It’s No Longer a Dream

Jeannot Kekedjian
(Lebanon, AVC ’12)

Image All the people I know in Lebanon find it annoying to hear me talking all the time about Armenia, and Gyumri in particular. They say it’s exaggerated to talk that much about my Armenian experience with Birthright Armenia; after all it’s just a 9-weeks trip : you’ll eat some pork, get drunk, and probably make few more friends who will like your statuses on facebook and send you birthday wishes once a year. That’s what they say, but NO. It’s more than a trip, it’s one of the best things that ever happened to me; it’s a journey of self discovery as the logo says, and like they told us on the first day we got to Armenia, once our volunteering period comes to the end, we’ll want to stay more, we won’t want to leave. First I didn’t understand what they were talking about, now I do. Even though I’ve been in Armenia before and saw almost all the touristic places, I thought this trip would be a not-so-exciting trip since I already saw “everything”; I wasn’t obviously looking for my roots since I live in an Armenian community, and the only thing I was expecting was getting some experience after living with a strange family in the same house, volunteering in a town I didn’t know much about, meeting some friends from different backgrounds. But everything went beyond my expectations…

I landed in Yerevan on a Friday, and stayed there with a family for a couple of days, and then went to Gyumri to meet my host family. It’s weird to stay for 8 weeks with people you don’t know anything about; it’s weird and challenging at the same time: living with people you don’t know, sharing the same bathroom, having breakfast on the same table, seeing the family members with their sleepers, no makeup, and no fancy clothes, just them. I got to know all the family members, chat with them, and cook for them (yes I cooked for them, now stop laughing!), help them with the house work when needed. I started telling jokes to my new family from the very first day: some of them didn’t work, but everything was good, I was open to them, and they liked it. Even though they told us at the Birthright Armenia   office not to talk about the 1988 earthquake in front of them because they’re still traumatized from that sad event, my host mother (I call her “Mayrig”) came to my bedroom on my second day, showed me her children’s old photos and talked to me about the earthquake, how she stayed with her 20 days old son in the ruins for four days, how she lost one foot when she was still 20 years old, and stayed in the intensive care for more than five months, with severe damage all over her body. I’m not telling you all this so that you feel sorry for her, I’m just telling you all that so that you appreciate every single person you meet in Gyumri: whoever sees this amazing woman would never think she’s been through all this until they see her walking slowly, not being able to walk long distances for more than 23 years.Image

With Armenian Volunteer Corps I worked in two different hospitals (Austrian Children Hospital and Akhurian maternity hospital), took the farm option (living and working in a farm in Armavir for 5 consecutive days) and taught French to a local girl from Gyumri. I had fun, and tried to make my jobsites fun places to be: making jokes while the main surgeon is doing a hysterectomy, laughing to a small child who is crying before taking a blood sample from him, singing to the cow while milking it, playing Charles Aznavour songs when teaching French. I think that there’s always a funny way to do everything, you just have to find it. Almost everybody was happy to work with me, meet me or hang out with me, not because I’m an amazing person (maybe I am, I don’t know…), but because I lived like them, thought like them, tried to make them happier because I understood that inexplicable sorrow in their eyes, I was one of them! It’s only when you understand them that you become one of them…

My 9 weeks passed quickly, and it was already my last day in Gyumri. My host family cried, I cried, everybody cried, even the sky cried that morning on my way to the train station. My life before Gyumri wouldn’t be the same after it. My life before Birthright Armenia wouldn’t be the same after it. I had so many things in my heart that only volunteers in Gyumri would understand. It’s different, I wish I could explain. Even Yerevan is nothing comparing to “how great Gyumri is”. Yes, that’s how amazing it was, it still is, here in my heart… Image

