First day of Jampar in Gyumri was finally here and so was a camper named Ardo who had trouble written all over him. Within minutes it was obvious he was going to be the obnoxious troublemaker none of us had the patience to deal with. After just a few hours he had disrespected and bothered more than enough campers and counselors and was told to go home and not return for the rest of the week. Of course, he didn’t listen to that either and within a couple minutes of sending him home he magically appeared in the classroom again. He promised to behave and for some reason we believed him and let him stay.
The next day before jampar even started he came up to me and said in Armenian, “Today I will behave, I have even learned all the songs you taught yesterday.” Very surprisingly he was the loudest one during song practice, he even threw his fist up with pride during the necessary times. It had become obvious that he learned respect and was ready to cooperate for the rest of the week. What wasn’t obvious was that he would end up being my favorite camper, the camper who would give me 40 kisses a day, and be the one to give me bracelets and presents every morning.
Thursday morning was a little different than the other mornings – he handed me a best friend bracelet on which he had written, ‘I love you.’ He gave it to me so I would remember him forever and asked for something in return so he could remember me. Thursday night I went to the store looking for something small and appropriate. After a while I saw a dice keychain and knew that it was the perfect gift.
A dice is the perfect way to describe everything that has happened to me on this trip so far. Ardo is one of seven children, his hygienic condition speaks for itself that his family isn’t the wealthiest, and I wouldn’t be surprised to hear that all seven children have one room to in which to sleep. This is where the dice comes in – Ardo and I both have 100% Armenian blood, but due to “paghd” (luck) he is living in such conditions, and I am living in the States, worried about which 2016 model car I want, when he will soon worry about how he will care for his family and himself financially. The destiny of two Armenians is as random as a roll of a dice; it all depends on luck, whether you end up with a one or a six. I do not deserve the lifestyle in America more than he does, in fact he is the one who allows me to have a homeland to visit, it is someone like me who falls victim to white genocide.
This trip has made me realize that one of my dreams is only just a dream. A dream I would like to make a goal in the future would be to move to my homeland and raise a family. Unfortunately, during a discussion with my campers from Artsakh, I opened up under pressure and realized how different their lives are. These children who come in the morning with the biggest smiles, wettest kisses, and biggest hugs have brothers, fathers, and uncles who have died to keep our land, who are on the front lines to defend our land, and who soon will wholeheartedly join the army to keep our land. Standing in front of these teenage boys thinking I am doing a huge deed for my country while they are the soil and mountains keeping a country alive on a map made me realize the actual sacrifice I have to make. Hearing stories of how all three brothers and a father were killed leaving a mother alone made me ask myself a question – am I, or anyone back in the states willing to sacrifice all the male figures in their family just so we keep our land?
I began to explain to Ardo why I got him a dice but tears didn’t allow me to finish. I watched the troublemaker of camp cry and it wasn’t because of a horrible “badeej”, it was because of an everlasting connection made between the diaspora and the homeland.
As I sit in this van, leaving Gyumri and Digin Lilig’s home, I look out into a rainy scenery, with a few tears of my own streaming down my face. I come to realize at this moment how much my outlook on family and that concept of home has changed within these last five weeks.
I’m thousands of miles away from home and yet still feel so at “home” with a strong sense of belonging, right here in this very moment in Armenia. Home isn’t about where you reside but more so the emotional ties and bonds that bridge the gap between you and a place or your relations with people. This last month I’ve learned just that, from Stepanagert, to Gyumri, to Javakhk, not once did I feel like an outsider, like I didn’t belong. In each one of these locations I formed a family, a home, somewhere I knew I could go whenever I wanted to, without even calling days ahead of time to see if it was even ok to come over. Family accepts you with open arms, their home is your home.
Something we were asked here a lot was, “Hayasdanuh tser turneen yegav?” Roughly translated to, “Did you like Armenia? Are you satisfied?” Our answer every time was yes, we couldn’t have asked for more. In Armenia, even if you aren’t family by blood, you will become family by association. The people here will open their homes to you, offer you everything they have, even if they can’t afford it. To them, your presence in their home is worth more than a table with gold laid upon it. This was evident in Gyumri when we went to visit one of our campers at his home, which you wouldn’t consider a house. He lived in a “domik” which is a small tin shack, the size of a small garden shed. Many people in Gyumri live in these domiks due to the massive earthquake in 1988 that tore the city down. Domiks were built as temporary housing, just until some rebuilding could be done, but 23 years later people still live in them with hopes of one day being able to move out and afford proper housing.
So as I mentioned, we were visiting our camper, which brings us to my concept of home and belonging. As soon as we sat down, little Khachik’s grandma took our her finest sweets, offered us fruits, and prepared the typical Armenian coffee that we’re all accustomed to drinking when we visit friends and family. With a smile on her face, standing in a living room no bigger than a janitor closet, she exclaimed, “Our house may be small, but our hearts are big, welcome to our home.”
