Wow. It’s only been the fourth day of camp in Gyumri and I have already been having just the experience I desired to gain from this trip and even more. I remember approaching the school, Toumanyan 3, for the first time and seeing hundreds of pairs of eyes staring at me, burning with curiosity. All the worries, concerns, and apprehensions I had erupted into a mini panic attack as questions ran through my mind. How would I be accepted and judged by the children, their parents, Gyumri locals and other adults we worked with? I hoped my Armenian would be good enough. Would the camp run smoothly? Would I know what to do all the time? We had to leave a good impression and be as organized and coordinated as they expected of us. Ready or not, over 100 children were waiting impatiently for the day to begin.
Thus the day began and we accepted, registered and divided 110 children (over our original limit) into three color groups. The entire day was an semi- organized chaos and definitely did not follow schedule, but this was expected. By the end of the day I had forgotten my apprehensions and in return received a genuine embrace and wet kiss from every single child in my color group as if I would never see them again. During arts and crafts, Liana, who quickly took a liking for me, wrote ” I love Ungerouhi Sevana” on her collage. On our way back home after the first day, I already began to miss the children, even the naughty ones, and deliberated which select few I would pack in my suit case and take back home to LA with me. By the second day I received a handmade ring from a girl in my group, Siranoush and got my hair made into a professional French braid by Angelica. By the third day, I had a fan club of boys at my heels, the regulars with whom I had heated debates regarding Barcelona and Real Madrid. Being a diehard Barcelona fan I simultaneously made lifelong friends and enemies. It was clear that the children didn’t like us, they loved us and looked up to us with a humble reverence and curiosity. We had formed irreversible relationships with each child we interacted with and that’s what I ultimately wanted. The adults we worked with as well as the children’s parents addressed us with respect and treated us as equals. It was clear that we were appreciated.
Since the moment my feet touched Armenian soul, I have been searching for the feeling of comfort and belonging that I should feel in my homeland. Thus far, I have discovered that place here in Gyumri for the next two weeks.