From Tallahassee to Yerevan: My First Trip to Armenia
By Margaret Atayants
FLArmenians Tallahassee Contributor
It took me a while to sit down and write out all of the feelings and thoughts that I had gathered after my first trip to Armenia. I am blessed to be an Armenian that was born and raised in America, a country that allows me to have everything right at arms reach. Growing up, my parents never really talked about Armenia because they were born and raised in Baku, Azerbaijan and the only thing that really connected them to Armenia was the blood that flowed within their veins. As I grew older, the more I began to feel what it meant to be Armenian. I started reading and learning more about my culture. I befriended Armenians who grew up in the homeland and other families who came from Western Armenia, descendants of survivors of the Armenian Genocide. I read more; I watched more; I listened more; but never in my life did I imagine to see what I saw when I arrived in Mother Armenia.
I had been planning my trip for three years, not really knowing how it would all play out. I imagined arriving at the airport, falling to my knees, crying and kissing the ground that my ancestors built. Instead, I arrived at the airport and a spirit that was greater than me took over and held me up stronger than I have ever felt in my life. It was an uplifting emotional experience. I retrieved my bags and as I approached the exit the sliding doors opened, and I smelled the heavy air. It filled my lungs and fed my soul.
The ride from the airport was long and confusing. I thought that I would be riding into a city straight from the airport but I was riding through a ghetto of homes that were left unbuilt from after the fall of the Soviet Union. It’s amazing how after 24 years of independence some parts still look like it happened yesterday. When you arrive to Armenia, you’re stepping into the past. It’s a land that hasn’t been touched by the hands of modern men. Granted there are modernized buildings standing in Yerevan, but I never felt the air change.
I was blessed to travel from the northern edges of Armenia in Alaverdi, down to the south where we rode over the mountains to Tatev Monastery. I had the privilege to smell and feel Lake Sevan. It was cold but delightful because I could hear the sounds of the Armenian duduk in the wind as it blew through my hair.
I always knew that our people were hospitable and generous, kind with hearts and souls as wide as the ocean. But never did I imagine it to be so pure.
I will never forget the moment I was in Garni and we walked by a woman sitting down at her stand, selling homemade jam and molasses made from pomegranates; apricots that drip with juices that tasted as sweet as honey. As I bit into the apricot I looked up into the sky to thank God for these people who were filling the emptiness that has been in my soul for so long. As I looked away from the sky, my eyes slowly came down and stopped at the mulberry tree. As I child, I remember laying down a blanket and shaking the tree to collect the berries that I didn’t even understand at such a young age, why they tasted to good. Without thinking, I yelled out, “Tout!” (the Armenian word for mulberry), and the woman turned around and said to me, “Climb up my life, and pick the mulberries and eat them. This is my mulberry tree and I want to share with you.” So I did. I climbed up and as I was picking the berries off of the tree, they were melting into my hands, staining them black. Never in my life had I tasted something so delicious, something so sweet, something so full of life. I had my camera in one hand and the mulberries in the other as I was climbing back down the stairs from the tree. I didn’t know what to do with my dirty hand and this is the moment that I would never forget. The woman who’s tree I was eating from, saw that I was struggling, and told me to wait. She ran into her home to get a cup of water to wash my hands. Then a stranger grabbed my hand and washed it so gently that no matter how deep the stain it would be clean because this is what this woman had wished.
A stranger? They were no strangers. They are my family.
If Mother Armenia is calling you, go. Do not question her calls. She will pave the ground that you walk on. She will show you beauty that you cannot paint or write. She will pull your soul out of your body and with her majestic beauty and land show you what your own soul looks like. The whole country is filled with music and art, love and kindness, purity and faith, joy and sorrow. Go and understand why you love the way you love, why you cry the way you cry, why you care the way you care and why you breath the way you breath. Armenia changed my life like nothing else in this world ever had. Many people are poor; some people have nothing; some people are hungry; some people are waiting and praying, but they are the happiest to see you and love you and offer you all that they have.
Today, when I listen to the duduk, images flash of the family I never knew I had in Armenia. Wait for me, my brothers and sisters. I will be back very soon to give you all that I have and more. Armenia, you have changed me and I will forever fall to my knees and love you.