Whether it was at Digin Lilig’s house in Gyumri, Babo’s house in Stepanagert, the agoump in Javakhk, or the little domik, it was considered a home. You can have a million dollar mansion for all I care, but it will never have the luxury you get from a home like the domik if there’s no love, selflessness, and the feeling of belonging and reassurance. Armenia will always be accepting with open arms, no matter when, no matter what.
In the words of Coldplay, “Home, home, where I wanted to go.”
A fifteen hour car ride is not something to look forward to, especially when you’re in a van that hardly works and is filled to a point where people are laying on the floor. Gyumri to Shushi means driving from one end of Armenia to the other. With a few scenic stops on the way the trip was expected to take at least 12 hours.
We left Gyumri at 7 am on the dot. All of us were dead tired, and annoyed to be leaving our Gyumri family. The men tied the luggage to the roof that was actually slippery from rain. One by one, we walked out of the house and cuddled Unger Gevork, our pseudo-father in Gyumri, until he made us get in our bus. Obviously I snatched shotgun, and we were on.
I was really not looking forward to stopping a trillion times on the way, because I had been to Armenia several times. Each spot on the way had a memory that would never be replaced. Our first stop was Khor Virab. Although this is a very special place for Armenians, seeing it more than most locals, I had no interest. I knew the spot for pictures with Ararat in the background would take two hours, because everyone would want that romantic picture with Armenia’s occupied treasure. I decided not to take the ladder to the pit where Krikor Lousavoritch survived 13 years. Pretty much I was being a princess, thinking I’m the coolest person in the world because I had been to Armenia before. Then the Armenia first timers walked out and through their emotions I remembered my first time there. Slowly I became excited for them. I was no longer rushing to get out of there; I just sat to myself for a while and remembered all the memories I had throughout the years. Finally we all boarded the van and took off to my favorite place in Armenia.
So I’m going to pause here and say a short story about our van. The GAZELLE became a mascot to our trip. With its signature scorpion stickers and Russian writing that looked like what we assumed said gazelle, it was easy to get attached. Every so often, actually at every incline, the car would overheat, we would collect our bottles of water that the driver would pour onto the steaming radiator. Every so many kilometers we would have to all get out of the van and refill our natural gas. This van was a disaster! Luggage + fifteen adults + our mountainous country = There was no chance Gazelle would make it to Shushi. Okay let’s get back to my favorite place in Armenia: Noravank.
Noravank is significant to me for a few reasons: first off the church and its surroundings are of the most beautiful in all of Armenia; secondly, a few years back my mom and stepfather married there; and lastly I know once you reach Noravank you are very close to the river I am named after. As soon as the Gazelle stopped I ran to the back church to light a candle, and right after went to my spot and chilled. As we took the cliché picture on the steps of the first church, I remembered being a little girl in a flower girl dress climbing as everyone was looking at me like I’m crazy… Once everyone was through taking pictures, we reentered the van and took off. It took us 25 minutes to exit the parking lot because “This Is Armenia” and everyone had their own mission. We had one more spot, Datev Vank and then finally we would arrive in Shushi. Unfortunately, the aerial trail tram, the longest in the world, which had opened recently was closed for the day. Bummed we got back on the Gazelle. But we’ll be back to Datev soon enough.
The Artsakh border was so relieving.. Finally we made it. The drive from the border to our house was filled with songs and fun, and from the first glance our house looked awesome. We unloaded the van and claimed rooms. The house was great and the family was cool! Finally we were done with the Gazelle. 16 hours had passed, our butts had flattened, and we were all relieved to finally say we’re HOME!
