You might be wondering how my Architecture, AutoCAD, and Laser Cutter class ended up going. It wrapped up about a week ago, and things didn’t quite go according to plan. I’m sure you’re shocked. I’m also going to maintain the claim that none of it was my fault, but I guess you can decide that for yourself.

Last time I talked about this class, I’m pretty sure I was recounting the saga of getting AutoCAD installed on the computers. Like I said, the program finally got installed, and I had my first software teaching experience. That all went well, at least in my opinion. I spent about 4 classes teaching different commands in the program.

Basically, I made a list of all of the things that I thought they should know how to do, and then I tried to put them into an order that made sense. I consulted some online AutoCAD tutorials, but there was a lot that I just made up on my own. Before each class, I would go into the lab and draw up practice exercises for each of the different commands. I tried to make things that would challenge the students who were catching on quickly but still be doable for the students who were a bit slower. That’s hard though! It never got easier, but there wasn’t much I could do about it. I refused to move on unless everyone understood what was happening because I’ve been on the other end of this. There’s nothing worse than getting lost on something and then never being able to catch up because the teacher just keeps going.

After my four classes of instruction, I gave them a mini-project to design a house. I said that it needed to have 2 bedrooms, a living room, a kitchen, and a bathroom, but everything else was up to them. I really just wanted everyone to practice drawing, use the different commands I taught them, and be a little creative. Some of the students came up with some amazing designs. Some of the students came up with less amazing ones, but I know that they tried hard on the assignment. It was a very good way to see what level everyone was on. I also made them give little presentations about their houses. That was a mess and a half because no one wanted to present, but I forced them all to get up and say something about their houses anyway. Presentations are a part of life, and if you don’t practice giving them, you’re never going to be comfortable in front of a group!

One of the house designs. He said that he needed a lot of rooms because he has a lot of friends who are going to come and visit him.

The last week of the class was supposed to be laser cutting. I was going to have each of them design the exterior of a little house, use the laser cutter to cut out the pieces, and glue them together into a model. We got all the way to the week before the laser cutting portion of the class, and I still didn’t know how to use the laser cutter. I mean, I had an idea. I read the manual, did some googling, and asked Debbie (my architect friend from Peru) for some tips.

With no time left to space, Carineh (my friend who also worked at GTC and speaks Armenian) and I made plans with the guy at GTC who knows how to use the laser cutter to come in on the Friday before my last Monday class so that he could teach us. We asked the day before if he was free to meet sometime before noon, and he said that we could just call him when we were ready and he’d be there in 30 minutes. Okay, great… until we called at 10 and he was asleep, 11 and he said he was “waiting for something”, and 1 and he said that the workshop coordinator was supposed to talk to us. Huh?

I checked my email, and about 5 seconds earlier, I had gotten an email from her saying that we couldn’t use the laser cutter because we didn’t have approval to use it until October… which makes no sense because my class ended in August. We went to talk to her, and she said that we needed approval from the director,  she was on vacation, and we wouldn’t be able to get an answer until the end of the day. That wasn’t going to work. Even if we did get approval, when was I going to learn how to use it? Carineh asked why they hadn’t requested approval two months ago when they decided that I should use the laser cutter in my class, and her question was met with a blank stare. Wonderful.

This is one of the activities I drew up for the students to do during the final class.

Here’s the most ridiculous thing about the whole laser cutter story… I was literally sent to Gyumri because of the laser cutter. Originally, I was supposed to be placed in the technology center in Vanadzor, the third biggest city in Armenia (which means not very big). I talked to a woman who works for the organization that is responsible for the technology centers, and after we discussed some ideas for my class, she decided that I should use the laser cutter (even though I told her I had no clue how to use it), and that meant I had to be in Gyumri. She talked to Birthright, and my location was switched. Literally because of the laser cutter.

I decided to cancel that portion of the class because it just didn’t make sense to try to do it, and I didn’t need to be stressing myself out unnecessarily about another thing. Instead, we spent the last week doing more AutoCAD practice. I found some exercises online and also drew some things myself when there was nothing that I liked.

It actually went much better than I thought it would, and it was good because the students who were super fast workers actually had to spend the entire class working in order to finish the assignment. Perfect!

A mash up of the GTC staff and volunteers.

I can’t say that I was upset at all when the last class ended. This thing has been such a mess since the very beginning, and it took so much time outside of work to get all of my prep work finished. It was definitely a good experience to have. I hope that I never have to teach through a translator again (especially not while teaching computer software!), but I feel like now that I’ve taught it in that context, it could be fun to teach it in a normal class if the opportunity ever arises.

