Being a Part of My Homeland

Meghrig Jabaghchourian
Syria, AVC 2012-2013

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I know that I was enough lucky to get a chance of becoming a volunteer with Birthright Armenia and Armenian Volunteer Corps (AVC) for the second time. That means sharing more experience, learning new things, meeting different people.

This time I didn’t want to stay in Yerevan meet some tourists because Armenia is not just Yerevan; it is all the places from Gyumri to Martakert.

My First night in Yerevan

I arrived at 2:00 am to Yerevan, the driver told me that I had to go to Gayane’s home. When we arrived there, we knocked the door but no answer. After a few minutes a young man and a boy opened the door. That was Araz, another volunteer and he said “We didn’t know about you” Gayane woke up and said “Oh who are you?” I said I am a volunteer too and she was surprised… Anyway she was a very nice lady, and, after all, this was the first night after a long time, that I fell sleep with no voice of bombs and arms.

Gyumri

So my first step was to go to Gyumri. It is a very nice and ancient city — you touch the culture, the history, and also the pain and unforgettable sadness caused by the earthquake. I had to do something I have never done before working in an NGO called Youth Initiative Centre (YIC). I can’t forget the first day when I had to go to my work place all I knew is that I had to stop the Marshoutka in front of the old town hall. All the people in the marshutka knew that I was a newcomer and that I wanted to go to the old town hall, because I was keeping on asking the driver where we were and whether I had to get off there. In the end, he refused to take money from me. He said, “Du Hyur es estegh, patk chi vjares”

Nelly, Arthur, Gurgen, Anni, Tamara, Kert at YIC… we used to spend all the day together having lunch together which I will never forget, especially eating watermelons.  I learned so many things from them: I learned how to make others smile, how to bring joy and happiness to others, I learned how to help and love,  to create things with  small opportunities, I learned how to give while I had nothing and to feel that happiness and the satisfaction inside when you feel the people you feel their pain and bring a piece of smile to them.

Narine, my host sister, was a mother of two children, Hagpig and Ashotig — my host nephews. They were amazing! It was Hagopig’s birthday when I took him to the kinder garden with Narine all the children there knew about me. Narine and I used to sit at nights and share our issues, our dreams and traditions.

Artsakh

During my childhood Artsakh was inside me. All I remember about Artsakh is a video of the Armenian Soldiers who were fighting in Artsakh war and the songs of my Ante (she used to sing patriotic songs). I also remember how everyone used to joke of me when I was telling them I would become a soldier in the future to keep my homeland safe…

August  2012

I was told I would work with a lady called Susanna Petrosian in Artsakh Youth Development Center and live at her house. Susanna was a nice lady; I used to teach English and organize round tables discussions. I met many young people there. Susanna had three children — Valero Maria and Ovsana, who were all  so kind! Marian, who was 7 years old, used to teach me Russian words.

After 10 days I met Liliane de Cermadec , a producer from France and her work team. She told me they needed a translator and invited me to work with her. While I worked with her I had the chance to visit every place in Artsakh and be closer to my homeland. I will never forget Elada when she told me that they lost their three sons during the war. They were soldiers and the first one died in the prison in Baku. I don’t know if crying or shouting or even whining was enough to explain what I felt inside. Continue reading

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Cela ne sera jamais suffisant

1Anahit Bagramyan
(Canada, AVC ’12)

Si, après 3 mois, vous avez l’impression qu’il ne vous manque que 2-3 petits jours pour que tout soit parfait, détrompez-vous : cela ne sera jamais suffisant. Comme un enfant qui supplie : « 5 minutes de plus », ne réalisant pas son état de fatigue, de faim ou de propreté, une partie de vous ne veut pas partir. Il y a tant de choses que je n’ai pas eu le temps de faire en Arménie me promener à Manument, monter au sommet d’Ararat, retourner à Tsiternakabert, revoir une fois de plus les gens qui ont rempli mon été de beaux moments, tendres, drôles, touchants.

Les souvenirs de ce que j’ai eu le temps de faire sont encore frais, même après 6 mois : l’incroyable nature de Kharabar, les forêts d’Ijevan, les églises, les repas partagés avec les aînés qui ont vécu la guerre, les étoiles de Noemberian, vartavar à Tavouch et évidemment toutes les anecdotes qu’y suivent. Je m’égare avec plaisir….

