By Edwin Mirzayans
Andre finds himself sitting in a café near the opera house in Yerevan. He is dressed all in black, and he places a pack of cigarettes on the table.
I ask him if he smokes, he tells me that the only reason he carries the pack of cigarettes around is to blend in with the locals. He looks like a local, but in fact he is a young kid from America looking to start a new life here in Armenia. His journey to Armenia began six months ago when he was thinking about where his life had led him, and where he wanted to lead his life.
“If someone said I was a villain or a hero, they will read this, and may or may not change their view. To this day, I do not know if I am the villain or hero. It is possible I am both. But from looking back on things I have figured out my true destiny, which is God's plan himself.”
Andre, like many other Armenians who have come to Armenia, grew up in Glendale, California. He had a decent job that paid for his car, his exotic pets, and the apartment he was living in. He had a girlfriend who loved and supported him. He was going out and enjoying life with his friends, like any other twenty one year-old, but yet, deep down, he felt something was missing in his life.
Andre had a lifelong dream. Throughout his young life, Armenia had been calling out to him. Armenia, however, was a land that seemed to be far out of reach for Andre. He told me, “There was a magnetic pull of coming to the land that I had no visual picture of, Armenia. Music, my favorite cartoon shows, even some of the amazing leader's autobiographies awakened me. I can't put a date on it, but at that moment, destiny arrived. I saw an advertisement for the vehicle that would take me to Armenia; a volunteer program that sponsors adults for maximum of a year in Armenia.” Andre found his golden ticket, and with that he was going to change the course of his life forever.
From that day, Andre began to plan his escape. He kept his plan a secret until his journey to Armenia was set. He wasn’t sure if exposing his plans to the people around him was the right or wrong thing to do. He just knew that those around him needed to be aware of what he was planning. As he slowly began to reveal his plans to those around him, Andre quickly began to realize why he needed to escape.
He was surrounded by doubters and people who lived in a bubble of self comfort. He was told by his fencing coach that “You have no idea where you are going, you are so lucky here. I lived there for so many years. Just go there once a year as a tourist, send money to a charity, and that's good enough, you don't have to live there." And his grandfather told him "I too tried to do the same thing, it didn't work. When I got there, someone asked me why I came here, all I said was I just want bread and cheese, and I will be happy with my life here. You will never find cheese here, I promise you."
His father tried to do the same thing by going back to Iran, but he was spoiled by the American lifestyle and ended up returning back to the States. Andre didn’t have good examples to go by, but he knew that his journey to Armenia would be different.
The last month before his departure to Armenia was his most stressful. One by one he told his family members goodbye, and though he didn’t have a close relationship with any of them, he still found it hard to say goodbye. Andre revealed to me that, “My family wasn’t exactly a family, everyone hated each other, and they lied, cheated, and stole from another. I'm sure there are worse families, but I'm not sure if this even qualifies to be called a ‘family’. I have always been a smiling, innocent, gullible guy. So I eventually fell for some of my relatives saying that Armenia doesn't have hot water in most places, and electricity is a luxury. With that in mind, and my innocence, I believed it.”
He went on to tell me, “Me being a spoiled American, I wasn't sure if I could handle that on my first day. So I conditioned my mind and body for the new life in Armenia. Ironically, I believed God had the same idea. My crappy childhood, my dog dying in my arms, being raped/molested/abused, and much more played a major role in ‘shaping’ me to be able to endure what I endure now, and the journey ahead. I stopped paying my water and power bill, so I went 60 days without hot water and electricity in my apartment. I slept in my car a bunch of times, shivering in the cold, to prepare myself to sleep uncomfortably.”
Slowly Andre began to cut ties with his life in America. He had made up his mind that he was never going to go back. He maxed out whatever credit cards he had, buying items he always wanted. He gave his cat to the local animal shelter, and he took his exotic pets to the local pet store. His fish were thrown into a garbage can where he watched them die. He told me at that moment he didn’t have the desire to smile anymore. He faced the fact that he would never see his grandparents or other relatives ever again.
The night before his departure, he told his soon to be fiancé goodbye. He knew that it would be the last time he would see her face, and he spent his final hours with her talking to her about life and the meaning of what he was doing. He said his goodbyes to his tearful girlfriend and returned to what was now an empty apartment. As he put it, “I stepped into the door and resumed packing my bags to fulfill my destiny.”
He spent that night at his mom’s house who he hadn’t spoken to for over six years. But for his trip to Armenia, he made peace with her. She had told him that he was never her child. It was a statement that still haunted Andre, but in the end, he was glad to have made peace with her. Andre spent his final night in America sleeping in his old room. He remembered that he kept a journal; he wanted to find a quote he had written ten years ago. He told me he found the journal and flipped to the page where he had written, “I want to run away from home.” He said the quote gave him goose bumps. He showed me the page that he tore out from his journal. He still keeps it in his wallet.
He is now in Armenia trying to find himself. He always asks himself if the innocent, smiling, loveable gentlemen is still somewhere inside him. He still doesn’t understand why certain events in his life had to happen. Why they taught him to be cold, to lie, to cheat, and to steal. He still struggles with those questions. He told me, “One girl asked me in Armenia, ‘Is your soul sad?’ I believe it is, but I am still that person. Another girl asked ‘Are you running away from home?’ I smiled, but that wasn't the reason, I was moving on with my life. These traits have been acquired in my life because God made it so. If it weren't for those negative events, how would I survive for the events to come?”
As our day comes to an end, Andre gives me a small smile. He doesn’t look like the broken young man he told me about. He sits with confidence, like a person who knows how his life is going to turn out, and indeed he has planned his life leading up to his death. Before departing, he left me with these words,” I will be the National Hero of Armenia. I have my plan written in stone. This journey ahead, to climb through the ranks, to go through the politics, to lie, to cheat, to be cold, these are the traits I need to acquire greatness. Alexander the Great has always been my hero, I wondered how someone could be on par to him in this modern day, and now I see the road. All of this, this was merely the first step on my road to greatness.”
(Edwin Mirzayans is an American-Armenian from Washington D.C. currently living in Armenia. He is a published author of two books: "The Unknown Thoughts Inside My Head," and "The Bubble")