I’d heard about a potato pit in Arinj, a small village about 5 miles north of Yerevan. I was a little skeptical at first but there are always surprises in small villages. So I decided to take a day off from my gruelling writing schedule (not) and go to Arinj.
The bus to Arinj is either number 41 or number 54. I never learned which, but neither came after half an hour, so I hopped a cab. This turned out to be a good decision because things got very personal once we arrived in the village.
My cab driver did not speak one word of English and I did not know the Armenian words for “potato pit” (only “thank you,” which in Armenia is “merci.” My three years of high school French is finally paying off.) I made a hand gesture that apparently reminded my cab driver of potato pits. He waved to a man on the side of the road who jumped in the taxi and we drove about a mile to the end of an alley. The men motioned for me to follow them down a narrow path behind the alley. I was glad I was in Armenia, famous for its zero crime rate.
What I saw at the end of our walk was not a potato pit although it was supposed to be a potato pit.
One day in the spring of 1985, Mrs. Tosya of Arinj asked her husband, Levon Tosya, to dig her a potato pit. And so Levon dutifully got out his tools and began digging. And he didn’t stop for 23 years. The resulting network of caverns, stairways and altars is remarkable. I didn’t count but I am guessing there are 20 small rooms that go down 40 feet underground. Levon accomplished this while he was working as a contractor. Here what Levon said about his work:
“I was in love with the rock. It magnetized me. My wife put up with our life. God knew what kind of woman I needed in order to fulfill the Lord’s will. I saw all the steps of my work with projects and exact calculations in my dreams. Beyond the wall, I saw all the passageways — paths, points of intersection, and I never made a mistake.”
Levon left this earth several years ago but his adoring Mrs. Tosya keeps Levon’s legacy alive by welcoming strangers and experts into the maze below her house. At the end of our tour of the caverns, Mrs. Tosya showed us Levon’s tools and muddy boots and newspaper articles about his work. She is philosophical about the whole thing:
“All I wanted was a pit for potatoes, and from that the endless obsession with digging started. As a result, we came to have neither a good house nor a pit for potatoes.”