both though, I can say that these stairs are way cooler! Apparently, there’s a free escalator that runs all the way up underneath the stairs, but Sarah INSISTED that we walk. I’ll admit that it was cool getting to see the view of the city get better and better as we climbed higher, but it was less cool realizing how out-of-shape I’ve gotten in the past few weeks. Ugh.

The entire staircase was like a celebration of water… which we definitely didn’t mind because it was HOT, and getting splashed was a great way to cool off!

There are also fountains/water features and plants throughout the staircase, and stopped at all of the landings to check out what new and interesting things were happening at each (not because we were dying or anything… no, of course not). About halfway up, we were thrilled to see a drinking water fountain… My other favorite thing about Armenia so far? You can drink the water!!! I’m tired of not being able to drink tap water, so this is beyond fabulous! For anyone who doesn’t understand this struggle, say a big THANK YOU to whoever is responsible for the clean water where you live. It’s nice to not have to worry about drinking arsenic or dysentery-causing bacteria and getting skin infections from shaving your legs with bacteria-filled water (that last one actually did happen to me in Ghana… not cool).

At the top, we were welcomed by an awesome view of the city with Mount Ararat in the background. I’ve seen millions of pictures of that mountain, but let me tell you, it doesn’t make it any less incredible when you see it in person. Sarah and I were completely geeking out.

I ❤ public art

Divers!

Flowers and Ararat!

Victory Park, one of the many Yerevan parks, is also at the top of the stairs, so we took a stroll through the amusement park, rode on mildly questionable ferris wheel, and fell in love with the statue of Mother Armenia. Check out the pictures below. Have you ever seen a more empowered looking woman?? She looks fierce and like she’s about to kick some serious butt.

Lunch is served!

Ferris wheel! I promise these are happy smiles, not “I’m kind of terrified that this ferris wheel is going to collapse” smiles

Mother Armenia, looking over her kingdom

She’s so cool.

We were about ready to collapse after all of our walking in the hot sun, so we headed back to the apartment to regroup. That was followed by a shopping trip, after which we were confident in the true identities of about 3/10 things that we purchased (you try shopping in a country where the alphabet isn’t even the same… it’s not easy!). Example of our shopping conversations:

“Okay, we need butter.”

“This looks like butter… I think? Do you think?”

“Yeah I think so… yeah. Yeah that definitely looks like it’s probably butter.”

“Okay well… I guess we’ll find out.”

Repeat for every item on the list.

We spent a good 10 minutes standing in front of the meat counter trying to identify literally anything. In case you were wondering, that ended with us purchasing zero meats after we 1) failed to identify even one, 2) realized that we didn’t know how to order them, and 3) were not really in the mood to break out a full-on charades act.

Also, fun fact, it’s about $8 for a regular sized jar of peanut butter. Darn imported goods.

Pop up stage

As much as we wanted to go to sleep after all of that, we dragged ourselves back out of the apartment to listen to some live Armenia music at the base of the Cascade Complex before calling it a day. All in all, a solid first day of our first Sarah/Lara (you can call us Slarah…I know, not the best thing we’ve ever come up with, but it’s really the only way to combine our names) international vacation. Stay tuned… I’m sure that plenty more language-struggle-filled adventures lie ahead.

Off to Armenia!!

My luggage- 2 backpacks, both on the verge of explosion

On the road again! Or I guess more accurately… In the air again! Or most accurately… In airports again! This time, however, is a little different because I have a friend!!!! My best friend from high school, Sarah, is coming for a week to do some sightseeing, and I’ll start working after she leaves.

If you’ve been following my journey, you’ll know that having a travel companion is the MOST exciting thing for the main reason of not having to take my bags with me to the bathroom at the airport. I’m just kiddinggg (kind of). Reason #1 why it’s the most exciting thing is because my friend is here, and I’m not alone for once! It’s very strange having someone to talk to and not having to do the awkward elbow fight to claim armrest space on the plane. We’ll put the bathroom reason at a close second.

