communication, dogs, ideas, music, travel

Still learning new things from a 1996 trip to Turkey…

Last night, while Bill was enjoying an online session with his American Jungian therapist who lives in Berlin, I was getting annoyed by comments on a Washington Post article I read (temporarily unlocked). The article was about how many Americans are taking their dogs everywhere with them, and how–maybe– the dogs don’t actually want to go. I realize I should have known better than to leave a Facebook comment, since most people didn’t bother to read the article before doing their chiming. But, since I live in a country where dogs are welcome in most places, I felt compelled.

The first comment I got from someone was vaguely accusatory, and their comment got a bunch of “likes”. Below is what I posted, and the response:

Mine loves to go with us, but we live in Germany, where it’s normal for dogs to be out with their owners. He’s a big guy who gets nervous, so we don’t bring him often.

I don’t think anything is wrong with this comment. But, someone responded with this:

Out of curiosity, how does he love it if he gets nervous?

I didn’t actually type what I was tempted to post, which was “Do you not ever have the experience of being nervous and then enjoying yourself, once you’ve had a chance to relax? The two conditions aren’t mutually exclusive.” Instead, I responded calmly and rather politely:

He eventually relaxes. We have a wine stand in our neighborhood. We can walk to it. We will take him to that. He starts out nervous and excited, then calms down. And he always likes car rides and walks to new places, but things like umbrellas and sudden noises scare him. He is a street dog from Kosovo.

We don’t take him to big events because it can be too much for him, and he takes up the entire back end of our SUV. But we will take him to Biergartens or smaller events, and he does fine after a little while. This is a totally normal thing in Germany. It’s less normal to leave your dog home alone. In fact, there are laws against leaving dogs home alone for more than a few hours.

I was relieved when that comment didn’t invite any unpleasantness. But then someone else chimed in with this:

it’s normal in the US too…

I wasn’t sure what side of the argument this person was on, so I wrote this response:

Things in the States must have changed a lot since I left. I don’t necessarily think it’s a bad thing, as long as dogs are trained how to be in public and people are considerate. Here, people really train their dogs, so even though they are often in restaurants, you’d never know. We don’t take ours to indoor establishments, but we have seen some dogs that were so well behaved that we didn’t notice their presence until they were leaving.

Personally, I’d rather leave mine at home most of the time, but sometimes it’s fun to bring him. It’s the only way he will learn how to behave in public and realize that humans besides us are good. And he does love the change of scenery.

She came back with this:

they’re everywhere here. Ubiquitous

So I wrote:

Well, it’s been nine years since I was last home. Based on the comments, it sounds like maybe dogs in public are a problem.

Then she posted this:

not really. Most people love dogs.

I didn’t want to continue to engage. Fortunately, she got the hint when I wrote this:

Good. I’m glad.

But then another person– a curmudgeon of sorts– wrote this:

more’s the pity

Despite what the woman above posted to me, a lot of people in the USA don’t seem think it’s a good thing to take dogs in public places. They have lots of reasons for their thinking. And, just like a lot of Americans have extremely rigid ideas about topics such as spaying and neutering, and how it must always be done at six months of age (which is not always a good idea, pet overpopulation concerns notwithstanding), some people are equally lacking perspective about the subject of dogs in restaurants and such.

I was getting a little agitated by the hostile and rigid posturing in the comment section, and had just remarked to my friends that Americans need to travel more. But then someone posted that most Americans can’t afford to travel… which wasn’t really the point. The point is, a lot of Americans seem to think our way is the only way of doing things, and they lack any desire to explore different places or discover new things.

Even a lot of Americans who live in Germany with the military are stuck in that US centric mindset, and they see no reason to evolve or expand. A lot of us don’t have any perspective of life beyond two feet in front of us, let alone how things are in other parts of the world. I was trying to share a different perspective in the comment section, even though I know better than to even try. For my efforts, I got a vaguely accusatory comment, and a comment that seemed to imply that I’m somehow naive, or out of touch with reality. That kind of makes me not want to try to share with others.

