We left Cedar Rapids on June 2 for Detroit, about a one hour flight. From there, we flew for eight hours to the Charles de Gaulle Airport in Paris. I sat in the very back of the plane, but was lucky to get a window seat. The flight was overnight, which made jet lag a lot easier to manage.
The man who sat next to me approached me saying, “Ni hao,” which is Chinese for ‘hello.’ This has happened to me several times by several different people, and normally makes me roll my eyes while explaining that I don’t speak Chinese. Then I saw him pull out a large bag of what I thought were prunes, which made me think, “Oh great, digestive problems.” He also had a bag of Popeyes Chicken that he had previously purchased at the Detroit airport. I really need to check myself more, though, because he turned out to be an incredibly nice person. He asked me the standard small talk questions (where I’m from, what I’m studying, etc.), and I reciprocated. He was born and raised in Egypt, but has lived and worked near Detroit ever since. Then he pulled out his bag of prunes. After closer inspection, I noticed they were dates, and asked him just to confirm. He said, “Yes, usually when we break fast we start with dates and water.” “Is it okay if I ask if you’re fasting for Ramadan?” I asked. Again, he confirmed and offered me a date. To be polite, I told him I don’t eat dates that often, and that this was a real treat. Then he offered me another date. I tried to politely refuse, but he was really insistent, so I agreed. He asked if it would be okay if he prayed next to me, which of course I had no problem with. We talked a little bit about Ramadan, traveling, Egypt, and his family. We also talked a little bit about my future plans. He was so kind, which reminded me of two things. One, to not be so judgmental after awkward first impressions. And two, the importance of working to understand and stand in solidarity with our Muslim neighbors, and other folks who may be part of marginalized communities. We ended up having a really pleasant conversation, which I could’ve missed out on if I hadn’t kept an open mind.
The flight from Paris to Yerevan, Armenia’s capital, left an hour late and lasted about four and a half hours. It seemed much longer, though–probably due to the afternoon hour. I sat between two people from Canada who were part of the Armenian diaspora. As with my previous flight mate, they both were kind and had interesting stories. We arrived in Yerevan at around 9pm local time to meet Dr. Tadevosyan. He was kind enough to meet and drive us to our apartment. Upon meeting us, he exclaimed, “They did such a good job at describing what you look like that I knew exactly who you were when I saw you!” This is because Hannah is really tall (about a foot taller than me) and kind of looks Armenian, while I’m always the short Asian. He also grabbed both of the suitcases I brought and hurried through the airport. Arthur, our Armenian teacher in Iowa, told us that chivalry is alive and well in Armenia, and this confirmed that statement. During the drive to our apartment, Dr. Tadesovyan was pointing out buildings and streets and explaining them to us. When we got to the apartment he took Hannah’s 54-pound suitcase and carried it up ten flights of stairs. It was pretty impressive considering he’s just a few inches taller than me.
Our apartment is incredibly nice and comfortable. It’s adjacent to Yerevan State Medical University. It’s also completely furnished, with a small kitchen, bathroom (with a washer), and combined living/sleeping area. We have a balcony with a great view of Mother Armenia too!
Despite having carried a huge suitcase up so many stairs, Dr. Tadevosyan showed us all the intricacies of the apartment, telling us about the potable and tasty tap water, light switches, complex locks on the door, etc. We are so lucky to be living here, and his hospitality has made our initial experience that much better.