Tales From the Road; Border-to-Border Day 18

Somewhere on the southern shores of Lake Sevan…

Today we walked. Today it rained. It was cold.

Seven American Volunteers and one Armenian Host Country National walked along the choppy waters of Lake Sevan. We had rain coats on. Those of us with rain covers had the bright orange tarps placed over their packs- those without rain covers had huge black, industrial, plastic garbage bags placed over their packs. A trail of orange and black-shelled turtles walked along the choppy waters of Lake Sevan.

The American Sign Language sign for the word “what” is this: both hands out in front of you, palms facing up, moving side-to-side. Armenians also do this when asking people “what are you doing?” or “what’s going on?” While walking today, I could see Armenian drivers shaking their hands gesturing “what” to the line of orange and black-shelled turtles walking along the choppy shores of Lake Sevan. This could have easily been interpreted as “what in the world are you doing?!”

“Teaching about Healthy Bodies and Healthy Minds”, is what we would reply, of course…except only it would be in Armenian.

See all of Border-to-Border’s posts at @WalkingArmenia on Instagram and on their Facebook page:

https://m.facebook.com/BordertoBorder/?tsid=0.8635988812893629&source=typeahead

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Tales From the Road; Border-to-Border Day 11

A piece I wrote for PR for Border-to-Border.

Border to Border / Սահմանից Սահման

Դանիել Քլոարդ հյուսիս-արևելք Դիլիջան

Շատ ոգևորիչ է Սահմանից Սահմանի ծրագրի ընթացքում տեսնել յուրօրինակ գյուղեր Հայաստանի հյուսիսարևելյան հատվածում: Գեղեցիկ լեռներով շրջապատված լինելով, հիասքանչ է ուղղակի հնարավորություն ունենալ այսքան տարբեր կերպերով ապրելու նման փոքր երկրում: Վերջին երկու օրերի ընթացքում, մենք քայլել ենք ոչ թե մեկ, այլ երկու գյուղերի միջով, որտեղ ռուսերենը հաղորդակցման հիմնական լեզուն էր: Երեխաների մազերը խարտյաշ էին, աչքերը՝ կապույտ, ինչը տարբեր է հայերի ունեցած մուգ երանգից: Մենք երկար ժամանակ չկարողացանք անցկացնել այս գյուղերում, բայց մարդիկ այնտեղ շատ ընկերասեր էին, նրանք ժպտում էին մեզ և ձեռքով անում, երբ մենք անցնում էինք նրանց մոտով: Երեխաները մինչ այժմ ոգևորվում են օտարերկրացիներ տեսնելից:

Երեկ մեր դասընթացի գենդերային հավասարության մասին հատվածը շատ աշխույժ էր: Պատանի աղջնակը միայնակ պաշտպանեց իրեն և իր տեսակետը գենդերային հավասարության վերաբերյալ` պատանի տղաներով լի դասասենյակում: Սա շատ քաջ և հազվադեպ հանդիպող քայլ է, որ երիտասարդ աղջիկները անում են Հայաստանի հեռավոր մասերում: Նա պնդում էր իր կարծիքը, չնայած նրան, որ 7 կամ 8 տղաներ վիճում էին իր հետ: Առա՜ջ աղջնակ, երտասարդ հայերը (տղա թե աղջիկ) ունեն քո նման օրինակների կարիքը:
Այսօր մենք անցանք 20 կիլոմետր՝ հասնելով հիասքանչ առողջարանային քաղաք Դիլիջան: Վերջին օրերի քայլքը հավանաբար ամենագեղեցիկը և ամենահաճելին է եղել՝ չհաշված բարձրության փոփոխությունները, ոտքերի այրվածքները և քայլելու արդյունքում առաջացած այտուցները):
Վաղը կունենանք նոր դասընթացներ և ես անհամբեր սպասում եմ տեսնել, արդյոք մեր դասընթացը այդքան աշխույժ կլինի, թե ոչ:

Daniel Cloward- NorthEast

Dilijan

One exciting thing about traveling with a Border to Border team is being able to see so many unique villages all over the NorthEastern side of Armenia. Surrounded by beautiful mountains and geology, it is so great being able to be introduced to so many different ways of living in such a small country. On our route these past two days, we have walked through not only one but two villages where Russian was the primary language spoken by people there. The children all had blonde hair and blue eyes- different than the dark complexion usually sported by Armenians. We didn’t get to spend too much time in these villages, but the people were friendly and always waved and smiled. The children are still thrilled to see foreigners per usual.

