By Gayane Mkrtchyan

Laura’s worn-out shoes are marred with dirt and cow manure. While running she was constantly thinking of how to get to home early. On one special day a month she is expected impatiently by her six children, mother-in-law and husband.

“Mommy, mommy, have you brought us the candies we wanted?” the small and old repeat as one, and without waiting for their mother’s answer attack her bag, which is even more worn-out than her shoes.

It is the happy day when Laura goes to get the children’s allowance. The uneasy look of the 45-year-old woman straying in the distance tells about her life and family. Questions aren’t needed, to learn that she is troubled.

Laura’s husband, 48-year-old Volodya Shirinyan divides his life path into two parts – “ordinary people” and “refugees”. They were ordinary when together with 76-year-old mother Nora Gyurjyan they lived in the Mirzik village of the Khanlar region of Azerbaijan. War made them pass to the next stage, where they would be called refugees.

“From 1989 I fought in Askeran’s regimen. My mother temporarily lived in Stepanakert. In 1994 I married Laura and moved to Martakert,” says Volodya.

The Shirinyans live on the outskirts of Martakert in a district built specially for refugees.

“Many could not bear the difficulties and went to Russia, many left this place out of fear. What do we know? Perhaps war will break out again, the border is close,” says mother Nora.

The couple counts their debt. It exceeds the income – a pension of 23,000 drams (about $50) and the 8,000 drams (about $17) social security pension for Nora.

“We bring goods from the shop and amass a big debt, now reaching 83,000 drams (about $185). We use two sacks of flour a month only to bake bread. We have forgotten about clothes and shoes, we wear what our neighbors and relatives give,” says Laura.

No one in the family has a job. Volodya has kidney problems. Laura had her last three children by Cesarean. Because of doing hard work during the post-surgery period she ruptured her stomach. Mother Nora boasts that she is the healthiest in the house and is ready to do any work for the children. In summer she goes does field work for farmers, and makes about $2-4 a day.

Three-year-old Gayane shows around their house. The little one is walking with difficulty, stumbling because of the scrappy shoes she wears as they are from different pairs. The child’s feet are seen from the torn slits.

A thick pasteboard and polyethylene are substitutes for the windows of what they call a bedroom. They make the gray room look even darker. Gayane’s eyes are shining in hopeless darkness. She says that they sleep all together in three shabby beds.

Meri, 10, Nune, 9, and Lusine, 8, return from school. Norair approaches and asks his father to take him into his arms. The boy reaches his hands upwards with difficulty.

Misfortune knocked at the door of the unfortunate family when Norair was two years old. He fell into a pot of boiling milk and received serious burns on his left side and over his heart.

“With God’s help my child survived,” says his mother. “Now we must do the second surgery, but how? We have nothing.”

Officials in charge of such things, have said they would grant a disability status – if the family would pay a 50,000 dram (more than $100) bribe.

The family’s greatest concern is the approaching winter. A truckload of firewood costs 50,000 drams. It is a dream for them. Mother Nora says that there is no wood nearby, otherwise she would have brought firewood for the kids.

Laura says it is difficult to keep a house of children and they don’t know how to continue to live. They live in Martakert, which is one of the areas that suffered most from the war.

In order to encouraging repopulation in Karabakh, the state pays families who have four or more children; from $1,000 to $2,000, which can be redeemed when the child turns 18. Until the child reaches 18, the parents can collect the monthly interest. For their fourth, fifth and sixth child, the Shirinyans get 10,000 drams (about $22), and they ask themselves: “But what shall we do with that?”

On New Year’s Eve, rather than a home filled with lights and toys and a full table, the Shirinyans switch off the lights early and go to bed. New or old, nothing changes.

Recently, the Shirinyans were given a cow by an aid agency.

There are copybooks and books covered with dust on the window-sill. Meri says: “They are my father’s, he knows English and Hindi.” Volodya opens a book and reads. He shows translations made from Hindi. He says that he had studied it himself when they were “ordinary people.”

“I am a pessimist, though my poems say a different thing. But what is life doing to us? What to believe in, why should I not be discouraged?” he says and reads out the poem of lost hopes.

A hope is an impersonal, uncertain dream, but a hope is a vivifying spirit of life,

We cannot stretch it like a flag, however it is a savior,

A hope is always ours, it is in our blood, it is born into the world with the cry of birth,

It lives with us, once strong and once weak, and is extinguished with us like great love.

Nora confesses that Volodya sometimes drinks out of suffering. At that time he takes a pen and begins to write.

“I am unable to keep my family. When my blood rages in my veins, I throw what is accumulated in my soul to the shore and write. White sheets of paper are the shores of my soul where poems are born,” he says.

Nune opens a copybook with poems and reads: “Part One.

Light is a hope, it will take you out of hell,

Light is a hope, it is always accompanying you by your side . . .”

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