I love Armenia. I love the mountains, the monasteries, the vineyards. I love the history, the landscape that is rich with a million connections to our past. I love the culture of hospitality, the warmth you find in everyone you meet. I definitely love the food. I love things about it that I haven’t figured out how to put into words.
Coming here as a volunteer with Birthright Armenia has been the perfect way to fill me with a deep appreciation for my heritage and incredible optimism for the future of this country. We are told about the problems and the hurdles that make the way forward more difficult, but always in the context of what is being done to help. There is deforestation, but that is why the Armenia Tree Project exists. Finding a job that pays enough to live on is difficult, but there are businesses that hire as many as they can and provide for them to the best of their abilities. Life in Artsakh is hard, but when we were there earlier this year, I lost count of how many people commented on how much has been rebuilt, even in the past few years.
That being said, the weight of what still needs to be done can be overwhelming. One of the first pieces of advice every Birthright Armenia volunteer receives is to not give in to negativity, and sometimes that advice is easier to follow than others. Someone will mention how much they want a green card so that they can move to America and someone else will say how frustrated they are with life here, and it becomes more difficult to see the best parts of this place. It can be hard to keep from falling into a mindset that sees either the good or the bad, but not both at once. At least, it is for me.
I suspect that all this--the fact that it’s become easier to see the broken bits and the things that need fixing-- means that I’ve slipped out of the honeymoon phase of coming here for the first time. The giddy excitement of standing in the land of my heritage has dulled a little, and the view that remains is far rawer. The contrast between the two was greater than I expected, and I was not ready for the little voice of fear and frustration that came with it, whispering that things will never change and families will always be split up as they search for jobs, that trash will always litter the sides of our roads and our natural and cultural treasures.
But that view is so small. It forgets about how far we have already come and denies the work and the vision of so many people who see potential where others see failure. It looks around and sees what doesn’t work but not everything that has already been fixed. Worst of all, it’s the kind of thinking that paralyzes, because if nothing is going to change, trying to make things better is a waste of time. And, it’s categorically false.
I started this piece by saying that I love Armenia. Part of that is how much I enjoy all of the things I mentioned above: the culture and sights and history. But if that was all I meant when I said that I loved Armenia, it would be a shallow and a fruitless love. Real love sees what is truly there, both the good and the bad. It hopes for the best and believes that it is possible. It’s how we love our families, with all their quirks and all their qualities. It’s why, when it comes right down to it, I choose to believe that Armenia will continue to improve. Because it has to. Because too many people love this place too deeply to let it happen any other way.
Santa Barbara, CA, USA