Why do people have to be so negative whenever someone shares their experiences and perspectives? Why can’t people be more open-minded and willing to listen? So often, we don’t even let people finish their sentences before we interrupt them. Bill did that this morning; he cut in with an inappropriate response before I’d even finished my thought. But if he’d been a little patient and just listened, rather than focusing on coming up with the wrong response, it would have spared us both time and annoyance.

Living abroad has forever changed me. I suspect that when I go back to the United States, I’m going to feel very frustrated. I love my family, for instance, but I suspect that talking to some of my cousins again someday will be disturbing on many levels. A lot of them are firmly mired in Trumpland, southern culture, and conservative Christianity, and no amount of cajoling will get them to broaden their perspectives on certain topics. But sometimes, I do get a rewarding glimmer when another American gets it. That’s what today’s post is all about.


Last night at about 9:00 PM, Bill finished his session with his therapist. He was in good spirits, because he and the therapist have a very good rapport. As he enjoyed the rest of last night’s wine, Bill told me that he and the therapist got into a discussion about music. He said he’d told his therapist about how I had introduced him to a lot of new music, and how sometimes I “drunk download” stuff. I have very eclectic tastes in music, so it usually works out fine. I’ve found some really great stuff that way.

Sometimes I discover some amazing finds while traveling– especially when it comes to music and art. When we went to Latvia last summer, I found a fascinating all women’s folk group (Tautumeitas) when I went into a jewelry store. I liked it so much that I downloaded the album as soon as I had the opportunity. Ditto to Finland, from where the wonderful band, Frigg, hails.

I discovered Frigg when I read an article about traveling to Finland. I was reading the article because I’d just visited Finland myself. Someone in the comment section mentioned discovering Frigg when they went to Finland, and they emphasized what a great band they are. I decided to investigate, and it opened a whole new world to me. I have shared Frigg with Bill, and with people who read this blog, although I don’t think many people have bothered to listen to the links I included in my post. In fact, not many people bothered to even read the post, which is too bad. If you are reading this, I challenge you to click the link in this paragraph, and just listen to Frigg for a minute. See if you don’t agree that Frigg is at least very talented, if not downright awesome! I dare you! You probably won’t be able to unhear the awesomeness. 😀

Anyway, the therapist asked Bill about the kind of music that puts him in “the mood”… for sex, I guess. Bill got a big smile on his face, because we do, in fact, have an album we have historically listened to when we’re in the mood for lovemaking. It’s one I discovered in Istanbul, back in 1996.

My friend Elaine and I had traveled by bus from Yerevan, Armenia to Istanbul. In 1996, it wasn’t so easy to take cheap vacations out of Armenia. Flying on scary Armenian Airlines was way too expensive for me, as I didn’t have any money in those days. Elaine was kind enough to lend me a few hundred bucks so I could go with her on vacation to Türkiye (Turkey) and Bulgaria, which were pretty inexpensive then. It took three days to get to Istanbul, and parts of the trip, while beautiful, were also kind of scary. We were also exhausted when we finally arrived in the city.

After a night in the Aksaray district of Istanbul, which is in the Asian part of the city, Elaine and I relocated to Taksim, which is on the European side. Taksim was definitely more western than Aksaray was, and there was a lot to see and do there.

There was a big shopping boulevard near our hotel, and I remember walking up and down that street a bunch of times during our time there. One day, Elaine and I were passing a music store on that street, and we heard the most intoxicating, enchanting sounds… It captured both of us like Wonder Woman’s golden lasso, and we were compelled to go into the shop and find the source of that gorgeous music. They were playing music by a Turkish folk band called Kizilirmak.

Kizilirmak is the name of a river in Türkiye, but when I see or hear that word, I’m reminded of a band that captured my soul on first listen. Elaine and I both bought cassette copies of their album, Rüzgarla Gelen. We both loved what we heard, just passing by that music shop by chance while we were visiting Istanbul in 1996. On that trip, I also bought a cassette of Bulgarian music by Trio Bulgarka when we went to Bulgaria. Trio Bulgarka has famously collaborated with my musical hero, Kate Bush, but before they did that, they made beautiful folk music. I hadn’t heard the Bulgarian music first; I just knew Trio Bulgarka had sung with Kate Bush. I bought the music entirely based on that fact, and didn’t regret it, even though it was just an 80s production of Bulgarian folk songs.

