After a long day of outreach and research prep, we decided to visit Lake Sevan. The experience was cathartic, and a reminder of the natural beauty of Armenia.
The double windows were closed tightly to encapsulate us and reinforce our close separateness from the humming city just on the other side. Something in the aging walls whispers in accented English, “You are a visitor here”. Just when I felt my body beginning to fuse with the chair upon which I had planted myself, it was time to give the presentation that had plagued my dreams, aggravated my sweat glands, and nearly broken my resolve. The time is now. I arose with a heightened self-awareness as I clocked in for my shift to hold the world on my shoulders and bid Atlas a good night’s rest. Anoush joined me at the front of the classroom and we promptly began our short seminar with a frenzied crash-course in interpretation. At some points it seemed as though the language barrier forced me into a mechanically measured tone, however, it also allowed for flexible interpretation and helped me to trust my interpreter to provide the cultural mortar to the the bricks of knowledge I was offering. Our language difference is both our weakness and our strength. We concluded and I drew in the air that proceeds the sweet and rewarding sigh of a completed task.
Later in the evening, decompressing from the sheer force of performance pressure, some classmates gathered around tables drawn together by joint effort into a beautiful representation of how we have come together in this last week – as if it had always been that way. We feasted upon light-hearted conversation and “family-style” Indian food. We have become a family with a history and a future. I couldn’t help but crack a smile thinking about the ironic beauty of a group of Americans eating Indian food in an Armenian basement. I also couldn’t help but smile as I scanned the group and thought about how proud I am to belong to such a group of truly unique and talented individuals. I was honored to dine with them.
Following our physical refueling, we ventured to The Cascades. As I gazed upon the beauty of this grand staircase, my mind was drawn to another great staircase constructed in biblical times when languages were confounded and peoples divided. I felt the frustration of a confounded tongue. The Cascades are Armenia – a magnificent and rich heritage, lacking the final steps that will complete the masterpiece. The materials and tools lay atop, abandoned and weather-worn. They plead for completion so that they may draw all Hyastan above its sorrow and nostalgic burden to a future full of absolution and promise.
Our return trip would see a comical ending as all 6 feet 5 inches of Blake was jammed into the front seat of an aging taxi that nearly matched its driver in personality and mileage. The taxi driver struck up a conversation with Blake, who clearly had no idea what he was saying, but shook his head in agreement and continued to say “yeah” after all of the older man’s statements as if speaking to a child who was uttering jibberish. At some point the main ascertained Blake’s lack of comprehension and investigated if he spoke Russian, French, Turkish, or Greek only to find that Blake claimed none. The main proclaimed his “Greesy” or Greek heritage. Blake concluded the interchange with, “I don’t get out much,” and a characteristic charming and innocent chuckle that only Blake can manage. Those of us packed in the back seat nearly died of laughter muffled by the bags ridding on our laps
Beep, beep, beep….. the alarm clock signaled that it was time to embrace a new day on this Armenian adventure. Bleary eyed I hit the snooze and tried to sneak a few more minutes of sleep before rolling out of bed. Normally I am up well before the alarm sounds but I took advantage of a late night video chat party with my wife and kids. I can’t believe how rapidly the time is passing here. We have already exhausted a week of our time here! After arising and getting ready for the day I enjoyed a couple of pieces of french toast that Ashleigh was kind enough to make for our house, then it was quickly out the door and down to the Yerevan Medical School to resume our preparations for the outreach presentations. The presentations really look great!. Everyone has spent a lot of time polishing their delivery and working with the interpreters so that we can have the type of impact necessary to help advance Armenian healthcare. We watched and critiqued the presenters on their content and execution. Man of us were also working on additional assignments that Dr. Wright had delegated to us. After 6 to 7 hours of run throughs we finally called it a day. With a group as large as ours there are often two separate directions taken. Half of us typically head back to the houses to get changed into more casual clothes, while the other half will head straight to a restaurant to grab some food. I departed with the group heading to the restaurant. It really has been nice getting to know the other members of the group better. I feel that everyone gets along very well. There is never any harsh judgments or unkind words exchanged, and we all seem to associate with multiple members of the group, effectively floating from conversation to conversation without any bias. Telyn and Kyle have been great interpreting for us whenever we have had any questions, and Alec and Tina have also been great in helping the group to get along in foreign circumstances. After we had the opportunity to share dinner at the restaurant we decided to hike the cascades. What a beautiful sight that was. It was fascinating to see how varied each of the sculptures were and to behold the beauty of the cascades from the bottom. The view form the bottom, however, could not hold a candle to the view from the top!! It was absolutely breathtaking! You could see most of Yerevan from where we were able to stand and (according to the tour guide at Zvartnots) Aragat (the sister) must have let her guard down because we could see Mt. Ararat perfectly! We all took the opportunity to get a picture of ourselves looking out over Yerevan with Mt. Ararat in the background. Our evening did not end here though. We decided to walk a little bit further so that we could see the statue of mother Armenia up close. It was well worth the walk! While we were walking Telyn filled us in on the circumstances surrounding the construction of her statue and the destruction of Lenin’s statue there. After another few photos we explored a little bit further and found a free carnival. There were many unique sights at the carnival, like a full size angry birds carnival game, a giant Angelina Jolie mural, and a shooting range with Osama Bin Laden as the main target. After a ride on the ferris wheel for a few of our group and a delicious ice cream treat, we decided it was time to head back to our homes. We hailed a couple of taxis since we had walked so far. Simon, Eric, Blake, and myself shared a cab. Of course we let Blake sit in the front seat since he is so much taller than the three of us. It was a great ride home. The driver of the cab kept asking Blake if he spoke any languages, while speaking in wither Greek or Armenian, and Blake kept saying “uh-huh” or “yeah” while the driver kept talking. This led the driver to ask more and more questions of Blake, who had no idea what the driver was saying, but still he was answering in the affirmative. I wish I could have reached my phone so that I could have recorded the exchange. It was really funny! We really do have an excellent group of people here in Armenia. I believe that through our efforts we will be able to make a difference!
