The Breakfast Club of 58

By Michelle Metchikian
Los Angeles, USA

(Warning: if you weren’t a Birthright Gyumri volunteer during summer 2011, I don’t expect you to get 87% of this blog)

So I had written out the majority of my blog and despite how hard I tried, I kept mentioning Tom. Then after Hovaness convinced him our Marshootka is going to blow up on the way back from Dilijan coupled with his very feminine screeches in reaction to an airborne shopping bag and to killing and skinning a lamb, I was motivated to erase everything I had written, re-title my blog “Tom Artaki” and elaborately focus in on a few of his numerous golden moments that I have been so blessed to witness. However, I don’t feel like making him feel more special than he is so I am not (ok ok or maybe I’m just being lazy). But in all seriousness, if you ever need to create a really awesome documentary, give him a call! …so here is my not as interesting as it could have been blog that I had already written.

During orientation, Sharistan Melkonian told Lorig, Armine, Stepan and I that the Yerevan group always envies the Gyumri group because they are always much closer to each other. At the time, this didn’t mean anything to the 4 of us who were just eager to arrive to our new homes for the summer and meet those who we knew we would soon call family.

Walking down the unpaved streets of 58, watching workers drilling random patches to fill with cement, taking in the fumes of burning trash, hearing dozens of honks every 10 seconds, I look up at the “most beautiful clouds in the world” –Tom Artaki. When I stop to drink from a boobleboo and fall in love with the taste of Gyumri’s water all over again, I can’t help but wonder whether the H2O comes from the mountains or Akhuryan Reservoir; thank you Alex for that very enlightening educational! After we had that talk, I became even more thankful that most of the vegetables I was fed by Dadik as well as the eggs I consumed for breakfast came from my garden that was mainly hydrated via condensation of clouds. This was the garden where I spent the best 4th of July I ever have in the 21 years of my existence; ironically, it was the first time I celebrated outside of Ah-MUR-ika. Thank you Tom for being so patriotic, the idea, but most of all, for bringing frozen meat. While I am on the subject of your patriotism, I must mention that I’m conflicted if I’m going to miss or not miss your countless debates with Lorig that we all became accustomed to and that even I, the one who hates politics, learned to chime in on on occasion.

Those of us who arrived to Gyumri in the middle of June were awoken much earlier than needed before excursions by Hovan our Hoviv, who made us strictly adhere to Sevan Kabakian’s policy on promptness. After a couple of excursions and lots of cussing and grouchiness by most of us, he cut back on some of the wakeup calls. However, he never stopped being persistent on waking me up much earlier than need be. Perhaps because I was the only one who spoke so sweetly to him as I was prematurely awoken from my deep slumbers or maybe because he couldn’t wait to hear my voice so his day could start off right. Either way, who knew our conversations over buckets of weeds would lead to what we have become today. James Hunter, I hope you enjoy being a gardener now that camp is done. You definitely helped me keep my sanity through those super long days and I got to learn that you have a good head on your shoulders. Keep doing what you do. By the way, there is a toy store called Tom’s Toys on Honolulu Blvd that has really good puzzles. Tiv 6.

After Tamar and Stepan left, Tamar’s laugh echoed in all our heads and Stepan’s Ganons are still used. Even though it was sad that they left, we were blessed with 5 new volunteers (+ Nanor around the same time who finally came back from camp) all at once. I automatically loved the new Tamar’s hippie side coupled with her science nerdy side; it reminded me of myself. Stop stressing over med school girl! I will wear your headband, think of you and always send you positive vibes from up above. Up until they’re arrival, I was the furthest from the rest of the volunteers. All of a sudden, I had 2 others living in my building. I got to learn 2 delicious cake recipes; Nanor you taught me not to put anything in Ma’s recipe and Sarina you taught me that vegan things can even taste delicious.

I will definitely be replaying our Russian top hits, Kilikia, and the Uzbek song when I get to Ah-MUR-ika and reminisce the millions of times we heard those songs and got excited to hear it like it was the first time. Learning the words to Kilikia is on my “to do” list.  Just a thought: we should make a “We are the World” version of it from our home studios across the globe and definitely have Lorig star in it. I never told you this Tamara, but I love the way you dance to these songs and can still vividly see you dancing in the bus during our Karabakh trip. I hope you and Aleksan had a wonderful time in Georgia and Greece. Aleksan, I can’t wait for you to post the videos you made at your house (only for our viewing purposes of course). I wish I could write what I want to right now, but I must keep it PG, so I will give you a clue- it’s 3 words.

So I have been doing my best to cut back on writing about Tom, but I feel the need to dedicate an entire paragraph to his smile. Can you blame me? I I I I mean he even smiles in his sleep. It’s such a powerful smile and the glare in his eyes is one of such interest that when he speaks to locals, he passes off as knowing the language. However, whenever he gets asked a question and doesn’t know what is going on, he responds with an “ayo, ayo,” which always cracks me up. Then Jorge came around and you could ask whatever it is that you want to him in Armenian or English and he will give the same response. Thank goodness we had multilingual Lorig and our 2 other South Americans, Mariana and Philipe to communicate with him in Spanish. Mariana, we never did our beauty day together, but I’m glad you fell in love with Gyumri. Armine, I will miss our rejuvenating sessions…don’t fret, more opportunities will arise!

When I look out the smooth like a baby abagee from my window seat as I head back to Ah-MUR-ika, definitely filled with tears for I will be leaving behind my Hovo, I know I will be shat shat shat shat shat shynorhagal **Philipe accent** for all our memories together. You all have such amazing characters and you all contributed to my journey in a positive way. Realistically, not all of us will see each other again, but our pictures, especially by Allegra, our main paparazzi, our strong independent woman, will help us relive and cherish this chapter of growth in our lives that we all got to share. Hopefully, most of us can make it back for Alina’s wedding and can watch another Gyumri sunset while eating seemeechka. Don’t worry Armine, problem chyga **again, Philipe accent**, for those of us who do bump into each other along our journeys of life, even if it is on another continent, the chemistry will not change for we all fell in love with our commonalities and it will always draw us together.

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