Preserved among 11th century churches and lush landscaping, is the opportunity to experience a refreshing perspective on life, where scholars say life began: the ancient villages of Armenia. It was where I learned that anything of value is that which never runs out when it is shared. Serving as a picturesque backdrop as we ventured out in a family friend’s SUV, the iconic snow-capped peak of Mount Ararat foreshadowed the mountainous terrain that awaited us.
After hours of bumping along roads that appeared to lead to nowhere, our friend leaned on the horn and pulled over. Before I knew it, we were surrounded by kids who looked no older than my brothers and me.
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Judging by their hugs, I sensed they knew my parents’ friend pretty well! Their excitement made me feel like we had come across the Lost Boys from Peter Pan’s Neverland. We were on an unpaved road that stretched for miles ahead of us, and was lined with shrubs. And then, the foliage parted like curtains, and we entered a world like none I had seen.
That afternoon, I discovered a land just as magical as Neverland. Set under a canopy of centuries-old trees, were weathered patio furniture and a single outdoor faucet. Magically, the furniture was covered with tablecloths, and we were invited to sit with these friendly villagers for a meal. It did not matter what time of day it was; it was obvious that this family wanted to share their blessings with their visitors. As I watched the children’s mom quickly wash dishes in a bucket of water set under the outdoor faucet, I remembered the dishwasher at home and how it was a chore to load and unload it. Here, was a family that had to wash each utensil by hand, using only cold water and a bucket that serves as a make-shift sink; yet their dishes sparkled as they were laid before us on the table.
I have had the experience of many family dinners, but I will forever remember that simple, yet abundant, meal of coffee, bread, cheese, and freshly-picked fruit. No matter how much we ate, our plates were instantly restocked and our glasses were refilled with cold water. I was surrounded by people who wanted to get to know me and never tired of our conversation. I found myself admiring branches that drooped from the weight of their treasures. Soon, we were picking fruit. Never will I ever eat an apricot as sweet as those grown in Armenian soil. As we reached for various gems, our new friends shared stories about their school, making me wonder how far they have to walk from this remote countryside. I learned that these kids were serious students who had big plans and a love for mathematics.
Finally, I got to see their home, crudely built of stones. While I mentally compared their small, modest home to ours in California, I was shown where they used to live: a freight container that served as their “temporary” home for 20 years after a massive earthquake that claimed thousands of lives. After two decades of life in a metal box that inferiorly served as shelter during snowy winters and blistering summers, this family saw their new modest quarters as their dream palace. I gazed from one of the windows of their new castle. Before me was a beautiful canyon carpeted with obsidian rock, glistening under the setting sun. With appreciation for my new friends, it was then that I realized that true wealth is not what one acquires, but by what is shared with others.
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