Years later, when I married Bill, I played Kizilirmak’s cassette for him, and he also loved it. Indeed, it was very good music for moments of intimacy. At least, for us it was. Maybe it wouldn’t be for other people. Still, when I hear the below folk song, I smile and remember the early days of our marriage, when we were younger and much randier.

It’s a folk song, but I find it kind of erotic… or, at least very soothing. The whole album is interesting and timeless, and it never gets old. I hope one or two of my readers will investigate it and be enriched.

So there Bill and I were this morning, learning more about the above song, “Kirvem”, which it turns out is a folk song that has been done by a number of people. If you go on YouTube, you’ll find different interpretations of it. The link below is not Kizilirmak, but it is a very beautiful version of the song I first heard done by Kizilirmak…

Sigh… makes me want to learn this song. Music really is an international language that knows no bounds.

Now, because of that therapy session Bill had last night, and the trip I took to Istanbul in 1996 with my friend, Elaine– who had made it possible for me to go by lending me some money–, we will be passing along this gem to someone else. Perhaps Bill’s therapist’s life will be enriched by hearing “Kirvem” done by Kizilirmak. Maybe he’ll pass it along to another person.

So true…

I realize that my own former therapist, who is now a friend, also contributed something to this revelation. The above photo was posted on his Facebook page, and it struck a chord with me. Because I recently went back to Armenia, and found out that the time I spent there hadn’t been wasted… I had made a difference by spending two years there, and in fact, I made a difference by going back to visit a couple of weeks ago. I exposed Bill to a place that means a lot to me, and he learned new things, which he’s shared with friends at work and his daughter. I’ve learned new things in my travels, which I’m sharing with you, and anyone else who cares to pay attention. Maybe you’ll pass on some of what I’ve learned and am sharing to someone you know… See what I mean?

So, while I find that a lot of Americans– or really, a lot of people– can be stubbornly resistant to having their perspectives challenged, I have also found that if you’re open to it, you can be exposed to some really wonderful things. It’s not unlike leveling up when you play a game.

Are you ready for the next world? You have to be brave enough to take the first step. That means leaving your comfort zone and trying something new. But that can be very scary for some people. I know it’s scary for me sometimes. Change can be hard… but sometimes, change is vital. Sometimes you have to change or you will literally die. Maybe you can’t afford to travel. Can you afford to be influenced by someone who travels and sees the world? Could you expand and evolve that way– until you do have the chance to get out of your comfort zone? Are you willing to listen to someone who’s seen and done things you haven’t seen or done yet? Maybe you can learn something new that way.

Anyway, that was just a profound thought I had this morning, as Bill and I were sharing something I discovered in Istanbul, Türkiye, back in 1996. That trip is still teaching me new things, which I can share with you. That thought kind of blows my mind.

The featured photo was taken somewhere in eastern Turkey in 1996…

blog news, travel

We are home from Hayastan, and I need rest!

It was kind of a light writing week for me, because Bill and I were in Armenia (known as Hayastan by locals). We did lots of walking, and that took up a lot of time I might have used to write blog posts. I did write a few for the travel blog, but as my regulars know, I will eventually be writing a “blow by blow” account for that blog. This one is usually for my rants and raves, and I just haven’t had much time to think too much about that this past week. That’s a good thing, since I got the chance to clear my mind and think of things besides politics, religion, and current events that worry me.

I have a lot to write about our trip to Armenia. It was a very special vacation for us on many levels. Yerevan is not the most beautiful city there is, but it’s a sacred place for me. That’s the first place I ever lived where I was on my own. Yes, I was a Peace Corps Volunteer at the time, but I was renting my own apartment, buying and preparing my own food, and going to work. That, along with my time in graduate school, is the only time when I was living life almost entirely on my own terms.