Obligatory airport pic

The trip to Armenia was supposed to be a relatively efficient 15 hours:

Flight NYC -> Kiev, Ukraine (9:30 hours) (I slept like a rock for about 7 of them)

Layover in Kiev (3 hours)

Flight Kiev, Ukraine -> Yerevan, Armenia (2:40 hours), arriving at 11:50PM

Not bad, right? Except for the arrival time, but that’s not the absolute worst… but wait. Now our second flight is delayed about 2.5 hours, putting us there at about 2:30AM. That’s probably close to the absolute worst. Ugh. On the bright side though, I have a friend with me! And that makes everything better!

So, welcome to the Kiev airport! It’s actually quite pleasant, so at least that’s something. The chairs though… ick. Please, enjoy the comfort of your couch a little extra today in honor of Sarah and me.

 

Airport buddy!!!

Yes, we probably looked weird taking this picture, but I would have just looked dumb doing it by myself. That’s the beauty of travelling with a friend.

Home again!

If you were worrying because you haven’t heard from me since my post about the endless journey home, I apologize. You’ll be happy to know that I made it back to Philly without a hitch, and I’ve been running around ever since. Also, in hindsight, the Frankfurt shower was probably the best idea of the entire trip. Instead of landing in Philly and being completely repulsive, I was actually presentable and scared zero people away with my smell. Success!

Now, I’ll be home for the next three weeks, so if you want to get in touch, this is a good time for me! I’m taking full advantage of the reliable internet here and have a lot of things to catch up on before I leave again.

I don’t have much to say… mostly I just wanted to confirm that I made it home without any trouble. Also, a note for those of you who are in the Philadelphia area…

Save the Date

What? A talk about my experiences thus far, especially in Peru and India

When? Sunday, June 11th, after church (around noon)

Where? Armenian Martyrs’ Congregational Church in Havertown

 

Otherwise, see you again in a few weeks when I leave for Armenia!

The long trek home

Rides to work, India style.

Another day, another airport. I think that I need to start keeping a list of all of the airports I’ve been in. It’s getting to the point where it’s actually quite impressive. Or maybe I’ll just start keeping track of how many hours of my life I’ve spent sitting in airports. That’s probably even more impressive.

The trek home is a long one, and I’m still very much at the beginning of it. Let me give you the full schedule:

7AM (India time) on Tuesday 5/30 – leave Jaigaon

7AM-11AM – drive to Bagdogra airport (4:00 hours)

11AM-2PM – sit in Bagdogra airport (3:00 hrs)

2PM-4:15PM – flight Bagdogra -> Delhi (2:15 hrs)

4:15PM-4AM – sit in Delhi airport (11:45 hrs)

4AM (India time)-8:45AM (Frankfurt time) – flight Delhi -> Frankfurt (8:15 hrs)

8:45AM-1:10PM – sit in Frankfurt airport (4:25 hrs)

1:10PM (Frankfurt time)-4PM (Philly time) – flight Frankfurt -> Philly (8:50 hrs)

4PM-whenever – drive home from the Philly airport

They put me in the exit row on flight #1! So much leg room!

This, of course, is assuming that all of the flights go as planned. Already, my first flight was delayed by about half an hour, and my flight to Frankfurt has been delayed an hour and 15 minutes so that I’m leaving at 4AM instead of 2:45. Just what I needed… a couple more hours in the Delhi airport.

My favorite travel food: chocolate muffins. I don’t know why… it just always seems like a good idea (probably because when is a chocolate muffin ever a bad idea??). Also, in every country in the world besides the US, people can pronounce AND spell my name correctly. It’s wonderful!

I’m currently sitting in the Starbucks outside of the domestic arrivals baggage claim because I don’t want to exit the airport and be stuck sitting on the floor outside of the check-in counters until I can check my bag for the flight. I’m also inconveniently sitting underneath an air-conditioning vent (this always seems to happen to me), so I’m all hyped up from the hot chocolates I’ve been buying to keep warm.

I’ve said it before, and I’ll say it again. The worst part of travelling by yourself is when you have to go to the bathroom in the airport. It’s a huge pain in the butt to lug all of your bags around wherever you go and forfeit whatever seat you managed to claim, so I’ve been holding it for the last couple of hours. I know, I should just go. I will. Eventually.