When I was talking to the jobsite coordinators for Yerevan about what job I wanted to have after moving to Yerevan, my only requirements were that I wanted to work for an NGO, I didn’t want to teach, and I didn’t want to deal with children. I need a break after this whole ordeal.

 

Here’s a random picture from language class. Here, Shant is wearing a fortune teller’s hat (balloon crystal ball not shown) to practice using future tense. Karen (our teacher) had us tell each other’s fortunes. It was pretty funny!

This week has been a struggle. I think it’s a combination of things, but they’re all adding up to me being in a funk. For one thing, I STILL have an eye infection. It’s the one I think I got from Vardavar, and if you’re thinking this is quite a long time for me to have the same infection, you are correct. I went through the first treatment of antibiotic eye drops, wore my glasses for a whole two weeks during that time (which I absolutely HATE having to do), and then went back to the doctor at the end to see if my eyes were healed and if I could start wearing my contacts again. She said yes, and I was thrilled.

 

Fast forward ONE day of contact wearing, and my eyes felt terrible, aka definitely NOT healed. Back to glasses. I went to a different doctor because I lost all faith in the first one, and she said I had another infection. I personally think I have the same infection, but that makes no difference. She tried to tell me that the infection came from my contacts… unlikely. I used a new pair, and I’ve never had an issue with this type of lenses before. I think that not many people wear contacts here, so they blame everything on the fact that you’re putting something unnatural in your eyes.

Now, here I am, going through ANOTHER round of antibiotic eye drop treatment. This time, I’m going to wait at least a week after finishing my drops before I count my eyes as healed and even consider putting lenses back in. So I think it’s kind of reasonable for me to be a little grumpy because having sick eyes impacts literally every waking moment of my day. Besides already feeling like I can barely see in glasses (not because the prescription is wrong but because I have no peripheral vision with them), I am horrible at keeping them clean, so that plus extra dust in the air here/at my archaeology job means I’m constantly looking through translucent glasses instead of transparent ones. I just feel like I’m living in the clouds a bit… like I’m not completely present because I can’t see clearly.

Sunset on my ride home from work!

If I separate my eye grumpiness from the situation, I guess this hasn’t been a bad week. My class is still going well and still stressing me out, but next week I’ll have a break from the stress at least. We finished going over different AutoCAD commands during Monday’s class, and yesterday we talked about space planning and the project. I constantly think about how much easier it would be to teach this class in a language I can speak or even just kind of speak. I would happily teach another class in Spanish. Needing a translator makes it so much harder to do everything. For space planning, we talked about the example of a school building. What kinds of rooms does a school need? How big do those rooms need to be? What rooms should be next to each other?

Here we have Shant getting ready to step over this nice gap on the way into a museum. This cracked me up… the street is under construction, so the entrance to the building is just floating. In the States, there would have been a whole plan for how to maintain safe access to the museum. Here, access is possible, and that’s enough. Mind the gap.

For their projects, they’re all supposed to draw their dream houses… or simplified dream houses. I told them that the best way for them to get better at using AutoCAD is by practicing, so they should make their houses whatever they need to be to challenge themselves. They’ll have all of Monday’s class to work, and then after about half of Thursday’s class, I’m going to make them all come up and give mini-presentations about their houses. I want each person to basically give the class a tour so that I can understand what they drew and why.

My big outside-of-class project for next week is going to be trying to figure out how to use the laser cutter. I have a week to work out the details, so I’m feeling nice and anxious about that. A big part of me was hoping that all of the students would forget about that part of the class, but someone mentioned it today, so I guess that means we can’t pretend it doesn’t exist (assuming I can figure it out). I’ve been phoning a friend (my Peru friend Debbie) to try to understand how the whole thing should work… keep your fingers crossed for me! I’m going to need all the help I can get.

This has been a crazy week! It was one of those ones that simultaneously feels like a lifetime and a split second. It started out on a rough note… Last Thursday was our last class doing pre-activities before starting AutoCAD, so I wanted to check out the program after class to make sure that it was in English like they told me. That turned out to be the least of my worries because the program wasn’t even installed! On any computer! Maybe I should be blamed for not checking sooner, but I thought that considering 1) I was literally brought to Gyumri to teach AutoCAD and 2) when I asked how many computers had it and what language it was in, I got answers to both questions, it was safe to assume that the program was installed. Wrong.

I have no relevant pictures, so instead, you can enjoy a random selection of wildflowers and this nice sunset picture of Gyumri’s main square.

