***Some things might not be understood by anyone outside THE Gyumri Gang and individuals directly referred to***
Wake up. Go to school. Come home to study. Go out when possible. Go to sleep. Wake up. Go to school….
The monotonous life I was leading in Toronto was enough to drive any sane individual to madness. One can only imagine what it does to someone already a little on the loco side, a trait I happily embrace. Hence the relief felt when word came that I had been accepted into the Birthright Armenia program was momentous. The thought of change, of venturing into something out of my norm, of applying my skills and acquiring new ones, was enough to make me giddy with anticipation and jittery with nervousness. This combination is lethal when I’m also faced with a lack of information, at least enough to satisfy my deep curiosity. Poor Vahan felt the brunt of this fearsome combination. Luckily, the two of us came out of the experience good friends.
The moment that sticks out in my mind from the very beginning is walking into the Birthright office wondering how the staff would react to me, wondering if I had badgered Sevan and Vahan with too many questions before getting here, and fearful about being accepted amongst this seemingly close group of individuals. Imagine my surprised pleasure when my greeting consisted of warm embraces and warmer smiles, light banter and inspiring conversation. To my extreme delight, I was met with such enthusiastic and inviting responses everywhere I went. Shoghig, our Gyumri coordinator, soon became my absolute favourite from amongst the staff. No matter how nervous I felt about anything, she was right there with ready answers and a constant guiding hand, in case I lost my way. Of course, especially within the first week, she became my GPS quite often, alongside my dear host family, who often had to come fetch me while I stared forlorn at my surroundings while trying to decipher what I truly remembered about where I was and what was part of my silly mind playing tricks on me. I do believe I’m the most geographically challenged volunteer my host parents have seen to date, a fact that has provided much amusement within the household.
Meeting my host family was a road of nerves to cross on its own. I’m in a foreign country, all are strangers about me, and I’m being introduced to one family after another. Thank goodness I had the lovely Tamara and her amazing boyfriend, Aleksan, along for the ride. I adored the couple from the first moment I met them the morning I arrived at Gayane’s house and will probably always idolize them as the ideal couple. They are perfect!
Reflecting back, it was the individuals who made Birthright the amazing experience it was. Allegra with her phenomenal photography abilities and quiet but fiercely loyal demeanor, Alina with her happy go lucky attitude and obvious delight in any juicy gossip, Michelle with her comically perfect random acts that won the heart of the perfectly amazing male specimen who we must accept as Armenian despite his Chechen looks known as Hovan the Hoviv, Lorig with her loud and crazily awesome self, Tom with his never ending smiles that grace his face even in deep slumber, Armine with her bossy but well intentioned demands, Styop with his hilarious remarks and bromance cultivated to perfection with our Hoviv as the Azeri and Chechen duo, Tamara and Aleksan as the sweetest and funniest couple, and Philipe with his Brazilian accent and generous character. These individuals made up THE Gyumri Gang, some of the most amazing individuals found from the four corners of the world.
Now that I’m on the plane back home, I can’t help but remember the beginning of my journey to self-discovery, the organization holding true to its claims. I have found a brother in an Armenian doctor-to-be from Hawaii, a sister in an amazing half Armenian who balances out my hyperactive self, a friend in the crazy Yerevantsi who will someday kill himself by smoking 2 packs a day, and fragments of myself somewhere between the hiking trails of Datev and the barefoot strolls in the middle of the night on the streets of Yerevan.