Unbreakable Bond: 10 Year-Old Davit and Grandfather to Usher in the New Year in Mayisyan Village Animal Barn
- Dav, when’s your birthday?
- Don’t know. Ask my grandpa.
- Why don’t you know?
- Yep, I don’t know. My grandpa will tell me when it happens.
10 year-old Davit and I talk on the grounds of the animal farm. Sunlight hits his face. He closes one eye from the burst. Then, he looks at me and smiles. We descend from the dilapidated wall and he tells me – let’s go and ask my grandpa. The door to the security post opens without a screech. “Grandpa, hey grandpa, when’s my birthday?” asks David. “Hey boy, don’t you know?” is the response of the old man, his eyebrows scrunching and the lines on his forehead multiplying.
With trembling hands, grandpa brings the boy’s birth certificate. On the scrap of paper is written – Davit Gevorgi Gevorgyan; born February 2, 2005.
- Dav, do you know that your birthday’s in two months?
- Really grandpa?
The grandfather smiles. Davit takes the certificate and his school bag. He shows me his books, one by one. We start to read. I ask him a few letters of the alphabet. He knows a few. Some he doesn’t.
Davit and his grandfather lives in the security post at the animal barn in the village of Mayisyan (Armavir Province).
We walk towards the sheds. Davit should have been attending 5th grade this year. He’s only a 1st grade pupil.
- Dav, what grade are you in?
- The first grade.
- How old are you?
- But shouldn’t you be in a higher grade?
- I haven’t gone to school much.
His gaze grows darker and I understand that now’s not the tie for questions. Holding his frozen hand, we ascend towards the sheds. We look for the gate. He’s says it’s closed and we have to pass under the fence. We laugh. He scoots under and looks at us from the other side. “Hurry up”, he seems to be saying.
The shed is located on a large tract of land. The semi-dilapidated structure looks more like the walls of a fort. “Dav, what a big pitcher-like thing this is. Do you store wine in it?” I ask. He laughs. “Nah, it’s full of garbage,” he answers. Throwing back his shoulders, there’s pride in his eyes as he guides us forward.
- Yes, dear Davo.
- Some people have come.
The grandfather had been lying on the bed when we entered. He quickly got up and approached us. He holds out his hand in welcome. “We’re reporters from Yerevan,” we say. The man nods and asks us to sit.
The room is the barn’s security post. Lavrent, Davit’s grandfather, has been working at the animal shed for three years. He raises pigs. He has a house in the village of Karakert but has come to Mayisyan for work. Lavrent receives a monthly wage of 100,000 AMD ($207) and a pension of 25,000 AMD. “My hands shake and my ears don’t hear that well, but my work is good,” he tells us.
“When Davo came here. We added a bed,” says the grandfather, reaching for a pack of cigarettes. A towel covers the glasses. Dirty clothes are piled atop a suitcase. He says it’s the laundry. Lavrent is raising Davit. He got him enrolled in school and cooks the boy’s meals.
“I do all the work in the house. Please forgive me, but there are girls who can only dream of cooking as well as me,” says Lavrent. Davit used to live in Karakert with his mother and sister.
“What was I to do? Davo would escape and visit me. He kept saying he wanted to stay with me. It’s 20-25 kilometers from here to Karakert. He’d walk or get here somehow,” says Lavrent, blowing out a match.
Grandpa Lavrent: “I get him everything; from salami to eggs”
Lavrent was born in Zak, a village in the region of Akhalkalak, in 1947. In 1970, he resettled in Armenia, first in the town of Armavir and later in Karakert and the Amasya village of Tzaghkout. He worked in the Armavir cognac factory and herded animals in Amasya.
Lavrent’s wife, a school teacher, dies five years ago. The man has yet to reconcile with his loss. “I’ve grown a bit weaker over the past five years,” he confesses.
Lavrent has one son and one daughter. Davit is his son Gevorg’s child. Gevorg, Lavrent recounts, got a divorce and went to Russia to work for a while. Lavrent doesn’t talk much about the present.
