Cracked Walls, Leaky Ceilings…
“Pop, can you hold Davo,” says Anna, placing her 4-month-old son on her father’s lap.
With her hands free, Anna grabs a chair, stands on it, and removes some medals from a wall cabinet. The other children follow her movements closely, especially when she opens her hands, revealing the gold and bronze medals in her palm.
32-year-old Anna Koloyan lives in Yerevan’s Sari neighborhood with her husband, their five children, and her 63-year-old father.
She was an athlete before getting married. Afterwards, everything in her life changed.
We’re sitting in for what passes as the Koloyans’ living room. The electric heater just exacerbates the humidity. A curtain has replaced the room’s missing door. The ceiling leaks, wetting the beds below.
Anna lowers her gaze, saying that life’s palette of colors has changed ever since the death of her mother. She regrets having to leave her sports career midway. It was her mom that first sparked her interest in athletics.
She was just fourteen when she travelled to the United States, to participate in a light athletics competition. Anna says they wanted to adopt her in America. “But I couldn’t live without my mother. I returned to Yerevan. She had already fallen ill with a tumor.”
Anna never competed again internationally. “I married and left sports,” she says.
The former athlete married young, at the age of sixteen, and left school after completing eighth grade.
Hovhannes Sargsyan, Anna’s 36-year-old husband, is from Vanadzor. The couple first lived there after marrying but relocated to Yerevan five years ago. Hovhannes is an artisan, and most of his work is in the Armenian capital.
“We sold everything after my mom fell ill. My father stayed with us in Vanadzor. The house was burgled when we were out. We had next to nothing when we moved to Yerevan,” Anna says.
Hakob Koloyan, Anna’s father, follows the conversation from the couch. He wants to set the story straight about the state of the house.
“It’s a strong house. Some guys from the water utility showed up two months ago. The water diverting pipe had been damaged. They drilled at the base of house. The wall cracked. They packed up and left,” says Hakob, adding that they patched up the crack before leaving.
“We contacted the district council office, but were told to complain to the water utility. We did, and were told to go back to the district office. There’s been no response. The house is in bad shape. You can see for yourself,” says Anna.
Hovhannes, despite his worsening health, goes to work every day. “He’s got a herniated disk. The pain becomes unbearable somedays. He can’t move,” says Anna.
Anna used to work as a cleaning attendant at a flower store in Vanadzor. She’d like to work now, but she has to stay home and take care of her young son Davit.
Mary, Anna’s two-year-old daughter, grabs the cell phone, starts the music app, and sings along. “Ah, the potato nose of my beloved,” Mary chants.
Hripsimeh, Anna’s eldest child, attends eighth grade. She’s just returned from school. The cat, that’s been sitting next to the heater, jumps up and rushes to Hripsimeh’s lap as soon as the girl sits on the couch.
“It’s her cat,” says 7th grader Mourad.
Anna tells us Mourad is a special needs student who been making progress this year. “He didn’t know the alphabet in the fifth grade. He’d quickly forget what he had learnt,” she says. “He’s on par with his classmates now.”
Eight-year-old Ani, is Anna’s other daughter. The girl has difficulty seeing out of one eye.
The family receives an AMD 53,000 ($110) state allowance. Hakob Koloyan’s 16,000-dram disability pension also helps the family make due.
Hripsimeh is in a theater group and wants to become an actor. Mourad takes wrestling classes, and wants to pursue a sports career, taking up where his mother left off.
Anna smiles. All she wants is for her kids to grow up healthy and successful in the paths they select later in life.
I ask Mary what she wants from Santa Claus. The girl replies, dishes and such. Hripsimeh and Mourad want the ceiling to stop leaking. The boy adds that he’d like a phone, so that he can call his mom after class.
The sun is shining. Anna and Mourad go to take down the wash that’s been drying on the line.
The Armenian tricolor appears in the distance.
Anna smiles. The smile contains much sadness.
Photos: Saro Baghdasaryan