The Visit

Dear Readers,

I am not dead. Apologies for my tardiness.

It’s now been over a week since my family left Armenia (it feels like longer). The visit still hasn’t been fully absorbed yet. Kind of like when you pour a bunch of water on cracked dry earth and the puddle takes a while to soak in.

There is a lot I can say about this visit, but I’m not going to bore you with all the extreme details of what we ate, who got mad at who, and when we had our bowel movements. Instead, I will give you the rough overview of what we did and then try to offer some reflection on this oh so very rare occurrence.

Sunday, Sept 4: Go to Yerevan so that I can be at the airport when they arrive. Frugalness win of the day: Refusing the hotel’s 9,000 AMD airport service and finding a local marshrutka going to the airport for a cool 200 AMD. That’s $25 versus $.50 people! Did I mention I am a poor volunteer??

Monday, Sept 5: Meet family at airport at 1 am. As the only Anglo in a sea of Armenians at the arrivals gate, I felt, well…at home. We catch up and go to sleep around 4. Wake up and do Yerevan, including Cascade, Opera, Blue Mosque, Covered Market, Café, Restaurants, and more.

Tuesday, Sept 6: More of the same. Genocide Museum and Memorial, Peace Corps Office, Noy Brandy Factory Tour, restaurants, cafes, etc.

Peace Corps Office

Wednesday, Sept 7: We leave for Vardenis. Arrive in Vardenis in early afternoon and proceed to knock out an unprecedented amount of stuff. Seriously, we did more in 1 day than I do in some months. Visit the Y, drink coffee, picture time, meet super Sako at the posht (post office), invade the lavash factory, go to local stores to meet my shop owners, church, cemetery, haircut for Dad, khachkar (cross stone) lessons and more coffee, dinner at my house, and finally, 2nd dinner at my friend Anna’s house.

$3 haircut by Laura's host bro

Thursday, Sept 8: Another day bursting at the seams with accomplishments. Vardenis State College, meet my language teacher, Vardenis market, Noradus, Hayravank, several hours in Solak with my host family, then finally arrive at our hotel. Drink beer while observing European tourist group behavior as the sun sets over Sevan behind us.

Hayravank all to ourselves

Friday, Sept 9: A well-deserved day of nothing. Get burned on the beach, bad. Make a note to future self that 15 months without being shirtless outdoors and an intense 2,000 meter altitude sun for several hours is like one of those Gary Larson “Trouble Brewing” Far Side strips.

I found the perfect place to stage my Napoleon Dynamite wedding

Saturday, Sept 10: Back to Yerevan. Vernissage, café, people watching, dinner, and more people watching.

Sunday, Sept 11: Wake up in the middle of the night to say goodbye.

As you can see, it was a fast week for us. Since we did so many things and traveled to several places, we barely had time to catch our breath. Add to that their jet lag, being in a foreign environment, and my tour guide duties, and you get a very tired group of Crookshanks.

So, I’ll start the reflection by answering the questions that, without fail, every Armenian asks me.
Did they like Armenia? Yes
Will they come back? No
And the statement that follows these questions without fail:
You have a very beautiful family.

What did it mean for them? I think that they all had an interesting experience. They got to see a foreign country through the lens of a resident. For their first overseas plunge they visited not a Western European magnet, but rather an ancient, often forgotten land wedged between Europe and Asia. They were able to see a very cosmopolitan capital city and contrast that with the stark countryside. Most importantly, they were able to meet and interact with locals on a level that tourism seldom allows. My parents both said that being invited into people’s homes was one of the most powerful parts of the trip.

Of course they are still processing the experience, as am I. When I go home in November I’m sure we’ll be able to piece it together with each other’s help. Like I said before, there was so much, so fast, that you need some time to make sense of it. I’m sure different things stood out to each of them; it will be interesting for me to hear which.

What did it mean for me? First of all, this trip was an often-used flotation advice in the pool of mental health during the first 15 months. Even if they suddenly did not come 1 day before their scheduled arrival, the trip would have served a purpose. Just the mere idea of seeing them in Armenia got me through some lonely days and long marshrutka rides. When I actually saw them, it meant a lot that they would come all this way, to use up a trip to Europe for Armenia and for me. It was a breath of fresh air, something to look forward to, something to enjoy, and something to recharge me in a sense.

As surreal as it was to have them in Armenia, being with your family is like putting on a pair of worn-in sneakers. You know that they are yours, they fit, maybe they aren’t perfect and neither are you, and you know that if you step in a puddle there is that one spot where water will leak in on the left sole, so maybe you get a little soggy and uncomfortable, but you still choose to wear them because you love those shoes.

In that sense it was like 15 months had not really passed. But in another sense, it was very apparent to me.

As one of my PCV friends put it, it must be weird to have your America come to Armenia. And it was. Sure, I went through all of the adjustment to Armenia. It was hard. It’s a different place. I know that and didn’t expect my family to understand anything that was going on. But to actually deal with it, to hear an American color commentary on everything that is going on, was a bit exhausting. It’s not because it was my family. It was because they are non-PCV Americans in Armenia, which I had never really dealt with before.

That part of the trip surprised me the most. I didn’t really feel like myself. And maybe that was the realization that I’m not the same guy who left America. I knew I wouldn’t be, but this was the first slap in the face in that regard. There are many more slaps to come. I am not Armenian and never will be, but sometimes I do feel it a bit.

So, the trip was a success. I am extremely glad that they came here and were able to see my life. Thanks guys, I love you.

Greetings from Vardenis!

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2 Responses to “The Visit”

  1. Wayne Burt Says:

    Your first statement answered a question that been asking myself recently, though I figured your family visit had a lot to do with not hearing from you. For at least the last week I have been opening my laptop looking for a post from you. I’m like addicted and was having withdrawal pains. Glad your family visit went well. That feeling of being a little bit Armenian may last longer than you think.

  2. icenugget Says:

    I am happy to have an addicted reader! Don’t worry, there are more posts in the pike. I just had a backlog and didn’t make the time to write like I usually do.

    I hope the Armenian feeling never goes away. There are many things we can learn from them and that I hope to take back with me.

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