“I will raise Davo well. I get him everything; from salami to eggs. He eats it all. I’ll also get him some tangerines. Let the child be satiated,” Lavrent says.
Davit enters the room and looks attentively at his grandfather. Then he rushes to my side and sits. He opens his textbooks.
Davit receives tutoring after classes at the school. Lavrent says that the Davit’s parents should also be working with the boy. It’s difficult for Lavrent, who spends long hours working in the shed, to devote time to Davit’s studies. Lavrent says that he wants the boy to get a decent education and a good profession. And while the two of them lives in the animal shed, Davit is always neatly dressed. “I will do everything to see that Davo doesn’t fall into misery,” says Lavrent.
Davit, always the first to show up at school
Mayisyan School Principal Ishkhan Petrosyan says that Davit is the first to arrive at school. Classes start at 9 in the morning and the boy gets to school at 7:30.
“Davit is the first to arrive. He enters my office and says ‘Mr. Petrosyan, I’ve arrived early. How may I assist you?’ He’s very diligent and physically very strong. He goes from classroom to classroom, to see if they need tables or chairs before classes commence. And it’s good that he comes here early. At least I know he hasn’t wandered off somewhere else.”
While a boy Davit’s age should be in the fifth grade, he currently been placed in the third. Nevertheless, he’s learning the Armenian alphabet with first graders, Russian with second graders and English with third graders.
I ask Principal Petrosyan why Davit is registered as a third grader when he doesn’t know the Armenian alphabet.
“Simply because of his age. If we registered him in the first grade, he’d be fifteen when he reaches the fifth grade. It would be too much of a disparity. But, we’re providing extra tutoring so that he can catch up,” the principal explains.
Principal Ishkhanyan tells us that he had gotten in touch with his counterpart in Karakert and was told that David was attending school regularly until the third grade. That’s when the absences started. Davit’s parents, it seems, were indifferent regarding his education.
Currently, Davit attends an art group organized by the “Family and Community” NGO in Metzamor, learning painting and music.
Karakert School Principal Tamar Baghdasaryan says that Davit’s father was off in Russia and that the mother wasn’t taking care of the boy. She says that the school and its staff were taking care of him – washing his hands and face, giving him clothes and food.
“At first they said that the boy had no clothes to wear for school. So we gave him some clothes. He came to school for a few days and never showed up afterwards,” says Baghdasaryan.
“If you are saying that he attended school until the third grade, then why doesn’t he know the alphabet?” I ask.
“He was a weak child. He had no family. The family didn’t pay any attention to him. He’s come as far as he has due to the efforts of the school teacher,” says Baghdasaryan.
Davit dreams of having football shoes
The boy places his finger on the letter “e” in his alphabet book and says it’s the letter “l”. His grandfather is watching. “Dav, what is nine minus five?” I ask. The boy hides his fingers from us while counting. His grandfather gets irritated. “Hey Davo, it’s embarrassing if you don’t know,” grandfather says, calmly explaining the problem to the boy. My eyes well up with tears and I quickly leave the room.
A bit later, Davit and his grandfather come out into the yard. Davit strongly embraces his grandfather. The owners of the animal shed are standing outside. They have only praise for Lavrent. “He’s our boss”, they say. They then relate that one time Davit angered his grandfather. Infuriated, the grandfather gave the boy a slap. Davit ran off into the village. Lavrent sat and wept, angry at himself for hitting the boy.
Davit escorts us to the village store. When we offer to buy him some tangerines, he agrees. Davit Banuchyan, the Hetq photographer, asks, “Davo, do you want to become my assistant?” The boy says “yes”. We start to chuckle. “One day we’ll take you to our office, OK?” The boy’s face again beams with pride. He agrees but adds, “I don’t know where that is.”
Davo dreams of many things. We talk about those dreams as we walk. He wants to become a policeman and own a car. He’s written to Santa Claus as well, asking for a pair of football shoes, clothes and toys.
Davit will spend New Year’s Eve with his grandfather. The two will welcome 2016 in the unheated room they share at the animal barn.