Shikahogh, Armenia - We're happy to report that we safely arrived in Shikahogh village yesterday, after eight hours driving in a bumpy bus from Yerevan! It was amazing to watch the landscape change dramatically as we drove, from attractive urban center, to rolling pastoral meadows, to high mountain steppes, to lush green forests.
Along the way, we were able to stop at Khor Virab. We learned that it was the place Saint Gregory was imprisoned in a snake-infested pit for 14 years, before he "illuminated" King Tiridates and ultimately was responsible for Armenia becoming the first Christian nation in 301 AD. Apart from appreciating stunning views of Mount Ararat, we got to descend into the pit itself. Never had we had this critical moment in Armenian history become more real and tangible for us!
Arriving in Shikahogh, the rural village starkly contrasts everything else we've seen thus far. Here, we were greeted by lively herds of sheep, goats, cows, and stray chickens! We walked around the village, and saw that only around two hundred people live here. Everyone is very humble, nice and friendly, and the mayor joined us for dinner, thanking us all for being here.
We're lucky that our new home neighbors the pristine Shikahogh Forest Preserve, Armenia's second largest forest reserve, covering some 100 km² (25,000 acres) of land. We hope that we will get to learn about the rare species of plants and animals that live here, from Caucasian leopards, Bezoar ibexes, and brown bears to hedgehogs. We already saw our first odd animal- a freshwater crab - crossing the village road!
We are grateful that our modest three-bedroom home has running water, comfortable beds and so far reliable electrcity. We have an outdoor shower, outhouse, and virtually no amenities. For example, if we want to purchase anything, we call the local shop owner so that he can open it for us! It really feels like camping!
Today was our first day working at the church, and it was incredibly exciting and rewarding to finally get our hands dirty! We learned from the chief architect that we will be doing a little bit of everything: shoveling dirt paths around the church to make a safe entrance; tearing down an extra wall that was unnecessarily added on; rebuilding the roof; and restoring the church alter. He said, "all our hands will touch the cross, before we put it back on the roof where it belongs. We're all Armenian, and we're all part of this historically and culturally significant place."
Over the next three weeks, we will share our personal stories and photos with you about who we are as volunteers, and what we're doing to restore Sourp Stepanos Church to its original condition. We hope that you will continue to read the website, and vicariously join in on our adventure! Remember that you can make a difference by donating, or by telling your friends and family about the need to "preserve our past to protect our future!"
*** You can follow our progress via photos posted in our Flickr Album ***