(Cleveland, OH, USA)
During my time in Armenia, I spent a lot of time staring out the marshutka window (or stuffed underneath a 50 year old woman’s armpit) thinking about my trip, and what I would write in my blog. I forgot most of what I wanted to write. Not because I forgot the stories, but because a lot of my experience had to do with what I felt at the time, which makes it hard to summarize.
My time in Armenia was spent with a lot of happiness, anger, frustration, confusion and love, which I believe made my experience a beautiful one. Birthright Armenia gave me the path to hate my country and love my country, all in one trip. Although Sevan prepped us with issues to expect and past experiences of previous volunteers, I still fell into many of those frustrations.
Coming to Armenia, I definitely had the impression that it was a utopia. A beautiful country filled with culture, where everyone ate pomegranate and loved their lives. Yes it’s a beautiful country with culture, but there were many more disappointing qualities of Armenia that I was never aware about. Before I left, a previous Birthrighter said “I hope you never wanna leave.” The first 3 weeks in Armenia all I could think was “WHO would ever want to live here?” Living in Gyumri was like going back in technology 20 years, everyone starred me down as if I was an alien, women weren’t aware of their capabilities outside of cooking and laundry, the government is totally corrupt and so on. I couldn’t believe that MY country was…struggling.
So what turned this all around? Context. Context is a concept I studied in my art classes. Knowing the artist, his or her background, events during the time period and other factors allow one to truly gain appreciation and understanding of a piece. Yes, someone can be moved by a piece of artwork without knowing anything about it, just as someone can visit a country and just like it. The opposite happened for me. I came to Armenia without actually knowing about the country and disliked it. But, learning about the history of our country; the 1988 earthquake, war with the Azeris, the blockade, and the collapse of the Soviet Union, I realized that Armenia has been abused, but has finally gained its freedom. Armenia needs time make mistakes, grow, and learn. I believe with time and combined efforts, Armenia will grow and mature into a strong flourishing country.
When I came to the turning point of my trip, I changed. I felt an unconditional love for my country, I had a connection to the land and people I had never felt before. There was this energy that surrounded me, and I never wanted to escape it. I fell in love with Armenia. Why? I asked Jorge the same question and he responded “when you love a boy, and somebody asks you why?, what do you say? You just can’t explain it.”
Talking about love, I have to end my blog with talking about the volunteers.
A funny story I often told was about my arrival to my temporary host mother, Gayane’s, apartment at 3 am. I walked into a small room with 3 other people sleeping in the living room. All I could think was “Oh my God, how sad, all her children have to sleep in the same room.” I woke up in the morning to realize that the people sleeping in that room weren’t Gayane’s family, but mine. Sarina, Alex, James and Jorge became my family I often referred to as the original “Hye Five.”
I was later introduced to the rest of the Gyumristi’s. Through our late night wine/seemooshka sessions at the end of Payroot Sevag, I came to know and love these individuals deeply. Nanor’s positivity and laughter filled up the room, so contagious that you could not help being happy around her. I will miss taking the taxi down 58 with Alex, listening to Lorig passionately argue about ‘ov kedeh eench’ with Tom, Tom’s “ahhhh”, Armine talk about her “artist friends”, Michelle’s bold personality, and Jorge pretending to understand what we are saying. Te amo Jorge.
Sarina Jan Sarina Jan Sarina Jan. My boyfriend, my sister, my teacher, my fellow student, my GPS…I am so lost with out you. James. Oh James. Your smile gives me butterflies. You’re so great, “bro.” Allegra Jan . I want you to hold my pinky and get lost in Yerevan together…while eating seemoshka, marojnoy and wafers, all at the same time, because we have Stansi skills like that. Guys, I will forever treasure our pizza/pancake/wine/Modern Family nights.
Lastly, a wise man named Hovannes told me the first week I was there that, “if you leave Hayastan crying, you know you are coming back.” Not believing him at first, I now know that I will CERTAINLY come back home one day.