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Ziplining with the Folks
So I'm usually the one in my family to go on long road trips, hike up mountains, and try new things. I'd gone ziplining at Yell Extreme Park at Apaga Resort a few times already. This time I was on a mission to get my parents to give it a try. We went with a group of people mostly my parents' age, and a few people my age. Nothing beats watching your mom cling to her harness for dear life, or watching your dad's adrenaline rush kick in as he yells "next time I'll be doing this like a pro!" This is an experience worth sharing with loved ones!
Torture Well Worth It
A couple years back, I had the brilliant idea of taking my best friend on a surprise adventure for her birthday. I heard that this mysterious place, Lastiver, is beautiful, so I booked us both seats on a day-tour. Little did I know that the hike would be a 1.5 hour trek down and another 1.5 hour climb back up. It was a bit treacherous for someone as sedentary as I am, but totally worth the blood, sweat and tears.
At some point, with a cliff to our right, the narrow path we were standing on, and the view of these forest filled mountains and valleys to our left, I practically thought I was in a Lord of the Rings film. The nature was that fantastical.
There were points in our hike where we were struggling, but luckily there were people there to lend a helping hand. Honestly, I was worried that my friend would hate the gift, considering how dangerous and difficult it was. Luckily, she loved it, especially once we made it to the waterfalls.
At the waterfalls there were big, friendly, white dogs that seemed to be hyper aware of the people in the area. I had a hunch that they were somehow trained to sound an alarm if a human got injured or was drowning or something of that sort. They were so lovable <3
We returned home with a sense of accomplishment having survived the hike, and with memories that will last us a lifetime. I'd recommend Lastiver to all!
Frozen Lake Sevan
I cannot count the number of times I have been to Sevan Lake in my lifetime, but winter of 2017 definitely sticks out in my mind as being the most memorable. I had been learning amateur photography, and our teacher suggested a field trip to Sevan in the winter to capture the lake in it's frozen state. The results were nothing short of breathtaking! The photos I captured were even featured in the official Lake Sevan Facebook page :D
I highly recommend visiting Sevan in the winter season, so that you can experience the magic for yourself.
Brothers in Arms
When the brew spills over, heads turn and voices gasp. When fighting escalates in weaponry and losses, it’s noted in the press. When a 20-year war intensifies within the scope of four days, that’s when we come together. But coming together in tragedy is nothing new; it’s recovery and the life that follows, which seems to spread us thin. If only there was a way to wean ourselves off this pattern, perhaps we could prevent it from happening again. So ten months later, we drove past forward; from four days in April 2016 to present struggles. Destination: Artsakh.
Sweeping a few kilometers under the tires, we started on the M2 heading out of Yerevan. Where natural mountains don’t provide protective terrain, man-made ones will. All along the highway, berms have been forged out of soil to ensure safe passage, to ensure travelers don’t become targets. As every region we drove through brought us closer, the number of men in uniform increased. Their exponential growth impressed upon us that the so-called “conflict” or “question” breathes along the border every day, and things are far from resolved.
Still, even in our own Artsakh, weather remains indifferent to war. As we walked up the winding road of Doomi, the sun called down in infinite beams and the snow answered back in crystal sparks. A powerful reflection of earth and sky – one that was as clear and present in nature as it was in people.
Sitting in the home of one of the fallen soldiers, we listened to Lusine graciously share the last conversation she had with her son, Maxim. Meanwhile, standing close by was Maxim’s four-year-old daughter, who resisted the pull of sadness. Instead, she shed the carefree look of a child and echoed the stern glance seen in her father’s military portrait. Undoubtedly a father’s daughter. A reflection from one generation to the next. A tribute to our own best selves.
In Mokhrenes, we met Mkhitar, Suren’s younger brother, father of two, and an officer in his own right who also had a similar torch to carry. In another family, on his way back from the hunt, Nver’s younger brother, Azat, used the rifle swung over his shoulder and a firm handshake to demonstrate his unwavering readiness to carry on the family name. Ten months after the fact, through recognition by institutions and individuals, families were coming to terms with their loss and communities rebuilt themselves. And while the grief for loved ones ends, the search for justice remains a burning constant.
Certainly, Zinaida knew that. Her son, Andranik, fought along the Line of Contact in April, and later she fought against hurdles of her own, determined to see her son. Given their condition, the process of returning the soldiers was done mainly by closed casket and through distant relatives – a reminder that even in the darkest of circumstances, we do not surrender our humanity. Through what can only be described in words as a mother’s undeniable insistence, she made it to the morgue and in her search, she found her son, those of her friends, and everyone else’s.
Zinaida is a Moldavian-born mother who lost a Ukrainian-born son in an Armenian war. Her son, Andre, or as his Armenian step-father would rename him, Andranik, voluntarily chose to fight alongside his friends, and his sacrifice was no less equal. His mother had just as many friends in the village as anyone and obviously had a life in Artsakh that extended to her remaining children and grandchildren. For this reason, we never would have suspected such a cross-nation history. Yet Zinaida’s first words were, “You’re surprised I’m not Armenian?”
