Allowing room for interruption
An Armenian woman looks me in the face and tells me that I’m her daughter. She sets out a feast that she can’t afford to pay for and tells me to eat until I’m full, then eat some more.
A woman in plastic orange glasses stands on the same street corner selling nuts and beans every day of the week and never moves. She reluctantly takes her shivering hand out of her pocket, despite the bitter cold, to shake my hand before I enter the store. “But where’s your dog?!” she asks in Armenian, surprised to see me alone. I march confidently into the store, knowing exactly what I need, exchanging courtesies with the workers while I shop.
I pass a parade of smiles on my walk home and casually strike up a conversation with several of them along the way – some in English, some in Armenian, some half-and-half. Children literally gather in packs to follow me down the street, eagerly shouting out to me in broken English as I walk.
I know the night will be a good one, because I’ll be spending it with people I love, singing Armenian songs to guitar accompaniment and sharing our lives with one another over delicious music and food.
Every day there are so many tiny moments, known faces and meaningful interactions that indicate that, after two years of living in Sisian, Armenia, I am more than just a guest in this community. I’m not just someone passing through, or a tourist who can barely communicate with the locals. No. This is my home.
It’s really hard to say why I feel so secure here, or when exactly it all started to feel that way. I know that it wasn’t easy, and I know that at times I would have said it’s probably not worth doing at all.
A mixture of learning Armenian, slathering my footsteps all over the village and town and just hanging out with people has definitely helped. But one factor flashes neon in my mind when I think of what has really helped me to feel so integrated in this community:
Armenia has taught me to be interruptible.
Interruptibility means waking up each morning and surrendering the day to service. No matter what my plans are for the day, I promise to allow myself room for interruption. It's not always easy, and I'm not always good at it.
So on any given day, this'll mean something different. If a friend is in pain, that’s where my attention goes. If a student wants to hold a conversation in English outside of class with me, that’s what I do. If my host mom’s porch needs to be swept and she doesn’t have the energy to do it, I sweep right on in. Whatever stands in my path, I work to be fully present with it.
This concept has driven me to drink over a million cups of tea, to socialize with people I never would have had I been more attached to my agenda and to trust that life and people are more important than time and schedules.
There have definitely been times when I’ve forced needs onto others and held far too tightly onto my own expectations of what service should mean in Armenia. But each time I did that, I missed out on something beautiful. So I’m constantly working on being more receptive and responsive, and allowing life to move me instead of me moving it the way I want it to be. While it’s not appropriate in every situation, it feels important to allow life to fill us up occasionally rather than try to cram it with our own conception of fullness.
Happy Peace Corps Volunteers always have at least one thing in common: strong relationships with host country nationals. If relinquishing control and giving myself fully to wherever service points me to each day means developing better relationships, then that’s what I’ll continue to do.