“Would you be interested in starting your experience in Gyumri?” It is a pretty town in the north of Armenia, its people are very hospitable and it is good to live there at this time of year… “.
“Yes why not! ”
When I decided to spend 10 months in Armenia, I knew very little about this country, everything was unknown to me and even more so the existence of this small town that is Gyumri. I wanted to make my experience authentic, and different from that of others. I wanted to find out as much as possible about this country. So I took the plunge, not without apprehension at the start.
I arrived at night in Gyumri, very tired but already amazed by the landscapes which bordered the road leading from Yerevan to Gyumri. The first “Gyumretsi” (residents of Gyumri) I met were those who became my host family for the next 3 months. My host-mother, sixty years old, quickly became my adopted “grandmother”. She took care of me like her own daughter, paid attention that I lacked for nothing, made me tea with ginger and lemon when I had a sore throat, made me taste Armenian specialties, and checked my Armenian vocabulary at each meal… She was adorable and despite the language barrier, we quickly got attached to each other and we missed each other on weekends when I went on an excursion outside Gyumri!
What I liked most about Gyumri is its beauty, wandering the narrow streets of the city center or “Central Park”. But my favorite place remains “Ani”, the neighborhood built in the years following the earthquake and where all the volunteers lodged. I cannot describe what I particularly liked in this neighborhood, it was more a feeling, a feeling of being at home and I felt good there.
The highlight of my experience in this city has been my volunteer work with the Emily Aregak association. It is a center for disabled children with various types of difficulties: autism, motor and/or cerebral palsy, deafness … Facing handicaps was not easy, but very quickly I was able to establish strong links with the children of the center, despite the language barrier. The staff were also very kind to me. I will never forget the children, volunteers and social workers of Emily Aregak as they transmitted joy and courage despite the difficulties they faced every day. I had a rich and strong human experience with these children. I gave them my attention, I played with them, I took care of them and I helped them in daily tasks, and in exchange without even realizing it they taught me a lot: patience, courage, how to listen, kindness, joy, and also love.
I can see myself three months back, worried and excited at the same time to leave my country and go into the unknown. Today, I do not regret my decision and I am more than happy to have had the chance to spend 3 months in this city. And who knows, maybe I will go back?
I would like to conclude with a poem which I wrote about Gyumri and which describes well the feeling which I have for this city.
“To be free to love,
To love what is out of the norm, out of the criteria of beauty.
To love without knowing why, or how,
To love without reason and madly,
A little piece of paradise.
Armenia, Gyumri. “