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One Thing I Learned Visiting Nagorno-Karabagh

For most of my adult life, I travelled to travel. I didn’t think much of it, I packed my bags and went. However, there were times in my life that I visited an unknown city with great expectations, only to find out that nothing was truly different. In fact, those were likely the trips I do not remember. A great realization throughout the years was the understanding of equanimity of all human beings. Yes, there are various markers of difference, which are evidently visible and observable. But, it was during moments of deep interaction, when two or more human beings come together and the understanding that one’s country of citizenship, financial or social status is just a man-made creation meant to separate. Are those separations real and observable? Absolutely! In our mind, these differences are, like a tree’s roots, sturdy and deep.  It is in the process of pulling those roots out from the deep crevices of the core of our beliefs that we are shaken.  I am fortunate to have had many experiences in my life, through travelling various countries but specifically to economically disadvantaged ones like Nepal, Armenia, Egypt, Colombia, and China where these shakes were more impactful.

When one looks for moments to capture, inorganically, the experience just isn’t the same. We often want to visit poor regions or countries to make a difference. I know I did earlier on. Carrying our Western altruistic mindset of “I am the helper” and “you are the receiver” mindset already creates a huge gap. It wasn’t until last year that I realized, I am the one who is learning most, in fact. I am not here to teach anyone anything. I am here to learn.  The wisdom and knowledge I get from the villager, the child, the woman who has lost her husband is not more or not less than the one I go in with. It is equal, but at the same time one that I have not experienced before, hence valuable to me. We are equals during those moments of interaction and the differences placed on to us disappears as we laugh, share and bathe in those moments of joy.

The one thing that I learned with my weekend visit to work in this disputed region, as part of my project Stega: A Perfect Union, is that all beings seek happiness. This is a basic tenet all humans want. We all truly want to be happy.  Here are the three moments that brought me, once again, to that realization.

This is Tamara and she lost her husband to war. She continues to smile as she makes us a delicious local bread. Read her full story here  and what she shared with my best friend in terms of joy and love.
It was about 45F in that room. Eight women from the town of Shushi showed up to learn about Stega and do some yoga and meditation. We kept our socks on and we did not have mats. But we were determined to move and breathe. The laughter and joy after each set of exercises and conversation was priceless. Thanks to the Shushi Women’s Resource Center for making this happen. 
The interaction with these children were the most powerful. It killed our hearts that they were pretending we were enemies and they were the soldiers. The conflictive region of Nagorno-Karabagh has war as a daily reality in the border cities. Most of these families have lost someone in the war. In my snapchat I recorded us reaching an agreement as they put their guns down. Before that they were full on “shooting” us with their play guns. We spoke to them in Armenian, they stopped a bit. Hasmig sat them down for a calm breathing exercise. The boys hated it, the girl remained. They were curious to play this new game. I realized that these kids, even in the reality of distant war and their war games, seek happiness and joy. The high fives and the laughter at the end of our interaction was something you can’t just search for while traveling. They come to you. Thanks Adrine, Davit, Ashot for bringing us joy. The two closest to Has and I came in towards the end and still got a sticker.

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