Երկու շաբաթ եղաւ որ մենք հոս ենք: Ամէն երկու օր անփոյթ բայց կատաղի յանդիմանութիւն կ’ստանանք մեր խմբի ղեկավար Վաչէէն որ «պլոկ» գրենք: Օրէ օր, խումբի անդամները կը նստին ու կը գրեն, եւ տակաւին ես գաղաբար չունէի գրած նիւթիս մասին: Միայն գիտէի որ կ’ուզէի Հայերէնով գրել որովհետեւ տասը տարիէ Հայկական դպրոց գացած էի, եւ նաեւ Ամերիկա մեկնելէս աոաջ, իբր հա մալսարանի դաս ալ արի: Անկէ զատ հոս ըլլալս երաւակայութիւնէս աւելի հայրենիքիս կապած է: Իմ աոաջին գալո ւս առթիւ ամէն ծանօթներս ինծի ըսին ուր երթամ եւ ինչ ընեմ եւ որքան գեղեցիկ է ամէն ինչ: Հիմա որ հոս եմ, գիտեմ ճիշդ ինչի մասին կը խօսէին որովհետեւ սպասումներս գերազանցած են: Ուր որ երթանք ամէն կողմ գեղեցկութիւն կայ եւ հրաշալի է գիտնալով որ դալար դաշտերը եւ լեոներով որ շրջապատուած ենք, ամբողջութեամբ մեր հայրենիքին բնական գեղեցկութիւնն է: Վեոադարնալով Ճաւախքէն, մեր խումբը պիտի վիճաբանի որովհետեւ աոաջին անգամ ըլլալով լոգանքի կարք չունինք, եւ ամէնքնիս պիտի նստինք Տիկին Լիլիկին տունը եւ վստահաբար նոյն գաղաբարը պիտի անցնի մեր մտքէն – Ինչպէս այսքան շուտ անցաւ աոաջին շաբաթը: Կարծես թէ դեո նոր Կիւմրի հասանք, բաժնուելով մեր միւս խումբէն որ արդէն մտերմացած էինք իրենց հետ, գալով օտար շրջանի, եւ հիմա արդէն եկրորդ շաբաթն է: Դժուար պիտի ըլլայ բաժանուիլ ամէն այս պզտիկներէ որ կ’ուզենք մեր հետը տուն բերել եւ մեկնիլ մեր տունէն: Սակայն, պիտի ձգենք գիտնալով որ ճիշդ բան մը ըրած ենք եւ այս պզտիկներուն առիթ տուած ենք որ ամառնին վայելէն: Շարունակել մեր յաջորդ քայլին, պիտի կրկնենք նոյն ծրագիրը գիտնալով որ այս նոր Շուշիի պզտիկները ինչպէս պիտի ըլլան, բայց գիտենք որ անմիջապէս պիտի սիրահարուինք ամէնուն հետ, եւ շատ հաւանաբար նոյն բանը պիտի պատահի Պրոշիանի մէջ ալ:
Ուր որ երթանք կը կապուինք պզտիկներուն հետ, եւ որովհետեւ կ՝ընենք բոլորս մէկ միասին եւ մէկ նպատակով մեր գործը աւելի դիւրին կ՝ըլլայ: Պզտիկներուն ժպիտները տեսնելը եւ ամէն օր իրենց հրճուած ձեւով մեզ դիմաւորելը մեր բոլորին սիրտը կը հալեցնէ եւ կ’անդրադարձնէ օրէ օր որ ճիշդ որոշումը ընտրած եմ Youth Corps-ին մաս կազմելուն եւ ամառս Հայաստան անձնելը: Քանի մը շաբաթէն երբ մեկնինք ու երթանք մեր Ամերիկայի տուները 1Յ նոր ընտանիքը անդամներէս պիտի բաժնուիմ եւ նորէն կեանքս մինակս պիտի շարունակեմ ու մինակս որոշումներ առնեմ նորէն:
We have been here for about two weeks now. Every other day we get a nonchalant yet wrathful scolding from our group leader, Vache, to write a blog. Day by day, every one in my group has been sitting there writing their blogs, and yet, I had no idea what to write about. I just knew that I wanted to write in Armenian because aside from going to an Armenian school for ten years of my life and taking a college course Armenian class the semester before coming to Armenia, being here has linked me to my homeland more than I could have ever imagined. I kept getting told how beautiful everything was and where to go and what to do, it being my first time here. Now that I’m here, I know exactly what everyone was talking about because everything has exceeded my expectations. Everywhere we go, there is beautiful scenery all around- and its heartwarming knowing that the greenest fields and all around mountains are all a part of our country’s natural beauty. As we return from our wonderful weekend in Javakhk, we’re going to fight over our for-the-first-time-unscheduled shower list and sit down at Digin Liligs house and I promise you the same thought is going to go on in every one of our heads – how did the first week fly by so quickly ?? It feels like just yesterday that we arrived in Gyumri, splitting away from those we had gotten so close with in Yerevan, and coming to an unfamiliar city, and now it’s week two. We are going to have a hard time separating from all the kids we want to bring home with us and leaving what has become our home. However, we’re going to leave knowing that we have done something right and made a part of all these kids’ summer. As we move on to the next step of our program’s journey, we are going to repeat the cycle by being nervous about what these new kids in Shushi are going to be like, but know that we are instantly going to fall in love with every single one of them, and the same thing will probably happen in Broshyan too.
Everywhere we go we are getting attached, but it’s easy to move on to the next step because we do it as a whole group – we do it as a family. Seeing the kids smile and having them run up to you to give you the biggest hug just makes our hearts melt and makes me realize over and over every day that I made the right decision by wanting to be a part of Youth Corps and spending my summer in Armenia. Now once we leave Armenia and go our separate ways it’s going to feel weird knowing that each and every one of us now has to adjust to what comes next on our own.