(Glendale, CA, USA)
This summer, I was given the opportunity to experience the life in the city of Gyumri, Armenia. The city continues to suffer from a horrific 1988 earthquake that destroyed buildings and took many lives. The roads remain in ruin and cars must drive in a zigzag in order to avoid the many potholes in the asphalt. Today Gyumri remains in a depressed economic state and many repairs and upgrades remain incomplete. Despite the need to rebuild damaged walls and roads, I found that it was a city with a heart. Though it may lack much in infrastructure, the city has strong people. The people are vibrant and have a strong sense of culture. They are also determined to keep Gyumri as their home. No matter the circumstances of their lives, whether they are living in the “domics” (dumpsters) or living in better conditions, the people of Gyumri are fighters and are determined to make the most of their city.
While in Gyumri, I was working in two different job locations with children. At my job locations the children that I worked with had very little; yet they were bright, happy, and were extremely polite. They taught me few words in the Gyumri dialect that really helped me understand the Gyumri dialect. Whether it was a simple greeting “Eench Khes?” which means how are you or vernacular slang “Akhberes” meaning my buddy, it is clear that the language has evolved with the people. As the days progressed I realized that I was not only their teacher, but in fact, I was also their student. I also learned much from the community in Gyumri. At one of the job locations I learned how to weave a carpet. Even though my carpet was not as well crafted as the children’s carpet (one end was larger than the other), the teacher and the other students all gave me plenty of support and extra assistance to help me learn. In the end I was extremely content to have learned to appreciate a craft important to Gyumri.
In order to go to work from Ani Tagh (Ani block located in the northwest of the city) I had to take the mini bus or “Mashutka”. On these rides, I had interesting conversations with many people. The people of Gyumri seemed eager to learn about my life as an outsider. They often started asking about whether I was married, or not. Later their conversations would shift to their children, with older travelers, and their grandchildren. I found the people of Gyumri to be very warm and hospitable. They greet everyone they encounter in their daily lives. Whether it is on the street, in the market, or just on the front door step; one could hear the phrase “Eench Khes” everywhere. Towards the end of my stay that phrase had become so common for me that I had to remind myself not to say “Eench Khes” in Yerevan since I might have received puzzled looks for uttering my new phrase.
Living with a Gyumri family showed me that having love and faith can make a person overcome many difficulties. My host family treated me as one of their own. They brought me closer to my roots and made me feel as if I was home once again. They invited me to experience a Gyumri wedding with all its unique traditions and I truly felt that I was part of their family. I also learned of their sadness when my host grandmother, Dadik, had burglars at her farm. I saw that in both good times and in bad times, the people of Gyumri found strength in their love for one another. I thank Birthright Armenia and AVC for giving me the opportunity to experience this unique city and its wonderful people. I was finally able to experience life in Armenia through my own eyes and it has truly changed my life.