As we approach the house of the Adamyan family in the Artsakh village of Aknaberd, Rita Adamyan doesn’t see us.
The mother of eight is sweeping the ground around the tonir – the traditional Armenian clay oven.
Rita then puts the broom aside, sweeps the sweat from her brow, and waves hello.
She then asks if we’ve lost something in this deserted place. We smile back.
She laughs but quickly shuts her mouth. Rita is toothless, even at the young age of 38.
“I have seven boys and one girl,” Rita says, stroking the golden hair of Nairya, the youngest.
The gate opens and one of her sons is bringing back a donkey laden with wood.
Her oldest son is not yet 21. Another serves in the army.
Rita and her husband Ashot moved to Aknaberd in 1995 after fleeing Getashen a few weeks before it was taken over by Azerbaijani forces in 1991.
Their road of exile first took them Yerevan, Tzaghkatzor and then to Vartenis, where the couple got married.
When I asked how the family is living, Rita first says they are getting by and then confesses that they have problems. The biggest is financial. The family has racked up a large bill at the village store. Sometimes, the shopkeeper refuses her goods on credit.
Rita then lists what the family owns – one donkey, six sheep and one pig. The latter will be slaughtered for a feast when their son finishes his military service.
The family receives a monthly state allowance of 54,000 AMD (US$132) for the children. It’s their only income.
Ashot joins in the conversation, telling me that there is no work to be had in the village. They work the family garden and sometimes the oldest son goes off to the forest to gather wood for others.
Now 46, Ashot says he served in the Vartenis detachment for three years and six years as a contractual soldier at the Haterk battalion. Ashot says he’s too old to serve in the army today.
As we enter the house, Rita points to the wooden stove she uses to cook the family meals.
Ashot switches on the light in the living room but the bulb is weaker than a candle. There’s nothing in the room except for an old sofa and a TV.
The other two rooms are used for sleeping. Beds are the only furniture. Another small room serves as a sort of pantry.
When I ask if they have sought assistance from the Artsakh government, Rita replies: “I’ve been told by many to apply for help but I wouldn’t know where to go.”
(After the birth of a sixth child, the government steps in and builds the family a house. That’s how the Adamyan family got theirs.)
Before leaving, I ask if it would be possible to photograph the family in a group shot.
Rita laughs and says it will be hard to get everyone together. She finally does.
Rita and Ashot smile and say how great it is to have at least one family photo.