About two months ago, I left the United States for what eventually became the best six-week experience of my life. I have participated in service trips in the past, but never before abroad, let alone my homeland. This summer I had the opportunity to travel to Armenia. Twenty-four Americans, one Canadian, six weeks, three countries, four cities and over 500 children. I was very nervous beginning this trip for a few reasons: six weeks is a long time away from home, I have never been to Armenia, and I am unable to speak the language. The amount I learned, the memories I made, and the friendships I formed are things I will cherish and remember forever.
On every trip, I feel that there are some moments that affect you the most. Negative, or positive, they are the moments you will always remember. On the last day at Camp Gyumri, we began with what had become our daily routine. The twelve of us counselors and the campers walked from Digin Liliq’s house to camp. We were upset to be leaving a place we had all come to love so much. When the day began, the kids were wild, just as they always were. We brought them inside and sat them down for their last educational. The group seemed to be somewhat quieter and easier to control that day and it wasn’t until the three musketeers walked in, abrupt as ever, that we realized why. These three boys were constantly rowdy, they would never stop talking, and they would laugh at you if you tried to punish them. You could see the anger rising in half of our faces, as these boys walked in with shopping bags in their hands and big smiles on their faces. We assumed they were up to no good. Before we had the opportunity to negotiate their punishment, the boys revealed the reason for their lateness. After gathering what little money they had, the boys had purchased each female counselor a necklace or bracelet, and each male counselor a cross necklace (glow in the dark, mind you). The feeling that this gave us was indescribable. Three campers, who were troublemakers every second of every day, found a way to show their true appreciation for all that we had done. Later that day, the parents of these campers gathered in the foyer of the school and watched their children compete in song competition. As I looked at all of their faces, from campers, to counselors, to parents, they were smiling so wide and it was so great to see how happy everyone was. The last group sang, “Don’t stop believing,” giving everyone the chills. They stood there and sang the song, loud and proud. The day ended with numerous pictures, laughs, and tears from a number of campers. After camp ended we took any of theremaining food from that day to a nearby domik. Domiks are tin house that were built after the earthquake with the intention of being used for temporary housing. People still live in them today. This particular domik was the house of one of our campers, Khachig. His mother and grandmother invited the nine of us into their home, which probably wasn’t even half the size of most of our family rooms. As I looked around the room, I noticed a set of beautiful teacups that seemed quite out of place, in comparison to the rest of the house. These were obviously the few items they were able to salvage from the earthquake. Without question, the mother and grandmother of the house began making us soorj and tea and telling us about her past. As I sat there and had everything translated to me, I couldn’t help but wonder how people could be living in such poverty and yet still be so full of life. This family of five, who were living in such tight quarters, was so welcoming and giving of the little belongings they had. She offered us candies and chocolates as well, which she later mentioned were bought using her minimal earnings that week. I couldn’t take my eyes off this house as we walked back to Digin Liliq’s.
These families can’t afford to own a soccer ball, or have running water at all hours of the day, or even heat for the winter months, but throughout it all, they appreciate every little thing that they do have. Some areas are still living in fear and unsure of what the next day will bring them. They also live each day with the most positive of attitudes and love for their land. One deghatsi (local person) from Stepanakert that most of us became very close to, Arevik Sargsyan, said one night: “May the best of today, be the ‘eh’ of tomorrow.” This is the attitude I have come to know and appreciate in the six weeks I was living in Armenia. They face each day in hopes of one day living the way they did years ago. Despite their present difficulty, they remember and work to restore the Armenia they will always love. Don’t stop believing, Armenia.