By Marianna Grigoryan, Anahit Hayrapetyan
Once upon a time there was a girl dreaming to grow up and have a baby-girl to give her a better life.
Little Siranush and her favorite dolly.
As a child Anahit dreamed for days for visitors to come to the orphanage. Anahit’s parents died when she was two years old and she had no other relatives. But she was not expecting a visitor to adopt her; she simply looked forward to guests coming because on visit days children were allowed to play with the toys that otherwise hung on the wall out of their reach.
“I have dreamed since I was a little child to grow up and have a daughter, to love and cherish her and buy a lot of toys for her and let her play as much as she wants and not place the toys on the walls,” says 39-year-old Anahit Andreasyan.
Anahit’s dream came true, but only partially . . .
Siranush – Anahit’s five-year-old daughter – takes a doll with long black hair, there are also a few more old toys on the sofa, and begins to educate her ‘children’.
The toys that fill Siranush’s childhood have been presented to her by neighbors.
Anahit does not hang them on the wall, but even if she wanted, she probably wouldn’t be able to do that as the place where the Andreasyans live can hardly be called a “home”.
The story of the Andreasyans’ homeless life began about five years ago when Anahit’s husband, George (a repatriate) left for the United States, promising that he would take his family abroad later. But the last Anahit heard, George suffered a stroke and is now confined to bed.
“I have no news of my husband,” Anahit says with sorrow, avoiding saying something bad about her husband. “Poor him, I don’t even know whether he is alive or not.”
After George left, the nine-month-old Siranush was taken ill with some intestinal disease and Anahit had to spend time in hospitals together with her baby.
“I was told at hospital not to have hope that the baby would live, they told me to go and find money and I have nobody except for Siranush. What should I have done?” Anahit asks. “I had to pay for medicines, to doctors, pay daily rent for the room where they kept my baby. I was thinking what to do for my baby to be saved.”
To save the life of Siranush, in 2002 Anahit sold her one-room hostel apartment in the town of Abovyan with all belongings and after spending several months in the hospital, together with her baby she became homeless.
“The head of our housing maintenance office, told me not to sell my apartment, warning that I would be left in the street. But I would have gone crazy if I hadn’t done everything for my Siranush,” the mother says.
At first, Anahit rented an apartment and paid rent ($27) from money earned doing housework.
“I have lived a bitter life in other people’s shabby clothes. I was glad I worked, kept my child, bought fairytale story books, fruit… I thought that my child’s fate would be different at least from mine. Then I fell ill and everything became much more complicated. I couldn’t get enough to pay the rent in full and eventually I ended up in the street last autumn. We didn’t have anywhere to go. We would climb the upper stories of buildings, cover ourselves with mattresses to survive until the morning. Siranush and I were sick all the time. But what could we do?” Anahit says.
From building to building, from place to place, the head of the housing maintenance office, Anush, learned about the situation of Anahit and her daughter and offered them “a new home” till spring of 2008.
Abovyan, 3rd Hostel on Chapich street, in the cellar.
This is Anahit’s home address.
Anahit is walking to her home through a damp and dark corridor full of rags and old clothes – and her home is about three yards long and two yard wide. It is a cold and unsightly rectangle where the mother and her daughter try to get shelter from the elements.
There is a table near the entrance. Half a step from it on the right is the bed with a cotton blanket, on the left is Siranush’s “playground”, an old sofa with different old rags.
On the wall is a clock that does not work from dampness, in the corner is the New Testament, a crocheted cross, a few pictures that were all gifts from neighbors.
“She is a very modest and clever woman, we all feel for her,” says one of the neighbors, Zhanna. “She is in great need herself, but she is attentive to everyone. One of the elderly women in our building was taken ill and Anahit for days looked after her. My heart aches when I enter her home. I don’t understand how she can bear it, and that’s all with that little child.”
At night, when sounds subside and they can hear the dangerous noise made by thick black electricity cables passing under the ceiling, Anahit holds her daughter tightly.
“When there is rain or an ice thaw water pours into the home. I am very afraid of these electricity wires, I fear one day we’ll die on the spot. It happens that we keep moving from place to place at night and sit up as water is pouring from all sides of the home, and the electricity wires are buzzing,” Anahit says pointing at the wires.
Anahit tries to live in a place deprived of all domestic conditions, yet not become bitter. She fetches water from a source a few buildings away. To use the toilet, she walks ten minutes together with Siranush to the hostel.
“Sometimes they allow us to use the toilet, but sometimes they are rude to us, reproach us. And what can I say? We don’t have a bathroom either, but I bathe Siranush every week. No matter how much in need I am, I won’t leave my child dirty,” Anahit says.
On the day when Anahit bathes Siranush, the Andreasyans’ room is heated for two hours with a small electric heater.
“We live on 12,000 drams ($36) a month and sometimes we get help of 300-500 drams, and I cannot heat the room on that money. I can hardly use that money to pay my debts to the store for pasta and sometimes I buy buns for Siranush,” Anahit says.
She says that in any case she is not dissatisfied, however she confesses that there are moments when she feels hopeless.
“You don’t know what may happen to you the next minute. It was two o’clock at night, we had gone to bed. And suddenly we heard thunder. I thought it was the electricity wire, I jumped up and picked the blanket to get the child out. And at that time a rat attacked my child, bit her finger and it began to bleed,” Anahit says.
Siranush shows her finger, blackened from the bite.
“We wept for the whole night. We went to hospital in the morning, doctors gave some medicine,” tearful Anahit says. “What shall I do? During the elections [MP tycoon Gagik] Tsarukyan promised to help us to get a room, but the person, who was supposed to settle the matter, did nothing. So I try to somehow protect ourselves,” Anahit says, showing cracks in the wall.
Bottles are stuffed into the cracks in the walls from where electricity wires come out. With plastic bottles Anahit tries to fight big rodents and scorpions that come out in warm months.
“I believe. I believe that it will be alright,” says Anahit. “I dream of having one room, one warm corner where I will tell a tale to Siranush and will not be afraid that the next moment a rat will fall from above, or the electricity will strike and we will die on the spot.”