Glendale, CA, United States
I had never seen anything like it. The purple coloration coupled with the swirling white paste spread all over its body in undecipherable patterns made it seem unworldly. But then I heard something, something that tugged at my heart in an inconceivable manner. Soft tender cries filled the room, reminding me what I was looking at. Gevork was born August 2nd, 2017 at the Austrian Child and Mother Hospital of Gyumri. It was the first childbirth that I had ever seen and it honestly changed my perspective on life in a way nothing else could.
I had arrived in Armenia only two months prior not knowing what to expect. My decision was spurred along by the rejection from Medical Schools which had unbeknownst hurt my pride. It was at this point that Marcus Aurelius’ words resonated in my head. “The impediment to action advances action. What stands in the way becomes the way.” So, I fully accepted my new exciting path, to live in Armenia for 4 months. Even though I had visited my motherland almost annually, it was different this time; indeed, I noticed that Armenia was not what I thought it was. The touristic lens that shrouded my vision had come off, and I finally saw Armenia for all its ugliness and beauties.
My first three months were spent in Gyumri. For being the second largest city in Armenia, there isn’t much. Knowing there is a population crisis, with constant emigration resulting in an ever decreasing populace, I was surprised by the energy of the city. Streets were crowded, birds were whistling, cafes were bustling; to sum it up, the city felt alive. The determination of these people’s will to live is unrivalled. The catastrophes that plagued the people could not snuff out the light of the city, on the contrary, it only strengthened the people’s resolve. The sardonic smile from the heavens was brushed away with such ease and grace. I have always heard the saying ‘be happy with what you have’, but this took that statement to the extreme. The people were undoubtedly happy regardless of their situation, whether it be financial, their wellness, or a plethora of other reasons. I visited families living in domiks (shipping containers turned into shanties which were left after the relief effort for the Spitak earthquake of 1988) and was in disbelief when I was offered food. These people are living in severe poverty that is indescribable with words, and yet they still give.
I went to Armenia for a number of reasons. Professional development was possibly the crowning reason. I needed to see for myself what healthcare was like in Armenia, how the doctors and nurses dealt with being undersupplied in almost every way. I specifically remember hovering over Gevork at the neonatal intensive care unit in awe as a makeshift oxygen mask (it was a plastic box) with tape in awkward positions was placed over his face. Another reason was to help the Armenian people, my people, something that I had pledged to early in my life but somehow never got around to doing. However, now that I have returned to America, I realize the monumental change that occurred, not in Armenia, but in me. I learnt so much about what it means to live, to be happy and to cherish those around me. The slogan Birthright Armenia has adopted ‘journey to self-discovery’ is truly accurate. I am grateful for having had this opportunity and I am grateful for being Armenian.