Ann Arbor, MI, USA
Theres always a period, when meeting a family who has opened their doors to you, where you, as a hostee, can be very nervous. Besides the simple fears of not being liked or not being able to understand them, you wonder about religious intolerance, lifestyle preferences, curfew hours, diet and a million other things. You cannot possibly know; it is completely random.
Compounding this, on my first night with my new host family, I became lost at a rather late hour. Wandering the streets of Yerort Mas at 10 p.m., I realized my first impression was going to be a bad one. When I was finally ready to give up, a random stranger on the street said "Gabriel?"
"Ayo," I said.
"Lav lav! Menk Anhangstanoom eink! Ners ari."
Going inside I was surprised to find the house completely alive. Nune Boyakhchyan, my host mother, gave me a smile that could warm even the coldest of hearts, and said she had dinner ready and warm for me. During my three month stay at this home, I learned that there was only one word to describe her: sweet. No matter what time I would come home, or when I arrived home ill, she would always make you feel like the most welcome person in the world. I am no proficient when it comes to speaking Armenian either, but she almost took a personal interest in my learning the language. Kind, helpful, cheerful, and most of all, sweet. Meeting her is a wonderful experience.
My host father and my savior on the street, Mushegh Yeghiazaryan, sat and offered me a drink, with a catlike smile on his face. I would swiftly learn that Mushegh was not only a hardworking and thoughtful person, but one with a sharp wit and a thorough charejiji nature. He works at the nearby television station as a set designer, and has a knack for the sport of fishing. He is one of the few Armenians that believe in atheism, and on vacation days, loves to spend time talking and drinking brandy, cognac or vodka. Do not be surprised if he offers you a seat at the table and a glass of alcohol, and do not be afraid to turn it down if you aren't in the mood. Mushegh may be a stoic, hard looking man, but his core is playful, comedic and intelligent.
It was a few days after I arrived that night that I met the final member of the family. The reclusive tatik, and mother of Mushegh's mother: Vartiter Jalalukhyan. The first time I met her, she was trying to feed me everything in the kitchen for breakfast. She was always worried I was losing weight, even as the scale read me as heavier and heavier than I had been in the United States. It was her insistence on eating breakfast that prompted Nune to make a small breakfast of lavash, cheese and meat every morning for me to take with me. Every morning, especially during winter, it became a checklist before I left:
1. dressed warm
2. have food
3. slept well
4. give her a hug
She has the look of weariness and fatigue that comes with old age, but behind her eyes still sparked a fierce passion and love. It was difficult for me to relate to her, as her Armenian is older and her English is nonexistent, but I grew to care for her, and missed her when she was not there to wish me on my merry way. She is forceful, and commanding with her love, but it would have not been the same positive experience without her.
The home is one that I would recommend to anyone. It's full of character, warmth, and a kind of care that you would only see in a classic Armenian household. The creature comforts of home are not missing here, and in some cases (internet, access to tea) it surpasses what I knew in my native land. If you can speak Armenian or Russian, living with the family will soon feel like visiting a relative. And if you can't, well, get ready for a wonderfully strange, comical, endearing, and interesting time. I am a better person for having lived with these three characters, and you will be too.