Yesterday, we had a lively gender equality section of our teaching. A teenage girl defended herself and her views of gender equality against a room full of teenage boys- this is something that is brave and uncommon of young girls to do in remote communities in Armenia. She stood her ground even though 7 or 8 boys were arguing against her. You go girl, young Armenians (girls AND boys) need more role models like you!

Today we walked 20 kilometers into the beautiful resort town of Dilijan. The walks over the past few days have probably been some of the most beautiful and enjoyable (not counting the elevation changes- my bum and legs are sore from walking).

More teaching tomorrow and I can’t wait; we will see if the conversation can get as lively as last time…

Check out everyone’s posts from Border-to-Border 2016 on BtoB’s Facebook page here:

https://m.facebook.com/profile.php?id=1504730553138280&tsid=0.9688821195159107&source=typeahead

Tales From the Road; Border-to-Border Day 5

Here is a piece I wrote for PR for Border-to-Border.

Tumanyan- Day 5:

Five days in and I only have three blisters: one under my big toe, and two have called my pinky toe home. They are sitting just next to each other, and they have doubled the size of the pad of my toe. They hurt terribly, so at this point, after every step I take, I contemplate the pain comparison between dealing with these blisters for the next two weeks, or simply cutting the toe off and getting it over with. I think I will make the educated decision and keep the toe, but I may regret it when a third blister becomes home.

I’ll get to the children and outreach program in the next paragraph, but right now I want to inform you that Cali, Olivia, and myself were charged by a cow the other night. Blisters don’t matter, neither does their pain, when a fully grown cow is charging down towards your campsite and howling in a way that you didn’t know was biologically possible for a cow; one must run as fast as possible. We survived; the cow being butchered, which said charging cow was coming to protect, probably didn’t. I am seriously considering becoming a vegetarian.

The children are great! Thus far, we have met 120-ish kids in five villages. They are so excited to meet us. I don’t know if they understand our walk, or what we are doing, but I love that they love having us. In smaller villages that we have reached, you can see the excitement on their faces and the appreciation of their teachers and school directors for us even considering coming to their school; these are villages that many programs- like Peace Corps- aren’t able to service or visit regularly. I’m happy I have this opportunity to visit them and, only if for a few hours, allow them to change my perception of humanity for the better- for all of us.

The Beginning of Summer; The Beginning of Blood, Sweat, and Tears

It was the last day of school. I was relieved; relieved I had finished my first six months of teaching children without any of them or myself dying. Teaching is survivable.

My counterpart and I walked up to the ninth grade classroom to wish the students well wishes as they progressed into their high school years. My ninth graders are bright. They are excellent at English (or at least trying at English for the most part), they make me laugh, and they are happy I am in their classroom. Well, they were, but now the year is over, and they must move onto bigger and better things than Kapan School #7.

The kids sat in their desks, dressed in their “Last Bell” best: white collard shirts, black skirts for the girls, black pants for the boys, and pigtails with white bows adorned the girls’ hair; this is a reflection of who they were when they entered their primary school in 2007. The headmistress was in the room with the head teacher wishing their farewells and exclaiming their pride, and then it was our turn. My counterpart said her “shnorhavor-s”, and then she began to choke up, and then I choked up. I wanted to, inexplicably, burst out into full-on tears, but I wanted to keep my masculine credibility in a room full of Armenian 15 year olds.

I have only known these kids for six months, but they have left an impression on me. I looked forward to going to their class every day. They are witty and bright, and even though most of them wouldn’t speak a word to me in English, they smiled and they waved to me every day. They helped make me feel integrated at school, and they helped make me feel like I belong in Kapan. I am sad I won’t get to see them every day anymore, but I am thankful I was able to work with them when I did. It’s these little moment that make me realize and understand why teachers choose to come back to school year after year. Even though the job is low paying and often under appreciated, these little souls are what give purpose to living. The children are the future and being able to facilitate in that is truly a blessing.

Summer blew in, and with it so did pollen and dust and heat. My sinuses went crazy. I survived my first sinus infection of the year. (If you know me well, you are probably surprised I have only had one thus far in 2016. I know I am grateful.) Syunik Marz, the region in which I live, is bright green. The mountains are stunning, and the rivers are full and flowing. It is incredibly beautiful here.