Usually by the end of a long airport/airplane trek like this, I feel disgusting and unwashed. I’m trying a new strategy this time which includes 2 changes of clothes and, assuming my flight out of Delhi doesn’t get delayed even more, a shower in Frankfurt. I’m not interested in looking and smelling like I’ve been travelling for a century by the time I get to Philly. I’ll let you know how that goes.

Well, I think it’s finally time for me to go check in for flight #2. I’ll be happy to trade in the stool I’ve been sitting on for the last 8 hours for a new, hopefully cushioned chair. Wish me luck!

**UPDATE**

Now I’m sitting in Frankfurt airport. I couldn’t find any functional wifi in Delhi, but you’ll be happy to know that I did find a more comfortable seat. I also had fun spending the rest of my rupees on snacks.

The flight here was a blur. I passed out within 5 minutes of sitting down and was out cold for 5 hours. I guess I was tired…

Yoga room!

When I got here, I felt horrible. My back and shoulders were sore and tight, so I went to one of the yoga rooms they have here! It was awesome! I had to go on an adventure across the universe, but I found my way there and spent about 45 minutes stretching out and “meditating” (napping on the floor on a yoga mat). After that, I took a shower! And I don’t know what kind of body wash they had, but I smell amazing. This has been the best layover ever! The best part is that my flight home leaves in less than an hour… so only 10 more hours in this seemingly endless trek across the globe.

Last days in Jaigaon

Me and one of my teacher friends, Jessica.

Why does this always happen? Why, at the very end, do things always start falling into place and being so perfect? It’s like the goodbye is laughing at you and trying to make things as hard as possible. My last couple of weeks, and especially my last few days, have been the best ones. It’s not like things weren’t good before, but I finally had that feeling of belonging. I felt comfortable in the city and less like a caged animal. I had friends who were funny and goofy and reminded me of my friends back home. I went places and did things and hung out with the aforementioned friends. It was like I was just another person, woven into the fabric of the city, rather than an outsider. It took almost my entire time there, but I finally felt fully at home.

At the very least, the joy of having achieved that feeling of belonging outweighs the sadness I feel in leaving it. Again, it felt like the goodbyes weren’t permanent. Maybe I’m getting better at lying to myself and making my heart believe that I’ll cross paths with these people again, or maybe it’s true. Only time will tell! Everyone was talking like there’s no question that I’ll be back, “The next time you’re here, we’ll have to do x, y, and z.” I guess that means it’s settled. I do have a 10-year visa, after all. It would be a shame to let it go to waste…

The view of Jaigaon from monastery #2.

One of the royal residences in Bhutan. Apparently they used to come here often during the winter because it gets so cold in the capital.

Anyway, the last couple days were a whirlwind, as you might expect. The impending “end” is always just what people need to kick them into hyperdrive. “Well, you HAVE to do this before you leave.” “We can’t let you go home without going here.” “You’ve been here for two months and haven’t tried this?? You can’t leave India without at least TRYING it.”

So that’s what we did! In three days, I did more travelling around Jaigaon than I did in 7 weeks. We went to Bhutan and visited a bunch of different monasteries, I tried some foods and drinks that I couldn’t even begin to name if I tried, I hailed and rode an auto on my own, and I finally started feeling like I was a real person.

One of my completed plans!

I also made a mad dash to wrap up the architecture drawings for the Bible school, and I finished on Monday morning, my last day, at noon. Pretty good, I think. I didn’t even have to stay up late to get everything done. Packing was also surprisingly easy. If there’s one thing I’ve learned how to do quite well over these last 10 months, it’s how to pack a bag. If there are two things, the second would be how to say goodbye.

 

Buddhist prayer flags. They have prayers written on them, and when they blow in the wind, that’s supposed to be the same as someone saying the prayer.

By the time I went to sleep Monday night, everything was ready. I don’t think I’ve ever been ready so far ahead of time. It helped that we had to leave at 7AM Tuesday morning. The only thing I hate more than packing is waking up early.

 

Now here I am, sitting in another airport (we have to stop meeting like this). Just wait until I tell you about my travel schedule to get home… I would do it now, but you’ll understand when you see it. It needs its own post.

Monastery #3!

I LOVE the painting on all of these buildings.

I have friends!

