Friday, May 9, 2014

Carry On, Zinvor !

my alma mater was Haigazian University, an Armenian college with high standards of education known and respected worldwide amongst other private universities. more than half the students were Armenians, the rest were mainly Lebanese and Syrians.
Lebanese colleagues hated me because i was Syrian (mostly because of some history between the two countries) so finding friends for me at a foreign (and not so foreign) country meant fighting against a double-layered wall of prejudice and stereotyping, when i thought of it i decided that learning the Armenian language is easier, it meant less fighting and more singing. i literally started memorizing Armenian songs and articulating words i had no idea what they meant just to make some new friends, who were Armenian Lebanese, or Armenian Syrian. 

Armenians are a minority almost everywhere around the world and just like any minority group they have strong ties within their small circle but they are more open to "others" who are "different", they also know history too well not to repeat mistakes of their ancestors (or any body's ancestors) or waste their time and energy on prejudice and stereotyping, after all if your house is made of glass then throwing stones on others is not an option for you. so i had a few Armenian friends and collecting stones was our hobby !!!

my Armenian friends invited me to outings and church events with them and were glad to answer any question i had regarding the language, a couple of them helped me learn the alphabet (38 letters man!) and i was able to write (like a 1st grader) they corrected my pronunciation and with my black hair i would be mistaken for a real Armenian if i excellently said a few words initiating a conversation, but the moment the person i'm greeting speaks back to me i froze and admitted that "hai chem" (i'm not Armenian). 

one particular song i loved says this: "khatchin misht nayerlov, havadki vahanov, hastadoun kailerov, hratch kna zinvor" Looking always at the cross, with steadfast footsteps, onward, go, soldier.
the song had a very nice and relevant melody but what i loved more is the music i could hear by just saying these three words "HRATCH KNA ZINVOR" onward, go, soldier... and soon enough "HASTADOON" (steadfast) became one of my favorite Armenian words, it's interesting how many letters it has in common with the English translation. 

i proudly graduated in 2005 which was HU's 50th Anniversary too, moved back from Beirut to Damsacus, then got married and moved (again) to Cairo, a year later to Alexandria and here, in another coastal city by the charming Mediterranean Sea i got to know Momastery blog through my sister's friend. and 14 years after my first encounter with the "hratch kna zinvor" song, i read the "Carry On, Warrior" book... there was an undeniable sign here, a voice i couldn't ignore and walk away from... at a time when i'm constantly fighting instead of living or simply living life as a fight, experiencing motherhood as a war zone, perceiving being a pastor's wife as a battlefield... let alone the REAL war going on in Syria which turned us ALL into soldiers, online, offline, inside Syria, outside Syria... how and when did life become so hard? is it normal to live a constant struggle or am i doing it all wrong?

Glennon's book didn't have magical answers for me, it just opened a window next to mine showing me that a fellow wife, mother, sister, daughter, friend (i only wish G was a pastor's wife!) is marching onward, our paths never crossed (and maybe they never will) what we have in common is close to zero but we're both marching on, we're both zinvorner (not sure if that's the plural of soldier in Armenian, a wild guess) each has her own journey in life but when i read about hers she gave me permission to look through this window like two women working out on neighboring treadmills at a gym smiling at each other... life is hard (according to G... and everybody else who couldn't phrase it this way) not because we're doing anything wrong but because it's hard, so through her book, Glennon kept me company for a few weeks, i laughed and cried with her, i scribbled notes on my paperback copy of her book (bought a B2 pencil specifically for this mission) i even wrote back to her (on the book with the B2 pencil !), words of objection or applause... and today i finished reading the book and put it next to me staring outside our window, THE window, singing that Armenian song... 

so carry on zinvor, march forward dear strong brave warrior woman, keep marching with steadfast steps... stay HASTADOON in everything you do and everything you ARE... these are the words i need to hear today and i'll keep repeating them to myself till my kids pick up the Armenian song and start repeating after me... "khatchin misht nayerlov, havadki vahanov, hastadoun kailerov, HRATCH KNA ZINVOR"

p.s. a big fat salut to my Lebanese friends, i found a few after all, during these 5 brutiful years in Lebanon (brutal+beautiful in G's dictionary) i miss you all and am thankful for facebook updates :) you know who you are and i'm really proud of our friendship with each and every one of you as i'm sure that Syria is in your prayers not because of how the war there is affecting Lebanon but because you love me and you love and pray for peace (after 15 years of civil war!)

p.p.s. an even bigger "khatchaghoutyoun" (peace/greeting) to our campus minister (who arrived at HU in 2000 just like me and left a couple of years after 2005) parev badveli N.B yev digin M.B, and to HU president Rev.Dr. P.H whose family is so dear to my heart even before he became president of Haigazian Hamalsaran

p.p.p.s i did attend Damascus University for 4 years just to be fair, never graduated (studied economics for 2 years and biology for another 2 will leave details for later) gave it my best shot before i abandoned public higher education all together and God opened another door

photo cutline: i took these photos last month as part of my Rihamiat project but they never appeared on facebook, i thought that not many people still read books and no one would be interested in a handmade leather book pouch, so i kept the pouch and photos for myself. as i was adding them to this post i realized that this specific book mark is also handmade and was a gift from the wife of HU president (do you remember it digin M.H?) why did i unconsciously select an Armenian handmade book mark for my Zinvor book? ... it all makes sense in a weird way, sounds like a conspiracy to me now!!! a sweet one though...


  1. Riham, this is a view from your standpoint, but what about those of us who were getting to know you? You made such a huge difference in our lives, too, by your creativity, your honesty (especially in questions of faith), your love for the Lord, your risk-taking, your servant-heart, and I could go on and on. I really feel it was God's doing to bring us all together during that time. What a theme song for us all, though - "Khatchin zinvor"! And I love your coining a new Armenian word -- "khatchaghoutyoun" = "khatch" (cross) + "khaghaghoutyoun" (peace). I haven't gotten that creative yet with my Arabic lessons, though.

    Indeed, we pray for Syria and the Syrians out of love for them and love for the Lord. Knowing you, and your pain and anguish about your beloved homeland, urges us to continue to pray, and pray, and pray. Too much sorrow, Lord, too much pain and loss. In your mercy help them all to endure to the end. Soon, I hope...

    1. Shnorhagalem Revo Nish for your comment, I'm sorry I missed it due to some technical problems on my blog, but it's great to read it at the beginning of a new year even though I'm not sure that's really me you're talking about!!! I'm totally in love with that word "khatchaghoutyoun" shad sirem.
      Couldn't agree with you more that God had a purpose behind allowing our paths to cross for 5 years, still hoping that we'll meet again. Parevner to "my pastor's wife", your prayers for Syria surely reach us and everyone suffering during this ongoing conflict.
      2015 is a big year for Armenians, marking the 100th anniversary of the genocide, we'll continue to work and hope that it gets more recognition worldwide so humanity will one day learn the lesson and stop all kinds of violence... if ever possible...