Marineh Khachdour“When you reach the rainbow, you will be transformed into a boy,” my grandmother told me when I was a young girl, and I tried many times. Not because I wanted to become a boy, but because I was determined to experience a miracle, the extraordinary. I stopped trying to reach the rainbow around the age of ten, but deep in my heart, I never stopped yearning for the extraordinary.
St. Tevatoros is the miracle maker, the saint who grants the wishes of the faithful. His gravesite is up on a hilltop in Danageermaz, Armenia where my mother was born. Now in her seventies, living in the heart of Los Angeles for close to thirty years, my mother remembers the place of her childhood as a place of ruthless winter storms, droughts, and widows donned in black, weeping for their husbands – dead or missing in action during WWII in defense of Stalingraad, Krasnodar, Gomel. She orders me to visit the Veree Soorp, as it’s known to the locals, on my trip to Armenia in the summer.
It is before noon when we get off the main highway to inquire about the road to the sacred gravesite. “I am of the Hemzos,” I say. “I am here to fulfill my mother’s wish,” I tell the men who have gathered on the side of the dirt road to exchange world news and opinions. They do this every morning before the sun hits zenith, and the heat becomes unbearable. They stand with their hands folded behind their backs in a guard’s posture as they keep a watchful eye for unfamiliar vehicles, for fellow villagers who have fled to the capital and other cities around the world and return to visit once in a while, for their sons and daughters who are welcomed back and are expected to stay, but they never do. The men conspicuously check me and my travel companions out. The eldest of them peers in to get a closer look. “Haaa… the redhead… One of them was a redhead, and the other, the younger one, married an “akbar” and moved to America,” says the old man with a glimmer of recognition in his hazel eyes full of sun. His weather-baked face covered with gray and deep grooves gives away years over seventy. He gestures with his head, and the young man with skin peeling on his red-apple cheeks offers to guide us through the village. I imagine that his brown three piece polyester suit worn over a cotton shirt checkered in red, white, and blue, while uncomfortable, prevents skin from long term disasters of radiation in absence of sunblock.
In 21st Century, Danageermaz, renamed as Nigavan, is still a small place – home of some 150 households nestled on a patch of hard, dry, desert soil in the Aragatsoten Valley, sixty miles north of Yerevan, the capital. No paved roads, and no telephone poles are noticeable anywhere. A group of young girls have gathered at the waterspout, the main source of drinking water, their tin buckets glistening in the sun waiting patiently for their turn. They stop chattering momentarily and gaze at our passing vehicle through the clouds of dust, smiling shyly. Nigavan seems to have escaped modernization, but there could be no doubt that globalization has fallen straight into its lap in a form of Japanese vehicles parked behind tarnished metal fences and gates, Turkish cookie wrappers, and plastic bags made in Iran, that tumble among rocks and weeds in abundance.
We park the car at the brink of the dry riverbed over a mile wide. Our Toyota sedan is no match for river rock the size and shape of every imaginable melon. Trying very hard to keep my balance on top of the rocks, I begin pilgrimage. Half way through the riverbed, I stop and take a few deep breaths to calm the worry signals I get from my oxygen-starved lungs. I take a look ahead squinting to block out the sun that is beginning to pinch. Hues of red, purple, yellow, and green radiate in the vastness of open air as if a rainbow was dropped on the valley from the heavens. This one I could reach! I launch forward with full force embracing the field of rainbow colored desert weeds and flowers that reach up to my waist, scratch my hands and feet, and often resist being pulled. Keeping in focus the stone structure in the distance that marks the gravesite, I don’t worry about balancing my feet on the rocks that I can no longer see but trust that they are there.
As the story goes, a barren couple conceived of twin boys after making the same trip and constructed the structure to protect the saint lying beneath the ground. I do not wish for twins, but I wish for the extraordinary as I rest the bouquet of reds, yellows, purples, and greens on top of many others. It has been a lifelong journey for me.
I lit a candle and feel my chest swell up as I strain to sit in silence. I hear myself roar, and then again and again as a flood bursts out of my eyes. I don’t know where it comes from or why, but at the moment, in the dark of a space the size of a chicken coop, amidst the musty smell of dampness and the sunlight flickering on the waxy walls covered with prayers and symbols of devotion, I know I have arrived. It is the place that holds my mother’s childhood dreams, my grandmother’s youthful prayers, and the smells, sounds, and the colors of the divine. This is a place that could only be reached after one’s journey through the rainbow.

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