Christina A. Mehranbod
Redondo Beach, CA, USA
I’m a checklist kind of girl. I came to Armenia with clear goals, a super organized to-do list… but left a part of the planning stages out of my control and entrusted Birthright Armenia to find my host family and you can only imagine the nervousness I felt.
My to-do list in Armenia
I arrived with big, possibly overambitious goals. Knowing this would be one of the most exciting opportunities of my life, I refused to limit myself from dreaming big.
My five goals to accomplish while in Armenia:
- Learn Eastern Armenian
- Go to an Armenian wedding
- Learn Armenian music — song & dance
- Build a bridge between my home and my Homeland
- Be part of a family in Armenia
Little did I know that I would be placed with most amazing family, the Avetisyan’s. They undoubtedly would help make these goals come true in the funniest, most unique way possible and in ways I could not possibly have planned out in my agenda.
1. Learn Eastern Armenian
I speak Western Armenian at a level where I can get by in Armenia. However, I pronounce all my “k”s the exact same, and all my “d”s the same, so learning the difference between ts, tz, dz or d, t, and the letter in between the two was my version of a nightmare. I would come home twice a week with what appeared to be 15 minutes of Armenian homework, and would end up spending two hours trying to slowly read the articles with the correct pronunciation. One night I asked my 11-year-old host sister Yeva for help with my homework, and I will always remember it as one of my favorite nights with the Avetisyan’s. Yeva was laughing at my struggle and Lilit, the 18-year-old who quickly turned into my friend, was sitting on the other side of the couch doing her own homework and correcting Yeva and I every time we did something wrong. Meanwhile Hasmik, my host mom, was making pirashkis in the kitchen and yelling it’s not “tsuyn” (the way Western Armenians say the word ‘snow’) but it’s “dzuyn”. It took an army of Avetisyan’s to teach me the microdifferences in the letters. As much as they laughed at my struggle, we loved the moments where I would read at snail’s pace just so I could master the language that bonds us.
2. Go to a traditional Armenian Wedding
I’ve seen countless YouTube videos, read the personal narratives, and several history books… It’s been my dream to go to a traditional Armenian wedding. I think that was one of the first things I told Hasmik, my host mom when I moved in. One night, Hasmik invited my two best friends Sareen and Taleen over for dinner. While drinking a glass of wine, the conversation of Armenian weddings was brought up. Realizing that Sareen and Taleen were leaving in a few weeks, Hasmik asked Taleen to walk into the other room with her. I was a little confused as to why she pulled only Taleen away but didn’t think much of it. Within 10 minutes, Taleen comes out of the other room with a beard and mustache, drawn by my makeup artist host mom, flowers in her hand and dancing to Shirkhani. My host mom, in the meantime, is carrying a long white dress and starts dressing me. Hasmik decided if we aren’t going to have time to go to a real Armenian wedding, than she was going to make her own. We spent an hour just hysterically laughing at how ridiculous this all was. But that was Hasmik’s heart: to give us the experiences we would never forget. There was no way she was going to let us leave Armenia without seeing an Armenian wedding. Maybe there wasn’t an extravagant band, maybe there wasn’t a giant dance floor, but in our living room, with makeup on, music blasting, and hearts filled with joy, we made our own wedding.
3. Learn Armenian music — song & dance
My family is so musical: Hasmik and Lilit always have music blasting, Yeva dances latino ballroom, we vacuum to music and even eat to music playing in the background. They knew I was obsessed with Armenian music, especially with the dhol and zurna. One day Yeva and I were jamming to some music, learning uber-traditional Armenian shoorch bars (group dances), and Hasmik tells me to sit down because she has a present for me. She then pulls out a toy dhol (a type of Armenian drum) and we start playing and singing Armenian folk music. That was an average night for us.
4. Build a bridge between my home and my Homeland
One night I was sitting on my laptop in the living room with my host sisters and host mom when I received a Facebook message from my mom (the one living in Redondo Beach, not my Hayastan mom). She was asking how I had learned all these Armenian dances and where I got that new red dress. Super confused, I scrolled through my text exchanges and Facebook messages seeing if I had ever told my mom about the new dances I learned or what articles of clothing I had just bought. Hasmik sees the confused look on my face and just chuckles. I asked my mom how she knew and she just sends back a “haha” with a winky face emoji. HASMIK AND MY MOM were secretly Facebook messaging about me. That's when I knew I had two homes. My two moms were bonding. My two moms laugh about the same things. My two moms cry whenever they see their daughters cry. My two moms are crazily stylish, youthful, and hands down the funniest people I know. So, from that message exchange on, anytime Hasmik would hear me Facetime-ing my mom, she’d come into the room and make sure she got to say hi to Dzovinar Jan as well. My home and Homeland aren’t two separate things. I have two homes, two names: Christina and Qiso, and now two moms.
5. Be part of a family in Armenia
We’re goofy, we’re silly, we cry together, we laugh together, and they made me one of their own. We joke. We’ve had hospital sleepovers (yes, my first hospital experience was in Armenia). We have English/Armenian/Russian movie nights. We have something called “christina can fall asleep literally anywhere” where everytime I fall asleep while doing something or watching TV (which was quite often), they would be sure to take a picture to document that moment. Without a doubt, I am part of a family here in Armenia.
Within a short amount of time, my list of goals was not only accomplished, they were completed in a manner that is still unimaginable to me. At this time I may have moved out of my host family’s house to be closer to the center, but that does not mean I have lost touch. I still talk to my host mom on the phone and chat with my host sisters on Facebook. Now that my initial bucket list has been completed it is time to think of other points to take their place and I’m sure with the help of my famil(ies) and friends I’ll be sure to complete