5 Cups of Soorj: An Adventure in Armenian Hospitality
On the fifth round of soorj (Armenian coffee) and food, Ghazar kept saying "Eat, Araxie, eat!" but I had already eaten too many apricots, pastries, and chocolates to count. Ghazar Ghazarian, the famous Armenian painter, and his wife Nune had invited us into their guesthouse to eat and talk. Between marveling at the beautiful paintings that covered the walls and the postcard view of Dilijan from the front window, I admired all I had seen of Armenian hospitality.
We took our first cup of soorj with our gracious hosts at the Dilijan Tufenkian Hotel. Then we drove to the small city of Berd to meet members of the Fund for Armenian relief who took us Aygepar. But before we went, they sat us down to talk and have some coffee, chocolates, and apricots. When we got to Aygepar the mayor then invited us into his office for more food and coffee, as well as brandy.
"We drink the brandy to make our minds wiser and to have more courage," he said, before having a toast to peace in the future.
The people of Aygepar were very friendly to us, taking us into their homes and showing us around the village.
The hospitality didn't end there, though. Our next stop was visiting Vahe, one of the little boys we support through the SOS charity for orphans. His SOS mother Narine made three types of Gata (Armenian sweet bread) as well as berries she brought from her home village, and of course, coffee and apricots. She even sent some of the Gata with us for the road.
Our fifth and final cup of soorj was with Ghazar, when we went to talk to him about his art, and his ideas about art in Armenia, as well as to see the Dilijan Museum where he is the director. He and Nune were so friendly to us, and he told me that next time I need to learn Armenian, and that we need to stay at their guesthouse, and it would be free.
I am forever amazed at the hospitality and generosity of Armenians. And, in a welcome change from some other countries I've visited, a cup of coffee isn't a sign that people are trying to sell you something. In fact, it's been quite the opposite. We've been offered free souvenirs, meals, snacks, and even rooms at Ghazar's house. From a country that's had as much economic hardship as Armenia, and from people who know we're American travelers, it's just amazing to me how friendly and generous people have been.
It's just another one of my many motivations to learn Armenian, to be able to properly thank these people (with more than "shat shat shnorhakalutyun.") And, of course, it's yet another reason to visit this country, to experience a culture of hospitality that is unique among all I've seen.
Fun fact: Armenia is the only country in Europe whose word for coffee doesn't have an Arabic root. The word "soorj" is onomatopoeia coming from the sound of sipping coffee.