I have stopped wearing socks with my canvas shoes, and every day when I walk down the street Armenians stare at me in shock and, dare I say, disgust. Not wearing socks or stockings with your shoes is somewhat unheard of here. Sitting on benches, as I walk by, I can see and feel the stares of the public as they glare at my feet. I laugh to myself because the sarcastic soul in me imagines them murmuring to each other in Armenian, “…now an American who doesn’t wear socks with his shoes…well there goes the neighborhood.”

My feet are in for a treat. On June 1st, I will begin Border-to-Border (BtoB). BtoB is a human wellness program with the motto “Healthy Bodies, Healthy Minds” that was originated a few years ago by Peace Corps Armenia Volunteers. This year, we will have eighteen American Volunteers along with a few Armenians, walking three different routes through the Northwest, Northeast, and Southern regions of the country into a central location- the city of Yegheghnadzor (or “Yegh” as us Americans call it). My route will be walking approximately 320 kilometers over the course of twenty-one days. We will be teaching various lessons related to smoking prevention, dental hygiene, nutrition, gender equality, peer inclusion and leadership, and environment. You can check out all of our hard work and progress here! ->  bordertoborderarmenia.weebly.com

To say the least, I am not ready. I often laugh at myself when I think about this challenge I am approaching in five days. I am not physically prepared. I had set goals to exercise, walk a lot and work out, but then life got in the way. And then I eventually got to the point where I would say to myself, “Daniel, this is in your blood. Your Mormon Pioneer ancestors didn’t do squats or yoga every day to prepare for their walk across the American plains into Utah. You’re going to be fine.”

And I probably will be. Like I have survived teaching, I know I will survive BtoB.

With all seriousness, though, I think I am emotionally prepared. I will be with my friends, doing a good thing, I will be representing the genuine care and ambition that is Peace Corps Armenia, and hopefully we can inspire other Armenians to do similar projects in many more under serviced villages in Armenia.

I am sure we will give all of our blood, sweat, and tears, but we will do it with a smile!

 

Wish us luck!

 

 

 

 

Time to Think; Not Enough Time to do Anything

Life just seems to happen sometimes. On May 12, I will have completed one-third of my entire service here in Armenia; this amount of time feels like a second and a millennium all at the same time.

I met the little old man who lives above me again- the one who helped me with my laundry fiasco. This time it was the oven. I thought I knew how to use my gas oven. It was pretty self-explanatory. Like the stove, there is a knob. Like the stove above it, there are ports with gas that you hold the match up to. So, light match, turn knob, gas catches flame, stove begins to heat- I did it right! But, then in the good-old-fashioned-Daniel-way, I didn’t do it right. After letting the oven pre-heat for about five minutes, my gas detector went off, this triggered the entire gas line in my apartment to be shut off, and the oven went cold.

“What do I do, Varduhi?!” I asked my counterpart on the phone.

“Daniel, can’t you just go and ask your neighbor for help?” she asked. Oh, right. I am slowly learning I live in a community now where people truly ask their neighbors for help. I did that.

Without fail, the couple above me greeted me, the man (Karlen is his name) followed me downstairs into my apartment, grabbed a stool, stood on it, and pulled up on the red knob connected to my gas line. Problem fixed. He then showed me how to light my oven. Apparently, I hadn’t made sure both sides of the oven caught flame and was slowly asphyxiating myself while I was chopping vegetables.

Living alone has allowed me plenty of time to think. Quiet time. I often find myself doing things- like washing my clothes, doing dishes, reading (as in reading Facebook and Instagram…not a book)- and then realizing I haven’t spoken to anyone in several hours. This hasn’t been normal procedure for me thus far since living in Armenia.

From my apartment, I can hear the river. If I poke my head out just far enough, I can see it. When I look out my window at night, I can see the stars. I can see the street on the far side and see cars and walkers passing by. During the day, I see the playground in my yard where the children play, tatiks (the neighborhood grandmothers) sit, and further over the papiks (the neighborhood grandfathers) play backgammon. At night, I can see the TV lights flickering in windows, and the floating red embers of a cigarette floating by with its phantom owner through the yard.

