I’m going to be living in Gyumri, the second biggest city in Armenia, for the next two months. Gyumri was one of the cities hit hardest by the 1988 earthquake, and it still hasn’t completely recovered. Also, fun fact, I felt an earthquake today! I was alone in a room and thought that I was losing my mind, but it went on long enough that I knew it HAD to be an actual earthquake. Apparently tremors are not uncommon here. Eek.

Anyway, like I was saying, Gyumri still hasn’t recovered from the 1988 earthquake. There are buildings around the city that are completely collapsed, and it doesn’t look like anyone has even thought about trying to clear the rubble. Of course, though, a ton has been done to clean things up and rebuild. It’s just crazy to me how a couple minutes can ruin centuries of work and lead to decades of recovery.

I think I’m going to like it here though. Yerevan is awesome, but it’s basically like being in a city in Europe. There, signs are written in Armenian and English. Here, signs are written in Armenian and Russian. There is a Russian military base here with about 3,000 soldiers. I don’t know a lot about military bases, but to me, that seems pretty big. So as you might imagine, there are a decent number of Russian people here, plus all of the older Armenians speak Russian.

Sorry, got sidetracked again. Like I was saying, being here is going to be a challenge, and I’m determined to feel like I belong here. That means step 1 – learn Armenian. Step 2 – make local friends. Step 3 – force local friends to hang out with me.

On the topic of learning Armenian… I’m living with a woman, Anjela, who is really nice, but she doesn’t speak any English (yes, she does speak Russian), and I don’t speak any Armenian. It’s been interesting so far. Luckily, she’s very patient and has had volunteers stay with her before, so she’s used to having to use hand motions more than most people. I think that she probably hasn’t had many people who are basically mute like I am, but we’re figuring it out. I usually try to speak and then within 1 second realize that literally zero words are coming into my head (or if there are words, they’re all in Spanish), so I just stand there with my mouth open.

The biggest struggle is when it comes to food. When I got here, they asked if I have any dietary restrictions. Well… that’s a complicated question. The answer is that there’s pretty much nothing I CAN’T eat, but there are plenty of things that I WON’T eat. It’s impossible to give a list because it’s so long, so I usually just say that I don’t eat fish and that’s it. It probably seems like it doesn’t make sense to say that I’ll eat anything when I basically eat nothing, but what other option do I have? Then, when something comes up that I really will absolutely not eat, I can say, “I don’t like ___.” The problem with that? I don’t know how to say that in Armenian. So instead, there’s just a lot of me saying no and shaking my head and her giving food to me anyway. I know it seems like this is a problem easily solved. I could just look up how to say, “I don’t like”. The bigger issue is getting myself to the point where I don’t completely panic and forget everything I’ve ever known when it’s time for me to say something. We’ll work on that.

Next step is remembering how to say, “I’m full,” because the stereotypes are true. If you don’t refuse forcefully, you will be fed until you explode.