Of course, it was great to bring Bill along with me. He had a good time, seeing where I used to live, meeting a couple of people who knew me in the 90s, and even seeing the school where I taught. Getting to and from Armenia isn’t easy, as it requires either a long flight, or a flight with a layover. And just about all the flights from Yerevan that go to or from Europe leave and arrive in the wee hours of the morning. It’s inconvenient and annoying to have to travel then… on the other hand, It’s not even 10:00 AM yet. I have the whole day ahead of me. It’s cold and rainy here in Germany, so I think it might be a good time to catch on my sleep. I didn’t really get any last night.

In any case, I will certainly get back to writing… possibly even today. But right now, I think I’d like to lie down and relax for awhile. I got maybe 45 minutes of sleep last night, and I’m pretty exhausted. So, I’ll be back later… Definitely on the travel blog, but on this blog, too. I’ve got a lot to write about. I just need to recover my stamina!

First on the agenda, after I take a rest, is a new book review… I might get to that later today.

Armenia, dogs, housekeeping tips, travel

Cleaning mode has ended… now it’s time to leave for Armenia!

Bill got home yesterday at about 2:45 PM. I was in a very pissy mood by that point, because I’d been walking up and down the two flights of stairs in my house for hours, hauling laundry and checking the status of my loads. By the time he came home to get me for our visit to Wiesbaden, I was exhausted and cranky. I’d also just started a load and had one more to go. I didn’t like the idea of walking from the Theater parking garage to the art gallery. I asked Bill if he wouldn’t mind going alone.

He kind of demurred when I suggested that I stay home, because we needed to pick out a frame for my bird painting. He doesn’t trust his own taste. I told him to pick out something neutral, and if he had any concerns, to just email me. He sent me a private message with pictures, and it turned out that the mother of the guy who helped us– no doubt descended from the original owners who started the business in 1905, suggested a red frame. We ended up going with her suggestion! All three paintings will be ready for pick up on November 21st.

The house could still use a lot more cleaning, but we’ve run out of time, and I’ve run out of patience and stamina. On the positive side, the bedroom is much cleaner, and we both slept very well last night. I love fresh sheets, anyway, and I washed all of the bedding, so it smelled really fresh. The actual sheets got washed in the three hour “hygiene” cycle, so they are really clean. And, on the positive side, I didn’t see any evidence of bedbugs when I was cleaning yesterday. Of course, that could mean nothing… but for the next nine days, there will be no way for anything living to feed on us… at least not in this house. Hopefully, we won’t encounter anything creepy or crawly during our travels.

I decided to wash Noyzi’s bedding again as I’m writing this, just because. He’s already on his way to the Hundepension, so he’ll have a nice fresh bed when we all come back on the 19th. I put his bedding on a longer cycle, so maybe it’ll get cleaner.

I think I might start using the hygiene cycle for our sheets more often, since I noticed that they felt cleaner last night. On most days, I don’t do tons of laundry, so it’s no big deal if it takes three hours. Especially if I start the cycle at 5:30 AM, which I usually do.

Noyzi was so cute this morning. Bill made biscuits and gravy for breakfast, and I had one bite left that I didn’t think I could eat. I offered it to Noyzi, who took it very carefully. He tentatively chewed it, then brightened and jauntily wagged his little stubby tail as he was finishing it. Obviously, he approved!

I always marvel at how different Noyzi is than our beagles have been. He doesn’t gobble down food. I think it comes from being born a street dog and knowing instinctively that he has to be careful about what he eats. He often doesn’t eat right when I put food down for him. He eats when he’s hungry. And he doesn’t eat every thing I offer him. I’m sure it’s because some of his ancestors were poisoned. Street dogs are truly fascinating creatures.