One day there was a funeral. The coffin lid sat on the outside of the apartment building on the ground level and a wreath of flowers sat propped up next to it. A few hours later, the yard was full of men in black leather jackets and women in their Sunday best. The open casket sat there in the middle of the yard as people mourned. Men cried, women sobbed, and I stood there walking into this with a bag of groceries not knowing what to do and how to behave properly. I stood in shock of seeing the body unexpectedly. I held my head low feeling the sadness in the community around me. The duduk- Armenia’s national instrument, a woodwind made from apricot trees- played with an accordion; it truly was the saddest music in the world. I made my way to my apartment and went to watch the rest of the service from my apartment window. Being an outsider, I felt it appropriate to pay my respects from a distance. The four pallbearers- four older papiks- lifted the casket up and walked around three times. (I have asked several Armenians why this is done, and no one can give me a direct answer, but one says it is to wish the soul a safe journey to heaven.) The casket was then taken to the street, the music continued to echo through the yard. Other neighbors, like myself, watched from a distance. Then, as the music came to a chilling stop, the service was over, the crowd left, and women began sending out their laundry on the lines to air out in the sunny afternoon.

Death makes me think, yet life makes me think more.

Little pieces of life to enjoy and think about every day here in Armenia:

-Handwriting: Everyone has beautiful handwriting. Boys, girls, teachers, shop owners. All handwriting is exquisite. In a community where technology hasn’t caught up like it has throughout the rest of the world, it is refreshing to see penmanship truly valued. My fourth graders have better handwriting than I do. Every letter has purpose and every curve has a reason.

-The sound of the river: It’s refreshing. It is constant. During those silent times at night- while I catch myself thinking too much- I poke my head out my window and look at the stars and listen to the river.

-The green: Spring is here! Every thing is lush and green. Syunik Marz, the region in which I live, is definitely the most beautiful part of the country I have seen yet. It is lush all over the hills until you reach the mountain’s snow caps- the vestiges of winter. Khustup, Kapan’s famed mountain, sits and welcomes citizens of Kapan every day through its whispers of fog…

And then, sometimes, I think I have gotten too poetic and stuff, and have gotta move on. I need to figure out what will be the best ways to continue and integrate into my school and community.

18 months is enough time to get started, but is it really enough time to do anything?

I sit beside the fire and think of all that I have seen,
of meadow-flowers and butterflies in summers that have been;
Of yellow leaves and gossamer in autumns that there were,
with morning mist and silver sun and wind upon my hair.
I sit beside the fire and think of how the world will be
when winter comes without a spring that I shall ever see.

 

For still there are so many things that I have never seen:
in every wood in every spring there is a different green.
I sit beside the fire and think of people long ago,
and people who will see a world that I shall never know.
But all the while I sit and think of times there were before,
I listen for returning feet and voices at the door.

-JRR Tolkien

(Peace Corps Armenia is sponsoring The National Poetry Recitation Contest and many of the poems have been stuck in my head. Thus, the reason behind including the above poem.)

https://nprcarmenia.wordpress.com/

 

 

 

 

Finally Living on My Own; Things My Host Mothers Couldn’t Teach Me

I remember my first apartment in Chicago very well. It was a convertible apartment (beautifully converted into a two bedroom through the use of bed sheets and PVC pipe) in the Gold Coast neighborhood just minutes from Michigan Avenue. As beautiful as it sounds, it wasn’t. It was pretty disgusting when my roommate, Brittany, and I moved in. Previously occupied by a 20-something bachelor who- judging from the condition it was left in- never owned a vacuum, never…ok, I can’t fluff it up- basically, he never cleaned. It was one of those places that was potentially livable, but that potential was only after three or four months of intense elbow-grease and half of each of mine and my roommate’s student loans collectively spent on bleach and cleaning supplies. Eventually, it was “clean”-er and, thanks to its beautiful rooftop deck, became “home”.

Move forward in time 8 years and 8 moves later, I find myself in Kapan, Armenia finally allowed to live by myself. I wished my host family good-bye on good terms, but didn’t waste time moving out when I was finally allowed. I found a nice apartment in a good part of town. It is a building next to my site mate, two buildings from two different grocery stores, and a five-minute walk from my school.

My sixth-graders are learning about homes and how to describe them, so it has inspired me to describe my home as a poorly written British English textbook would:

DANIEL’S FLAT

Daniel lives in a block of flats. It is a five-storeyed building. There is a beautiful playground in front of it. His flat is on the third floor. He has three rooms, a small corridor, a kitchen, and a bathroom. The flat has all of the finest Soviet conveniences.

There is a mirror on the wall and it has wood floors.

            The living-room is the largest. You can see a couch, two armchairs, a TV set, and a china cabinet there. There is also a big table with twenty-five [random] chairs there.

