Tanya and I were walking down the hallway that was yellowed with time and dirt. It had the feel of an old soviet prison, and really, that’s pretty much what a university residence block in Damascus was.
I couldn’t be more excited, though. I was moving in! During the last two weeks, I had spent almost every single night in my Turkish friend Tanya’s room, and they were the probably the most glorious nights of my life: we cooked great food, told jokes, drank countless cups of tea, and danced until the wee hours of the morning. I was thrilled about sacrificing a few creature comforts for that kind of fun, and Tanya said she was excited to know I’d be her neighbour.
But she was strangely nervous as we walked to the room. She didn’t say much. So I tried to break the silence by asking if she’d met my new roommates.
“No. But I’ve heard bad things about them. All Armenians are troublemakers and they aren’t friendly.”
“Armenian?” I asked. “The guy at admissions said that they’re Romanian!”
“No. They’re Armenian. I’m sure.” She said in a tone that communicated how she wished they were in fact Romanian.
And this is where my naivite shined through… “But Armenia isn’t a country!”
Tanya just stared at me and said, “But that’s ok. You’re just right downstairs from us. You can come over every night and hang out with us.”
We exchanged hugs and went to knock on the door.
Well, it turns out Armenia is a country, and Armenia and Turkey, to put it lightly, kind of HATE each other. Turks think Armenians are dirty, Armenians think Turks are butchers. The countries border each other and stare at each other with ice in their eyes across the border. That’s generally the extent of their interactions. I learned all this over the course of the next few months, living with Armenians and maintaining a precious friendship with Turks.
I learned so much about Armenia and Turkey during those months. But when I moved in to share a room with the two Armenian girls, I was completely oblivious. So I invited Tanya and her Turkish friends over. I took Zara and Shushan, my roomates, up to visit Tanya and the others. We ate and we learned about each other’s food. We danced Turkish dance and Armenian dance and I even taught them what little bit of samba I know. We joked about boys and struggled through Arabic lessons together.
After four months, a little nucleus of CulturTwining had produced a beautiful friendship between people who had only known to hate each other before that.
**For more information on Armenia and Turkey, this wikipedia post is as good a place as any to start.
***p.s. here’s a link to a blog by an Armenian travelling thru Turkey. Fun times!! http://www.onehellofaride.com/