Sorry to write such a mundane post today… But then, in my case, deep cleaning isn’t such a mundane activity. I don’t do a lot of it unless I’m motivated somehow. It would probably be a good thing if I were more into cleaning more thoroughly. That way, I could spare myself painful days like yesterday. My Apple Watch says I more than doubled my usual rings. Of course, that’s not saying much these days. In any case, cleaning kept me from worrying too much about our trip tonight.

I can’t believe that in 24 hours, I’ll be back in Yerevan… a city that changed me on so many levels. It’ll be a lot to unpack. If you’re interested in the trip, keep an eye on the travel blog (there’s a link by my heading). I will update as much as possible. As for this blog, will see what transpires. Maybe something will happen… or I’ll finish reading John Stamos’ book before I get back to Germany.

book reviews, careers, travel

Reviewing The Truth About Cruise Ships, by Jay Herring…

Okay… so I have just finished Jay Herring’s book, The Truth About Cruise Ships: A Cruise Ship Officer Survives the Work, Adventure, Alcohol, and Sex of Ship Life. If you are among the three people who visited yesterday’s post, you may already have an inkling of how today’s review is going to go. It may surprise one or all three of you that my mind has changed slightly since I posted yesterday.

Mr. Herring kind of redeemed himself somewhat toward the end of the book. Now, instead of feeling repulsed and disgusted by his stories of drunken debauchery while working as a computer specialist on Carnival cruise ships, I’m left feeling more ambivalent about his story. I still take a dim view of a lot of his behavior when he worked for Carnival Cruise Line, but I was heartened to see that he recognized that he’d grown up a lot during his time working on ships. That’s a good thing. On the other hand, reading the book still kind of made my skin crawl. Allow me to explain, as I delve into my review of The Truth About Cruise Ships.

Who is Jay Herring and why did I read his book?

Sometime in the early 00s, Jay Herring was a regular college graduate living with his parents near Dallas, Texas. He’d had a land based job he hated, fixing computers. He told his boss that he didn’t enjoy his job and was looking for a new role. Two months later, his boss laid him off, and he moved back in with his parents for the second time since college. He needed to find a new job– preferably one that would get him out of his parents’ house.

After unsuccessfully looking for gainful employment for three months, Herring had a brain storm. He could be a bartender on a cruise ship. This idea came to him even though he’d never seen a cruise ship, let alone taken a cruise as a passenger. Nevertheless, he found himself on Carnival Cruise Line’s website, scouring career opportunities. He noticed an opening for “shipboard I/S manager”. The idea of traveling, leaving the boring 9-5 lifestyle, and moving out of his parents’ house really appealed to him.

Herring filled out an online application; then he later found out who the hiring manager was and sent his resume directly to him. The manager interviewed him on the phone for five minutes, then told him about some of the unusual conditions of the job, such as working for eight months straight, then getting a mandatory eight week vacation. Although the lengthy vacation requirement was odd to Herring, he was still interested. The manager invited him to Miami for an in person interview, where he learned even more about the job and what it would entail. He learned that most people who work on cruise ships end up drinking and smoking to excess; he’d have to carry a pager 24/7; and eventually, the ship would feel like a prison.

Still okay with those conditions, Herring reiterated that he was still interested in working for Carnival. Two months later, Herring got the job; with it, he also got a tiny shared cabin with bunk beds, an officer’s uniform, which later came with epaulets, and raging drinking and sex habits. At the beginning of the book, Jay Herring explains that he was a “nice guy”, who was saving himself for marriage to the “right” woman. When he boarded his first cruise ship as a brand new officer in charge of computers, he was practically a virgin who hadn’t had sex for 12 years. By the time he quit working for Carnival, he was practically a manwhore. I know I probably shouldn’t use that term, but that’s a pretty accurate way to describe what happened. Even Herring admits it; he’d become a man with far fewer inhibitions and qualms having meaningless sex with almost anyone who suggested it.

