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  • Genine Babakian

My Grandmother's Magic Travel Words

As my daughter was packing to fly south for the weekend, I asked her to do two things: 1) text me when she landed; and 2) remember the oogher loogher laa thing.

Oogher loogher laa were the three words (two words? Or maybe just one word?) that my maternal grandmother always muttered before setting off on a journey. While I never had an exact translation for those three (or two, or one) words, the meaning was crystal clear. They were the Armenian equivalent of: Let us all get there in one piece.

For my grandmother, these were not airplane-specific words. In fact, I usually heard her oogher loogher laa-ing when we got in the car. Perhaps she found the risks of car travel harrowing enough to invoke them. She was, after all, born in 1893. For a significant part of her life, transportation never went any faster than the speed of a donkey.

Reciting these words has been my airplane take-off ritual for as long as I can remember. A ritual that has been adopted by my Dutch husband, and, now, our children. It is as essential to me as a passport. Or perhaps even more important. Passports expire, or can be misplaced, but I have never forgotten to say oogher loogher laa. It is a reflex as much as a ritual.

I’ve even gotten friends on board. One of them told me that he had been oogher loogher laa-ing every time he flew for decades. Once, when he happened to be sitting next to an elderly Armenian woman, he asked her what the words meant. She told him she had no idea what he was saying.

Did he pronounce it wrong? It’s possible. Am I pronouncing it wrong? That is also possible. Did my grandmother make these words up? Don’t even think about it. On a brighter note, it has not stopped him from saying those words every time he travels.

Are there any Armenians out there who can help solve this mystery? Or who share this ritual? Please chime in! No matter what the answer will be, oogher loogher laa will continue to be the words I travel by. Quite literally.

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