I can only agree with Leo in his last post about the intensity and humbling experiences in Artsakh, being one of the most intense weekends I have had in my life both time wise and emotionally. The second day was everything Leo described and so much more to it that cannot be described, and therefore it was a bit relieving to know that on our third day we would get slightly less war-related experiences. But the intensity, humility and bittersweetness was present day three too, just in slightly different ways.
It started with a bus ride to a small village (more; gathering of houses) from where we set course to hike along the Janapar trail. Having around 80-90 volunteers hiking in the forest on a narrow trail actually went smoother than I had anticipated, and we had a great guide who showed us safe ways through winding forests and beautiful landscapes. We arrived at a village just in time for lunch, that the staff and local villagers had prepared for us. We sat down and listened to the thank you speech for the locals who had made all the food and waited patiently for the applauses and whistles to fade out (it can be a never ending story with our Lebanese volunteers, but we love them anyway). Then, finally, we got to eat. In front of us was fresh veggies, savoury blinchikis, cooked hen, pickles, dolmas and of course bread. Not to forget the homemade cakes and baklavas. It was nothing less than a typical Armenian feast.
Next on the agenda was a wine mob in Stepanakert. Little had been told about what it actually was, more than that is was going to be a lot of fun. And it was. We were divided into groups of 4-5 people, handed a bottle of wine and then the challenge was to finish the bottle of wine together with a local. So we just went into the nearest apartment building and started to knock doors. Behind the second door, a man in his 40is opened and he seemed to have heard about this before (AVC & Birthright do it every trip to Artsakh). We were immediately invited to sit down and in a split second the table was set with more wine than we came with, brandy, tea/coffee, fruits, cookies and sweetbreads, bread and cheese. The man and his mother sat down with us and luckily we had some Armenian speakers in the group that translated the conversation to us who didn’t know Armenian. His mother, a very old little auntie, sat next to me and persisted on speaking with me, though she didn’t know a word of english. When we didn’t eat enough of what they had put infront of us, she gently slapped my arm, pointed energetically on the food and stared me down until I took a bite of something. Then she smiled, continued to tell me something in Armenian and I pretended to understand. I did got some translated however; she had been beaten as a child and had a rough childhood but now she was happy with her two sons being grown up with kids of their own. It was heartwarming and humbling to hear that families have found their happiness and can see the positive side of things despite everything happening around them.
Our final stop for the day was at a person named Saro’s house; who has invited all the volunteers for a kef (Armenian dinner party) at his house each time Birghtright & AVC been in Artsakh. Setting up dinner for 90 people might sound impossible, but as so many times before, the Armenians lived up to the Swedish saying “finns det hjärterum finns det stjärterum”; which literally means if there’s space in the heart there is space for the ass. 90 volunteers squeezed in at long tables at Saro’s house and we got a huge dinner of khorovats, lavash and wine. And when the dinner had started, so did the toasts. It is usually expected that everyone make a toast during Armenian dinner, and this kef was no exception. The toasts started with Birthright staff expressing their tremendous gratitude to Saro’s family, the people of Artsakh and the kids that where fighting at the borders which was very touching, and it was just the beginning. One touching speech after the other, being more emotional for each speech, not leaving anyone unmoved and it felt like the whole room was crying at one point.
Unfortunately, I did not get to hear all toasts. I had had a bad feeling in my stomach since the wine mob (not because of the wine), and it just got worse during the kef. I sneaked out from the great hall, only to find a bunch of other volunteers out in the hallway who all were feeling just as bad. It appeared that a large share of us had got food poisoning from the lunch, and one by one we went under. I managed to get an early ride home to our host mom, who acted like the saint she is and helped me while I spent the rest of the evening in the bathroom. My stomach made sure to put a very bitter ending of an otherwise sweet day, but at least I will never forget this day of our time here in Armenia.