Contrairement à la majorité des participants de Birthright Armenia, je n’en étais pas à ma première visite au pays : je parlais la langue et j’avais de la famille à Yerevan. Étant restée connectée avec le pays, j’ai atterri en Arménie avec des idées, des attentes mais surtout des déceptions préconçues. Finalement, cette expérience s’est révélée très différente de toutes celles que j’avais faites auparavant.

Je ne sais pas comment vous décrire en quelques lignes ce j’ai vécu. J’ai vu une éthique de travail dysfonctionnelle, beaucoup de potentiel gaspillé pour différentes raisons, de l’injustice, mais également des changements phénoménaux, du travail acharné et une jeunesse pleine de promesse. J’ai probablement ressenti toute la gamme d’émotions possibles, tant les bons que les moins bons. Mes pensées vont à l’école des enfants déficients, au groupe d’adolescents sourds que j’ai eu la chance de côtoyer, à l’équipe de psychologues de la clinique privé, aux gens que j’ai rencontrés grâce à Birthright Armenia et AVC

Si j’ai touché la vie de certaines personnes, des amis, collègues, supérieurs, enfants et chacun d’eux a contribué à façonner un nouveau moi, plus mature, plus conscient, plus ouvert, plus présent. Un grand merci à la famille de Birthright Armenia et d’AVC qui vous adopte dès votre arrivée, un style de parrainage démocratique ceci étant dit!

J’ai enfin compris certaines choses sur lesquelles je m’interrogeais, et comprendre aide à ne plus juger, mais amène à s’ouvrir aux solutions, car tout n’est pas noir, ni même gris. L’Arménie est un pays de toutes les couleurs. Et si certains choses me fâches ce n’est pas pacque je vie ou pense comme une canadienne. C’est parce que j’aime ce pays du fond du cœur et je ne lui souhaite rien de moins que le meilleur. Je compte faire mon possible pour contribuer dans les changements à venir.

2Le conseil de Sevan résonne encore entre mes deux oreilles. « Birthright est une belle opportunité. Maintenant, ce que tu fais avec est une tout autre question. Tu peux prendre ce qui t’est donné de base, ce qui est sans exagération, excellent, mais tu peux faire encore mieux, utiliser tes forces et tes faiblesses pour que ça devienne un tremplin. »

Toutes les décisions que vous allez prendre, une fois atterris ici, sont les vôtres, c’est effrayant, c’est différent, mais je vous assure : c’est excellent pour la santé.

Մինչ նոր հանդիպում
Anahit

Post-Armenia Blues

Nathalie Kazandjian aka Nat K
(Canada, AVC ‘ 12)


The ‛Welcome Home Natty’ poster along with friends and family were what greeted me as I made my way past the Arrival gates of the Montreal Trudeau Airport. In that instant, I felt pretty good about coming home. However, as the days went by, the post-Armenia blues violently kicked in as soon as I found myself doing the same old things I used to do. Suddenly, things that seemed so familiar felt foreign and strange. It was a whole new culture shock but it was real and unfortunately, there wasn’t much I could do about it. The problem was not coming home to friends and family. The problem itself was leaving Armenia. For the little bit that I was back, I couldn’t even look at my photos nor talk about it for fear of being overcome with even more heartbreak and anguish than I already felt. I missed everything and everyone that belonged to my life in Armenia.

Before I know it, I found myself longing for Armenia. I missed waking up every morning to hearing my host mother say “ Parev parev garmir arev siroon jan”. I missed walking down 58 district to catch the marshrutka, 100 drams in hand and giving my regular Parev to the locals. I missed walking home from work and being greeted by the cutest little munchkins from my neighborhood showering me with hugs and kisses. I missed finishing the night off with a nice cup of MacCoffee alongside my host sisters while watching Armenian soap operas. I missed staying up with Nvartig, my baby host sister, till late at night drawing, coloring, playing cards, checkers, chess and teaching her English. I missed going to Ponchig Monchig and ordering a ridiculous amount of food. I missed going to the khorovadz place near the OLA center and engaging into a 45 minute conversation with the cook each and every time. I missed getting a ridiculous amount of daily texts and reminders from Allegra. I missed joining my Armenian brothers and sisters over weekend excursions. I missed running in the SAS supermarket and yelling like a crazy person “where’s the Ttvaser ?” before boarding our marshrukta to head back home. As well, as Heeng dzap, Marshrukta 9, besties crew, whatever your face, tracking down wifi, Le Cafe and Sevan’s inspirational speeches among many other things.

