BY NOOR VARJABEDIAN
The happiest five weeks of my life I owe to my fellow counselors and to AYF Youth Corps. When the nostalgia hits, what more can I do but look back at the pictures I took? I have come to realize that with each picture, I remember how I felt that day. Thinking back to the beginning of my trip, I remember how nervous I was. Being the only one in my group from the east coast, I felt as though I was moving again and had to make a whole new set of friends. As the date got closer to my departure for Yerevan, I began worrying about three things. The first was the destination. I had been to Armenia twice before but being in another country for an extended period of time without my family would be different; Different currency, different customs, and no mom to ask every possible question to. I couldn’t help but think about how many times I would get ripped off because I would be a tourist.
The second thing I was worried about was the work we would be doing at the camps. Everyone warned me about how char the kids would be. Would I be able to handle them? Would they be able to understand my broken Western Armenian? Lastly, I was worried about the people I would be traveling with. Moving quite a lot in my life, I always dreaded meeting new people. I was aware that the counselors in my group already knew each other either through school or through AYF. I was so worried that they wouldn’t like me or that I wouldn’t fit in. Never would I have thought that they would be the people that would make my trip an unforgettable one, but also what I would miss the most.
My first worry easily slipped my mind as soon as we landed. I’m not sure how, but I had forgotten just how beautiful Armenia is. I found myself taking a picture with every corner I turned, trying any way possible to bring the beauty of Armenia back with me. With every new location, I found myself smiling as I stared at the amazing view. It didn’t matter if we were headed to an ancient destination or if we were on the road there, it was all breathtaking. The mountains seemed to tower over us as they reached for the white clouds. The cows and sheep grazed, surrounded by bright purple, pink, yellow, and white wild flowers. The green pastures and golden fields swayed with the wind. The blue streams and rivers seemed to be endless. I couldn’t believe my eyes. Hayastan was like something out of a dream.
My second worry seemed to fade as I got to know the kids that took part in our jampar. Were they char? Sure. But it didn’t matter. Each and every one of them always had a smile on their face. I would send pictures of myself with the kids to my parents back home who couldn’t help but notice how genuine the kids’ smiles were. It didn’t seem to matter if we were in the classroom or outside, but kids always wanted to hold my hand and play. They would look up at me and give me this big smile. It’s amazing how much of an impact one person can have on another. I felt this kind of connection with the kids, which felt odd because I thought I was merely doing my job. When my last week came in Proshyan, I didn’t want to leave the kids. They kept asking why I had to leave. Why couldn’t I stay longer? One little girl in particular was in tears. Helen was one of the kids that would constantly want to hold my hand and braid my hair. She was little but filled with so much energy. When it came time for us to say our last goodbye, she didn’t want to let me go. She wanted to make sure I wouldn’t forget her. That day she was wearing pants with little silver sequins on them. She picked one off and handed it to me, “you won’t forget me, right?” Looking into her teary, big brown eyes and told her I could never forget a best friend. Wishing I had something more to give her, I handed her a bracelet on my wrist and said “Now we both have something to remember each other by.”
The most rewarding experience was running those camps. We brought so much happiness, laughter, and fun to the kids’ summer; knowing that is something in itself.
My biggest worry of all seemed to vanish within the first week. Maybe it was because we were with each other every second of the day. Or maybe it was the fact that fifteen of us had to share one bathroom. I’m going to say it was because each and every one of the counselors in my group was open and welcoming. It was because of them I had the best time imaginable. I can’t think of a single day where I wasn’t happy. We were always laughing, telling jokes, and singing Armenian songs. We didn’t really need much to have a good time. I feel as though we made the best of every situation. Water gun fights in the three-bedroom place we were staying at in Artsakh maybe wasn’t the best idea, but it definitely was something little I won’t forget. Playing soccer with the locals, walking down five flights of stairs to grab ice cream for only 100 dram, sitting around playing “psychiatrist,” squeezing fifteen people in a tiny kitchen to cook that night’s dinner, all of it, every single second made the trip an experience like no other. Throughout my trip all I wanted was for us to spend more time with each other. I am forever grateful for the five weeks I had in Hayastan doing amazing work with a group of unforgettable people. Thank you AYF Youth Corps for the time of my life.