This was probably my first T.I.A. moment in reference to Armenia (for anyone who wasn’t around for Ghana, T.I.A. – This Is Africa – became our mantra anytime something happened that our foreign minds were unable to comprehend. Having that mindset makes it much easier to just accept it, regardless of how seemingly ridiculous, and move on). So here we are, the new T.I.A. This Is Armenia, aka I shouldn’t have assumed anything even though in my mind, that was a natural conclusion to draw.

I immediately told the workshop coordinator, and she seemed shocked. That was comforting… not. She assured me that it could be installed by Monday’s class, but with my expectations shattered, I didn’t let myself believe her. Since I only work at GTC on Mondays and Thursdays, I wasn’t going to be there again before class. I asked if she could send me a message when the job was finished so that I didn’t have to worry… guesses, anyone, about whether or not I actually expected to get a message? Correct, the answer is no, I didn’t expect to, and no, I didn’t receive one.

I sent follow ups on Saturday and Sunday and was assured that they would be ready in time… until Sunday at about 7:30PM when I got the “there’s an issue, it’s not going to be ready for tomorrow” message. Ah. At last. I made the call to cancel class because there was no time to prep something new for Monday, and even there was, we would have just been killing time.

Thanks to one very helpful and hardworking person at GTC, the computers WERE ready for Thursday, and AutoCAD WAS in English. Phew. So my class turned into a combined English/AutoCAD class as I taught everyone the English words for the different commands and other relevant words. It was interesting. I feel like no matter where I am, I’m teaching everything for the first time the absolute HARDEST way. In Peru, yeah, let’s teach kids about robots in Spanish. In India, sure, let’s teach Shakespeare to kids who are at a 4th grade reading level. In Armenia, perfect, let’s teach AutoCAD in English to people who only speak Armenian. On the bright side, if I ever do any of these things again, they literally can only get easier. I’m sure of that.

It actually went fairly well today which was encouraging. There’s a huge abilities gap in the class though, so some people catch onto things really quickly, and others have to be walked through every step. It’s going to be a challenge to keep everyone busy and challenged, but all I can do is my best. That’s just the way computer program classes are, and if you’re one of the fast people, you need to either find some ways to entertain yourself or help the slow ones.

My amusement of the week has been discovering the Armenian way of pronouncing English words. For example, I was helping my friend Carineh (Cah-ree-neh) out by buying some Twix bars for her class. I went into a little store near GTC, and the shopkeeper asked if I needed any help. Normally, I’d say no and just suffer through trying to find what I wanted, but I decided that the evil of trying to speak Armenian was less than the evil of poking around the tiny shop while being stared down.

Me: “Twix oonek?” (Do you have Twix? with Twix pronounced the English way)

Shopkeeper: “Huh??”

Me: “Twix?… Tweeks?… Tweeeks??… Tveeks???”

Shopkeeper: “Ah! Tveeks! Ayo?” (Yes? – She points to a normal size Twix bar.)

Me (relieved): “Ayo! Vetz.” (Yes! Six. – My attempt to tell her I needed six of them.)

Shopkeeper: “Medz?” (Big? – She points to a bigger Twix bar.)

Me (ready for this to be over): “Che, vetz.” (No, six. – Also holding up six fingers because obviously words aren’t working.)

Shopkeeper: “Ah. Vetz.”

She goes and gets six Twix bars and rings me up. Success in the slowest way possible.

This was not the first time that pronunciation completely eliminated our chances of being understood. My first week, we were trying to confirm that GTC has a laser cutter, so Carineh asked one of the guys who works there if he knew where the laser cutter was. She said it all in Armenian except for “laser cutter”, and he just blank stared at her until she said it a few more times with different emphases. Finally, we got an Armenian, “ah! You mean the lah-zer cooter!” Right. That’s exactly what we meant.

This week, I was explaining in Lar-menian (that’s what I’ve started calling the horrible Armenian I speak) what I teach at GTC, and I said “I teach a class on architecture (I said this in Armenian) and AutoCAD (not in Armenian because there’s no translation, except apparently pronunciation-wise)”. Again, blank stares from people who definitely know what AutoCAD is.

“AutoCAD?… Ow-toe-cad?… Ow-toe-cahd??”

Finally, a response, “OH! Ahv-toe-cahd!” But of course. How did I not see the “v” in AutoCAD? Silly me! Carineh said that’s probably because the Armenian word for “automatic” is “av-toe-maht” which makes sense, but at the time I was thinking “WHAT THE HECK??”

As a result of all of this, my current favorite thing is saying English words with a heavy Armenian accent whenever I don’t know the Armenian word. The best is that sometimes, I’m actually right because there either isn’t an Armenian word for it or they use the Russian word which sometimes sounds like the English word. Candy names are the most fun though: “Keet-kaht”, “Sneekers”, “Muh yev muh” (M and M), “Skeet-ulz”. I could keep going, but I’ll spare you for now.