Before looking to terminology set forth by international diplomacy like “border disputes”, we ought to take stock and examine the boundaries we build amongst ourselves. By any measure, those are the ones we cannot afford. Though a small remark, Zinaida’s words clearly stemmed from the same place of ridicule an Artsakh soldier studying to become an officer in Yerevan may face. During his studies, he’ll be called Karabakhtsi, and upon his return home, Hayastantsi. This begs the haunting question, how many more casualties must we endure to finally understand that divisiveness is an obstacle between us and the justice we seek. That we’re all Armenians.
Being Armenian has less to do with our past than it does with the present. Being Armenian is about more than our heritage or place of birth. It’s about what we do now. Andre is someone that will always be remembered as Andranik. He’s Armenian. Because an Armenian is anyone who has a connection with this land and honors it with service.
An Armenian can be anyone. And it should be every one of us.
Soldiers on Stage
The evening before, I came through the door exhausted from a final rehearsal. Tossing my bag on the floor, I trudged my sore muscles into the living room, where every piece of furniture was lavishly yet bizarrely covered with bright costumes and bold national ensembles. There was one dress that hadn’t been hemmed yet, so my grandmother hurried me onto the table to make the mark with a needle and thread. By that time, I was so clumsy from our final run-through that I was reminded of the chandelier above only after it hit my head. Needless to say, we both began to laugh.
“Poor thing. They really wore you out today,” she said, “Here, stand still and look at this photo I found.”
As I stood there with my head cautiously tilted to one side, I looked at a picture of a four year-old me with my grandfather sitting on an old tire in the background. According to my grandmother, he would play the tire like a drum, giving me a beat to jump around to on the “platform” of cracked asphalt— a far cry from the stage at the National Opera House that awaited me tomorrow.
While these memories were something I only had access to through second-hand recollections, no one had to remind me of the work leading up to tomorrow’s artistic undertaking. About a year and a half before I stepped out onto the stage of my dreams, I pitched my story and years as a dancer, to the troupe director, Arthur. (Thanks to the phenomena commonly known as only in Armenia, the conversation was short, sweet, and to the point.)
“What’s your background?”
“Seven years ballet, four years ballroom and latin, and two years folk dancing - on and off, whenever the group in DC would get together. Our numbers were pretty small.”
“Washington? You lived there?”
“Born and raised, yes.”
“That’s a long way to travel to dance.”
“Rehearsals start at six. See you tomorrow.”
Initially, I thought it was my classical training that made him have faith in my ability to learn, but later I realized that wasn’t what he valued most. Arthur was as loud, tough and demanding as any lead choreographer, but at the same time he was a mentor and friend to all of us.
Warm-ups, which naturally came at the beginning of class, also served as a de facto roll call, where those present would have to bear responsibility for anyone who didn’t show. “This kid crossed an ocean, and some of you can’t even cross a street to show up on time!” he would yell. I was always humbled to know that’s how he saw it, but I also had to understandably brace myself against the coldest of shoulders from my fellow troupe members.
Eventually though, I began spending less time on the bench and more in line. In six months, I picked up a few costumes and started dancing one or two numbers in front of smaller auditoriums. Training six days a week, piling into buses, huddling in the wings, and literally having each other’s backs on stage, we became an unbreakable unit, fighting together, standing together.
Then came the day of. No matter how I tried to hide under the covers for ‘five more minutes’, the sun still promised a proper summer's day in Yerevan of at least thirty-seven degrees. The performance was set to start at 1900, which meant that we were due to report to the Opera House at 1100. From this point on we were committed and kept radio silence like a special ops team until 2100 when this would all be behind us. Settling into the dressing room was a strategic time to gather our thoughts. The calmness and composure that filled our lungs and minds seemed to juxtapose all the frustration and tension that preceded it.
Fifteen minutes before the show, we made our way to the stage in full make-up and costume, with the knowledge that the heavy red curtain was the only thing separating us from our audience. Then, Arthur who like us had changed from sports gear to more presentable attire came on stage. One by one he talked to us, taking a moment for last-minute reminders and, most importantly, congratulations.
From stealthy sprints in the wings to mighty entrances on stage, before I could wrap my head around what was happening, it was the finale. Out of breathe but full of smiles we stood and listened to the master of ceremonies. Just as he was about to leave, we noticed him signal the crew to delay closing the curtain, so we quickly nudged one another to stand at attention a little while longer. Then, he closed his remarks with a phrase that made us go from not slouching to standing straighter than any of us knew was possible. “Our army is what protects our nation and gives us strength. And looking at our youth today, I can see that our army is not only standing on the border, but our army is also here—on this stage.”
The applause and encore Kochari came in one sweeping wave of pride. I felt the fists of two men lock behind my back as I locked with hands the women standing on either side, and our feet began to pound the floor once again. Our steps were as clear as a single voice, as united as a single force. Out of many, one. The army on stage.