My teaching responsibilities here are officially finished! I won’t pretend that I’m terribly upset about that, but I am sad that my time here is coming to an end. I’ve made some great friends, and it will be hard to say goodbye to them.

The last days of extra classes with the class 9 kids were good. We made it through two dramas in their book, and I think that the kids understood the main ideas of both. With our foolproof story-teaching formula, how could they not understand? As long as you explain the story 5ish times, you’re set.

I’m glad that Jenrika and I are on the same page about the kids needing to be able to think for themselves. We’ve both been trying to work on that, and it makes me feel like everything I tried to teach them over the last couple months isn’t going to go completely to waste after I leave. I feel bad that she’s going to have to continue the efforts alone, but hopefully we’ve laid some sort of foundation… maybe?

My workstation… aka the desk in my bedroom

My afternoons have been spent working on the architecture plans for the addition at the Bible school. Okay, not all of the afternoons. I’ve also spent some time reading and swinging on the roof, but now I’m running out of time, and I really need to get those plans done. It takes SO long though. I don’t have the computer programs that are usually used to make plans, so I’m drawing them by hand. As if that didn’t already take forever, I also don’t have all of the tools that you would normally use for hand drafting. I have a pencil with those points that you take out and stick in the back of the pencil when they go dull, an eraser, and a ruler. That’s all. Fully equipped, I would have a drafting table with a slide rule, a ruler, multiple pencils of various hardness, a sharpener, a triangle, shape stencils, an architecture scale, and a thin eraser. At the very least. Since I don’t have all of those things, it’s taking me much longer than it otherwise would, and my drawings are definitely not going to be as precise as they should be.

I am enjoying working on them though. I have everything mostly figured out, so now all I have to do is draw lines… well, and covert dimensions so that the drawing is to scale, but that only requires a little thought. Even with that, it’s a relaxing task, and it will fun to see the finished product… assuming I ever manage to finish.

The crew!

Today, however, was an exception! To celebrate our last day of extra classes, I went to lunch with Jenrika, the other teacher who’s been teaching this week, and two other teachers from school. It was so much fun! I really did feel like a normal person, and even though they didn’t speak in English all the time, they at least TRIED to. If a conversation went on for too long in Nepali, someone translated to clue me in. It was really nice.

 

Me and Jenrika, the English literature dream team

We were going to go for a walk after lunch, but the wind started blowing dust around (I’m telling you, the dust is one of the worst things about being here… If you were here, you’d understand why people sometimes wear face masks. Breathing that stuff in is not good) and it looked like it was going to rain. We went back to Jenrika’s house instead and just hung out. I felt like I was back home hanging out with a bunch of my friends. It kind of stinks… I finally feel like things are really coming together for me here, and I’m leaving in a couple of days. Well, all I can do is enjoy the time I have left and celebrate the fact that I achieved my goals of making real friends and feeling like I belong.

 

We also played dress up, and who doesn’t love that? Jenrika is from Bhutan, so she has a bunch of traditional Bhutanese clothes. They dressed me up in a kira… and when I say, “they dressed me up”, I literally mean that I was like a doll. I don’t know how anyone dresses themselves in these outfits. First, I put on the wonju, a long-sleeve, sheer blouse (long sleeve like it went about a foot past my fingertips). Next was the kira. It’s just a big, rectangular piece of fabric that you wrap around you. They put a “half-kira” on me which means that it only went up to my waist instead of all the way to my shoulders. The toego goes on top of that. It’s like a jacket with sleeves that go about to your fingertips. The sleeves of the wonju and the toego are folded up together, the toego is secured with a brooch, your hair goes up in a bun, and you obviously also need to add a necklace.

Getting ready for my modeling career.

Bhutan and Tibet… and the USA and India… So many countries represented in one picture!

By the time they were done with me, I felt like a queen. I also felt like I was going to melt into a puddle because the kira was like a blanket and the toego was NOT lightweight. Jenrika also had a traditional Tibetan dress, so one of the other teachers put that on and it was like an international clothing party. It’s really cool visiting these places where the culture and traditions are so strong and SO different from home. What would the traditional dress of the United States be? Jorts (jean shorts, for those of you not down with the lingo) and t-shirt?

