Shikahogh, Armenia - Our last week in Shikahogh village was action-packed, full of heavy duty work and festive farewell gatherings.
We completed a fun "demolition project," using sledge hammers to tear down a bathroom made of stones and cement that was haphazardly annexed onto the rear of Soorp Stepanos Church a few decades ago. We also finished stacking hundreds of clay tiles on top of the church roof, through many days of passing them in an assembly line and lifting them to the roof with a pully system. We are proud that we accomplished a great deal, in that the roof was tiled in just a few short weeks with our assistance!
On Friday July 24th, we held a Madagh attended by all the villagers, the priest of Kapan, mayors of the surrounding villages, and the vice governor of the Syunik region. First thing in the morning, we LCO volunteers helped prepare the food and banquet hall. When everyone arrived, we participated in the ceremony of blessing the church cross and placing it on the roof. Afterwards, we feasted on khorovats, toasted "Genats!" countless times, sang and danced to Armenian music until late in the evening.
The next two days we went on excursions, first to visit Halidzor to see the fortress where Davit Bek famously defeated opposing armies in the 1700s, and Vahanavank to see a beautiful old church surrounded by beautiful forests. The next day we drove through stunning arid mountain step landscapes to Meghri, which overlooks the Armenian-Iranian border on the Arax river. There we admired a 13th-16th century church in need of restoration, walked around the city, and enjoyed pizza in a comfortable outdoor café before returning to Shikahogh.
Our final full day in the village was Wednesday July 29th. In the morning we went on a 5 hour hike to the top of nearby Kari Berd "Rock Fort" mountain, where we enjoyed incredible views and took tons of pictures. That evening we had a wonderful farewell party in the community center, attended by all our village friends plus around 15 young people from Yeghvard village. It was a great way to bring everyone together and celebrate one final time, complete with khorovats, special performances, and a lot of dancing!
We left the next morning, saying goodbye to our dear friends amidst many hugs, small gift exchanges and tears of joy. After countless gatherings in village homes, on the soccer field, at the local swimming hole, on the discotec dance floor, and at our church work site, we truly felt like we had become part of the village family during our short stay in Shikahogh. Five of our eleven volunteers who stayed after the LCO campaign to watch the Pan-Armenian games in Yerevan are already planning a trip back to Shikahogh on August 9th, so that they can stay with our cook Narine and share a few more precious days of quality time in the village!
*** You can follow our progress via photos posted in our Flickr Album ***