I have read a number of books written by people who have worked on cruise ships. One book that immediately comes to mind is Cruise Confidential: A Hit Below the Waterline, by Brian David Bruns. Indeed, Mr. Herring credits Bruns in his acknowledgments. I reviewed Bruns’ book for and reposted it on my travel blog. Now that I’m looking at that reposted Epinions review from 2011, I see that I actually read and reviewed Jay Herring’s book before I read Bruns’ book. Incredibly enough, I had completely forgotten that I’d read Mr. Herring’s story before. This is unusual for me; I normally remember the books I’ve read, even if I don’t like them.

It’s kind of telling that I completely forgot about having already read Herring’s story. However, based on what I wrote in my review of Bruns’ book about working for Carnival, I seem to have liked Herring’s book the first time I read it, as it led me to read Bruns’ (vastly superior) book. But, in my defense, I did read the Kindle version of Herring’s book sometime around 2011. That was a long time ago, and I’ve downed a lot of booze since then. I’m sure I’ve killed some brain cells, even if I seem to have matured since 2011.

What I didn’t like about The Truth About Cruise Ships

To be honest, I was pretty disgusted by many of Herring’s stories. He often came off like a shallow creep, as he described how he was constantly looking to hook up with the women who worked on cruise ships with him. At the beginning of the book, he wrote about how he’d been a “nice guy”, although he seemed a bit shallow. But, within his first days on his first ship, he was propositioned by a woman from Trinidad and Tobago. He turned her down, but it wasn’t long before he’d become a lot more willing to have sex with anyone who offered. At the same time, he worried about catching diseases and causing pregnancies, so he wisely used condoms… until he tried having sex without one and realized it was much nicer for him. After awhile, he worried less about sexually transmitted infections and unintended pregnancies.

Below are a few samples from the book that I found kind of gross. They aren’t necessarily the worst anecdotes; they’re just snippets that I thought to highlight. Maybe you can see what I’m referring to when I comment on how gross some of the “truth” is…

Herring was in his late 20s when he was working for Carnival, but he came off as much younger and less mature. He had what seemed like a shallow and selfish attitude toward women, reducing to warm beings who should be “hunted” for his own gratification. It was depressing to read about it, especially given that a lot of the people he wrote of were married– sometimes even to other people on the ship. Combine this gross attitude toward women and sex with extreme booze drinking, and you quickly turn into someone who is very unappealing.

I might be able to overlook this distasteful and sleazy aspect of Herring’s book if the writing had been stronger, but I didn’t find Herring’s writing especially compelling. It was serviceable enough, but he doesn’t have a flair for story writing like fellow former Carnival officer Bruns does. Bruns also comes off as a much nicer person than Herring does, and keeps his stories a lot more tasteful. Most people can learn how to write in a competent way, but there’s also an art to writing well. It takes talent and empathy. I didn’t get the sense that Herring had much of either.

What I liked about The Truth About Cruise Ships

I do think Herring’s book offers an interesting look at what it’s like to work on cruise ships. So many people take cruises and have no concept of what it’s like to live on one. Beneath the passenger areas, there’s a whole underworld where the people who make the ship work are living their lives.

Some of the realities of life working on cruise ships are kind of sad. I can almost see why so many people on ships become so fixated on vices like smoking, drinking, and promiscuous sex with practical strangers. The work can be very stressful, depending on the job, and the living conditions are neither private nor comfortable. But for a person from a poor country, the tiny cabins might not be so bad– at least there are hot showers and flushing toilets, and they can make a lot of money that goes far in developing nations.

I appreciated the fact that Herring realized that he was rapidly becoming a scumbag. He was also smart enough to know when he’d had enough of working on ships and went back to a land-based life with his Czech born wife, Mirka, whom he’d met while they were both working for Carnival. I liked how he’d had a chance to realize how Americans come across to people from other countries, and I appreciated that he took the opportunity to travel. I can personally attest to how travel and meeting people from other countries can change your life and your world view. That part of the book was inspiring.


I think Jay Herring benefitted immensely from expanding his horizons by working with people from all over the world. I just wish he’d focused less on the sex and drinking in his story. I don’t think he did his image any favors, especially given that some of the stories seemed kind of juvenile and “Porky’s-esque“. If you were around in the 1980s, you probably have an inkling of what I write.

