Monday, August 13, 2012

...and then I walked halfway across the country...

This year, the second annual Border2Border project started the day after my parents left. In a hurried frenzy, I unpacked my vacation clothes and repacked some tennis shoes, a few clothes, a sleeping bag, a tent, and lots of sunscreen. I headed down south with the rest of my team and we were off!

Our team started hiking from Armenia's southern border. For those of you who still don't know where Armenia is (Don't worry, most Armenian students don't either), Armenia's southern border is Iran. No big deal for Armenians but hiking near Iranian borders hasn't worked out so well for Americans in the past. We avoided the border road patrolled by bored, often overly excited Russian military guards and started our hike a few kilometers up the road.

We hiked over 250km. Climbed over multiple mountain passes, some over 2000 meters high (a little over an American mile), walked through countless villages, fields of wildflowers, and some rain and hail storms. We stayed with volunteers, in schools, tents, and once: in a hayloft. Armenians were always friendly with waves and shouts of hello, offers to retrieve us vodka, apricots, water, bbq, and cigarettes, and of course there obnoxiously loud, incredible annoying car honks.

Along the way we stopped in 10 different villages to teach lessons of health and the environment. Our audiences were school kids, parents and the occasional curious passer-by. Attendance was never predictable. In one small village we held spur of the moment lessons at a volunteer's house and close to 30 kids showed up!

In the end, we met up with the Northern team (who was doing the same thing, originating at the Georgian border) in the middle of the country and held one last set of lessons. We were all tired, hot, blistered, a little lighter in the weight department, and filled to the brim with beautiful views of Armenia and its constantly changing landscapes. The project took a total of three weeks and during it we a) saw a lot of Armenia b) taught a lot of children c) got some good exercise d) got to spend time with other volunteers. A and D were probably the highlights of the project.

I taught the environmental lesson. It was a fun lesson to teach to younger children. They were excited and shocked to learn how long it takes for trash to decompose and all promised that they would help keep their community clean from then on. The older students however had different responses. One of the questions I asked to wrap up my lesson was "What would you if you leave here and see a plastic bottle in the street? Will you pick it up and recycle or throw it away? Will you ignore it?" Almost all of the students said that they would do nothing, that it was not their problem. I also liked to ask this question "There is a lot of trash in Armenia, do you think that you should help take care of this problem or that other people should take care the trash?" They almost always answered: other people. These kinds of attitudes are very discouraging and very hard to change. They all understand that trash is bad  for the environment and health and you shouldn't throw it in the streets or in the rivers, but none of them think that they should be the ones to change.

This attitude seems contradictory to other behaviors displayed by Armenians. They keep their houses immaculately clean and are experts at re-using household items and jerry-rigging contraptions out of any old thing. But the trash that exists in Armenia exists in public spaces: streets, parks, rivers, school yards. This is where the line is currently drawn.

...and then the next day I left for Spain...

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