Alright, you’ve endured 3 out of 4 days of our Artsakh trip, now’s the time for the last days report. As Emma previously mentioned (and experienced), people were dropping like flies. First it was one person with an upset stomach, followed by someone who threw up, followed by more people feeling ill, followed by more sick people. The day was full of unexpected moments, like the fact that when we we’re supposed to go home to Yerevan, the bus was 45 minutes late, first we thought that we’d somehow missed the bus? But it all became clear once it finally arrived.
The reason being that during the bus route to pick everyone up they had to stop for people to throw up some more. Entering the bus was in a very overly dramatic way like entering a hospital tent during the peak of the Spanish flu. People lying down in their seats, others being more quiet than usual, which was most noticeable in our Lebanese party friends. I was left with three very distinct feelings:
- I felt so sorry for people having to endure the long bus ride home while feeling sick
- I’m so thankful that I seem to have an iron stomach, because I was feeling totally fine
- A bit of poison might not be such a bad idea to be able to get a quiet bus ride in the future
We the healthy few
The day however for the iron stomach early birds, including myself, got up early and went on a short hike to the top of a canyon near Shushi to experience some more of the breathtaking beauty that is this country. It was a beautiful morning just enjoying the views and reflecting everything we’ve experienced during the last days. I would also like to mention what Emma said about day 3; the speeches and the way people opened up their hearts and shared their thoughts was so heartwarming. I’ll probably sound like an old granddad, but I couldn’t help but think how proud I was of everyone.
After the hike we went back and were finally on the way to the last visit before we headed home towards Yerevan, Gyumri and Vanadzor. A place called Gandzasar monastery. I like making pointless references to things and I’m going to do it once again here, because you know…it’s my blog (50% mine at least).
Back in Roman times whenever a General achieved a major victory they, together with their army would be invited to Rome for a victory parade. While the crowd was cheering on and the victorious general was celebrating just about the highest honor possible, there was a slave with him in his chariot. The slave’s sole purpose was to recite “Respice post te. Hominem te esse memento. Memento Mori”. Which translates to “Look behind. Remember you are mortal, remember you must die”. One of the purposes of this was to remind the generals not only of his mortality of course, but about humility.
Phew, now that we’re done with that long background, that’s exactly how I feel visiting all these monasteries in places I can only imagine were very hard to reach, let alone build upon and maintain afterwards. I’m just humbled by the sheer stubbornness and will of our ancestors to build these things before the invention of modern comforts.
There and back again
After a few hours at the monastery it was time to head back, people were still feeling worse and worse and the ride home took even longer due to sudden stops so our fellow volunteers could throw up a bit more before finally arriving in Yerevan. You could probably remake Hansel and Gretel with the bodily fluids left by our buses from Shushi to Yerevan, but a few days of rest made everyone feel better.
I can’t say I’ve been on many trips that left me with this much food for thought as the four days in Artsakh. It’s just not the type of trip I’ve chosen before. It was an eye opening, humbling trip that I’m very happy to have experienced. Even though there was many sad stories, I can’t say that’s the main thing I’m taking with me home. It’s the ever present generosity, the closeness to a laughter and the stubbornness of the people there, determined to not just be victims of their circumstances, but to make the best of things.
In my own opinion there are a lot of things most of us take for granted, some problems who might not be as bad if put into perspective of what other people are going through, and some hardships that are beatable with the right mindset and some stubbornness. For me, this is something this trip has given me.