By Mariam Badalyan
Mary, 7, is firmly hanging to her mother’s neck.
“It’s my mummy,” she says and kisses her mother on the cheek. She holds a slice of bread in her right hand. There is sugar inside. The bread with sugar inside is what the neighbors have given to her: they know Mary loves sweets very much.
Tamar Santrosyan’s sad eyes with enlarged pupils mildly glimmer, betraying the tremble in her heart.
“Yes, baby, go play,” she says to her daughter.
Mary and her mother live in a dormitory room of 12 square meters with dull walls; just three steps are enough to cross the room. Tamar has done her best to add some good look to her “home”; the worn bed with a bright yellow cover separated from the other part of the room with a red curtain is the main decoration of Tamar’s room. The room furnishing is completed by a shabby wardrobe, a pair of chairs, a small table and a TV set.
For 37-year-old Tamar, Mary is her only joy. Tamar was brought up in an orphanage, as she says, hungry, undergoing constant beatings and longing for a mother’s tenderness.
“I am ashamed to tell we were stealing bread; they kept us hungry, but we knew they would take bread home, that’s why we were stealing and eating secretly in the toilets.”
Tamar left the orphanage at 15. She got a room in a dormitory. In 1998 she got married, handed the room over and moved to her husband’s home. But her happiness would not last long. She was already pregnant with Mary, when her mother-in-law learned that she was raised at an orphanage.
“She told Harut: why have you brought this orphan? We do not need a homeless person. Get rid of her,” and Tamar was left homeless. “She had sent money with her son to have me make an abortion; but I wouldn’t do such a thing.”
Hungry and homeless Tamar was seeking asylum. Mary was six months old when Tamar took her to an orphanage. She wouldn’t believe she was able to do something she has experienced herself, and has since condemned.
“I signed a contract of taking her from the orphanage in a year hoping I would get a room before that,” she tells. Her voice trembles: “I found a woman in the Ninth Massif as poor as I, living in a kiosk. She was looking after a piece of land. I lived with her until I got a room.”
Then she took Mary back. She would get 6,000 drams (about $13) of poverty allowance and was an occasional cleaner at private houses.
“I used to take Mary with me. Where could I leave her? We were getting along somehow.”
Tamar does not get the allowance any more. The superintendent of the dormitory thought the 25,000 drams she got by cleaning porches of three apartment blocs at Arabkir community in Yerevan would suffice for a mother and daughter, and sent a note to “Paros” informing the organization of Tamar’s job.
“Because of that godless man I lost not only the 9500 drams allowance (the amount of Paros allowance, which was previously 6,000, now it is 9,500), but many other advantages as well,” says Tamar. “This year my child went to school. She would get 20 000 drams from “Paros”, but did not. She cries and she is unwilling to go to school. She is small but she understands much. She is ashamed of going to school in torn shoes.”
The money Tamar gets hardly covers transportation and food expenses. Every day, except Sundays, she spends 200 drams to get to the work. The monthly pay for electricity makes 600-700 drams; the sum grows in winter to nearly 4000 drams, when they keep the heater on.
“I haven’t ever bought clothes or shoes for my daughter yet. She grows up wearing the things other people give,” she says adding that the things in her room are also brought by others. “I can’t buy things like milk, yoghurt, fruit: they are too expensive. The money is hardly enough for bread and cereals.”
“I did good needlework,” she says. “Once I have even received an award, but my eyes don’t see well enough for embroidery.”
Tamar has undergone surgery on both eyes. She has a goiter that causes her terrible pains of throat and eyes in the evenings. She was encouraged to have surgery, but she can’t afford it.
“I am afraid doctors will say I need another surgery on my eyes. Where will I find money?”
Tamar frequently gets bread on loan at the shop.
“November 24th was Mary’s birthday,” says Gayane, the neighbor. “Mary was impatiently waiting for it: she asked Tamar if she was going to make a cake, to buy a present. But it passed like an ordinary day. They did not have money.”
Tamar knows for a child getting a present on birthdays means having a parent, a childhood. It pains her that she could not do anything on that day. And still she believes Mary has a happier childhood than she had.
“You can’t compare my childhood with Mary’s,” says Tamar. “Mary has got a mother that will do her best to support her. What was the case with us? Everyone beat us, you can’t compare. I will embrace my child at night and every problem will seem solved to me: despite the hard days neither Mary nor I are alone. I have Mary and she has me.”