I know Herring is conscious of image, since he writes about it in his book. That was another thing I liked less– that he would go into a pseudo-philosophy mode at times, offering some half-baked theories on human nature, some of which didn’t seem very insightful to me. Given how casual he was regarding his health and basic decency when he worked for Carnival, it seemed ridiculous that he was including these lofty passages about his theories on life. He’d go from writing about hooking up with some woman he barely knew, to some theory about human nature. It just came off as disingenuous to me.

In the end, I didn’t hate the book as much as I thought I did yesterday. But I do think there are much better books about cruise ship life out there. I see the Kindle version of The Truth About Cruise Ships is apparently no longer available. I’m not sure I’d recommend paying for the paperback version, but I can also see that some people on Amazon enjoyed the book. So if you think you would, go for it… and leave me a comment on what you think. Personally, I’m glad to move on to another book now. I don’t think I’ll be reading this book a third time.

As an Amazon Associate, I get a small commission from Amazon on sales made through my site.

family, home, musings, travel

When the prospect of “going home” makes me apprehensive…

I’m about to write a post that I think may resonate with a number of people. This is a post about “going home”, and how complicated it can be. I understand that for some people, home is where they want to be. I have friends who have never left the place they lived when we were children. They are perfectly happy living where they grew up. I’m not one of those people. I’ve had a number of “homes” in my lifetime, but only a few of them affected me so much that the idea of going back there makes me feel apprehensive.

In less than three weeks, I will be visiting a place that unexpectedly changed my life years ago. I won’t lie. I’m a bit nervous about our upcoming trip to Armenia. Sure, I am looking forward to going there and seeing how much it’s changed. I can’t wait to show Bill some of the places I’ve talked about for years. I worry that our trip might be too short, because there’s so much I could show him. And yet, I’m also feeling worried and nervous about this trip, more so than any other I’ve taken.

I first heard of Armenia when I was in the fourth grade, and my teacher, Mr. Almasian, told us about his heritage. At that time, it was 1981, and the United States was deeply entrenched in the Cold War. Armenia was then part of the Soviet Union, which was an enemy to the United States. I distinctly remember Mr. Almasian telling us about how Armenia was a Christian nation– the first in the world to adopt Christianity as its official religion. And yet, now it was part of the Soviet Union, which highly discouraged citizens to adhere to religions.

At that time in 1981, I never had a clue that one day I’d move to Armenia to live for two years. Back then, I assumed Armenia would always be out of reach, because it was behind what we knew as the Iron Curtain. I didn’t think that curtain would ever part for someone like me. But I also remember getting a kick out of how Mr. Almasian told us that most Armenians’ last names ended with “ian” or “yan”. I later found out that was true.

I also remember my teacher playing Jesus Christ Superstar for us. When I later moved to Armenia, I remember hearing all of the bootleg cassette tape sellers blasting music from Jesus Christ Superstar from their stereo systems. I ended up buying one of the tapes and listened to it long enough to memorize the songs. My parents actually had that album on LP at home, but I always refused to listen to it, because I didn’t like religion. It wasn’t until many years later that I came to appreciate religion more, although I’m still not a church attendee.

My two years in Armenia were difficult for me, but not in ways that a lot of people would have expected. I think a lot of my problems came from a lack of good communication, a lack of assertiveness on my part, and perhaps a lack of maturity on many people’s parts. I was ultimately successful as a Volunteer, but perhaps not in the ways I thought I should have been. When I left Armenia in 1997, I was really ready to go. I was bitter, burned out, and legitimately depressed to the point at which I needed medication.

And yet, every day, I think of the time I spent in Armenia and just how incredible the opportunity to live there was for me. It really did change my life on so many levels. I wonder if I deserved the opportunity I received… and I realize that I was extremely lucky on many levels. Other than some rather serious recurrent skin infections and moderate depression and anxiety, I finished my service relatively unscathed.

