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Just like that! GoodBye Rafael, GoodBye Irina, GoodBye Adría: Armenia Part I

Just like that. The sun rises once again beneath the grey clouds that have been masking the country of Armenia since the day I arrived. The sun is still not visible, but it is light out. I have not slept that well, but only because my mind has been racing with excitement of experiences had and those that await. 

  

Fall has arrived with its multicolored leaves covering the hills and streets; meanwhile, the chestnuts roasting on the sidewalk by the gentlemen make the ambience even more autumn-like. Having lost count of the number of days I’m already in the motherland, the countless memories and experiences involving food, smells, but most especially human interactions make it seem that I am permanently here: making a mark and being marked upon. 

Republic Square (Hraparak)

The first few days consisted of fulfilling my culinary needs and familiarizing myself with the capital, Yerevan. My first meal consisted of Xinkali, which is not even considered to be an Armenian cuisine, but influenced from our friendly northernmost neighbor, Georgia. I love it especially because I’m able to try the freshly whipped sour cream from this region. 

Xinkali (beef dumbling with sour cream)

Taking my sweet time as I sit in the covered patio of Tumanyan Xinkali under the rain, seeing fellow people pass by, some smiling and some already dreading the dead of winter, brought my own emotions to surface. I am in a land where (everyone communicates in my native tongue) the language is the one of my maternal tongue, but what I seemed to have identified as Armenian has slight variations here at Home. 

  

Home is where the heart is, they say. But, home, for that moment in time seemed to be right here in the Caucuses region, where a 4000 year old civilization (with a tumultuous past still survives to the present day). Seeing the stern and stoic faces of my fellow Armenians, I only wonder what each person’s story is, which permits me to make sure I let go of any judgement I would have thought of making during my short two week stay. 

Rafael

Every interaction has been nothing short of beautiful and engaging. From the shopkeeper to local residents, to friends of friends who have reached out to help. But on my third day I met a Spaniard, named Adría, a schoolteacher in Berlin, who was in the region during his two week holiday.  

Adria

We met to go to Tsitsernakaberd, the Armenian Genocide Memorial and Museum. I quickly volunteered to be the tour guide and translator, as it had been a short minute I hadn’t thought about our tragic event from 1915. We spent a hopeful morning up on that hill, reflecting and learning. 

Armenian Genocide Memorial (Tsitsernakaberd)

Filling our bellies with delicious Armenian cuisine, (each of which) I insisted my vegetarian Spaniard to try (Armenian cuisine is very meat-oriented). He did so gladly and bravely. On our walk to burn the calories of our overindulged meal we stopped at the open air flea market, Vernisage. 

  

The vendors could not help noticing the dyed blonde hair of my friend, quickly glancing up to see the new hair do in town. When I spoke to them in Armenian, a level of shock overcame them, followed by laughter and just great vibes.We had our “darr” (no sugar) Armenian coffee and were in search of pastries. With great luck we not only found the Syrian delicacies from Haleb market, but we made great stories with the shopkeepers. 

The following day, Adria had decided to come to Alaverdi and suggested that I joined.  I had decided to just flow with it so  I did. We went to the hostel he was staying in where I met a Peace Corps volunteer from Maine, who apparently was not Armenian. I use apparently, because she spoke better Armenian than most of my “Amerikahye” (American Armenian) friends. But surely, she was from Maine and entertained us with a traditional folk song.  A pleasant evening with tea and sweets ended and I went home to pack, which I in fact didn’t do until the next morning. 

  

We got picked up by the lovely Rafael, 30 minutes after scheduled time, something that should be expected. Really letting go of obligation and time is the way to enjoy the beauty of this country. On our three hour journey through Abaran all the way to Alaverdi, Rafael entertained us with stories of the random millionaires’ houses on the left (of the road) to stories about his family. We fell in love with his deep blue eyes but more so the stories with which he’s witnessed with them and is recounting to us. 

   

  

Getting to Iris Bed and Breakfast, and super excited about visiting the Sanahin and Haghpart Monasteries, both UNESCO heritage sites, we were greeted by the lovely Irina. 

Upstairs living room at Iris

Our business transaction lasted (a short while), and she offered us the beautiful upstairs bedroom with (en suite bathroom and breathtaking) view of the gushing river.

  

Upon visiting and doing our cultural duties we we were offered home distilled vodka (60-proof) and feasted once again. This is what you do. The extra special moment with this one in particular was that it involved vodka, 5 total shots of it, which in comparison to the table next to us, was child’s play. 

  

Adría and I made sure we toasted like real Armenian men and finalized our toasts with the gratitude for being able to travel and meet such folks on these journeys. It could’ve been anyone other than Adria who I had met, but truly the people one meets on these type of travels all appear in our lives for a purpose or a lesson.  It is the nature of the wanderlust to have these interactions, when in our static state as locals in a city, we rarely have the chance to open up and dedicate that much time to a total stranger. 

  

Having Armenian coffee with Irina

 

As we woke up this Friday, we enjoyed our breakfast that Irina prepared for us: dzvadzegh(omelette), jams and butter, sausage, tomatoes and cucumbers, smetan (sour cream). We finally got a chance to open up with the lovely Irina. We shared family stories and previous careers. Adría felt comfortable enough to tell her that she had the attitude of a businesswoman. To me, she was the true essence of an Armenian woman who knows how to move and shake things. She reminded me a lot of my mother, cousins and aunts, my female role models who have not molded themselves in the stereotypical gender roles of what’s expected of an Armenian woman. I was truly happy to be staying with her last night. She offered a clean, comfortable room with lots of love (at times Armenian tough love). 

More detailed blog about Alaverdi and Iris coming soon

But again, as each day the sun rises, just like that chapters of our lives close and new ones open. Yesterday, it was goodbye to Rafael. Today, it was goodbye to Adría, as the yellow bus going to the border of Georgia, whizzed by, stopped and opened the door. He jumped in (as) I rushed to the front to ask if it was the right bus. It was. 

  
 

A quick handshake, a quick goodbye, and another chapter ended. In a few, it will be goodbye to the chapter titled “Irina”; but who knows, I feel like I will likely see her again on my subsequent trips to Armenia. As per Adría, he’s a fellow nomad; perhaps we meet in Timbuktu. Or Berlin. Or Los Angeles. Or this was it. 
 

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