2 The Long Journey to Armenia ©2006 Lori Bailey Cunningham
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DAY 1: From the U.S. to Armenia
Jo, Sondra, Lori and Rien prepare to board the Armavia flight from Amsterdam to Yerevan

Our crew consisted of Peter Musurlian, Arbi Ohanian, Rien, my mother Jo, cousin Sondra and myself. We all met in Amsterdam and together we flew to Yerevan, Armenia on the Armenian airline, Armavia. What a flight. The departure gate was in the basement of the Schiphol airport - a very modern facility. However, the Armavia gate seemed like an unused boarding area that had missed out on the last remodeling job.

After the passengers had filled the waiting room, we were asked to leave so that it could be ³swept² for security reasons. After waiting outside the room for over half an hour, we had to de-shoe and re-pass through the security gates, after which we were ushered outside to catch a bus to our plane, which was parked somewhere in the Hinterlands of the airport.

The bus was packed solid with Armenians. The bus driver was a lead-foot, and hit a pothole which toppled a few passengers, eliciting a comment from one person, “The driver must be Armenian,” at which everyone laughed. We laughed too, thinking it was just a cute comment about a bump in the road. In truth, it was more of a commentary on Armenian driving habits. Armenians have a unique driving style that involves moving vehicles with wild abandon along anything even remotely resembling a road. More about this later.

Sondra, a graduate and rabid fan of USC football, managed to run into three USC grads on the bus. Evidently such chance meetings always call for a recitation of the USC fight song, and this was no exception. Go team, go.The bus dropped us off, and we dragged our carry-on luggage up the stairs and boarded our genuine Armenian plane. There was open seating and the flight wasn't full, so we all scrambled towards the back of the plane to create our own temporary airborne kingdom.

The Armenian prince dreaming of dolmas and Armenian dancing girls.
Sondra catching up on beauty rest at the airport in Amsterdam.

After take-off, most but not all, of the TV's popped down from the ceiling (when various parts of the plane are not in working order, you have to wonder). An Armenian music video began playing, featuring highlights from the Homeland, followed by “Meet the Parents” dubbed in Russian.

Soon we began to hear moans emanating from the last row. Sondra turned around and said, "Can I help?" Three uniformed men huddled around the man promptly answered with stern head shakes to indicate "no." We were informed that the moans, which had become louder and laced with angry Armenian words, were coming from a mentally ill patient who was being escorted back to Armenia. We stayed in our seats for the rest of the flight.

We de-planed in Yerevan at 9pm and it took an hour and a half to get out of the airport. Mind you, anyone else could have landed in this tiny airport and been out in 15 minutes, but the Armenian press had gotten wind of the big, Armenian-American coming to visit and were panting at the exit, microphones and video cameras in hand. Interviews were followed by intense negotiations between at least eight Armenian taxi drivers and assorted bystanders to figure out how to get six people and their luggage to the hotel in miniature taxis that are the size and shape of the old Datsun 510's. This was the first of many occasions we used the joke that begins with, "How many Armenians does it take to..."

We made it to our hotel in three separate taxis, complete with all our paraphernalia and camera gear.

The Long Journey to Armenia ©2006 Lori Bailey Cunningham

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