For me, the only good thing that the 2011 film New Year’s Eve brought to the American film criterion was Lea Michele’s performance of “Auld Lang Syne”. Please enjoy it on YouTube here (https://youtu.be/3jO2tlzIBg8) and listen to it while you read the rest of this blog.
I sit alone in my apartment for the last night I will be here this year. I am taking a break from packing for my trip I will be taking through Russia, Helsinki, Budapest, Vienna, and Tbilisi for the winter holiday. (“There is something about living in the Caucuses that makes you want to travel to cold places in the winter”, said no one ever.)
As I sit alone, cuddled by my heater, I listen to this song and think about the wonderful memories I have made in this apartment this year. Back in February while I was looking for independent housing from my host family, I had opportunities to move into nicer, more updated apartments. My counterpart, with her wise experience with other Peace Corps Volunteers, however, recommended I go with the apartment I would eventually move into because it is larger and I can host my friends.
She was right.
Over the year, I have had a pretty incredible roster of guests to help me nest in my apartment.
Since February, I have hosted around twenty-five other Peace Corps Volunteers including walkers of the Border-to-Border South Route, which included two Armenians. I also recently had the opportunity to host thirteen PCVs for Thanksgiving at the end of November, and together we made my little apartment feel less like a Peace Corps dwelling and more like a home.
Also, due to the location of Kapan being the largest city coming into Armenia from the Iranian border, I have had the opportunity to host guests from various countries:
There was the first English guy in April. He actually wasn’t going to Iran, but he was hiking throughout Armenia and a few Volunteers and I became friends with him one weekend in Yerevan, so I offered for him to come to Kapan with me so he could enjoy the beauty of Armenia’s south. He was super nice, he made great stuffed peppers for dinner, and walked off with one of my iPhone 4 chargers. It was okay- I had an extra.
Next, in April, came the French journalist. He had met another Volunteer in the north through Couchsurfing, and she referred him to me. He was one of the most genuine and humble people I have ever met. Paige- my sitemate- and I were quickly drawn to him. We had some really great conversations I still think about today, and he made me look at traveling and the world in a whole new way. He’s the type of person I hope to have the chance to meet again in life.
In July, I was walking through the center of town, and there next to Kapan’s magical musical fountain sat seven tired wanderers. They looked exhausted and worn, and they needed a place to stay and shower. I had two other Volunteers staying with me that night, so I asked if it would be okay if I invited them over. Seven Iranian backpackers followed me home, they all took showers, had a warm dinner, and they were so kind, gracious, and wonderful. Living in this part of the world has made me truly appreciate Iranian people and fascinated with Iran. Every one I have come across during my time in this region has been so kind, sharing, and accepting. Released from their governmental limitations of alcohol consumption, they asked if they could share a bottle of vodka with my friends and me. We agreed, and they taught us about toasting and drinking customs that are common in Iran. My house was full that night, but, honestly, I couldn’t have been any more honored to have such great guests in my presence.
Then, two Danish boys were biking from Iran, and were referred to me by a Volunteer who lives just across the border (or, as we jokingly to call it: Peace Corps Iran). I had a few other Volunteers visiting me that week, and we invited them over for dinner. It was one of those interesting nights that unexpectedly turned into a I’m-way-too-old-for-this-college-party-behavior evening, and that’s probably all I should say about that.
I then hosted another French guy my sitemate met lost and wandering in the park. She approached him, looked at him, and asked, “You’re not Armenian are you?” Tourists in Kapan stand out blatantly; it’s easy to spot them in Armenia. He was stranded after crossing the border too late in the evening and wasn’t able to exchange money until the next day, so I offered him to stay in my apartment. I didn’t like him as much as the other French guy, but that’s okay. He was pleasant enough, and Peace Corps has taught me the honesty and importance of understanding that it’s important to always act pleasantly to everyone even if you don’t like them very much.
And, most recently, two travelers who fatefully met traveling in Georgia were referred to me from another Volunteer further north in the southern region. One girl was from the U.K. and the other was a girl from Germany. They were both so great and shared stories from their travels with me. The girl from the U.K. and I would probably become fast friends in any context we met. She indulged my horrible English accent as we laughed about having watched The Only Way is Essex (TOWIE) while simultaneously impersonating the featured stars, and she shared my obsession and adoration for the TV show Girls (especially for this song: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=GT3ksv6UBSk that is featured in one of my favorite episodes). She is a food blogger, and she posts really great pictures and posts about food that make me someday, maybe, possibly want to learn how to enjoy cooking. The girl from Germany was so excited about everything. After having seen so much of the world, she was still so amazed by the smallest details of places and things. She was an architecture student in University and commented on little details of a monastery I had already been to a few times that allowed me to appreciate it in a new way. This made her the happiest person to be around. She really lifted my mood and helped me enjoy being in Armenia through a different lens. “Please come visit me!”, she kept saying to me, “You’ll really love Germany, I have so much I could show you.” I hope some day I will. She made the best pumpkin soup one evening. I’d go visit her in Germany just so she could show me how to make it.
So as I reminisce, and as I think about the year, I sit thankful for the world coming to me in my little apartment in little Kapan. I think of the people I have met from all over the world and how they have allowed me to learn and think about the world a little bit differently. I thank them all for that. I may never, and probably will never see many of them again, but as this year ends I “take of cup o’kindness yet for days of auld lang syne”.