Thursday, August 28, 2008

How to extend a visa

I just spent all afternoon trying to extend my visa. I went to the official passport and visa administration building at 2:30. Of course, I didn't now that the whole building shut down from 2-3 for lunch. So, I waited a half an hour while the Armenians around kept trying to cut in line and enter the building when the guards weren't looking. As soon as they removed the sign that said break, it was a mad mob into the building, which consisted of three (or more) floors of numbered shut doors. I asked someone where I need to go and was told the second floor. I got to the second floor and was given a room number, I entered a small office and told the man inside that I needed to extend my visa. Using a calendar, a pencil, his fingers, and a calculator he determined that I needed three days (a fact I already knew), we settled on 4, just in case. Then he wrote how much I owed on a tiny slip of paper and told me to go to a bank and pay the amount and bring back the receipt along with a photocopy of my passport. So, off I went to a photocopy shop where they charged me 3 times the going rate, and then to a bank where I had to stand in one line to give my information, including phone number, address and passport, and then in another line to pay. Then, I went back to the little office where I filled out a visa application and then I was told to make another photocopy and come back. So, I left the building again, got my photocopy and went back to stand in line again for the little office. The man took the photocopy, put everything together in a stack and told me to take it to another room in the building. I did, and then had to go back to the original office again (and stand in line again) to give the man my passport, which he still has. I have been told to come back next week...I hope they let me out of the country!

I obviously have a lot of catching up to do on this visit. I hope to publish some more by the end of the week :)

Saturday, December 01, 2007


Cairnes, Australia. Population 177,000, with 10,000 additional beds to sleep the transient tourists. Max Barrington, crocodile taxidermist stares back at me from a business card on the dash of the taxi van. This could be an interesting trip. The warm humid air hit us like a wall when we stepped off the airplane and walked the 100 yards across the tarmac to the tiny terminal. By the time the taxi left the curb it was raining. “No worries, reckon it’ll stop before morning. First rain in five weeks—we’ve needed it, wish it’d stay a bit longer,” says the man behind the wheel—Max, I presume. He got his wish.

Turns out we’d picked the start of the rainy season to schedule our scuba diving adventure. Luckily, the water was warm and so was the air, the rain just added some additional dampness. We stayed at the Traveler’s Oasis for the first few nights while I began my certification course. Uy, a fellow Armenia PCV, had joined me from Texas for the trip. The tiny quarters and coin-operated air-conditioning made the hostel seem a bit dubious at first, but it turned out be a great deal, well-located and full of super cool, like-minded travelers. Our second night we participated in a full-on aussie barbecue, featuring emu, kangaroo, fish, sausages and crocodile. For those not satisfied with the exotic offerings, wichiti grubs were available for an additional five dollars. Of course, Uy got to try one for free, after being randomly selected to participate in a didgeridoo contest and show us all his skills. I think he might be up for a recording contract…

After two days of sitting at the bottom of a swimming pool in full diving gear, we got to head out on the boat! Uy and I were fortunate enough to spend the next three days and two nights on a liveaboard dive boat, full of divers and snorkelers. There were 36 of us in total, including instructors and crew and a mix of skill levels and certifications. After my first four dives I was a certified open water diver, but chose to get my adventure diver certification while out there as well. I did 8 dives in total—Uy, already being certified, got in 11. Every dive was full of wildlife and the reefs got better and better as the days went on. We saw sharks, turtles, eels, rays, fish, fish and more fish. Be sure to check out my pics on flickr! I am most definitely in love with a new sport.

As usual, I was hoping to write more than few paragraphs I managed, but as this has been sitting like this for more than a week now, I figure its time to go ahead and post it. This week I have managed to open a face book page (I know, one more electronic thing for me to try and manage, great) but you can check it out for integrated pictures, updates and communications—, just search for me. Just about two weeks remain in Australia now. I will be sad to leave the beaches and the tropics behind, but I am ready to be home and looking forward to starting the next chapter in my life. Hopefully I’ll be seeing a lot of you in person shortly!

