This blog is written by Ungerouhi Sarin Zaitounian, after a moving experience in Armenia's second largest city, Gyumri.
Day 5 of our trip we embarked on a day trip to Gyumri,the second largest city in Armenia. The 2 hour bus drive was full of quick power naps, singing sessions, and of course lots of eating. Going to Gyumri, I did not know what to expect although I had heard it was a mini replica of Yerevan. There were definite physical similarities between the two cities but Gyumri had a special spark, a beautiful rawness to it that stems from the people there.
This impression of mine developed from my encounter with a lady named Vartoohi whom I met whilst sitting on a bench. I offered her some sun flower seeds and that was enough to get the conversation flowing. She was just as interested in my story as I was in hers. As we were talking I found out some very sad facts about her life. Vartoohi is a widow as her husband passed away from the earthquake of 1988. Over 50,000 people died and Gyumri was hit the hardest by the disaster. This was still evident today as we saw first hand the destroyed ruins of buildings and those which are under construction to help rebuild the city. As physically imperfect and broken some elements of Gyumri are, the people are resilient and continue to spread life, charm and character into the city. Vartoohi started crying as she was explaining to me the hardships of her life and my heart ached for her. The only reason why she works for less then $2 a day is to keep her mind preoccupied from the emptiness she feels after losing her husband. But within a few minutes of explaining all this to me she was able to smile. She was thankful for everything she still had as opposed to being depressed about everything she's lost. It was her request for me to light a candle at the next church I visit and to pray for happiness. As hard as her life is and with the very little she has Vartoohi has found some happiness- whether it be from her children or from memories of her husband. Back home we are so blessed with materialistic objects that we think define our happiness but we need to take a moment to be grateful for the invaluable things that money can't buy. The things that other people don't have the privilege of having or have lost i.e. family, friends, a place to call home. This is what Vartoohi highlighted to me. The people of Gyumri with the very little they had, offered so much heart and soul. I urge every person who travels to Armenia to visit the city of Gyumri and to hopefully meet someone like Vartoohi. I am grateful for this opportunity I have and hope to share sunflower seeds with Vartoohi again in the near future.