It’s my fifth time visiting Armenia. I have already fallen in love with the pink tufa stones and busy streets of Yerevan. I have already been rendered speechless by a crystal clear view of Mt. Ararat. I have already felt the childish joy at seeing the singing and dancing fountains in Republic Square at night. For me, the initial honeymoon stage is long over. But there’s a reason I keep coming back.
I remember my plane ride home the first time I came to Armenia. I took a ten-day whirlwind tour around the country with my family, and fell in love. The land of family legend had become real before my eyes, and I wanted to never leave. I felt absolutely at home in the immense green mountains, the fields of wildflowers, the ancient churches, and loved everything I saw. I dreamed of coming back.
On the fifth time, the mirage has faded, but it has given way to something even more beautiful. I have struggled in Yerevan: getting lost, feeling lonely, being afraid, and feeling like I would never understand what was happening around me. But feeling all of these things in this city has allowed it to start to feel like a second home. And at the end of my second week living here, it has started to have the marks of home: there are areas where I can give directions, I have a commute to work, I have friends I can call on a free night.
The best thing this time has been discovering hidden gems in the city. A friend took me to a beautiful cafe in an old-style Armenian house with a photo library and a balcony where we sat, listened to retro music, and ate delicious ham and cheese “sandwiches” rolled in lavash. I was stopped in my tracks one evening at the view of the Sasuntsi Davit statue silhouetted against the sunset beside my train station as I walked home. And for me, nothing says cozy like a plate of my host mom’s home-cooked cabbage dolma and fresh cherry kompot.
And outside of Yerevan, there are yet more treasured to be discovered. Views like the ropeway from Tatev monastery are fantastic, but a few minutes down the mountain lies another gem. Visiting with the other members of our program (and now friends) we stayed at a B&B with cute cabins and a breathtaking view of the monastery across a deep gorge, with rows upon rows of mountains stretching infinitely into the distance. At the end of a long journey, we sat down to a full table of khorovats, fresh vegetable salad, cheese, and lavash, followed by dancing outside to Armenian songs.
The first time you visit a country like Armenia is wonderful. It’s like the first time you watch an amazing movie–you can never quite see it the same way again. But as you watch the movie again and again, you start to notice things–lines of dialogue, character traits, hidden jokes that make it that much better. It’s like that with a country but on a much larger scale. You start to notice more and more things that you were overshadowed by the bigger sites. The initial infatuation becomes a connection. You end up visiting places, but also people. You make friends. You have favorite places. You wait all year for the taste of amazingly fresh apricot jam and homemade cheese. Or at least, that’s what happened to me. I left Armenia the first time knowing that I wanted to come back some day, but now I look out from my balcony, or from a mountain road, and know that I’ll never leave forever.
By: Araxie Cass
Term: Summer 2018