Remember to Be Happy this Holiday
Making the trek from the subway station on a rainy New York Street, I turned the corner to see a huge, gold-topped Armenian church. I smiled at this little slice of my second home on our holiday getaway. It reminds me of one of the best things about living in a small diasporan community: the excitement and feeling of friendship you get when you meet a new Armenian.
A few minutes early for our meeting, we stop to admire the intricately carved wooden door depicting the conversion of King Trdat the Great in 301 AD. Getting a little nostalgic for the beautiful churches of Tavush and Artsakh, we head inside to meet Garnik Nanagoulian, the executive director of the Fund for Armenian Relief. We’d taken the opportunity of being in New York to finally meet Garnik and Andre Berg, FAR’s communications director, who we’d only spoken to on the phone before. Inside, we were greeted with an Armenian welcome, served coffee and cookies as we sat down in Garnik’s office. It was wonderful to meet in person, and to feel at home with the hospitality of people who had no problem taking time out of their work day to talk to us. Andre gave us some tips on connecting with people and using social media. Garnik told us how he’d originally been in the USA working as a fellow at Harvard on conflict resolution projects in Mississippi, Colombia, and other places, when he learned that there was a job opening at FAR.
“I’ve been working here for more than ten years and I love it,” he said. “And one of the amazing things about working at a job like this is that you find that the people who have the least often give the most.”
That got me thinking about one of the things that’s most inspired me about working in Armenia: the generosity of the people that we’ve met. When Ter Aram, the local priest in Berd invited us to come see his home village of Chinari, we stopped at a store on the way to buy cookies for the children in the family we were visiting. He not only refused to let us pay for the cookies, but before we knew it we were whisked into the back of the store by the owner to have coffee and fresh apricots.
When Margarita took us to see the school where she taught in Choratan, we walked in to our shock to find that the entire staff had assembled to talk to us. Afterwards, the principal and his wife invited us to their home for a huge meal of pork khorovats, fresh vegetables, and more.
In Nerkin Karmir Aghbyur, Nara, our guide took us to her family’s house. After showing us the many bullet holes and broken windows in their house, they insisted that we come in for coffee, which soon turned into a feast of coffee, apricots, homemade wine, fresh cheese, and more. We were sent home with another bottle of wine, as well as more cheese that we ate for the rest of our week there.
I could go on and on describing the people who took the time to open up and tell us their stories, and filled our fridge and our suitcase with whatever they had to give. Their generosity to complete strangers, and the love that they gave us despite their difficult situation inspires me, and I’ll never stop being grateful for every moment. But perhaps what I’m most grateful for is the lesson that one of the best ways to make happiness where you might see none is to give it to someone else. December can be a stressful time, but share a cup of soorj with a friend, and remember to be happy this holiday.