Yesterday, the Birthright Armenia excursion took me to the ArmAs Winery in the Aragatson Province of Armenia, about an hour away from Yerevan. It was really a relief to be out on the land with such an amazing view of the horizon. After a quick tour of the winery, we got to help out in the actual vineyards with the grape harvesting.
The manual labor of harvesting was the most enriching experience I’ve had in Armenia so far. As soon as I had a pair of scissors in had, four women excitedly corralled me into their group down one of the long rows of vines, and immediately the party began. The language barrier ceased to exist: somehow, they understood my Western dialect perfectly and I had no problem deciphering their endless questions about my family and my home of California. They played music while they work, sometimes shouting at Vahe (the young man who drives the truck where they empty their pails of grapes into a trunk bed) to play music from his radio as they danced. I danced with them, laughing uncontrollably with them as they giggled at me. They informed me that their group “was the best” and that we all had to take photos together, at least five on each woman’s cell phone. They insisted upon showing me the photos, and asked me to see the photos I took of them. This exchange was incredible: I’ve never experienced someone reacting with actual joy after seeing a photo of them that I took. I felt a weird amount of pride when they told me that of course I look Armenian, that they were “shad ooragh” (very happy) that I could speak Armenian, and that they were simply glad that I was there, and one of them.
After awhile, we got down to business and they showed me where and how to trim the stems of the grape bunches off of the vine. While we talked about my family, I thought of my mom, who grew up in Fresno and had harvested grapes a few times, probably alongside other Armenians. I thought of how many women throughout the centuries had labored over grapes in Armenia and in California. I remembered that I had been told on our tour that the oldest known winery was actually in Armenia. For the first time since coming here, I felt truly tied to a tradition, and it was because I felt physically close to the land. I felt like I understood in a small way how the early Armenians in Fresno might have felt comfortable in California, despite its distance from their homeland in the middle east.
Finally, here are some of the photos from the day, beginning in the winery and ending with our elegant lunch.