Saturday, November 10, 2007

quick update

Just got back from Melbourne for the week--check out flickr for some photos. More to come, but I am off to Cairnes tonight to scuba dive the Great Barrier Reef and am a bit short on time! Big post when I get back. Love to you all,

Friday, November 02, 2007

Jigsaw Puzzles

If asked a few years back where I would see myself today, I am pretty sure my answer wouldn’t have been exactly accurate. I definitely wouldn’t have guessed that two years in the Peace Corps in Armenia would lead to selling Aboriginal jigsaw puzzles at the local market in one of the suburbs of Sydney. Funny where life takes you…as it is, I have honed my skills in putting puzzles together (having done a dozen or so for displays), and I have also refined my skills in marketing and sales.

Ironically, or maybe appropriately, I have always loved puzzles and have always been interested, although not very knowledgeable in the aboriginal culture. It is pretty much the Australian equivalent of Native Americans, another interest of mine. Working at the local markets has allowed me to build a community of friends and acquaintances, and also to be more of a local than a tourist, which is certainly the best way to travel. I get the opportunity to talk to locals and tourists alike, and to sell them a product that I actually believe in—one that is both aesthetically pleasing and educational. Kids should be doing more puzzles and less video games, for sure.

I don’t see a sustainable future for myself in the jigsaw market, but I do see a potential future for myself in Australia. The beaches are beautiful and close by, which is fantastic, but that is not the reason. I love being a stand-in beach bum, but what really impresses me about Australia are the social structures, medical care, environmental consciousness of both citizens and government, and the slightly slower pace of life. In many ways, Australia and the US are very similar, but in these crucial areas, Australia seems to excel.

Most Australians own cars, but use public transport or walk most places instead of driving. Water conservation is forefront on everyone’s mind, recycling bins are everywhere, for all kinds of materials, and the general populace seems to think about what their individual impact is. Maybe this is because the radio, television and local media promote this type of thought, or maybe it is because Australia is not blessed with the wealth of natural timber and water resources that the US is, but either way, their action is admirable.

My travels repeatedly emphasize how fortunate we are as Americans, and how greatly we take that for granted. The land of plenty has us just wanting more. When do we decide we have enough? The US is the easiest place to shop, to drive, to buy and to consume. Everything is more packaged, more processed, quicker and more convenient than anywhere else I have been. (yes, Armenia is an obvious one, but London, Sydney, Paris, and Prague maybe aren’t) Everything is also noticeably cheaper—from food to gasoline to clothing, we pay less than the rest of the world—but it seems to me that at some point we will have to make up the difference and then some.

I just finished a fantastic book called Animal, Vegetable, Miracle, by Barbara Kingsolver (who happens to be my favorite author and has only increased her favor with this book). I highly recommend the book to anyone looking for some answers to how to solve our global impacts and dependencies and start to be local, self-sustaining and environmentally conscious, and eat great to boot! This book only emphasizes the resolutions I have made after travel and peace corps life. It is time for me to live simply, deliberately and wholesomely—not because it is trendy, or because I’m trying to make a political statement, or because I’m a hippie tree-hugger (although I might be)—it is time because it is the right thing to do for my health and my well-being and for that of my community, both local and global.

Tuesday, October 16, 2007

Golden Gaytime

As part of my quest to learn as much as possible about Australian culture, I have begrudgingly embarked on a junkfood tour of oz. So far, I think golden gaytime has to be my favorite, both in terms of pleasing my palate and in the literary beauty of the name. Who can resist a golden gaytime? I can’t.

I have also tried madiera cake (known to us yanks as pound cake), cherry ripe (like a cherry flavored mounds bar), cheezles (ring shaped cheese puffs that fit around your finger), mini cheezles, and more that I can’t remember right now because I am preoccupied with golden gaytime.

