The wings that carry us home
Published: Saturday February 02, 2008 in Living in Armenia
There is this phenomenon known as the Canadian snowbirds. The snowbirds are people who in their younger, more financially productive years had made sound investments. Their children have flown the coop. They are retired and have more money than they know how to spend. That generation were notorious savers of money, unlike mine (or perhaps only me) who have decided to live in the moment and not wait for the rainy day or for our retirement but enjoy the fruits of our labor. I was lucky enough to have wise people in my life who taught me that lesson. Nonetheless when the first signs of winter are in the air, Canadian snowbirds make the trek down to Florida in droves. Most of them have apartments in gated communities from Miami to St. Petersburg. And as the first snowflakes descend upon the Canadian prairies the snowbirds are already halfway down to Florida.
They eventually find their way back home when the trees and flowers are in bloom and the freezing rain, the snow pellets, and the unbearable winds have died down.
Most repats like ourselves fly away from home in Armenia in search of warmer weather, exotic places, a change of scenery, or to return to our previous homes to visit family and friends. This past month the majority of my repat friends, including my family and I had flown off to these destinations. Some had traveled to Lebanon, some to Australia, others yet to Malaysia and Singapore, Dubai, Sharjah, Cuba, and some of course to Canada.
A few days ago while the weather outside hovered at a cool -20? Celsius, a group of us got together to relay stories of where we had been, what we had seen, and how we felt to be back.
I remember the first time I left Armenia after moving here. I was flying off to Casablanca, Morocco, with a long layover in Paris. I was anxious about what I would see and how it would affect my return back to Yerevan at a time when most streets didn't have lights and finding maple syrup was like looking for Aladdin's lamp. I remember walking along the glorious boulevards in Paris and feeling so small amidst the imperious buildings. The only thing I can say about Casablanca is that it sounded far more romantic then it actually was.
I couldn't wait to get back to Yerevan, to the familiar buildings, to early mornings when the sun would rise and cast fantastic shadows among the tree-lined streets. I missed the smell of diesel spurting from exhausts; I missed the honking of horns and groups of youngsters walking arm in arm to school. I even missed the rude shopkeepers. There are those who insist that back then I was still in the "romantic stage" of repatriation.
I think they're wrong.
I have had the opportunity to travel many times outside of Armenia and every time I leave I can't wait to get back. My family back home start rolling their eyes whenever I'm in Canada and constantly talk about wanting to get back to Yerevan. This past week proved to me that I am not the only crazy person who feels this way.
When my friends who have moved to Armenia from different parts of the world started talking about how much they missed Yerevan a few days ago, I finally felt vindicated. For the group of us repats who have found and embraced each other, the sacrifices have been worth it.
There are times however when I sit back and look at us all and feel that unlike the Canadian snowbirds, our wings are battered and weary. None of us has aunts, uncles, cousins, parents, or siblings here. An outsider might think we resemble orphans or a bunch of outsiders pretending to fit in.
Many years ago we had all gone to see a play in Yerevan called 44 Degrees. It was about a couple from the United States, Mgro and Anush, who had moved to a small village in Armenia. They had come with romantic notions and extravagant dreams of making a new life for themselves in the motherland.
The husband, Mgro, was keeping bees to make honey, while Anush was yearning to return to the States. Any time a fellow villager would decide to leave the country in search of a better life outside of Armenia, they would leave the keys to their homes with Mgro. After a time all the villagers had left and only Mgro and Anush were left in the village.
Every night Mgro would bring out a huge telescope and study the stars. Yerevan is found at 44 degrees longitude, and he would try and track its position. After he would put his telescope away, Anush would come out toward the break of dawn and look up to the skies and talk to her mother. Her stirring words of garod were heartwrenching. All of us there in the theater had left our mothers behind. At one point during Anush's talks with her mother I broke down and began sobbing, trying desperately to contain myself as my girlfriend reached for my hand. I thought my heart was going to explode inside my chest.
Finally Mgro's wife persuades him to return back "home" to the States. She asks him, "Why should we be the ones staying here when everyone else has left?" Mgro breaks down and agrees to leave behind the village he has grown to love. As he is leaving with his suitcase in hand, he suddenly flies into a rage and destroys all the beehives he has lovingly cared for. His bees escape as he weeps for their loss, for the loss of his dreams, and ultimately for his loss of the homeland. As his wife is dragging him off stage one of his bees return. Mgro becomes delirious with joy. He turns to his wife and says as long as one bee returns, that means there is hope for the others and he decides finally to stay.
When the lights came on, my friends both male and female were sitting in their seats weeping uncontrollably. We understood so well what the message of that play was. It had a special meaning for us repatriates. We understood that we while we had left behind our mothers the motherland had adopted us and we now belonged to it and it to us.
That evening we came back home in a stupor. Exhausted both physically and mentally we were sitting around the dining room table unable to talk. My daughter who was a mere 13 at the time looked into my eyes and said, "Mom, I am so proud to be here."
No matter where we go, where our travels take us, no matter how far we have flown to get here, this place is our home and we all love it. That is all I can say.