Normal life over the last couple of weeks has been hectic, to say the least. I still feel a bit like I’m a chicken running around with its head cut off, but now at least I don’t feel like I’m also precariously close to falling off a cliff. So that’s an improvement, however slight.

Planning time

The final count of students signed up for my architecture/AutoCAD/laser cutter class was 18, and on the first day, we had 10 actually show up, and their ages ranged from 15-25. I thought that was a perfect number. I met with Liana, my translator, before the class, and we went over what I was going to talk about so that she was prepared. I still am getting used to the whole translator thing, but I’m lucky to have someone translating who wants to do a good job. The translators are volunteers too, so their motivation is just wanting to practice and learn. Liana is just as determined as I am to make this a class that people are interested in. It’s nice to feel like I’m not the only one who cares.

Hard at work

We spent our first class doing a mini architecture history/around the world architecture tour. I had such a hard time putting that together because there is SO much you can include in an architecture history lesson. That’s the biggest challenge for this class in general. We don’t have THAT much time, so I have to decide what is really important for the students to understand and what can be skimmed over. I did a little bit of history and then tried to show them how different parts of the world developed different architectural styles.

Literally no chance this thing was going to stand… but they got some style points.

We then moved into talking about all of the people involved with creating a building today. Honestly, I have no idea how the construction process works here, so I just based it off of how things happen in the US. If they actually decide to go into this field, they’ll figure it out. That was my segue into my personal favorite team building activity, paper towers. You split the group up into teams of three or four and give them a long piece of tape, scissors, and 4 or 5 pieces of computer paper. The goal is to build the tallest free-standing tower possible in a set amount of time. I’ve done this in three countries now, and it never ceases to amaze me how everyone comes up with something completely different. Also, it doesn’t matter how old or young the students are. Someone always ends up with a tower that blows away the competition, and someone always builds something that immediately collapses.

The winning tower. Plus it’s sleek so they get some extra points for that too… but honestly, I think some of the kids in Peru built a taller one. Sometimes people think too much.
Drawing plans, elevations, and sections of Liana’s purse

We also started talking about the types of drawings that an architect makes: plans, elevations, and sections. We did a couple of activities with that over the three classes, including my personal favorite one where they drew a plan of the outdoor courtyard. I gave them all graph paper and told them that the scale was one step = one square. So they all had to walk around the courtyard measuring distances with footsteps. It was good because we didn’t need a tape measure, and I always think it’s better to have people doing something weird/interesting because it’s more likely to keep their interest than just sitting in one place for two hours. Next week, we’re moving into computer work. I think the students are all probably happy about that because it means they can stop doing my bizarre activities, and I am too because that means I can start using online tutorials to help me rather than having to make it all up from scratch. You have no idea how long it takes me to prep for classes when I’m starting from zero.

Courtyard measuring

Last week was also my final week working at the startup company! It was interesting working there, but I can’t say I’m too sad to go because next week starts my archaeology volunteer placement! I’m really excited about this. Sona, the Birthright job site coordinator, took me last week to meet with the archaeology people. Apparently, there’s a German group coming for the month of August, and they do a big archaeology dig each year. They showed us a drone video of the site from last year. It was awesome! I’m going to be joining them two days each week, and I definitely need to go buy a long sleeve so that I don’t get fried from being outside in the sun all day. Ah!! I can’t wait! Hopefully it’s as cool as I think it’s going to be.

Here’s the courtyard from above. I made them include all of the different ground materials, plus the benches, trash cans, doors to the surrounding buildings, trees, etc.

On the language front, my Armenian is slowly improving. I got promoted to the next Armenian class, but that’s mostly because I already knew how to read and not because my Armenian is any good. I have a lot of vocabulary to learn before I’m caught up with the people in this new class. There’s no use knowing 15 tenses to conjugate verbs in if you don’t know the right verbs. I am way better than before though. I sometimes will go to my host mom with a well-practiced sentence, and I’ll say it so well that she then overestimates my abilities and asks a follow-up question. Most of the time, I understand what she’s asking, but I just don’t have the words to answer her. So I do the mouth open and close like I really have something to say, and the words just won’t come out. I’m like a fish. In response, she usually just smiles, shakes her head, and says, “Ah, Lara jan” (Lara jan means “dear Lara”. People use “jan” all the time as a kind of term of endearment). At least she’s patient.

Anyway, I’m hoping that I’ll have more time to practice my Armenian now that we’re moving into the software part of the class I’m teaching. I really do think that the prep is going to be much easier now.

Goal for this week: feel like a chicken with a head (baby steps). That sounds reasonable, right?

