From Atlanta to Echmiadzin: Tiny traveler crosses cultures to live in Armenia

Flora Khachatryan saw her new “daughter” for the first time at Zvartnots International Airport and watching eight-year-old Vanessa dragging her suitcase tiredly her heart filled with maternal warmth.

“My God, how shall I keep this girl? - I thought to myself. How did her parents agree to send her across the ocean. And what if she doesn’t get accustomed to us , what if she misses home, what if she doesn’t stay here?” says Flora.

However, all “what ifs” disappeared as soon as Vanessa stood in front of her and said: “Hi, I’m Vanessa” and gave her a big hug.

Karen and Charles Spradlinns, Vanessa’s parents in America, discovered Armenia a year ago when they hosted Flora’s 17-year-old daughter Anna Gasparyan. Anna had left for Atlanta, Georgia, to study under the American “Flex” educational program.

“It was from me that the Spradlinns for the first time learned about our country. They were surprised when I said that we had five churches in Echmiadzin,” says Anna.

They liked Anna’s Armenian upbringing, and especially her knowledge of languages. And when little Vanessa said she wanted to move to Armenia, they decided not to oppose her.

“I got so much attached to Anna that I thought if she left I would be missing her and at that very moment I said – can I go with you?” Vanessa says in half-Russian.

Anna returned to Armenia on June 22. Vanessa came the next day.

“In the street all were impatiently waiting for our American guest, especially children. Imagine that on the first day in the morning she woke up and went into the yard in her pajamas,” says Flora. “Children began to scream: ‘Vanessa, Vanessa! Scared by the noise she went up to second floor of our house where there were building materials and began to throw stones at children. We understood that she was defending herself,” says Flora.

Anna’s father Hayk Gasparyan says that unlike Armenian children, Vanessa was worried about security, which prevented her from freely mixing with other children. Now, though, she has changed.

Vanessa’s parents sent with her to Armenia notarized documents according to which the girl’s temporary parents are Hayk and Flora. They are teachers by training. Vanessa calls them “mum-jan, pap-jan”.

The little American with fair hair and blue eyes studies in the third Russian grade at Echmiadzin’s “Grigor Lusavorich” University’s school. The dream of her parents has turned into reality – she now reads and writes in Russian.

Anna says that the Spradlinns are strict Catholics. Every Sunday they go to church, they don’t have dinner until all members of the family have gathered round the table. They pray before eating or going to bed. Vanessa keeps up this tradition, but she has got also gained certain freedoms, as she allowed to do many things here.

She has written a book about Armenian culture. She is amazed by the mountains around her and she assimilates them with the Armenian kochari dance. She likes khachapuri and khorovats.

Flora likes Vanessa’s self-confident demeanor. “If you say ‘look out] when she is crossing the street, she stops, and says that she knows,” says Flora.

And it was by her demand that her new family’s home has become a “non-smoking area”.

“We were amazed by the way she was struggling for her rights. Our children don’t have this,” says Flora. “When we have many smoker guests, she crawls under the table, saying that she would be inhaling less poison that way.”

Anna thinks that Vanessa is too little for such separation from her family, but she displays a strong will. She has been away from her home for five months, and plans to be here five more.

Flora admits that she was not so attentive to her own children as to Vanessa.

“I want to do everything for her. She is a foreign child and I don’t want her to be in a low spirit. It is a great responsibility. When I remember that she is to leave in April, I don’t want to believe it, we have got used to her,” she says.