Outside Eye: Threading together a lesson in giving

So here I am in a thread shop on Tigran Mets street in Yerevan buying 73 rolls of yarn. Not another man in sight.

My colleague Armine “HyeSanta” Petrosyan, is overseeing the purchase and holds a particular one up and asks whether I like it or another better. She thinks one is softer. Soft is good.

The shop owner is offering coffee, a sure reminder that this is an Armenian transaction.

They don’t teach thread buying in journalism school (even if I had attended), so I’m winging it here in this no-man’s land shop. It is a way of life now, making it up as I go along. Normal.

Normal, like walking into the newsroom one day and finding windowpanes stacked up next to our satellite server monitor. And normal like discussing with a veterinarian what is the best time of year to buy sheep.

The windowpanes were for a family we’d written about. So were the sheep. Journalism, Armenian style, for one American lucky enough to participate.

The threads (I recommend the triple gauge, should you need that piece of advice), are for a village woman in the farthest part of Karabakh where life gets even less “normal”. They are for Lernuhi Isoyan, my new hero.

A few days ago a bulging plastic bag appeared on my desk. Inside I found a hand-knitted two-colored sweater made exactly to fit me. It came with a matching scarf.

“It is a gift from Lernuhi,” Armine said.

During last year’s HyeSanta campaign, ArmeniaNow reporter Vahan Ishkhanyan wrote a story about Lernuhi. Readers were moved by it, and sent money so that we could help Lernuhi create a Library in her village and so that we could buy threads for Lernuhi to knit.

Taking out the sweater and scarf, I am amazed at the professional manner in which they have been crafted. The sweater has at least two different patterns which, even to my non-knitting knowledge, show considerable skill. The scarf is tightly sewn and as good or better than anything I’d find on the Gap or Old Navy rack.

I start recalling Vahan’s story about Lernuhi. I remember that she’d suffered some sort of injury when she dove on an exploding bottle to protect her children. But is it possible that I am remembering correctly? No, it simply isn’t possible that the woman could have made these items with . . .

I went into the site’s archives and confirmed what I thought I’d remembered.

Lernuhi Isoyan of Kovsakan, Karabakh has only one hand. With one hand, she knitted a sweater and scarf for me, because she wanted to say “thanks”.

And she wanted to say “thanks” to the HyeSanta project for helping her, so she made more scarves and sweaters which we put up for sale at our public meeting announcing this year’s campaign. Lernuhi doesn’t believe in taking charity, so she turned her good fortune into an effort to help others.

The woman has known more suffering than I’ll probably ever come close to, and yet using one hand and more patience than is imaginable she wants to thank me.

For what Lernuhi?

There are plenty of us who should thank you, for the lesson in learning to reach outside ourselves. That’s what these days should be about.


Now, a postscript: At Wednesday’s public launching of this year’s HyeSanta, businesswoman Nina Hovnanian saw a documentary about Lernuhi included in Shoghakat Television’s film about our project, and later saw the sweater that was Lernuhi’s gift.

Last week, Hovnanian opened the fanciest hand-made arts and clothing boutique Yerevan has ever been home to (see Made in Armenia). Beginning next week, she will be including a section of Lernuhi’s items in her shop, where the elegant work of a modest woman will be on sale alongside purses and other elite items that cost more than Lernuhi might earn in a year.

“It’s a home-run,” said the fashion designer/businesswoman, excited at the chance to help promote a cottage industry.

I doubt if Lernuhi might understand the baseball metaphor, but I hope Nina is right.