Tears welled in my eyes as I walked across the bridge leading to Georgia, an exit stamp from Armenia fresh in my passport. For the first time in over seven months on the road, I felt truly sad to leave a place.
It is hard to describe my time in Armenia because, in the end, the five weeks I spent there weren’t really about Armenia.
My time in Armenia was about the ups and downs that I experienced, the people I met, the confidence I gained and, more than anything, the lessons I learned.
I am looking forward to working again.
My volunteer experience in Yerevan felt like a trial run to be back in an office environment. Oddly enough, it left me feeling just slightly eager about getting back to work. I liked having a routine again. I liked having co-workers to go to lunch with every day. I got thrills out of conference calls with potential website developers and I enjoyed the mental stimulation of trying to analyze things and come up with solutions. Overall, I really liked feeling productive and that I was contributing to something.
I am not looking forward to working in an office again.
At the same time, being back in an office environment made me realize what I hated most about working in an office in the past. It has nothing to do with toiling away in a cubicle (something I never really did before anyway). Instead, it has everything to do with the gossip and the maneuvering that comes from divergent personalities trying to promote themselves and garner favor with the boss. I felt like I got a little caught in the middle of that in my volunteer placement and it reminded me how much I hated it in previous jobs.
I really need to run.
I bought new running shoes my second week in Yerevan and the relief I felt the first time I put them on and headed out the door was incredible. It brought a smile to my face and made me wish I had not tossed my old running shoes after the Tallinn Marathon in September. And to my surprise, I wasn’t as horribly out of shape as I feared. As up and down as my experience in Armenia was, I always felt better after a run.
I need to be more assertive.
I have probably known this deep down for months, even years. I have written before about being easily intimidated and certain situations bringing out my insecurities. My five weeks in Yerevan reinforced that I need to be more assertive in all aspects of my life. I realized that my struggled early on in Armenia were due in part to the fact that I wasn’t putting myself out there – I was waiting for people to come to me.
When I took more initiative during my last two weeks in town, I felt much more included and welcome – and as a result had some of the best times I have had on my entire trip. Likewise, with my volunteer placement, I spent too much time waiting for them to give me something to do rather than pushing them for work. As a result, I probably didn’t get as much out of the experience as I could have.
It’s okay to quit sometimes.
My last weekend in Yerevan, I participated in a group excursion biking to Echmiadzin. While I had pictured a relaxing bike ride along quiet roads, in reality we were riding along a busy road, dodging marshrutkas and semi-trucks the entire time. It was anything but relaxing and, on top of it, I had a faulty bike that kept changing gears on me without warning. I made it to Echmiadzin but I really didn’t enjoy a minute of it. So when it came time to head back, I bit the bullet and hopped in the van that followed the bikers. My butt hurt, my legs were like jelly, I was sunburned and I wasn’t having fun. It was time to quit and I wasn’t ashamed of it at all.
Age doesn’t matter.
I wrote early on about my difficulty connecting with people, focusing on the fact that I was the only non-ethnic Armenian and one of the oldest volunteers. But really, that was silly because what matters is so much deeper. I should know better than to think that age matters – when I went to Egypt I was in a tour group of Australians about 8 years younger than me, many of whom I still keep in touch with and consider good friends (hi Anthea and Sophie!).
No, what really matters are the things that you discover only after taking the chance to get to know someone. You hike in the Vorotan Gorge, play touch football and bike to Echmiadzin. You learn that you follow the same sports and have the same taste in music. You discover you have similar religious views and shared dreams and fears. You find out that, despite your differences, you have more in common than you ever would have imagined.
So by the time I walked across that bridge to Georgia, I wasn’t just saying goodbye to a place.
For the first time in seven months, I was saying goodbye to friends and to an experience that taught me far more than I ever expected it to.