            There are two beds in one room, and a double bed is in the second room. There is a big wardrobe in one room, and a table with a big mirror in the other room. There is a night table in the room with two beds.

            The kitchen, where Daniel is pretending he is learning how to cook, is medium-sized. There is several cub-boards, a gas stove, a sink with one tap that only has scalding-hot water, and a table with five [other random] chairs and stools.

            In the bathroom you can see a sink, a toilet, and a shower head that allows water to go all over the place. There is a shelf for toilet articles, but you can only keep waterproof items there or they will be destroyed [including toilet paper].

You get the idea.

Similar to my first apartment in Chicago, I have cleaned my body-weight’s worth of mold out of both the bathroom and the kitchen. The apartment is furnished well with furniture that has been here since the apartment was built. The cement walls are painted in their original decal: sponge art with geometric shapes. This reminds me of my childhood home where my mom would use sponges and feathers to paint our walls because it really classed up the place. So, because of its nice touches of nostalgia, I actually like it.

I have never lived completely alone before. I have always lived with roommates, and this is the first time that I have had to take care of an apartment all by myself. Living alone is a little bit more nerve-racking than living with roommates; my OCD is in overdrive when I leave the apartment, for I have to check that I am turning my gas off, unplugging all things, and locking the door at least three times. I am also getting used to all of the noises; one can never be too sure if a suspicious noise is from another apartment or from someone who is surely going to rob you and murder you. It is all- like the rest of Peace Corps- an adjustment.

My first six months in Armenia with host families were meant for learning how to live here. My host mothers taught me a lot. Most importantly, they taught me how to hang my laundry. They taught me to hang from the bottom of my shirts and pants so as not to crease anything the wrong way- this is critical to Armenian women. However, both of my former Armenian houses had washing machines, and neither of them were on the third floor of a building with a pulley-line to hang my clothes across the yard.

My first time doing laundry was last week. It was the only sunny day of the week, so a primo time to do laundry. I rushed home after school so that I could have at least three good hours of drying time on the line. I have never hand-washed my clothes before, so I did what I assumed was right (a little bit of soak, a little bit of soap, a little bit of scrub, and a swimming pool of wasted water for rinsing). I tried to squeeze most of the water out, and then I sent the clothes out on the line to say their soaking hellos to the neighborhood. Definitely not wrung out enough, drips of water soaked the children playing below, and the occasional adult walker would look up checking for a menacing cloud of rain. After all my clothes were out on the line, and pulling the wire down a few feet, the winds began to pick up. My heavy wet clothes began to blow back and forth; the long sleeved shirts were behaving as if they were trying to sell cars on a busy highway. Suddenly! I heard a big pop, a snap, and a crack, and I saw my clothes frantically begging for help across the playground. The other much wiser women- who have years of laundry-line-drying experience- had already pulled their clothes in to avoid the wind. I couldn’t. The pulley on my end of the line had shattered, and the metal wire was caught on the rubber axil. The wire was taught and beginning to be weighed down by the heavy wet clothes in the wind. The iron wire was beginning to cut through the rubber axil. Soon, the line would either snap or the axil would break. My clothes were stuck. They were out there to dry and embarrass their American male owner for eternity; a symbol of my inability to live alone, take care of myself, and do laundry. I tried to control the wire so that it would not snap from the weight of the waving clothes, potentially killing the families playing three stories below.

I called my friend in panic, my counterpart in panic- “WHAT AM I SUPPOSED TO DO?!! MY LAUNDRY IS GOING TO KILL PEOPLE!” (Of course, this was the only conclusion.)

“Inch es anoom?” (“What are you doing?”) I looked up. There in the window above me was a little old man moving his hands back and forth asking “what”.

“Chi guitem”(“I don’t know”), I said. I have this problem where I forget all of my Armenian when people try to talk to me- especially in times of crisis. “Ays lav chi. Chi ashkatoom!” (“This is bad. This doesn’t work”), I yelled up. “Arri, arri!” (“Come here! Come here!”). To my surprise, the man’s head disappeared. I ran to open my door, and I heard soft footsteps coming down the apartment stairs. Through my home to the winter balcony came a soft-eyed, white-haired man with a pair of pliers. He walked over to the window and looked at the broken pulley system. “Ahhh, lav chi,” he said. Then, with my amazement, he pulled in the wire with his bare hands and the pliers. I grabbed my clothes from the line, secretly hugging each item as I set it aside.