Looking out over this beautiful vista, I scribbled something down in my notebook. It goes like this:
Our eyes rarely ever meet;
My love is afraid of her own reflection.
When I lead her to a mirror
She takes to darkness or uses deflection.
Somedays she brews ultimatums,
My love sees black and white.
She talks of wars and weapons
And so forgoes the light.
My love has an entire past
Yet bits is all she will see
Would that I could show her how noble she was
And now (potentially) how sovereign and free.
My love is young with ancient roots—
Her governing body makes youthful mistakes
Often she resorts to abuse as weight
Under which, naturally, she breaks.
She would betray herself
For the wink of Western finesse
She thinks that a constraint of her people
Is the only way to disarm and impress.
◊ ◊ ◊
What will be my place in her history?
I’m moved to ask,
How can I be of help?
What then will be my task?
◊ ◊ ◊
It would seem I should show her
That education is not a disturbance,
She should speak her well-learned mind,
Not let fear dictate a concurrence.
My love should ask questions,
Yes, search and debate.
My love should not feel helpless,
But rather the master of her own fate.
And help her I should
To see each problem as an occasion
Devise a creative solution,
Further her talents of persuasion.
But my love tests me,
Angers, as only she can
Still, she won’t shake my conviction
Nor the mission of this man.
The day she dared hurt herself
Nearly broke my heart.
But I won’t leave my love to ruin
I won’t permit her to fall apart.
◊ ◊ ◊
Determined to make her all that she can be
By the sweat of a man’s brow
She is to prosper—
Beginning this moment, beginning right now.
My love is everything—my daughter, my darling, my wife
My love is my country I serve, and for whom I devote my life.
Alright, I confess! Once upon a time, I snuck out of work for a secret photo shoot. Of course, you have to ask yourself, how secret can it be if you're in one of the most trafficked parts of the capital near the Republic Square? Oops! Guess the cat's out of the bag now!
The First Kiss
The story of how I met my husband is something that truly requires a map. From border villages to the edges of Artsakh, it seems we had spent time together everywhere but in the city. So one cool spring evening in March, we finally went on a casual outing in Yerevan.
Many Armenians have seen the classic movie Tghamardik (The Men), and my husband (then boyfriend) and I are no exceptions. The movie captures the meaning of friendship, loyalty, and particular brand of perseverance and determination that Armenians seem to all share when pursuing happiness.
This life-size statue of the main heroes in the movie embodies the warm spirit of the film - a spirit that I believe lives in all of us. And in that spirit - yes, you guessed it - we shared our first kiss!
Is this Armenia?
One of the most magical experiences of my life was when a group of friends and I went on a road trip to Goris and decided to hike down to the caves beneath the Devil's Bridge. At first I was terrified, because the way down meant climbing down a mini cliff with nothing but a rope for help, and well, I have short legs so I struggled a bit. Luckily there was a local teenager who came to the rescue! He not only helped me and the other girls down the ledge, but also guided us to these gorgeous caves. Once we were there we didn't want to leave! We couldn't believe our eyes that such a beautiful place could be hidden in Armenia and how few people actually know about it. If you ever make it this far, take the extra step and visit these caves. PS you'll get wet so you'll need bathing suits of some kind.
Swing the Stress Away
I have many fond memories here. Back when I used to work at Tumo Center for Creative Technologies, a group of coworkers and I would often go to the park during our lunch break. If the weather was particularly nice, after having something to eat we would hop on the swings and relieve any stress we'd been experiencing. It was a great way to relax, have fun, and recharge for the rest of the day. Embracing your inner child is the best way to get through a Monday ;)
Walk on the Graves
Don't be afraid to walk on the graves, in fact it is a sign of respect for the deceased!
Split in Two
Although the tree is seemingly split in two, charred and mangled, it is actually still alive and growing, as can be seen by its green leaves. The space within can supposedly house 100 people! But maybe that's like a lift being able to fit 12; no one's ever tried!
Tatev - Give me Wings
As the legend goes, the name of the monastery comes from the builder who finished it. When he placed the last tile on the roof, he looked up to the sky, and said, "Astu ta tev! Let God give me wings!" and jumped off the cliff!
Sevan is calling
To take your friends and go to an unplanned trip to Seven is a must. The most beautiful place in Armenia especially in summer!
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Ararat in green
I never saw Ararat in green like this
Nature Covered in Snow
Noravank Monastery with its awesome nature covered in snow.
Clear blue skies, contrast between the red mountains and the white snow.
The Majestic Mt. Ararat
The Majestic Mt. Ararat covered in snow and behind thick clouds.
Gloomy Day but Worth the Visit
Nature's beauty is covered in snow, even the sun is shy.
Literally "breathless" with the view also by climbing the hill at -14C :)
First Day in Armenia
Went to Garni Temple on my first day in Armenia. Still majestic even though the views are covered in snow.
Will definitely come back to see nature's beauty. :)