contributor: Vanuhi Vartanian -Վանուհի Վարդանյան
"So, here you are. Too foreign for home, too foreign for here. Never enough for both."
Back in America, I feel as if I don't fit in. I'm too Armenian. In Yerevan, i'm the spyrukahye. The American. It seems as though I am stuck in a perpetual state of diaspora blues.
These past two weeks have been unbelievably humbling.
We slept on the floors of classrooms and cuddled with the steroid-Injected ants, a few scorpions, our pet mouse Peto, countless flies, and finally each other when we gave up and left our roomy classrooms to cram together and sleep in the principals office (upstairs and away from our new animal friends).
We carried our pink toilet paper, wet wipes, flashlights, our Febreeze, and most importantly, our bathroom buddies and marched outside to the lovely hole in the ground that we called our toilets. Occasionally we would walk out and find our new cow friend, Betsy, waiting for us with a thoughtful gift that we tried not to accidentally step on.
We took turns washing dishes in the akhpyur (our source of running water outside of the school), and naturally began to sing traditional Armenian songs. This was also where we brushed our teeth, did laundry, washed our hands, and even helped each other shower when our manual shower contraption was occupied.
We learned to shut up and deal with the fact that it's 100 degrees and there is no air conditioning in the village, as we sweat into our crimson colored HRI polos.
We milked the village mayor's cow, and then used it as cream for our morning coffee (trying not to envision aforementioned cultural activity).
We took a dip in the village "pool," until we were greeted by a frog swimming around like he owned the place (which he probably did), and then we were made fun of by the village kids and informed that the "pool" was really the old "xozanoc" where the villagers washed their pigs and cows. That was fun to learn.
We managed to squeeze 16 people into an 8 person mini van, and didn't die!
We learned to embrace how gross and smelly we all had become. The makeup came off, the hair went up, and our naked individuality was not only welcomed but encouraged by our peers.
With that being said, I have never in my life felt more at home.
This village welcomed us with open arms.
Every day, our students brought us fresh fruits, dried fruits, home made cheese and yogurt, pastries, and countless flowers.We were invited into the villagers homes and got to taste the sweet fruit of Armenian hospitality.
We went on adventures with the village kids, who quickly become our close friends.
We had the opportunity to teach the smartest, kindest, and sweetest kids in the world who lived in Shvanidzor, and commuted every day from surrounding villages. We taught them about social issues, health and science, computers, and art. I cannot begin to describe how rewarding it is when your students email you with the Gmail account that they created in your computer class wishing you a safe trip home--when two weeks ago they refused to use anything but @mail.ru and thought that learning to type with all 10 fingers was a waste of time because they typed faster with just their index fingers.
We concluded our summer camp with performances showcasing all that our students had learned in our classes. Photographs, artwork, tie-dye shirts, theatre plays, songs, science experiments, dances, and Google Slides and Paint presentations.
When the event was over, we sat in a circle outside, watched the stars and sang traditional Armenian songs. We laughed, cried, and shared meaningful conversations. At the end of the night, the kids took home Polaroid pictures and we took home an experience of a lifetime.
Thank you Nanor, for letting me open an HRI chapter in UC Berkeley. Thank you to our incredible team for making this trip unforgettable and life changing. And thank you Shvanidzor, for make us all feel welcome and at home.
We will most definitely return <3