This summer, I was blessed with the opportunity to travel to Armenia with CYMA for the second time. I remember when we first took off how I was so excited to be going with one of my best friends, Nora, who I had gone to Armenia with in 2008, as well as 6 other participants from my local chapter in AZ. We could tell by looking around that a lot of the participants were nervous and anxious. After the grueling 15 hour flight and impatiently waiting for our luggage to arrive, we left the airport only to be welcomed by our Coordinators and travel guides. I got goose bumps watching some of our participants running out of the airport, gleaming with smiles, kissing the ground, breathing in their first breath of Armenia, anticipating on what will happen in the upcoming month together. Seeing their anxiousness and excitement made me realize that this was going to be an amazing trip.
At first, I didn’t know what to expect. There were so many changes from when I went 3 years prior. We would not be living in a hotel, but renting out a house in Yerevan to get the true experience of living like a Hayastanci. Instead of just site-seeing, we would have weekly internships and a community service project that required us to live in a village for an entire week.
Of all the places we went site-seeing, Geghard was my favorite. The scenery was amazing and the gata was incomparabled, the trip to Geghard was bittersweet for me because that same day when we went to Garni I fell down the steps and sprained my ankle. I remember how furious I was and kept asking “Why did this have to happen to me on the second day? Why couldn’t this have been on the last day?”. I was frustrated and mad, but my housemates and Matt did everything they could to comfort me. I remember going to the hospital and the nurse telling me everything would be fine if I just put honey on my ankle. I started laughing and Matt’s face got very serious and he told me not to laugh because they are very superstitious in Armenia. By the end of the day, Matt was right: “If you’re going to sprain your ankle, at least it was walking down the steps of a Pagan temple in Armenia.”
I had the opportunity to intern in Etchmiadzin, working on a social media project with Zach, while our housemates were involved in hospitals, schools, and a travel agency. In Yerevan, we would walk around and explore the city every chance we had. We got to try different restaurants, go to local theatres, and even buy fresh groceries to make food at home. We also got to meet and hang out with Matt’s awesome wife, Annie, and adorable dog, Tavish. One of the best nights in Yerevan was going to the Parvana restaurant for dinner and dancing with the entire CYMA group. We had amazing food and danced the night away in the pouring rain. Although the time in Yerevan was great, nothing compared to what we experienced in the village of Bert.
I’m sure that most of the CYMA participants, if not all, will agree that Bert was a life-changing experience. When we first arrived, we were greeted with warm smiles and anxious youth members, most of which were our age. This was their first time receiving American volunteers in their village, which can be overwhelming. Our project consisted of renovating a local church, St. Sargis, which was covered with trees, grass, and dirt. Halfway through the project a few CYMA participants discovered Khatchars in the dirt that was dated back to the 13th Century. During our time at the church, we got to hang out with the local youth volunteers. Whether we were working, having a lunch break, or playing games, they made us feel as if we had been best friends for years.
It was great to see these local families willing to open their homes to us, even if that meant sacrificing one of their meals to feed us. My house family consisted of a couple in their late 20s, Ana and Mher, and their two adorable children, Haig and Nareg. Ana, who is only 5 years older than me, treated me as if I were one of her own children. Making sure I was comfortable, going out of her way to provide us with the best, and even coming home from a hard day’s work with small candies and gifts for Alik and me. Everyday she would wait anxiously for us to come back from renovating the church so she could hear about our day and prepare dinner and tea for us. Ana would come into my bedroom at 1AM just to make sure I was comfortable and if I wanted more tea. Her children would take out old albums and show us all their pictures and her mother made us the most amazing, pure raspberry juice I have ever had. Ana was one the most self-less and loving individuals that I have ever met, and I thank her from the bottom of my heart for all of her love and compassion. I hope that one day I can impact others the way you have impacted me.
In the end, CYMA 2011 has been everything I had hoped for and more. It exceeded my expectations and I am blessed that I was given this opportunity. I joined CYMA hoping to get a better connection with my faith and motherland, and ended up with so much more. Not only did CYMA bring me closer to my motherland, it gave me a family. To my CYMA family: your beautiful faces will always have a special place in my heart and I love each and every single one of you. ♥