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.

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!)

 

I have a new project to work on! Since we’re off school today, Pastor Daniel took me to the Bible college in the morning to check out the construction work they’re doing. There are four buildings on the campus, and they’re currently adding a second floor onto one of them. The first floor is a big assembly hall, and now the second floor is going to have a conference room and some classrooms.

Work in progress… the part I’m supposed to be designing would be on the top of this building.

My task is to make a plan for the third floor. One of the ways they’re considering using the space is by creating mini-apartments that can be rented out to people who are travelling to Bhutan. Since we’re right on the border, hotels and short-term housing are in high demand, and this could be an easy way to generate some revenue for the school and the ministry.

That means I get to play architect again! I’ll probably give some lighting recommendations too, but I’m sure they’ll do whatever they were going to do anyway. I think it’s funny that whenever I say I’m an architectural engineer, it’s like people get bored and stop listening after I say the “architect” part.

Me: I’m an architectural engineer.

Person: Oh, you’re an architect!

Me: Well… not really. I’m an engineer specializing in lighting and electrical systems in buildings.

Person: Oh, you’re an architect!

Me: Yes.

The construction site. Not quite what you’d see in the States, but this definitely isn’t the States so it’s about what I expected. Watch your step!

Luckily, we did take some architecture classes, so I usually know enough to be able to satisfy whatever thoughts they have about what I can do. Plus, I DO have a minor in Architecture which is basically the same thing as a bachelor’s, right? (By the way, the answer to that is no, not even close.) Anyway, usually I’m fine. This task, for example, is simple. It’s not like they’re asking me to design the structure or anything (which is something that everyone assumes an architect can do on the spot… but like, there are structural engineers for that). I don’t have to tell them how to build it. The local builders know, much better than I do, how to build things here. What they want from me is more like the solution to a puzzle or a logic problem than a true architectural question: fit as many comfortably sized rooms as possible in this predetermined space.

 

Roof with a view! These roofs are my blank canvas. Imagine the possibilities!

Once again, I’m comforted by knowing what the alternative to me doing this would be. Like in the school, the alternative to me being the English Lit teacher was no one being the English Lit teacher. Here, the alternative to me designing the layout is someone with literally zero training just making something up. I can at least do better than that.

 

*Note: I know the title is dumb, but I think it’s funny so that’s all that matters.

I don’t know that I’m really cut out to be a teacher. The last three days have proven to me that I like kids a lot more when I’m not spending all day in a classroom with them. Maybe that sounds horrible, but some people are “kid people”, and some are not. More and more, I’m convinced of my place in the latter category. For any of you who have never taught before, you can just trust me on this… Preschool and elementary school teachers are cut from a very special mold.

While the fabulous teachers here have been getting back into the swing of the after-school program, I’ve been holed up in the office with Debbie… hence the lack of pictures again today. Maybe tomorrow I’ll take a picture of my desk so that you can see where I’ve been spending my days. Exciting, right?

Actually though, it has been exciting. This might be super nerdy (okay it’s definitely super nerdy), but I spent yesterday doing research to help me understand the electrical system here. I had some awesome “ah-ha!” moments where things I’ve learned a hundred times finally clicked, and I think I made some real progress with making a plan of action. Even if I can’t come up with any great recommendations that can fix all of the electrical problems here, I can at least pull together some documents that show the existing system. The current documentation is lacking a bit because the ‘design’ was mostly just done in the field by the electrician and documented later. I think it would be helpful for them to have some drawings that are up-to-date and accurate.

Today was even more fun! Debbie let me play architect a bit, and we talked over some ideas for how to update the master plan for the property. It was last done fully in 2014, and the ministry and vision for the future have changed a lot since then! We got to walk around the property, measuring things and sharing thoughts, and then spent some time sketching up our ideas.

Dinner tonight was the dreaded chicken soup… usually, chicken soup is a Tuesday night event, and Debbie and I thought we had outsmarted the system by making our own dinner last night. Instead, I guess the system outsmarted us.

When I use the word “dreaded”, that makes it sound like no one likes it, but that’s not the case. Really, just Debbie and I don’t like it. I’m not a huge soup fan anyway, but this soup has all of the parts of the chickens that don’t make the cut for lunch. That includes feet, livers, necks, etc. Yum. The rest of the soup is actually not bad… tonight there were noodles, potatoes, carrots, corn, and a few other things I’m sure. But I’m not interested in stumbling upon a chicken foot in my soup bowl. Thankfully, I think Delia knew that and didn’t give me any chicken parts. Potential crisis averted.

In summary: brainstorming + research + sketching – chicken feet = a good day!