I still remember those unforgettable moments with all the birthrighters and AVC-ers during the Saturday excursions, the hang-outs in Gyumri, meeting locals and having interesting conversations with them. I still remember all those magnificent days and nights, when we were tired and sleepless all the time but we were happy. I remember Analia’s hugs and “hbeeh” (the sheep version), Anahit’s angelic face, Anna’s “hbeh anna jan, hbeeeeh”, Tarverdi ruining my photos, Takuhi’s innocent face, Rigina’s “esbes paner”, sharing the same bed with Vahe (ThankS God nothing happened that night) , Shushanik and the way she moves her eyebrows, Natalie Kamajian’s voice and the way she smiles, Khoren’s “lav chi”, Armen Adamian’s fictional duduk, Evelyna’s accent when she’s speaking English, Allegra’s sad eyes (Allegravan), Asqanaz’s WHATEVER, Jenya’s beautiful face, Nat Ch. getting lost in Yerevan, Nat D’s “kidtsaaar”, Fiona’s british accent, Nanor and the farm memories, Maral’s “OUFF” and “jamu kani e?”, Manouks’ amazing smile (and hair), Kevork’s “look at the moon”, Alex Avakian’s “JAAAAAAAAAAN hey jan ghapama”, Ana and Joe, Ani’s “What’s worse than finding a worm in an apple? Holocaust”, Vartan and the way he speaks Armenian, Tate’s tiny voice and beautiful smile, Elza’s shiny face, Nat K’s “mon beau sapin ♫”, Waziryan’s “hebbeeeeh”, Shogher and her family, best moments and conversations with Hagop (the best!), Evelyn’s funniness and “Kidtsaaaaar”, Steph’s beautiful eyes and dresses, Richard’s funny comments about random topics, Hrag’s kindness, the lovely couple Armen and Taleen, Souren the best guide, Karina’s “naynananay”, Araz and his guitar, William’s hair and questions, Vanalia’s “SIT DOWN”, Zofia and me starting jokes about people having black hair, Zhang my photo man, Jobi cursing in Arabic, Yuri always being late, Sabrina excited about every single thing in Armenia, Valeria falling twice in Jdrduz, Melissa losing her mind on the Khntsoreski bridge, Arman, Raffi-Joe, Meghrig, Gaidzag, George, Arpa, Shogheeg, Lori, Anahit, Nora, Simon, Seto, Manuk, Nora, Julietta, Arev, Sergey posig for photos at Eden, Raphael and the mission impossible with the Portuguese and google translate, Gabe dancing like a boss, Tamar B’s amazing laughs, Nare singing patriotic songs, Mariana following my smile with her camera, Diana being on silent mode, Tania’s young spirit, Sevan’s statements that almost no one listens to, Vahram’s jokes and crazy drives, I even remember people I met only once (Achod, Raffi, Vasken) or people I’ve never met (Siroon, Tamar) but heard a lot about. I remember all the locals I met in Yerevan (Mary, Karo) and Gyumri (Alvard, Gor, Araksya, all the host families I met). I made lots of friends, not only to have them on facebook, but to have them here in my heart, here with me all the time. I love you Birthrighters and AVC-ers (Zof, Vanya and Zhang, this is especially for you!). I know that those names and words would sound unfamiliar to lots of people here, but here’s a thing: When you come to Armenia with Birthright next year, you’ll have your own secret stories, friends names no one else would know, your own inside jokes, you’ll have your own moments, and I’ll read them all in your blog on BR/DH’s website!

See? It wasn’t that hard to become a real Armenian, a real gyumresti. But all this would be impossible if I didn’t come to Armenia with Birthright Armenia, and I truly thank them for this great opportunity. My second trip was completely different from the first one: I wasn’t a tourist now. I used to buy things from SAS, count my money before spending it, cook for my host family, take the “marshrutka” for being cheaper, walk long distances to avoid spending “unnecessary” money, eat in cheap restaurants, wake up early to go to work even though I know that it’s for free and I could (but didn’t) work less and put extra hours on my timesheets. Now I know that when I go back to Armenia, I won’t only visit places, but I’ll mainly visit people there: friends from Birthright Armenia, locals, relatives and co-workers why not. Now I know that when I go back to Armenia, there’s someone waiting for me: a mom, who lets me in when I knock the door, a friend, who listens to me when I need someone, a co-worker, who makes my work hours less stressful. Now I know that Armenia is no longer a dream, it’s MY home, the place where I belong, where I found hope.


3 thoughts on “It’s No Longer a Dream

  1. Great piece Jeannot! I might not know you but I can probably relate to each one of your words, even if I was there in 2010. I’m proud to say however, that Birthright, Gyumri and Armenia will always be by your side, even if your many miles away! I very much enjoyed reading this!

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