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Martin Analian
Argentina participant
19 Jul, 2022

Live in Gyumri, Love Gyumri

8 min read

In these first weeks, I lived all kinds of experiences. First days in Gyumri: spring, a flourishing city - dzaghgatz im Gyumri, a city alive in every way. As spring progresses, more and more trees open in flower, distill their perfumes that flood the old streets, passages, and paths. As spring progresses, the market fills with colors, life, seasonal fruits, and, again, full of aromas of apricots, strawberries, cherries, and freshly ground coffee (as you cannot miss anywhere in Armenia).

Living in Gyumri, Armenia

What is special about this city, too, is that, in addition to its beautiful flower gardens with roses and tulips, the streets are full of fruit trees,in each flowerbed and in each free space, the flowers and wild bushes brim with freshness, with the new heat, the summer rains, the life that is renewed every year. Gyumri is without a doubt a fascinating city: theatre, music, dance, food, history, and architecture, no trip to Armenia is complete without visiting Gyumri, where the feeling and essence of Armenianness are red hot. Another of Gyumri's delights is its pure water from the mountains. In any street, one finds fountains where you can drink and be satisfied with clean and cold water, even in Summer.

Of course, water will be abundant in Gyumri, in this humid and mountainous region, with snow in winter and rain in summer. Just take a bus, a taxi, or walk a bit to find yourself in one of the surrounding towns. Vahramashen, Krashen, Marmashen, Voghji, Meghrashat, Maisyan, Artik, Amasia, and dozens of other towns form the outskirts of the most important city in northern Armenia. Most are found in higher places, colder in winters, and cooler in summer, where the water literally gushes straight from springs. As soon as you move away, you begin to see the fields of onion, potato, and wheat and the green mountains that surround the valley, like carpets folded on the horizon. In the distance, to the southeast, Mount Arakats (the highest peak in Armenia), is still covered in snow and ice. Garmir gagachner (oriental poppies) dominate the landscape, at times when only a sea of ​​red and violet can be seen.

What I most appreciate about Gyumri is the hospitality and the excellent disposition of the people, to help you, welcome you, and take an interest in your life. The people of Gyumri and Shirak province have a particular warmth. From one moment to the next, when they find out that you are Armenian (or that you are not, but intend to inhabit this beautiful country and get to know its culture and language), it is very likely that you will end up at home, drinking coffee, sharing homemade sweets and chatting about life. The hospitality, the disinterested interest and the feeling of brotherhood make this city like a big family. Trust and love are common currency in this region where life and the feeling of Armenians thrive.

Living with a host family in Gyumri

My experience with my host family was excellent, they came to consider me a paregam (friend of the family and relative at the same time, like those uncles or nephews without blood ties). I was able to share time with my host sister and brother, and above all, with my host mother, Nelly, with whom we spent long hours chatting about everything: life here and there, the history of each one, of our families, what unites us and what differentiates us. Nelly knows how to welcome volunteers very well; she helped me to improve my Armenian language, always trying to make me speak with the correct words and, when there was something I didn't understand, she helped me with Russian words, with mime, with simple explanations until I could understand the new word.

Birthright Armenia program opens the doors for you to insert yourself into the life of Armenia. It allows you to work in places where your knowledge and skills are valued, it allows you to create professional and sustainable connections, it gives you the opportunity to get to know different places in Armenia so you can choose your favorites, it gives you the opportunity to acquire (or improve) your knowledge of the Armenian language. This is not a tourist impression, it is the impression of someone who had the privilege of living in Gyumri for a few months. The possibility that Birthright Armenia gives to young Armenians around the world is invaluable. The fact of being able to live as a family, enter the job market, get to know the day-to-day life of the city, is something that cannot be achieved with a tourist visit.

Volunteering in Gyumri with Birthright Armenia

My volunteer work led me to meet people from diverse backgrounds, with varied ideas and experiences. From artists, and managers, to workers in the fields of gastronomy, hospitality, agriculture, information technology, education, and manufacturing of dairy products. One can access the knowledge of all kinds: typical music and dances, food, crafts, carpet and tapestry manufacturing, and even honey production and swarm care. These examples are by no means exhaustive.

One of my internships was to help out at a cheese factory, a family business. Two days a week, very early in the morning, I took a 40-minute minibus to Meghrashat, a town northwest of Gyumri, on the border with Turkey, where Armineh, Aida and Artak welcomed me to join in the daily work. Heat the milk, skim the fresh milk (separate the fat to later make butter), take a short break to have a coffee, continue skimming and then heat the milk to make the traditional cheese of the Shirak region chechil banir (cheese in strands). Haireniket kez bid chi morana (your country will not forget you) Grandma Aida told me, thanking me for the help she gave them. I learned thousands of things with them, from dairy work to botany and gastronomy of the area. Every day was a different challenge, until the day I managed to make the cheese on my own. However, the greatest achievement was being able to lend a hand to Aida, the grandmother, who works tirelessly to help her children and grandchildren; of those tireless grandmothers who don't stop for a minute and worry about the tiredness of others, not their own. I had never seen so much dedication and austerity coexisting together.

Participating in Birthright Armenia is a precious experience, beyond visiting Armenia and exploring its corners, having the opportunity to connect with people and recognize your brothers and sisters is the best reward and the best contribution.

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