The desire to connect to people and the joy of making the connection was life affirming. The physical intensity of the excursions was invigorating. The time walking alone, listening to my own footsteps, sitting in the marshrukta watching the sunset, gazing at the stars was refreshing. Most of all, I long for the way I felt when I was in the Motherland. I felt alive, free, inspired and grateful. Man oh man does Armenia have a way with you. Each and every day there was a goal and an accomplishment that could be measured in different ways: in kilometers, in hugs, in the number of times I laughed out loud.

Although I was only gone for two months and while nothing has changed at home, everything has changed within me. Living in Armenia, gave me a deep appreciation of my life – where I live, where I work, my family and my friends. It also made me appreciate things that we too often take for granted such as the power of a touch, a smile, a kind word, a listening ear, weeping eyes, all of which have the potential to turn a life around.

To travel to Armenia is to truly take a journey within yourself. When we leave the comfort of home and everything that we have grown to be accustomed to, we often live more simply, with no more possessions than we can carry. We tend to surrender ourselves by becoming much more accepting to the twists, turns and little surprises that life has to offer. I came to Armenia searching for answers. Instead, I left in search of better questions. Sometimes, the unexpected is just what is needed to put life into perspective.

So here I am, back to my same old routine of stop and go, impatiently waiting to graduate just to start a new adventure. All the while feeling nostalgic about my time in Armenia which can feel heavier than the far too many pounds gained abroad.

When I think about it, perhaps the post-Armenia blues is something you can never truly let go of. For it that where we love is home, home that our feet may leave, but not our hearts.

To sign off, I simply cannot say goodbye to those whom I have grown to love, for the memories we have made will last a lifetime and never a goodbye. None of this would have been possible without Birthright Armenia & Armenian Volunteer Corps. For those of you who are thinking of joining the program, I encourage you to take a leap and go for it. Armenia 2012 always in my heart.

One More Night in Hayastan

Katherine Kalter, AVC ‘12
(United States)

Since my family left for America over a hundred years ago no one has made it back to Armenia. Being the first one to make the trek to the homeland I could in no way prepare myself for the journey ahead. Unlike most of my fellow volunteers I had never heard the Armenian language spoken nor had I sampled any Armenian cuisine before arriving in the country for the very first time. Upon landing at Zvarnots my whole world began to feel surreal. The mixture of exhaustion from the flights earlier that day and the overwhelming fear and excitement that came with finally being in a place I had been dying to visit since a young age was enough to do me in, and after making it to my temporary housing in Yerevan I quickly fell asleep. The next few days were a blur; nothing felt real. The noticeable lack of English and westernized culture made Yerevan difficult for me to get used to in the short time I was there, but it wasn’t until finally making it to my permanent homestay in Gyumri that I just about lost it. If Yerevan seemed strange and unfamiliar to me, Gyumri was like being in a completely different world. There was absolutely nothing even remotely familiar for me to latch on to. I had stepped so far out of my comfort zone I wasn’t sure I’d ever be able to find it again. Every day I woke up and I asked myself the same questions: “Why am I here? Was this a mistake? What was I thinking?!” And every day I counted down, “Only X many days left,” I’d tell myself, as if it was some sort of a comfort to keep reminding myself how much longer I had bound myself to my own personal anxiety-ridden nightmare. Around the third week I had falsely expected the culture shock to subside so I would be able to truly begin enjoying my time in Armenia, but it didn’t happen. I still woke up and had a tough time preparing myself for the day ahead, but I wasn’t about to give up. I had always wanted to travel to Armenia and while I was having a less-than-ideal time there, I was going to stick it out until the end, because I knew if I didn’t I would regret it.

