Sunday, May 18, 2008

Start Me Up


That’s the sound of the chainsaw of development starting up. Development of massive proportions, the starburst, the radiating waves, the long arm of development.

The Caucasian winter has finally and reluctantly fled the land, and in the Sevan Basin the people have watched as winter’s icy grip receded, melting up the hills, only to claw its way back down toward the valley at night again and again with fresh powdery fingers. Those fingers haunted the dreams of schoolchildren and summer enthusiasts alike, until it seemed spring would never come. Now only traces of the fierce struggle are left, stubborn white pockets dotting the green peaks. Slowly, the icy shroud covering Lake Sevan broke up and gave way to rolling waves. The calls of gulls and terns can once again be seen, the awkward but strangely effective flapping of ducks, the calm, neck-bobbing stroke of grebes. The aerial display of hundreds of barn swallows, perched on the power lines or eating insects, twisting and diving above the lake, screaming along inches above the surface, convinces even the casual onlooker that these are indeed the fighter jets of the natural world, beings of incredible agility and daring.

Some kids at school and I have taken the opportunity to hike to the lake, taking pictures and looking at birds and even getting rained and hailed on a little. With my seventh graders, we made it down to the lake and I introduced myself to this old man standing by the fishing docks. I guess the kids were being a little rowdy, and he said to them “You be good! This is a kind man who’s doing good things with our children!” What a guy. Then he insisted we jump onto this old grounded boat, and we took the picture below.

It’s great that spring has come, because in winter everything in Armenia seems to slow to a crawl. Nobody wants to do anything, kids don’t come to school let alone clubs, and people just hole up for the cold months, which are about as cold as I’ve seen in Maine. In some lower elevation parts of the country spring came this year as much five weeks earlier than in Martuni, so March trips next year to warmer climes will be a good idea.

Now, though, school is out and summer is upon us. Today was Armenia’s Independence Day, and folks were out marching in the streets of Stepanavan, a town near where I lived last summer and which I drove through today with the director of Green Tavush NGO, Artsrun, and Rud, an A-14 who has been working with Artsrun and his brother, Arko, for the past two years. We went to the last of our site visits today in a village called Lejan, near Stepanavan, where we will have a Green Camp in June.

Green Camps are environmental youth camps organized in rural Armenia every summer by Green Tavush NGO, local Peace Corps Volunteers, and their communities. The program has grown during its six years, and this summer we will put on seven camps in seven different communities all over Armenia. The five day camps are staffed by both American and local Armenian volunteers, who employ a great curriculum of experiential environmental games and lessons and provide an exciting and unique learning experience for underrepresented Armenian kids.

This year Artsrun and Arko will be present at every camp, working with the Armenian staff and solving all the logistics problems involving buses and food and excursions and fields and classrooms. They will be much more directly involved with the camps this year, which bodes well for the sustainability of the program. I am taking over the Peace Corps side of the program from Rud and this incredible young Nebraskan woman Syd. So I’ll be at every camp, working with the counselors, helping with games and campers, and acting as a sort of ringleader or mascot for the camps. It’ll be seven camps in eight weeks, most camps with only a few days in between.

However, after the madness of June and July (the first camp starts Monday), and after two weeks of camp-connected community projects and reporting and wrap up work, my parents are flying me back to Maine for three weeks! I’m really excited. Kayaking, hiking, farming, eating lobster and drinking good beer are definitely on the ticket, as is seeing my family and any of you who can make it up to Vacationland for good times. The plan right now is August 17 to Sept 9. I’d love to see you all! We could even play some frisbee.

Hmmm, what else? We’re trying to get funding for a tree planting in Martuni, turn a big part of the school yard into a green space, and involve our students in planting and caring for the new trees. Also in Gyulagarak (the village I lived in last summer) they are starting a preschool this September, and we want to help get them beds and toys. This is something that the community needs, and we want to help them out as a token of our gratitude for their incredible hospitality during our first three months in Armenia.

I now have internet in my apartment in Martuni, though as I mentioned I won’t be here much this summer. I can download anything I want, but the upload capabilities are low, so it may be a little while before the blog is as picturesque as it’s been. I apologize for not writing for such a long time, and I’d love to hear from all you folks out there in the wide world. Peace and Love to you all!

This summer is bound to be a wild one, so I’ll keep the stories coming.