As the saying goes, “blood is thicker than water” and there is no better place to see that demonstrated than in Armenia where families are strong. Work that must be done, misfortunes to be faced, and joys to be celebrated are all shared by resilient Armenian families. To be a part of an Armenian family is to be accepted, to be trusted, to be held responsible and to be encircled with love.
David and I feel that we are, indeed, a part of our Armenian host family. We have quickly become aware of how the family functions, the gender roles which prevail and the daily stresses placed upon each member of our Armenian family. Although they initially wanted to treat us as guests, catering to our every need and schedule change, we soon became uncomfortable with that and gradually began sharing in small portions of the household routines. As an older couple, we were probably able to make the transition from guest to family member a bit earlier than some of our younger peer volunteers. From our hosts’ perspective, they probably weren’t sure what to do with their resident volunteers---their 2 year- old child’s new, American Papik and Tatik. We were soon introduced to extended family including our host father’s mother, brother and other family members who also welcomed us into their home as if they’d known us forever. Our host mother’s sisters and children were met early- on in our stay and we soon shared fun-filled experiences with them. Many of the other relatives and employees of the family’s dairy farm became regular acquaintances with frequent presence in our lives.
We certainly did not want to act insensitively to the culture of our family but gradually we began helping to clear dishes from the table and then making our own breakfast so that Anahit could sleep later when we had early classes. I helped prepare a few meals and found that occasionally washing dishes after we ate seemed both to be appreciated and not too intrusive. Our host father was frequently away from home tending his herd of dairy cows that graze in the Armenian mountains during the summer months. 2-year old Armen misses his Papa and quickly began developing a relationship with David and then with me. Recently we took Armen to a local village playground where his Mother says she rarely has time to visit. We felt like grandparents as Armen climbed on the play equipment and slid down the slide with us watching and interacting when he asked. It was basically a non-verbal communicative process with us saying “shat lav” or very good when he accomplished a new feat on the playground. There were no behavior issues and our trip ended with a walk across the street to the local khnoot, store, for ice cream. Sounds like America, doesn’t it? That 1 ½ hour excursion and bonding experience with Armin gave him exercise and fresh air, a chance to play with other children, and a chance for his Mother to enjoy a bit of personal time without a 2 year-old in tow.
Earlier in the day, David helped our host father and older son to unload a huge truck of hay bales. At this time of year, Armenian farmers are working from sun- up to sun- down cutting and baling hay to feed their cattle during the long, harsh winter soon to come to mountainous Armenia. David was accepted and respected as a family member willing to help with this farm task just as the other men in the family were.
I have been obsessed with finding a child’s hardboard dictionary with items labeled in Hayeren (Armenian language). We now have this book so that Armen and I can “read” it together. He also “reads” it with his mother, David and anyone else who will spend time with him and his dictionary, a word he knows and pronounces in English. Unfortunately the 2 year old knows many more words than this Tatik who has to sound out every letter in some words, using the not totally memorized Armenian alphabet. As Armin snuggles closer and points to pictures in his new book, I feel part of his family. His mother and father tell us we are family, and that’s as good as it gets for us in Armenia. Judy