Today’s experience started off like a typical day, working with our Armenian interpreters and going through our presentations, etc. Then as the day rounded after 17:30, we were excused and allowed to walk around. Many of us went to get Indian food, where I met a nice Japanese lady that either owned or cooked for the place. We chatted for a little bit and she shared with me some wines that were made in different villages in Armenia and also shared a sample of her coffee liquor that she had personal concocted. As we talked about alcohol and eventually asked what had brought me to Yerevan and I told her of what we were there for. She sounded very excited about sharing with me some of her thoughts. She started to share with me about the typical Armenian diet and how much salt the people like to consume. She talked about the cheeses, the water, the meats, near everything contained an exorbitant about of salt. The Japanese lady talked about the mass amounts of carbohydrates in a typical Armenian diet, due to all the breads consumed. She also mentioned that because of the harsh winters and the lack of money, which forces Armenians to pickle many vegetables during the wintertime. Because of the cold and snow and the lack of money, this also contributes to the increased intake of high-salt meals. But what I found most interesting, is that she talked about how many of the poor people of Armenia are not able to eat meat regularly, and those that do, may do so once or twice a week. However, she also mentioned that the people here are poor, yet they wear the latest fashion, dress very well, males and females, and drive nice cars. It was interesting to hear the echoes of Dr. Wright, about Armenians and their priorities in life. Just as we had learned in class, this is often the case. They are showy, yet they may live from day to day, whether not they eat is a different matter…
What I hope to get the most out of us coming here is that we can continue to plant the seed of healthy living and to get the Armenian people thinking more about their health. This is definitely an uphill climb, but with all these efforts and students who want to make a change, things are at least progressing towards a healthier and more sustainable future for the Armenian people.
Here in Armenia, days like today serve as a nice contrast to all the fun and excitement that was had yesterday. The majority of the day was spent within the walls of the Yerevan State Medical University, and we were hard at work. It was very valuable to have the opportunity to practice running through the presentation with the interpreter. I am going to practice the presentation several more times throughout the rest of the week and weekend, and solidify and memorize exactly what I plan to say on each slide. I feel that I will be ready to go when we have our first outreach next week. Although today was a lot of work, I feel that it provides a nice juxtaposition to days like yesterday. The work is engaging and worthwhile, and it also makes the fun days seem that much more worthy and enjoyable.
After the work day ended, I went to dinner with a number of the group members, and then we went on a mini excursion to the Cascades, up the stairs, and over to the Mother Armenia statue. It was really just a pleasant evening with a beautiful sunset, and provided an opportunity to take in the full expanse of Yerevan and (mostly cloud covered) Mount Ararat. I am thoroughly enjoying every moment here in Yerevan.
Today was an amazing day of learning and experiencing. Going to the museums was just absolutely beautiful and to study and learn about old Biblical history and to see actual artifacts and ruins was so surreal. It still amazes me how i had the opportunity to literally walk up to these actual items and be in their presence. We’ve always learned and heard about these things, but to see them in actuality is very surreal.
Another thing that my house and I had the opportunity to experience was the concert and festival. It was just amazing to see the people, their culture and to just see them celebrating. People were so sincere and honest. One thing that really struck me was during the concert, a performer showed images of the Armenians who went into battle. Then it triggered thoughts and images about the genocide. It got me really thinking about how it’s so crazy that people could hate another people so much that they could kill them on the basis of their residence. I mean, from my understanding, the thing that divides the people of Armenia and surrounding countries is nothing but culture. It’s just absolutely crazy that, nearly 100 years later, this hate is still going on. But, seeing the amazing personalities. the friendliness and the happiness that I saw in the Republic Square, Armenia has come a long way and is working towards an even better future. And I’m fortunate enough to opportunity to have experienced even a little bit of this.
Today was really cool. I really enjoyed learning more about some historic sites of Armenia. The first place we visited was the Cathedral of St. Hripsime. It was a cool little church that was impressive in looking at how it was built so long ago. The Cathedral of Echmiadzin really made me realize how close we are to Israel and Jerusalem. It is pretty crazy to think that the spear that was in that cathedral is possibly the spear that was put into Christ’s side when he was on the cross. The history of religion in Armenia is very intriguing. Zvartnots was a lot of fun as well. It was different in that it was in ruins. Eating berries, jumping off a wall semi-simultaneously, and being in a quick rainstorm all added to the experience. It was a really fun day on this day that is celebrated as independence day here in Armenia.
I am sitting on the beige leather couch of my temporary Armenian apartment, my stomach is full of shawarma, and I am content. There is a light breeze blowing outside, and the comfort of this place is welcome after a long but wonderful day seeing the historic religious sites around Yerevan today. From the church of Hripsime, to the Echmiadzin Cathedral, to Zvartnots, today was rich with history, religion, beauty, and good friends. I absolutely think that visiting these important cultural and religious sites of Armenia is valuable for me personally, but also is very essential to the global health work that we are doing here in this country. Experiences like these help me gain greater insight into the beliefs and lives of the people of this country, the people to whom we will be targeting our outreach programs in the coming weeks.
Today is Armenia’s independence day, and I am looking forward to completing this reflection and then heading downtown to take part in the festivities. What a great opportunity to be here on this important day for the Armenian people! I am looking forward to discovering what tonight might hold.