Not only did my upstairs neighbor save my clothes and the children below that day, he also helped me replace the pulley, and he invited me upstairs to meet his wife and have dinner and coffee, and a few shots of his homemade vodka (which always does wonders to improving my Armenian speaking skills), and I ate plenty of his homemade honey.

My new apartment in Kapan- similar to my first apartment in Chicago- may have needed some TLC to begin feeling like “home”, but I am now happy I have met a few friendly neighbors with Armenian hospitality- and that is not something that would happen in an apartment building in Chicago.

Being a Student; Being a Kid

“VSYO!”, the Russian word for stop, knock it out, or I’m done has awoken me from my afternoon naps a few times over the past few weeks. My host brother is often in another room yelling at the top of his lungs to his younger brother, his mom, his dad, or his friend in a bunch of jumbled Armenian I can’t understand. Something has triggered him to lash out at someone uncharacteristically, for he is usually very calm. It may have been the slightest thing, but his out of place hormones that are trying to discover where they belong make him let loose. The yelling host brother is 12. You couldn’t pay me to be 12 years old again.

I remember 7th grade all too well. It was undoubtedly the worst year of my life. I had just moved to a new town, to a new school, and was the new chubby minnow in a cesspool amongst a school of other awkward prepubescent sharks. I didn’t fit in and was easily cast out. I remember the anger I often felt through 7th and 8th grade towards the world. I remember how much I took my anger out on and fought with my parents, and how much I just wanted to disappear. Being the youngest of five kids, I am fortunate my parents were a well-oiled machine that knew how to deal with their children through the worst times. In hindsight, I was as torturous to the world around me as it was towards me. That season of change is difficult for everyone to find a place to fit in.

In the short time I have been at it, working with children ages 8-14 every day has changed my perception of childhood and humanity. Because I don’t speak the same language as most of my students and have limited linguistic communicative ability with them, I find myself analyzing them in other ways. I see the ways they interact with each other, how they interact with other teachers in Armenian, how they sit and do things alone when no one is watching. You can perceive a lot about a child just by how often they do their homework: their home life, their socioeconomic status, their own integrity and ambition. And you don’t have to speak the same language as a child to know when they are crying inside and screaming for help.

An English teacher in Armenia, I found myself quickly frustrated with my students. “How dumb is this kid?” I would ask myself, “he’s been taking English for six years now and can barely read a simple English sentence.” “Why does this twelve year old girl still ask me what my name is every day, but not know how to respond when I ask her her name?” How hard is it?! Okay. I know it’s hard. I know English is hard. Teaching English in a country and a community where there is no relevance to learning English is hard, and I know these are- for the most part- somewhat rational thoughts for me to have. But, after some time, I realized I was being selfish.

I am an English teacher, so I want to see my students excel at knowing English because that means I’m doing something right, but at the same time, I need to know how to understand the qualities of my students outside of my classroom.

Maybe that kid who is in the ninth grade who has been taking English for six years is really great at Russian (I resent this for several reasons) but that’s okay! He’s good at his other subjects. I need to learn to encourage that!

Maybe that twelve-year-old girl who is so excited to see me every day but doesn’t understand when I ask her her name is great at math! And that’s okay! Maybe one day she can teach me math!

Before Peace Corps, all of the interviews and questionnaires asked me how I would feel about being a “celebrity” in my community. As an American living in a small community, everyone knows what you are doing- especially the children. On my daily walks around the town, every child between the ages of 8 and 14 knows my name whether they are my students or not. “HELLO MISTER DANIEL!!!!” I hear being yelled by a group of boys three or four blocks away, getting called down from windows in apartment buildings, and being yelled out from cars. (Sometimes I get followed by children a little longer than I would like because walks are the only private time I have to myself, but I always maintain a friendly smile and wish them well after finding an excuse of why I need to go the opposite way from where they are going.)

So, I guess what I am saying is this: I am an American English teacher in Kapan, but that doesn’t mean that that’s what I must solely be. I must be a cheerleader for these kids, because I have been where they are; the experiences of childhood are universal. I know how difficult being a kid can be. I must be there to smile for those who are having a hard day, I must be there to encourage that kid who doesn’t know English to find something else to be good at, and I must encourage my students to be good at knowing the worth of their education. I hope, in some way, I can help make the struggles and frustrations of being a kid a little easier for them.

If that’s the influence I have on my students, and I do nothing else, I will be able to go home happy because I know I have done something good.