It wasn’t until about a month into my time in Armenia that I really began to fall in love with the experience. I have my fellow volunteers to thank for that. Never in my life have I met and connected with people so quickly. The Marshutka 9, Gyumri Prom, late night escapades around Yerevan, they will always be what I remember when I look back on my time in Armenia. And I can’t thank the staff enough for arranging the most amazing trips possible. Whether we were shoved in the back of a cattle truck going 45 down the side of a mountain, or we were chowing down on a traditional Armenian village feast, I couldn’t imagine a better way to experience the country. My last weeks in Armenia were the best weeks of my life. And while by the end of my journey I was exhausted and missing home, I couldn’t bear the thought of leaving behind what I had finally found. As my last days approached and I slowly started saying good-bye to the people who unknowingly changed my life forever, I was reminded exactly why I wanted to come to Armenia in the first place: I wanted to meet others who shared a very simple, yet important, trait with me; I wanted to know what being Armenian meant to others so I could discover what it meant to me.
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Now that I’m back in America I often find myself dreaming of being back in the homeland with everyone, just sitting outside at Le Café planning our upcoming weekend misadventures, and then I realize where I am and remember that I will never be able to experience it again. While I plan on travelling back to Armenia in the future, it will never be the way it was with Birthright Armenia. I will never have my first time in Armenia again. And while I’m glad to, hopefully, not have to re-experience quite the same amount of fear and shock as I did this past summer, I can’t help but miss my days spent there. I look back on my time in Armenia with nothing but fondness; always wishing for just one more day. One more drink at Red Café, one more night on the hill, one more overly-cramped marshutka ride, one more night in Hayastan.

Self-Motivation, Body and Soul

Mary Wazirian
(Canada, ’12)

I’m sitting in front of my computer thinking about my three months trip in Armenia and I don’t know where to start from. I was searching for all the countless elements that my memory has beheld these past few months and concluded that it is difficult for someone to summarize their experience in a page or two when that person has a lot to depict and discuss about. I believe this is a good way to refresh one’s memory about such an eventful and active voyage to a cherished place where lie unforgettable memorable faces. Yes! I did cry on several occasions when I got caught up in a box of wistfulness!

I will be repeating myself by affirming that my life has reformed in a positive fashion ever since I did Birthright Armenia. My world is now riveted into something that I used to disregard for which now I have full admiration. Birthright Armenia offered me the chance to discover Armenia for the first time. Furthermore, this adventure handed me the occasion to learn more about myself through the various endeavors that I confronted. Partaking to every single challenge was sometimes very hard to achieve; nevertheless, I don’t regret participating in them.

My experience would surely not have been the same without the support of other volunteers, without the generosity and amity of the staff members working committedly at the Birthright Armenia office, I’m sure that they will recognise themselves. They were the reason why I remained enthusiastically motivated about this project and succeeded to undertake it right until its cessation. In consequence, they were indispensable escorts for my first time experience in Armenia, especially in the city of Gyumri.  Nowadays, every little trait in my life points me to a Birthright Armenia memory and reminds me of the amazingness of the people that I encountered.

I mentioned the lovely city of Gyumri to which people look at in a confounded way. Let me give you a brief background history of Gyumri before moving on to more emotional things.

Gyumri is the second largest city in Armenia located in the Shirak province where the situation has slightly changed over the past 24 years after the earthquake incident. The name of the city has changed over time on many occasions; from Kumayri to Gyumri to Alexandropol (which also happens to be the name of a well-known and probably the best beer in Gyumri) to Leninakan and finally Gyumri once again. To this day, Gyumri is seen as one of the most devastated cities in Armenia. When you first visit Gyumri, you feel like the city is crumbled into ashes traced back from the earthquake and the Soviet times. You feel like the people have also despaired from life and everything that accompanies it. I don’t want to drive you into pessimism, because I myself despise it so much. On the contrary, I want to portray the real features that define the city and its people.

Ironically, I fell in love with Gyumri. Why? As one of our Birthright Armenia volunteers used to state: ‘Gyumri is not a depressed city, Gyumri has character!’ When I remember those words, I understand why I fell in love with Gyumri, my host-family and even local friends…because of their uniqueness and their magnetic appeal. Gyumri will swipe you off your feet!!! I remember walking around in old Gyumri thinking of how romantic the streets were. I recommend you to volunteer in Gyumri, because it has potentiality to develop and progress in time. I recommend you to volunteer in Gyumri to bring a flare of positivity to the city. Be careful not to fall deeply in love with it!

Finally, you don’t need to come prepared to Armenia. All you need is self-motivation, body and soul!