I never knew what it meant to be Armenian; I grew up in the French culture, being taught that I was French and Spanish. I still remember the first time I learned that I was half Armenian rather than half French by blood. I was a kid, and my grandma told me that she was born in Constantinople. I thought this was in France, but I couldn’t find it on a map, and my parents told me that it was in today’s Turkey, and it is the former name of Istanbul. I was 8, and didn’t understand what it meant. No one talked about Armenia; not even my grandma, it was like it is taboo.
I started looking at my background at university, reading about history, my family, the culture. Then I found Birthright Armenia. I am not going to lie to you I had never heard anyone speak Armenian before going there, or went to the country and the moment I arrived in my host family, in this house that looked like the same as my grandma, I looked at the window and said to myself « Marion what the hell are you doing here ».
This was the beginning of an incredible journey.
I am being asked all the time what my favorite thing in Armenia was, well it is really easy to answer: THE PEOPLE. They are here all the way, and yes you will be told that Armenia is a real country with real people, but these people who do not even know you will treat you like you are family.
They are going to care about you, feed you (a lot, a lot, a lot, so forget about your summer bikini body), they are going to argue with you because you don’t want to eat anymore, hug you when they know you have Armenian heritage and you come back to the country to volunteer, make you drink Vodka for no obvious reasons, laugh with you, show and teach you what it is to be Armenian. And then they are going to be very proud of you when they see that you know how a roll a perfect Dolma.
The most significant part of this experience was meeting people like me, with Armenian heritage, looking for the same thing: learning who they are. People you don’t feel ashamed with for not knowing anything about Armenia, people you’ll share this journey with, people you’ll cry with and laugh with, people you’ll create incredible relationships with beyond Armenia. And I think this experience wouldn’t have been the same if it weren’t for them.
I have a new big family.
So I could have talked about the places I visited, the work I did, the beautiful landscapes, the adventures I had, the festivals we have been to, the best food I ate. But I wanted to show you what I am getting out of this experience.
I have learned that Armenians are very proud people, guess what now I am one of them and will not hesitate to say out loud that I am Armenian.
I have a new identity. I guess it was actually a self-discovery journey.
See you next year, Armenia.