There are many ways to travel, to see parts of the world you never thought you would go. I have never been interested in the idea of traveling for vacation. Traveling to sit under the sun, take a few pictures and then head home to tell all of my friends and family about the amazing places I have been. This doesn’t interested me one bit. What does interest me is the chance to go and live in another place, to have a human exchange that gets to the core of who we are as individuals. To share, and to see a different way of life, a different set of values, to learn what we all have in common, and to grow. And that is what brought me to Armenia.
I am a quarter Armenian, and grew up in a city with very few Armenians. Because of this I did not know any of the language, nor the customs or the culture, and only small pieces of the diasporan culture (mostly involving food). But I do have an Armenian last name and throughout my life this has been a reminder to me of my Armenian heritage.
I landed in Armenia this August, with my knowledge of what madzun was, lamajoon, and dolma, and about 3 Armenian words, all the names of my grandparent’s former or current pets (Anoush, Hoshor, and Sev).
Over the past nearly eight months here I have experienced so many beautiful moments and yet one of the most vivid occurred in my first month here.
I was living in Vanadzor with a woman named Svetlana. I spoke no Armenia and she spoke no English. One day through some words I didn’t understand and a few hand gestures she asked me if I would like to go on a walk with her and her friend who was also named Svetlana. I said yes, then looked up in my dictionary for the word “when (Armenian: yerb)” and then I asked “now? (Armenian: hima)” Svetlana laughed and then responded “Ayo/Yes, we will walk now.”
It was raining. We left the house armed with our rain jackets and a single umbrella. My arms were linked with each of them, one on either side. Together we walked, these two women in their 60s, best friends who live within a five minute walk of each other, both with children who have moved to Moscow, both with daughters named Gayane. The three of us, I and two Svetlana’s huddled under one umbrella. They talked back and forth across from me, laughing, and smiling, continuously engaging me in a conversation I could not understand and yet from which I took so much joy. We walked to a near by park full of pine trees and old soviet play toys. Under the trees we were protected from the rain. The taller Svetlana, who was not currently my host mom, put down the umbrella and picked up a small stick from the ground. She walked up to a pine tree with a small hole in its side. She put the stick in the hole and began to guide sap out of the hole. As the sap eased down the side of the tree she pressed her nose in the hole and took a deep breath, standing there for a long minute. She then turned and gestured that I was next. I pressed my body against the tree and took a deep breath, my nose and throat was cooled by the smell of pine. Next, Svetlana, my host mother, took her turn. Taking her time with three long breaths. Then the three of us stood back and admired the tree, it was a moment impossible to put into words. Completely absurd and beautiful to me at the same time. We all silently thanked the tree and then we linked arms again and continued to walk back home. The rain had subsided, the ground was wet and the sky was grey with a brightness behind it like the sun may come out soon. At home we drank tea, ate walnut jam, sweets and fresh fruit. I have learned Armenian people want to be sure you feel good, these two women were no exception. They genuinely care that your feet are warm and your belly is full. Because of this I have learned that not only does it feel good to care for others but that it is vital to building a health society.
I cannot count the amount of moments like this I have encountered in Armenia, moments where I feel so present, like this is where I am right now in this second and there is nowhere else I would rather be, somehow this is true in both the happy moments and the sad.
Now, while I am saddened to be leaving, there is much I will be taking with me. I am now able to hold a conversation in Armenian although they often include hand gestures, maybe a few English words thrown in and of course laughter. I will be carrying with me my memories and new friendships. I don’t yet know when but I feel my intuition will lead me back to Armenia.