(Los Angeles, CA, USA)
Socks. I’ve travelled over 5000 miles to the homeland, and all that’s on my mind as I look out to the snowy abyss while the wood floors of my home-stay crackle from the biting cold battling the glowing iron pipes being pumped with heat; is socks. Were mom and dad right, did I bring enough socks? It seems if my suitcase were an animate object, it could be confused as a sheep if one were to look inside; perhaps that’s why it was detained at the airport for 3 days; customs agents thought I was importing Grade-A American Sheep.
As I spend the first weekend in Yerevan with my host family, I can’t help but become cynical and angry with all the people who told me what i’d find waiting for me here. This frozen soil of basalt, stone buildings and rusted statues of heroes passed and present. I came here to explore the country which is the root of all my culture, the purpose of my community involvement back in the States, and the epicenter of what drove me to succeed in life: become rich, be successful to help the homeland. I was disappointed in their jaded views on what they thought Armenia was, what our homeland was. Homeland…it’s just a word. Poor, corrupt, cold, uncivilized, broken; just words that people throw around to categorize something they are ignorant of. Yet, I was one of them.
Broken…I’m the ignorant one who thought this country was broken. A traveler can look around for a week and list 1,000 projects that money can be thrown at, and fixed. The pot holes are endless, the factories hollow, the pavement uneven, dirty laundry zip lined between buildings. Rock and cinderblocks pasted together with raw mortar while concrete drippings canvas the walls and homes built on this highland we’ve preserved for over 4,000 years. Preserved, another word… The pot holes might be plenty, but not as numerous as the proud Armenians. The people are proud of their country, happy with the seasons, and defensive of their culture. They seek the reality in which they live, but never let it hinder the fact that they themselves need to do something about to bring that change. They, like the worshipped ram, engage in a quarrel until the death – and the quarrel of unemployment, corruption and social inequality are next in line.
I came here with the unfortunate mindset to find something broken, because I believed I was someone who could mend it. I believe that Sevan Kabakian, Birthright Armenia‘s Country Director said it best. “Don’t come here to help, that’s a one way street. When you’re 60, a master of your trade or profession, you can come to help. You’re in your 20’s…you’re not here to help the country. You’re here to be present, you’re here to participate; because participation is a two way street.”
Not only does Armenia have two way streets, it is peppered with roundabouts, multilane roads and intersections. It’s a red light for the Diaspora, for me and my new friends, Armenia is passing on its turn, but ours slowly approaches. This beautiful city of Yerevan is so beyond the point of help that it is impatiently rushing while the light is green to get to where it needs to go, to get things done. When the light hits green for us, the Diaspora, the Birthright Armenia participants, the volunteers, will we be ready to catch up? It’s now that I know my efforts are to learn, engage and participate in regards to Armenia. It’s not a perfect country, but it’s trying, and wants the all Armenian from around the world to participate. If you think that their is a visible line between “us and them,” then don’t come here. Armenians here don’t want that, and have no room for that because as mentioned before, that is a hinderance in this country’s growth. This isn’t only the homeland, it’s the birthplace of all things that make me proud of my culture. Now that i’m here, it’s time for me to unlearn what i’ve heard, and listen to the country’s vibe as it beats to the growing rhythm of social evolution; and my head starts to bounce to its tune.