Lernagog Dorm Residents: “Just so long as we die together”
16 year old Anya’s blue eyes redden when we speak of her dreams.
“Perhaps my greatest dream is to leave this place,” she says and then rushes to the balcony. “My girl, why are you crying?’ asks her father Boris Babayan. There’s no answer.
The heat of the stove has filled the room in the dormitory located in a part of the Lernagog dorm residents have nicknamed ‘Los Angeles’. (Lernagog is a village of some 1,500 in Armavir Province)
They live in a place cut-off from the world. Wolves and stray dogs are their winter neighbors, replaced by scorpions and snakes in the summer.
There are two buildings in ‘Los Angeles’ – a former trade school and this dormitory. The school hasn’t been open since the Soviet era. On the dusty windows someone has written, “I love my country.”
Close by is the rundown dormitory; cold, long, with dilapidated corridors.
There are seven families living in the dorm. We have already met with three of them. (See: Norvart and Her Three Boys)
Dormitory residents say they are most frightened by strong winds. More of the walls collapse with each passing day. A recent storm tore the roof off the building and a large structural crack is getting bigger.
“You know, to the extent that the state of the country has worsened, so has our lives,” says 37 year-old Anna Grigoryan.
The building even shakes from a slight gust of wind. “When it gets windy we gather in one spot, from fear. Just so long as we die together,” says Anna.
Residents have learnt to live in a building with no windows. They’ve grown accustomed to living with fear as well, they say. “There are no services in the building. There’s no regular water supply. I married a guy from Lernagog. After getting a divorce I came here and stayed,” says Anna.
There are no showers in the building and the toilet’s outside. The last storm also tore off the roof of the toilet. Residents have to fetch water for laundry, kitchen use and bathing from the yard where the only working faucet is located. At the end of the month residents pay 100 drams per family member.
When I go visit someone, and see how they live, I don’t want to come back here. Believe me. Here, you shower and eat in the same place,” says Anna.
Anna then asks Anya if she’s kept that photo of her walking with a fox. Turns out a few days ago, on the way home, a fox crossed her path and the two ambled together for some time.
Anya’s mother Elada receives a monthly 30,000 dram disability pension. Anya’s father, Boris, is in Russia working. He’s promised to send money to pay the rent with but so far they haven’t received it.
Anya follows the conversation, her head hanging. There are two children in the Babayan family – Anya and her 18 year-old brother who’s studying at Armavir College. Anya is a top student in her class but sees little chance of getting accepted to a university. She’ll have to make do by attending some two year college.
The Babayans came to Armenia in 1988, from Baku. They were allocated a house in the village of Baghramyan but turned it down. “It was full of snakes and scorpions. Not a place to live,” says Elada. They are still on a waiting list for housing.
Most Lernagog residents go to Russia in search of work. They argue that the village land is rocky and no good for farming. Raising animals isn’t easy as well, locals claim. During the harvest, residents go to nearby villages as day laborers.
The only factory in the village is the flour mill owned by Republican Party MP Samvel Aleksanyan. Dorm residents say it’s tough to get a job there.
In the Soviet era there were three large pig farms in the village. “My mother worked at the pig farm as a machine operator. Life wasn’t bad in the village,” says Anna.
Anna has one child, 18 year-old Davit. When she talks about her son it’s as if all her troubles melt away; she smiles for a second. Davit studies at the Armavir Art College and has been singing for seven years. Lernagog students going to Armavir first walk to the village of Dalarik and then catch a ride with a passing car. If they are late, the students have to pay a penalty. “Do you have any idea how far it is from here to Dalrik?” exclaims Anna. (It takes at last one hour to cover the more than four kilometer distance-Hetq).
Davit shows off the awards and medals he’s won. He hasn’t been able to participate in any competitions recently because he can’t afford to buy a suit. Anna says she doesn’t want to embarrass her son anymore by sending him to competitions without proper attire like the other boys and girls.
We’re out in the hallway talking to Davit about his plans for the future. He’s wearing a light jacket in the windy building corridor.
Davit says that his signing talent is hereditary. Both his parents sing as well. He’ll soon serve in the army. Once discharged, he says he’ll work and buy a house. “In the army, I’ll be thinking of mom, alone in this place,” Davit says as he escorts us back to the village center.
The dorm residents gather in the yard. It’s warmer outside than inside. They’ve wrapped the faucet with plastic so as not to freeze.
Residents say they have no complaints about the village mayor. He helps out whenever he can, they say. Nevertheless, they feel neglected by local officials and have suggested that some of them spend just one night in the dorm to experience how they live.
“No one seems to care. That’s the most irritating,” says Anna.
Upon parting, residents say it’s not the snow of rain that worries them. They say it’s the wind. “God help us. Keep those gusts away, otherwise, one day, this building will blow away.”