I’m now over double the age I was when I arrived in Armenia in June 1995. I was about three weeks from turning 23 when I got there. When I left, I was 25 years and 2 months old, almost to the day. I’m now 51, and this will be my first trip back there… the first time I’ve dared to go back. It’s changed so much since I was last there, but I know there are some things that haven’t changed at all. I wonder if I’m ready to face it.

When I’ve told people we’re going to Armenia, some have expressed concern because of the situation in Artsakh/Nagorno-Karabakh. I’m not that worried about that. I expect we might see protests and refugees, things I saw when I lived in Armenia in the 90s. I don’t worry about being in any physical danger, because we don’t plan to go anywhere near the dangerous areas by the borders. I suspect we’ll mostly stick to Yerevan. Maybe we can arrange a day trip somewhere outside of the capital, although this might not be the best time of year for that. I don’t think we’ll be physically unsafe, though.

I’m more worried about how I will deal with this visit in an emotional sense. Genealogically, I’m not Armenian at all, and yet I feel like it’s an intrinsic part of me now. I don’t know if this is a common response to Peace Corps service, but for me, it feels like this trip is akin to going “home”… and going “home” can be a very stressful undertaking. I feel somewhat less apprehensive about going back to Armenia than I’d feel about going “home” to Virginia. I love Virginia, as it’s my home and birthplace– but going there is always stressful, because it means confronting crap from the past. And that’s kind of how I feel about Armenia, too. There’s stuff from my time there that makes me feel worried… because it wasn’t all sunshine and roses.

In spite of what some people might have thought of me and my service in Armenia, it truly changed my life. Being there made me a better person and made me grow in leaps and bounds. Maybe going back to Armenia will be edifying and enriching, and my feelings of apprehension will forever abate, because I do think that ultimately, I did fine as a Volunteer. Or maybe there will be tension and unrest, like there sometimes is when I go home to my family of origin– people I will always love, but with whom I share a complicated and difficult past.

In 1997, I left Armenia feeling somewhat like I’d failed. I didn’t think many people liked me very much. I wondered if I’d wasted my time there. I now know that none of those things are totally true… and what was affecting my feelings had a lot to do with clinical depression and the anxiety I felt about going home to the United States. Put it this way… I do think there were a few people in Armenia who didn’t like me and thought I was a waste of space. But I don’t think that was how most people saw me. My feelings were highly magnified by depression, which always distorts things.

The truth is, most people’s feelings were probably either neutral or they simply didn’t care, because they had their own shit to worry about. Moreover, everywhere I go, there are people who wind up not liking me. For many reasons, I’m not always a very likable person. But not being likable doesn’t mean I’m not a “good” person, just like being likable doesn’t make someone a decent or honorable person. Plenty of likable people are perfect assholes underneath the facade. And plenty of unlikable people are actually really fine folks, if you just take the time to get to know them. But, when you’re not super personable or charismatic, you can feel like an outsider. That’s how I often felt in Armenia. I often feel the same way when I’m with my family, even though I love them.

I worry that going back to Armenia will make me feel like I do when I go home to my family. However, I feel like I have to go there. If I don’t go, I will regret it. And I worry that if I wait much longer, I might lose out of my chance to go when it still somewhat resembles the place I left more than a lifetime ago– as I am now more than twice the age I was when I left. I’m going to try to be brave and open-minded, and see Armenia with older, wiser eyes and a willing heart. Maybe, once I’ve done this trip to Armenia, I’ll find the courage to go back to Virginia.

I’m sure if I thought about this some more, I could come up with a more concise post that makes more sense. I think I’ve waited this long to go to Armenia because the idea of going back there made me feel anxious and stressed. I wanted to go back, just as I’ve wanted to go home to Virginia… and yet, just like going to Virginia, I feel like I’m going to dive into a conflict from which it’s going to take a long time to recover. Does that sound crazy?

You see? I really am deeper than I appear…

I took the featured photo from a window in the school where I taught English to children aged 7, 11, 15, and 16… It was a rare day when the air quality was good enough to see Mount Ararat. There was also a train coming. I don’t know from where. I probably took the picture sometime in 1996.