And then there’s vegemite… I decided that in my almost three months here I need to leanr to like vegemite. This is partly because it is so quintessentially Australian and partly because it is full of B vitamins and good for me. I started with about two bites of toast and a tiny dot of the brown stuff spread around. I have now worked my way up to a full piece of toast and slightly larger (but not much) dallop of the dark brown goo spread very thinly on top of butter. I am starting to like, but certainly not craving it quite yet… There’s still time.

Thursday, October 04, 2007


Well, I am in Australia now! It still feels very surreal to be here, and yet normal, as if I have always belonged. The predominant style is casual--jeans and t-shirts, flip flops and bikinis, so I fit right in. People have even started asking me for directions. I just say "sorry, I'm an American" and everyone laughs and we continue along. Summer has arrived a bit early here and the weather tends to be in the mid-80's, low-90's during the hottest part of the day (which unlike America, occurs in the late morning and very early afternoon). Evenings and morning are refreshingly cool.

My days have been filled with long walks on the beach (well, actually on lovely paths around the coast), and quick swims in the refreshingly cold ocean. It's been a week now, my days are packed, and I haven't even been to the city yet...not that I'm complaining as that would mean leaving the beach. Of course, I have also been getting over jet lag and a post-flight cold that has knocked me out pretty early each night, but the beauty of such a long trip is that I don't have to worry about missing out on things when I want to just chill and enjoy the moment. Healthy lifestyles and environmental consciousness is part of the culture here--a breath of fresh air (literally) after two years in the developing world, but also a refreshing change from the hurried monotony of work at Meijer.

My first few days here were spent helping Joe sell jigsaw puzzles at a market during the local jazz festival. We will be doing this throughout my stay, mostly on weekends, at various markets throughout the area. It was a great way to talk to people, meet other artists and get an idea of the local culture from an observers perspective. I met a really great woman named Deb who was selling her artwork in the stall next to us--check it out: I have also met up with Jen, another A13 Peace Corps Volunteer, who is here working on her Masters in teaching English as a foreign language. Other PCV's will soon follow--we are thinking of relocating peace corps Armenia to Australia...I think it could work. :)

This weekend Joe and I attended an Armenian wedding--ironically, the first I have actually been to. It was a lot of fun and definitely like a more modern, developed-country version of what one would see in Armenia. (just think "My Big Fat Greek Wedding" an you've basically got it) I spent the evening entertaining the people I met with my ability to speak Armenian--most of them seemed to think it was a joke when Joe told them I was fluent. Inevitably they would say "say something," and then start giggling and shaking their heads when I did. The skills I have acquired in the Peace Corps will serve me well...

Finally, Sunday was spent as a day trip to the Blue Mountains, which are quite beautiful and certainly call to be climbed and hiked. As we were lacking in time and still wallowing in jet lag (we were with a few guys who just arrived from England), we mostly took in the views and ate great food. Don't get me wrong, I'm not complaining! But we will go back to the hiking and exploring at a later date. One the highlights of the trip was to see Kangaroos out hopping around in the fields. I even managed a few good pictures. We also ate kangaroo, which was quite delicious, but I am glad we did so before seeing the kangaroos. Kangaroo overpopulation is a problem here, sort of like deer in many parts of the US, and thus they are hunted and the meat is sold in the supermarkets.

I will try to keep regular updates on the blog again (and hopefully do a better job than I did towards the end of Armenia…). I have tons of pictures already, so instead of trying to post a few here and there on this site, I will be posting them on My username is the same as my email prefix: jroverho, so you can search that way. I have a few up already and should be posting more soon. If time and websapce allow, i may also post armenia and other travel pics. Enjoy!

Wednesday, April 04, 2007

profuse apologies

I know what your does Jill manage to go almost six months without posting a single entry and then posts 5 in one day? What can I say? I have no excuse other than that I live in Armenia and perhaps that I have grown a bit lazy. The four posts that you will find previous to this one were all written at various times and never finished. Thus, I never posted them. It dawned on me the other day that I probably never will finish them so i decided to just go ahead an stick them on the internet. I hope you enjoy. I will have some new (actually current) posts soon...I promise :)