We’re supposed to hang out again today, so cross your fingers for good weather! (I know, how weird is it that I have actual PLANS! To hang out with friends! As if I’m a normal human!)

Extra classes

Extra classes started this week, and the kids aren’t any happier about it than I am. Jenrika asked them if they had a good break, and they all just stared at us and then grumbled. When she asked if anyone did anything fun, they all said no and “we only had a week!”. Eek. I don’t blame them though. I thought that they had a week off, two weeks of extra classes, and another week off, but I was wrong. They had just that one week off and now have THREE weeks of extra classes before the “holiday” is over. Yeah, they definitely have a right to grumble. Everyone else in the school gets a month off, and they get a week. Brutal.

I thought it was hard teaching on a normal school day, but the extra classes are even worse because it’s THREE hours of the same class. If I didn’t have Jenrika to split the time with me, I would be losing my mind. Even so, by the end of each school day (noon), I just want to collapse into my bed and sleep until morning.

We were with class 10 for the first three days and used the time to tackle Julius Caesar. Shakespeare is hard enough for students when English is their first language… so we knew that we had some struggles ahead of us. The first day was a total nightmare. It’s like the technology gods were conspiring against us. We wanted to show the movie first so that the kids could be introduced to the plot that way, and we would fill in the gaps and details later.

The “conference room” where the kids pretend they’re not falling asleep because its dimly lit and I sweat excessively from the heat of the projector.

The video file refused to play on the smartboards, so we eventually stopped trying and relocated to the chapel to play it on the projector there. Okay, great! We got it to play… but the sound didn’t work. I got my bluetooth speaker and connected it to my computer (since we didn’t have the cable to connect the chapel computer directly to the speaker), and we tried to press play at the exact same time on both computers so that the sound and video would match. So the chapel computer was playing the video on the projector, and my computer was playing the sound on my bluetooth speaker. Ideal, right? If you’re thinking that’s the end of the struggle, think again.

With about 40 minutes left, the power went out… which means the projector stopped running. At that point, I was determined to finish the stupid movie. I just wanted to get it over with so that we could move on and never have to deal with the video file again. My horrible solution? I held up my tiny computer and had the kids crowd around for the rest of the movie (but what other choice was there?). I chimed in whenever something important happened to explain it, and we somehow managed to slog our way through. It didn’t quite go as we had hoped, but a horrible first day meant that things couldn’t get worse.

The other two days went quite well actually, and I’m not just saying that because I’m comparing them to the first day. I think that we’ve mastered the story teaching technique. This is how it goes:

  • Introduce the story and give any important historical context, etc
  • Talk about where in the world the story is taking place. Show a map.
  • Introduce the main characters and give the most important information about them.
  • Define the most important vocabulary words… the ones that, without understanding their definitions, the kids won’t understand the story (for Julius Caesar, examples would be: assassinate, betray, democracy, dictator, etc).
  • Give a brief but thorough plot summary.

If you’re thinking, “Wow! That’s a long process, and you haven’t even started reading the story yet!”, you are correct. Okay, continuing on:

  • Read the story, pausing every few lines to explain in different words what is happening.
  • Ask questions about what happened in the story, walking the kids through the plot again.
  • Show a video that summarizes the story again.
  • Talk about the character traits.
  • Have the kids answer some questions in the textbook about the story.
  • Write out a plot summary for the kids to copy into their notebooks.

In case you weren’t counting, that’s about five times that you go over what happens in the story. FIVE TIMES. At least I finally figured out what works, just in time for me to leave. Jenrika said that she likes my strategy though, so maybe it will live on in my absence.

Post-school relaxation swing… on the roof!

By the end of the third day, they were doing a satisfactory job of answering our questions about the story, how the characters must have felt, and why different people decided to act the way they did. It only took 9 hours of class, but we did it! That’s nothing short of a miracle. I also learned a lot because I never read Julius Caesar in school, so I had to learn the whole story along with the students. Thank you, sparknotes! Though I will admit, understanding Shakespeare was surprisingly easier to do now than it was back in high school. I guess I have learned something over the last… 8 years…

Next up, three fun-filled (said with much sarcasm) days with class 9! I have my fingers crossed for a pain-free experience.