After my time volunteering in Armenia through Birthright, I had the chance to spend a few nights in Verin Bazmaberd and experience the ‘real Armenia’. Situated in the plains below Mt Aragats, the village is home to a tight-knit community of just 400 people.
When I first got to the marshrutka stop in Yerevan, a local shopkeeper and the driver himself insisted on treating me to some Armenian coffee and sweets. They were curious about my solo journey to such a remote area and asked me about what life was like in faraway Australia.
It was a bumpy ride to Verin Bazmaberd on the slippery and unsealed road, but when I arrived I was welcomed into Nelly’s home like a long-lost daughter who hadn’t eaten for a year. The table was laden with homemade string cheese, a steaming mountain of khinkali, spas, rose jam, local greens, compot, and freshly baked bread.
Part of the experience was to get immersed in rural life. So in the morning, I tried (and failed) to milk a cow, learnt how to bake lavash with the other local women, took the cows for their daily walk, and saw a baby lamb being born. In reality, this was only a small part of the hard work that goes into the subsistent lifestyle.
Nelly told me about an especially tough time a few years ago when both her sons were in Artsakh serving in the military, and her husband was working in Russia for months at a time, leaving her struggling to make ends meet.
Simon, the youngest son, proudly showed me uniformed photos of the two generations serving in the army. Now, Simon tells me that he’s studying in Yerevan, having to work long hours through the night to support himself. The tuition also isn’t cheap, with the family having to occasionally sell livestock to pay fees.
Despite the hard times, the family has endured, my experience there was filled with laughter, dancing, and of course, food. Proud of their Sassountsi heritage, Nelly and Simon wasted no time demonstrating traditional dances and showing me videos of how they party at local weddings.
I wouldn’t hesitate to recommend this experience to any Birthright-ers thinking about spending a few nights in Verin Bazmaberd for a taste of Armenian rural life. Nelly’s family welcomed me with open arms, and it was by far one of the most meaningful parts of my Birthright experience.