Dr. Hilda Grigorian
Yerevan- As thousands of Diaspora visitors flock to Armenia to celebrate the 100th anniversary of the independence of the first republic and witness NEW ARMENIA, I am pleased to share my story which will hopefully inspire many to return to Armenia.
On a cold November night in 2012, sitting on the terrace of a lavish house in Kabul, Afghanistan, a light went off in my head signaling that I no longer desired to live in the U.S. but rather, would like to take a leap of faith and expand my horizon and move away from a country that I loved and adored for over 40 years. I was born and raised in Iran and left the country before the revolution to settle in the U.S. Two kids, and two dogs later, I am proud to call myself a U.S. citizen, yet, there seemed to be a gap, a missing component, that I had to fill.
The factors driving my decision were mainly due to the absence of human touch; the lack of cordial friendship and kinship and the stress imposed on people to consistently work and lead a meaningless life only to be part of a constant rat race with no time to enjoy simple things in life. What made me decide to leave the most powerful nation in the world was the fact that I could no longer deal with stress and ongoing drama in the country. Having seen misery, hunger, the poverty of developing nations and how people struggle simply to make ends meet, I could no longer comprehend why Americans make such a fuss over simple things. As I was pursuing my doctoral degree and needed to take a two-year sabbatical to conduct research and write my dissertation, I came to the realization that living in the most expensive state like California would not have allowed me to accomplish my lifelong goal.
In a matter of 6 months, I decided to pack and store my belongings, rent out my condo and move to the homeland in July of 2013. By that time, I had already been traveling to the country for over ten years and had established a good network of friends who greeted me with open arms. My life transformed from a more than adequate 1500 square foot lavish condo to a mere 300 square foot, one-bedroom, simple apartment on the fourth floor of a soviet built building with no elevator. It was then I realized that all I need is a comfortable bed, a clean shower and nothing more. Living and working in Afghanistan for almost seven years taught me the important lesson that “less is more”.
I didn't face many challenges as I already knew the language and was familiar with the culture; however, my American lifestyle varied from a native Armenian. While I had a structured and routine lifestyle, it was not strange to receive a phone call from a friend, offering a midnight stroll in Yerevan, a concept foreign to my American lifestyle, or my next door and across the hall neighbors knocking at my door to make sure I was okay or if I needed anything. God forbid if I was sick, a big bowl of soup and medicine would be waiting for me at my doorsteps. While living in the U.S. for 41 years, I don't ever recall my neighbors being as caring or considerate.
I loved the fact that I could walk in the streets comfortably, at any time of the night with no worries. I liked the fact that children were so free-spirited and enjoyed their childhood. I loved hearing the sounds of my neighborhood kids playing soccer in our local yard and listening to their giggles which made me giggle. These innocent, playful sounds sent me traveling down memory lane as I remembered my brothers playing soccer in our Tehran neighborhood. Not surprisingly, my neighborhood kids in Yerevan were always ready to extend a helping hand, to carry grocery bags, and to be happily compensated with candy or ice cream. I like the fact that neighbors sometimes become more important than blood family. I can't help but smile while walking around and greeting everyone and in return helping elders with their bags. The fact that children have no fear of kidnapping, being hurt, raped or becoming a victim of a school shooting is an undeniable weight taken off parents’ shoulders.
Ever since my repatriation in 2013, I have been traveling to the U.S. every six months to visit my adult children, family and friends. Sadly, now when I visit, I feel out of place, and often change my return ticket to an earlier date. I feel like a stranger, a fish out of water, with much difficulty to integrate comfortably into a society where I lived for over 40 years. I don't see children playing out in the alleys nor hear sounds of innocent past times. Instead, I sense a great deal of stress and sadness among people as the nation becomes more and more divided with families and friends who are separated and fragmented due to political views. I barely manage to visit friends who live a few miles away, as they are over consumed with work and other activities and seem unable to allocate a few hours to rekindle a relationship. I often wonder what happened to friendship and human values? After all, am I not the one who traveled thousands of miles to reconnect with them?
All in all, it seems to me that America has lost most of its core principals and integrity. There seems to be LITTLE QUALITY LIFE remaining as people are programmed to be robots, their daily lives consisting of constant rushing around to make a living to pay for expensive homes and cars or merely to make ends meet. People in America no longer work to live, they live to work, or only to survive. Kids are no longer kids having lost touch with the enjoyment of outdoor activities only to be continuously glued to their electronics. Parents are burdened with worries about their children’s physical and mental well-being and the reality that there is no guarantee that their child will return home at the end of a school day. There is much stress and negative energy in the air which is suffocating. I pray to God to stay healthy during my annual visits; otherwise, I would have to spend my entire life saving to seek medical treatment. (not sure if this last sentence fits)
Positive energy has evaporated, and mental disorder has immensely exacerbated the reality because of constant pressure and stress to survive in the U.S. A black aurora hovering around the nation seems to have cast a dark, ominous shadow. Neighbors have become self-absorbent avoiding socialization, and a family dining set has shrunk to a round table with four chairs, versus a long table with 12 chairs in Armenia. Life is superficial, and people are judged based on the size of their home and the model of the car.
I am blessed and privileged to live in my motherland and mostly overjoyed to have a magnificent view of Mt. Ararat from my balcony. I am delighted to walk the ground of a country that offers me nothing but a quality life, good friends, joy, and happiness.
I am not suggesting that people who are fed up with the government or the system should pack up and move to another country. But I am encouraging everyone who no longer is happy with their current lifestyle to take steps and seek a quality lifestyle, wherever that may be. It takes courage and bravery to make a significant change, but let's remember that we only live once, and this is not a dress rehearsal.
Live your life to the fullest and make every day count.