My two big bags have been packed for weeks. I have a couple of changes of clothing in my hand luggage. I have kept this deliberately light, due to my still-wonky right wrist.
None of this counted for anything when I made it to Aygezard, the small village I first lived in when I came to Armenia. Elza was waiting for me with two towels, and a bottle of cognac she was determined to add to the packed bags.
Tamara visited from over the road and brought two large bags of dried fruit and some winter-weight tights.
Why, she wondered could they not be added to the framed original picture, and the hundred-weight of jewelry revealed to be secreted in my checkable baggage when Gevorg unzipped it to stuff in the cognac.
I mixed and matched all the following reasons as each new friend or neighbor came bearing gifts. Not one of them made a whit of difference, but you are welcome to try them:
• only 1.5 liters of wine or spirits per person is allowed by customs. I already had two bottles of wine, gifted earlier in the week
* it is illegal to import foodstuffs, even if dried
* I am traveling to Ireland, England, Italy and Spain before moving to wherever my next job is– stopping to see my kids in the DC area on the way. It can’t possibly make sense to carry household items on this mega trip when I have a great supply of both in the US, and all points in between.
As I finally left the house, Elza put two folded sheets of lavash, Armenia’s flatbread–nearly enough for top and under sheets on a twin bed—into my carry-on, in case I get hungry on the way to Moscow. I managed to stop her packing leftover green beans with eggs, and two kilos of apricots, but only because I ate them before we left the house.
At the airport, I was told my larger bag was one kilo overweight and, as it was the second bag, would be charged $100 if the weight could not be distributed. Luckily the entire family was to hand. My possessions were spread on the floor of Zvartnots as Gevorg struggled to move things around and rezip the bags. He did it. Oh good– instead of a total fee of $150, only $50 to be paid.
Downstairs to the bank machine, upstairs to the Aeroflot payment office, Gevorg encouraging my broken spirit every step of the way. He was standing in the check-in line ready to swap the baggage receipt for my ransomed boarding-card when Nane and her mother turned up. Nane is one of my poetry teens from Goris. She missed the chance to say goodbye there, but she and Knarik were in Yerevan today. They took a taxi to the airport to surprise me in the check-in line, and handover a terracotta plate commemorating my beloved Ararat. It is in my hand luggage.
Many hugs and kisses and photos and tears at the entrance to the gate. I am soaking wet but it is hard to know whether it is ordinary sweat ( the temperature is at least 100 degrees F), stress perspiration, my own tears, or everybody else’s.
I am having a last glass of Armenian white Karas wine at the airport cafe. Fruit flies keep landing on the glass. I know this is because all my fellow passengers have hand luggage full over overripe fruit.
I am lucky to be loved. I do not take it lightly. Arai zham Armenia.