First Impressions—Part I

Quilted work at the National Center of Aesthetics after Henry Igityan, a local cooperative that teaches children the fine arts of needlepoint, painting, music, puppetry and more

I really didn’t want to go. The thought of traveling for two days to get to my destination was not too appealing, nor was the fact that I would be flying internationally.

My travels to Armenia were a first in my adult life. My dad is from Beirut, Lebanon. Mom’s family is from Ankara, Turkey. My grandparents survived the genocide in 1915 when they both met in an orphanage run by German missionaries. And I was in Armenia to participate in the Musical Armenia Project (MAP) through the Armenian General Benevolent Union (AGBU).

It was an opportunity to not only learn more about my primary instrument (piano), but to learn about the country, people and culture of a land that I only spoke about growing up in Wisconsin and now living in Connecticut.

It was an honor to be chosen to be a part of the MAP and to also travel to many cities in Armenia! Before the program began, I spent a couple of days in Vanadzor. The drive from Zvartnots airport was stunning, to say the least!

The mountains were mean and glorious, all at once. I am overjoyed at the sights, but I do see poverty. We stop at a market with the most beautiful breads and fruits. The sights and smells assault my senses. When I finally have a chance to taste the food, I decide that EVERYTHING tastes better in Armenia!

My host family celebrating around their gracious table

My host family was so gracious and generous. It was our second meeting after I first met them through my niece who had participated in Birthright Armenia a couple of years ago. They were her host family, and now they were mine. Who opens their homes to strangers? Armenians. I have carried on that tradition not even knowing that it is a value that flows through my Armenian veins.

I was astounded by the brightness of the stars.

When all was dark, I was astounded by the brightness of the stars. I had never seen them from where I live. And in the morning, the swallows swooped outside my window, offering a ballet in the air. The mountains surrounding the city looked as if they would swallow us all, but they also gave a peaceful feel to the city.

It was a pleasure to learn how to roast vegetables on the gas stove that sits out on the porch and to peel them while dunking them in salty, cool water to make part of a meal. It was a joy to drink as much soorj as I could and to enjoy the browned noodle dish for breakfast with a dollop of plain madzoon on top. What was that called anyway?

For all the rubble and stones, abandoned buildings and trash and for all the buildings that looked like they would collapse under the weight of a feather, I found some things that made me feel proud to be an Armenian.

I found a devotion to faith that was deep.

I found a devotion to faith that was deep. I went into a church with my hostess and witnessed a baptism. I saw families together and children being themselves. I saw people smiling and laughing and kissing one another with no embarrassment or reserve.  

I found a curiosity with each person I met. “What do you do for a living?” “How much do you get paid?” “Do you like your president?” “What are you doing in Vanadzor?” “Do you speak Armenian?” As I answered the peppering of questions, I found a piece of me was present. I am a curious soul, too. I ask lots of questions. I wondered if all Armenians are like that.

I found generous hearts, people willing to give, willing to share and give of their best, willing to learn and to welcome strangers. I’m like that, too.  

I found generous hearts

I wrote this in my journal: “I feel like home here. Like rest. Like a calm that I haven’t known in a long time. I’m surrounded with the beauty of the mountains. I almost hate to leave. I will miss the stars and my new family.”

It is striking to me how people could be so delighted and delightful mainly, I think, because they don’t have a lot of things. I wished that I could express myself more eloquently with the language so I could make my gratitude known.

As I depart this wonderful city, I am thanking God repeatedly for the courage of my father and his parents to leave all things familiar to bring life to me…another generation. The tears won’t stop. And neither do my adventures.

A fresh fig from the Vanadzor countryside. It tasted better than anything I’ve ever had.
Ruth Hartunian-Alumbaugh
Ruth Hartunian-Alumbaugh is a Board Certified, Registered Music Therapist who calls faith, food and family her holy trinity. She lives in Connecticut and writes a food blog (Ravings and Cravings) for her local newspaper, The Chronicle.
Ruth Hartunian-Alumbaugh

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  1. Wonderful! Thank you Ruth for sharing this beautiful , thoughtful part of your life!
    Looking forward to the next installment!!

    • Thanks, Pam! I’m just seeing your comment today. I hope you enjoyed the other pieces of the story.

  2. Articulate, moving, coming home to a place
    Not known and finding more deeply who you are.
    I do appreciate you sharing the love.

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