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Learning About and Appreciating the Village Lifestyle

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Shikahogh, Armenia - Living in Shikahogh village as LCO volunteers has been humbling, slow-paced, and amazingly eye-opening. Every day after working on the church, we enjoy a hearty lunch of green beans, salad, bread, cheese, and a different entrée, followed by a few hours of free time. During this time we hand wash our clothes, take an outdoor shower, play games, do arts and crafts, read, or just watch livestock wander in and out of our yard. But best of all is hanging out with our new friends in the village!


We've played soccer and hung out at swimming holes with local kids, toured family homes and backyard gardens, and befriended veterans who showed us their battle wounds and told us war stories. We've enjoyed the village "discotec" – a simple auditorium with a boom box where around 20 kids go dancing every night at 9pm. LCO volunteer Lori Pogarian said, "At first it was a little awkward, because we were dancing with complete strangers. But the music is really good, everything from Armenian songs to Rihanna, and they're great dancers. Now when we go, we all dance together, even the little eight year-olds! It's really fun!"


One of our most memorable days was going on a three-hour hike in the Shikahogh Forest with our 36 year-old cook, Narine. She showed us three natural springs where villagers come to relax and do khorovats (barbecue), and along the way we filled our bellies with delicious water, blackberries and toots (mulberries). LCO volunteer Anoush Taylor said the hike was really special, because she learned about and connected with her Armenian heritage. "I didn't learn that much about Armenian culture in school or from my parents; it was just from my grandmother, Metzma. Being here I can see how she grew up, and how she aspired to be the wonderful woman she is. I want to be like my Metzma when I grow up, so I really like the village life – living off the land, the gardens, and how everyone works together as a big family."


Along the way, Narine told us sobering stories about her life – how she grew up in the nearby city of Kapan, but came to Shikahogh at age 17 when she got married against her will. She said "it was scary at the time, but I like my husband, he's a good family man who provides for us." Narine pointed at a green meadow in the distance, a three-hour walk from the village, where her husband herds sheep and cattle four months out of the year. She told us that she worries about her children’s future, because there are no jobs in the village, and many people are leaving. She also showed us grassy spots in the hillside, where her mother-in-law hid during the Ngorno Kharabagh war around twenty years ago.


After our hike, Narine invited us all to tea in her home. Lori couldn't believe how beautiful and clean her home was, in typical Armenian style. "Sitting on her deep mustard velvet couches, with lace curtains hung up over all the windows, eating the homemade tea, fig jam and honey she gave us – I could have sat there for 3 days straight!" Narine showed us her huge barn that holds more than twenty cows and sheep, her fruit trees, vegetable garden, and where she bakes lavash bread.


Lori asked Narine if she lives happily in Shikahogh village, and she said yes, she's very happy, because it's a simple life of doing the same things and seeing the same people every day, and everything she does is "from the heart." In that moment, Lori realized, "our lifestyles are on completely opposite ends of the spectrum. Narine's lifestyle is calming and simple, whereas in America, I get so tired being constantly bombarded with my job, school, and social media. Words can't describe what I'm gaining from these conversations and memories we’re creating."


When asked what she'd like to leave behind in Armenia, Anoush said she hopes to show the villagers  that we appreciate their lifestyle. "Even though we aren't living in the village permanently, I hope we show that we as Armenian-Americans care about our culture, our heritage, and about village life - the gyoogh! That's why we came here, to work on restoring a church for the local people, so they have a  place where they can come to be spiritual and to pray. If the villagers can see that we care, maybe that will give them hope to stay here and to keep on living this life that's so important to our shared history and culture."

*** You can follow our progress via photos posted in our Flickr Album ***

  • "There are experiences you shape and then there are experiences that shape you. The LCO Campaign of 2007 in the village of Azat offered me invaluable perceptions into the realities of my fellow Armenian brothers and sisters in a way only a true immersion program can. I urge everyone and anyone who might feel an inkling of belonging to this fascinating country, people, and history to sign up with the campaign immediately. I smile just thinking about what you have yet to experience."
    Noushig K, Azat 2007, CA, USA

  • "Coming back from a 4-day trip to Kharabagh really felt like coming back home, with our family waiting to greet us outside our house. That's when I realised just how attached we'd grown to the place, to our family, to the other volunteers"
    Anoosh Gasparian, Azat 2009, London UK

  • "I went to this trip with no expectations, and came back with a great appreciation for our country.  Life in the village is surreal, the food is beyond delicious and the people are incredibly nice. It was a once in a lifetime experience I will never forget!"  Sam Tahmasian, 2009, CA, USA
  • "LCO is an amazing concept. It introduced the deprived Diasporan to their land and their people. It is a wonderful introduction to Armenia and something every young man or woman should experience."
    Madlene Minassian Ispirian, 1996, 1997, 1998, 1999, Yerevan, Armenia

  • "My most memprable experience was being so warmly taken care by an old village couple, receiving gifts from them, giving them gifts and establishing bonds."
    Naira Der-Kiureghian, Ayroum 2003, CA, USA

  • "...I know that when I reflect back on this experience I will feel ecstatic about the work we accomplished, the things we saw, and the bonds we forged."
    Hovig Saghdejian, Ayroum 2003, California, USA

  • "Dolma is made with mum's careful instructions, grandmothers eyes found on the faces of children, songs of Ararat are as familiar as the Khachkars dotting the landscape. If it smells like home, looks like home then it must be home."
    Datevig Simonian, Shadvan 2004, California, USA

  • "LCO experience was a revelation for me. It gave me the opportunity to expand my horizons both personally and professionally. One of the most important experiences of my life and an important factor in determining my future goals."
    Lara Aharonian, August 1999, August 2001, Montreal, Canada.

  • "I formed strong bonds with my volunteers, and the difference in backgrounds was refreshing. It was interesting to hear the points of view of different Armenians from other areas of the Diaspora."
    Aramazt Kalaydjian, Shoushi 2003, NY, USA

  • "I loved the simplicity of life in the village, the fresh homemade food is wonderful; that people are the friendliest and most hospitable... the children have the most beautiful faces..."
    Sophia Balakian, Shadvan 2004, New York, USA