With a week left until I return stateside, I am beginning to feel uncertainty about returning to daily life as I knew it before experiencing Armenia. There is much I’m anxiously awaiting returning to; my loved ones who I miss more than words can say, watching my nephew take his first steps, hearing my students say “Ooohh Miss I get it,” my mom’s cooking; these among so much more. Yet there is so much my heart cannot leave behind here.
So much I just cannot get myself to say good-bye to. The beauty of the endless green rolling hills that surround this country, the story behind each unique khatch kar and church, the legacy of our many heroes. The simplicity of daily life made special by the sincerity and warmness of locals. The sweetness of the fruits I just couldn’t get enough of. The melody of Armenia song, the splendor of Armenian dance. The laughter of the children at Houys orphanage, despite the deep pain they hold inside. The enthusiasm of my English students, who would excitedly run up to me on the street and greet me using their newly acquired English vocabulary. The women who had the courage to share their stories of suffering, yet remain optimistic about what the future holds for the women of Armenia.
But above all I leave a part of me with my host mother and sisters, who showed me that the love shared within a “family” is not established by blood. I will greatly miss the everlasting chats my host mom and I had over coffee. I cannot forget the feel of my host sisters tightly holding on to my hands as we crossed the street to buy sunflower seeds. I will forever be grateful for their love and care. Despite her $50 monthly income, my host mother made sure a bottle of my favorite juice was always in the refrigerator. I look forward to further nurturing our “family” bond for years to come. This is just the beginning… I will be back home soon.
Hayastan. Hayastan is no longer a distant, small piece of land sandwiched between Turkey, Georgia, Azerbaijan, and Iran, my ancestors walked upon 300 years ago. It is no longer simply the images of Mt. Ararat, Khor Virop, and Echmiadzin seem on post cards. It is no longer just the place pomegranate souvenirs come from. Hayastan, to me, is now tangible. It is a series of raw emotions. It is a place of meaning, memories, and friendships.
To my diasporan friends I met along my journey here, you have each found a special place in my heart. Our experiences in Armenia have fostered a unique bond within us, one that can only be felt by us. I thank you for the laughs, meaningful conversations, walks around the heraparak, sing-alongs on long marshootka rides, café glace dates at Pizza Jazz, but most importantly your friendships. Each of your unique personalities and personal stories added meaning to my trip. And your passion has inspired me to continue contributing to our country in meaningful ways. Our memories I will carry with me forever.
To my Gyumretsi family and friends, thank you for opening up your hearts and homes to me. Thank you for allowing me to becoming one of you. Getting a glimpse into your lives has been one of my most powerful experiences. I’ve witnessed your struggles as well as your joys. Keep your heads up and remain prideful. Better days are ahead… Syo!
To the woman and children I had the honor of working with, I thank you for trusting me with your stories and for sharing with you your laughter and tears. You have gained my utmost respect and touched me in ways you’ll never know, in ways I will never be able to express in words. It has been a pleasure getting to know you. Your smiles will forever be engraved in my heart and your positive spirit will guide me as I continue through life.
After 10 weeks on my “Journey of Discovery,” as Birthright Armenia calls it, I believe I’ve felt very emotion possible and yet I am still leaving with more questions than answers. All that I have discovered about the beauty of this county, the resilience of its people, the wealth of its culture and history have helped me gain greater understanding and appreciation for where I come from and who I am. Thanks to Birthright Armenia and the Armenian Volunteer Corps I had the opportunity to visit places and meet people ordinary tourists don’t get to experience. While all that I saw and experienced never seized to amaze me, it contributed to part of the puzzlement I’m returning with. I’m having a very difficult time making sense of the discrepancies. The country is rich in more ways than one and yet its struggles are certain. I visited fascinating historical sites covered in eloquent beauty and learned about their significance to Armenia’s rich history and yet at the end of the day I returned to the reality of the local people struggling to survive. I sat in lively outdoor cafes in the heart of Yerevan and yet my thoughts were of the somber earthquake-torn buildings of Gyumri and unpaved roads of the villages. The breathtaking physical beauty of the country is unparalleled to the challenges encountered by its people. How can such discrepancies occur? Why in our Armenia? With all that we’ve been through and all that we pride ourselves with, it is not fair for our people to be living such stressed lives. They deserve better. And it will get better.
I’m leaving my faith in the hands of the young passionate Armenians I’ve met along the way. Their passion and desire for a better Armenia will supersede the struggles our country faces today. However this brings me to one of the more essential questions I am returning with, one that has actually caused me the most uneasiness. What is my role in rebuilding Armenia? How can I become one of the young passionate Armenians? What is my role as a diasporan? Yes, I came and volunteered, offered my support to those less fortunate. But the reality is I have personally gained much more from this experience than I have offered. What is my next step in ensuring my work is lasting? I look forward to the day I return to Armenia with answers.
Last but definitely not least to my loved ones back home, thank you for your endless support and encouragement. Thank you for allowing me to embark on this journey and for sharing this experience with me. Your e-mails and phones calls inspired me to keep going despite being extremely home sick. Get ready to hear endless Hayastan stories and look at 1500 pictures I took.