Discovering Armenia: an Experience of a Lifetime

When I told my family that I was going to volunteer in Armenia, on an impulse and without any reason to leave, nobody questioned my choice. Of course, they were concerned. My grandmother opened her encyclopedia to letter A, looking for Armenia. You may be surprised to learn that Armenia is located between Argentina and Aruba. My grandmother’s encyclopedia must date from the 90s, the information inside is not really up-to-date.

But here I am on September 1st, at Yerevan airport equipped only with the information my grandmother told me. At first, and even today, I can say that I did not have any cultural shocks, at least compared to what I already knew. I soon met the AVC staff, Tania, the director, Anahit, Hasmik… everyone was very welcoming. I was like a balloon or teddy bear that we take everywhere with us and discover the world. I discovered so much about Armenia thanks to them.

When I think today about what Armenia is for me, it’s hard to put into words. It is many emotions, many things that we see but cannot explain.

If you walk through the streets of Yerevan, a very strange feeling follows you. Hundreds of lives, discernible, different from each other, face you. A woman is washing out her window; two men are playing backgammon in the street; an old woman is sweeping the leaves of the garden every morning; men are selling their heart-shaped balloons …

I am not writing this text to tell you how beautiful or important Armenia is to me, but to tell you more about volunteering. Two activities punctuate your life with AVC: job sites and excursions.

Job Site Hunt

We searched for the job sites with the AVC staff to see which job would correspond to my studies and desires. I had an opportunity to do different things with them. I worked as a photographer and videographer for an association that creates traditional Armenian clothes. I participated in several audiovisual projects for the communication of AVC. Finally,  I worked in the audiovisual communication field for a foundation that seeks to develop the art of ballet in Armenia.

What will remain the most rewarding work for me is creating a short documentary film about the war in Artsakh. This is a problematic issue for the Armenians, which is unfortunately not settled yet. Thanks to AVC, I met Armenians ready to testify about the war and their lives during this period. These were tough testimonials but full of hope.

Excursions

The second activity that punctuates your volunteering is excursions, organized by Hayk, or the man with the beard and the hat. You will have the chance to live crazy and unforgettable experiences, to see splendid landscapes everywhere in Armenia, and to meet families that are more than welcoming and generous. Excursions are never perfect, Hayk will always lie to you, there will never be ice creams, and if you are lucky your bus will not break down. Despite all this, these are the best memories I have and will keep from my experience here.

I met fantastic people, volunteers, staff, and Armenians. I learned how to live with them. I understood what it was to be Armenian, and what it meant to live with a past so heavy and so present.

Today, we are living in a difficult period with coronavirus. Still, I have chosen to stay in Armenia, and I hope to be able to stay here after the end of my civic service.

 

Marie Fratacci,

France, 2019-2020

June 6, 2020