Growing up, I was always terrified of the cold. I had never touched or seen snow in my entire life, and there I was experiencing it for the first time in Gyumri.
I was born and raised in Dubai, where during the coldest winters, the temperature would reach an “ultimate” low of 15 degrees Celsius. Just add a (-) sign before this number, and you have Gyumri’s temperature when I first arrived. It was incredibly difficult for me to adapt to the weather, knowing at the time that I would be experiencing at least 3 more months of it.
What really helped me through the Gyumri winters was not more thermal wear, but the warm hospitality, the love, and care of the people of Gyumri.
Soon enough, I was comfortably laughing at my situation. The irony of how a girl from Dubai decides to come to Gyumri in the cold month of February and volunteer for 4 consecutive months. The funniest moment was looking at my host family’s facial expressions when I told them how hot the summers could reach in Dubai. I think these conversations alone helped us all feel a bit warmer.
I am trying to find the words to describe my experience in Gyumri, but words just won’t suffice. This city has experienced so much throughout history, and you could still sense it today. The devastating earthquake in Gyumri happened the year I was born in 1988. 30 years later, I found myself experiencing how the city is still recovering and emerging from under the rubbles of incredibly difficult times. Despite the pain (or maybe because of it), you could feel the resilience, love, and care, generosity, and warmness of its people. Not to mention my favorite characteristic, their constant humor.
The bumpy Marshrutka rides and the walks on unpaved roads were inconveniently a necessary way of travel, but part of me started to get used to this so much that there are times I even miss it. It would all be worth it after you reach your jobsite and meet the most kind-hearted and supportive colleagues or be greeted at the door by your loving host mother. I was so incredibly blessed to have been part of the jobsites that were assigned to me, and being part of a host family that I can comfortably say are like my own.
How did the winter in Gyumri change my life? It changed my life because I realized that the beauty of who we are could come as a result of growing out of painful experiences. Gyumri showed me what it means to be resilient. It taught me that to thrive; we need to learn how to survive. Surviving has a new meaning to me today. Surviving is a privilege that we should cherish every day. With resilience, faith, and love we can not only build what was destroyed, but we can thrive knowing deep in our hearts that no matter how traumatizing our experiences are, we rise from the ashes renewed in the realization that we are stronger than we have ever been.
Dubai, United Arab Emirates, 2019