one meeting that changed everything


Markelo Asylum Seekers Center, Eastern Holland. A temporary accommodation for foreigners who asked for international protection due to persecution in the country of origin. Holland receives thousand of these applications per year. Revision of each case lasts months. Wait, actually I met a family from Azerbaijan that has been waiting for the decision for 9 years. An asylum seeker is a person in limbo. They have all the fundamental rights, you say. They can never be sure about tomorrow though. They don’t know if they are allowed to stay in Holland after their case is revised. Their everyday life seems to be sort of similar to what you and me know. It seems. When you come a bit closer you see it is not.

I spend three weeks in this place. I was a part of international volunteers group. The project was organized by the Dutch branch of Service Civil International, VIA. Me and my fellow volunteers from Slovakia, Czech Republic, Serbia, Italy, Spain, Jordan, Egypt, France and Japan were there to organize spare time activities for children. Summer is a death season. Little asylum seekers never go on any trips or children camps. They just sit at home (if we agree on using THIS particular word to describe the place). Fortunately each year a group of volunteers is let in. We did sports, arts and crafts and games. There was an exhibition of kids works, we also had a treasure hunt and a ball. We were doing our best for the kids to have a nice summer days and to forget difficult position they find themselves in. As a international volunteer being there just short-term you cannot do much. We kept trying though.

Markelo, the Netherlands

Out of sudden, I happened to be surrounded by people from Somalia, Armenia, Georgia, Kyrgyzstan, Iraq, Iran, Mongolia, Azerbajian, Erytrea. Most of these people have never heard of multiculturalism and pro-diversity policies. They made it though. They coexisted. I loved every conversation I had there, every meeting, every shared meal.

One was very special. This one I would like to share with you. One Saturday afternoon I was just wandering around the center with two of my fellow volunteers. One of them has just arrived. She started her work a couple days later than the rest of us so we wanted to show her around. Suddenly someone approached us. It was a guy, most probably in his twenties or a bit younger. He tried to ask us something in Dutch. As my Dutch is not more than hello, thanks and cute (the last one I learnt during the arts class with kids), I just smiled. They guy didn’t give up. It turned out he spoke Russian so we actually could communicate. His name was Arsen, he was from Armenia, already 3 years in Holland. He invite us to come over for dinner. We had no clue if we should accept or not. The workers of the centre kept telling us to be precautious while getting too intimate with “the locals”. Well, we just felt we should go, all of us.

Here we went. I didn’t know anything about Armenia back then. I got a very intensive course on hospitality and warmth. Also, there was a really delicious dolma. And a thousand smiles. After fifteen minutes I forgot I was actually sitting in asylum seekers centre. I forgot my hosts were actually very vulnerable people who might be kicked out of the country in a couple of weeks. I didn’t care I had to use my Russian which wasn’t really fluent. I didn’t care we were sitting in a small, steamy, smoky caravan, which definitely wasn’t really suitable for living. I felt at home. Sometimes people tell me I’m a cold person. Armenian hospitality melted me. My new friends bought me to tears.

A couple of hours later we sat still in front of the old TV watching Serj Tankian’s concert in Yerevan and having a conversation on Armenian language. I haven’t heard anyone speaking it before. This evening I discovered a whole new land for myself.

Arsen and his parents, Melania and Tigran become really close with me in just a couple of weeks we had to spent together. I’ve never heard an opportunity to say goodbye to Arsen when I was leaving as he was unexpectedly off to Amsterdam. Melania came to say goodbye. Go home and be happy, kid, she said.

In spring the authorities decided to close the center and move the inhabitants to other ones all over the country. 9 months later Arsen, Melania and Tigran moved to another center in Winterswijk, close to German border. 10 months later a very sleepy Zof hopped off the train on the Winterswijk railway station. We were thrilled to spend a weekend together again! Arsen was waiting for me in a classy suit. No idea where he took that from. We had a beautiful lazy hours together. Full of stories and dolmas and toast to many happy reunions. If you have ever been to asylum seeker center you know that you can smell loss there. On every step. At this very moment I smelled joy. By then I knew lots about Armenia. I already had a ticket to Yerevan. I was about to leave for Armenia to volunteer there for two months. The one hospitable family made me so curious about the cuntry that I couldn’t help myself. I had to go and explore the place they called home. After a couple of sleepless nights online I found a matching volunteering service.

Two months later I knew it wasn’t enough.

Armenian landscape

One year and two visits to Armenia later I bought an one-way ticket. I’ve been here for 6 months now. I’m still not ready to leave. I don’t know what happened. Armenia got me. She decided and I resigned to the flows.

My lovely Armenian family doesn’t quite understand my decisions. Did you loose something in Armenia, they would always ask.

No I just keep finding things I lost somewhere else.

Dear Melania, I’m home, I’m happy. It’s not where we intended it to be. It’s where I found it.

Thank you. Շնորհակալություն.

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