As a journalist, I have come across many socially insecure families. All of them have complained that they are not living well, that they are unemployed and that the state does not extend them any help.
Alina Vardanyan, too, from the village of Artavaz in Kotayq, lives in socially bad circumstances, but she does not complain that in the 14 years following to her husband’s death she is taking care of her three underage children on her own.
She does not complain that for days they go without any bread and no one gets to know about it.
“To be able to take care of my children I’ve mainly done a man’s job, I’ve cut wood in the forests. I’ve cut 20 cubic meters of twigs in the woods for other people. They used to pay 1300 Drams ($ 3,6) for one cubic meter, but since I’m a woman and they saw that I did well in my job, they gave me 1500 Drams ($ 4,1) for that,” says Alina.
In 1996, her husband died from electrical shock and since then, Alina has taken upon herself the duties of the “man” of the family. Her clothes, even the way she walks have changed.
Long gone is the timidity typical to a woman. She is also aware that the burden of so many years has totally reshaped her.
“Wearing a man’s clothes, I do labor just like any man. I do these heavy tasks so that my children will not knock on the neighbor’s door and ask for a piece of bread. I’ve been turned into a man only for that reason,” says the mother of three.
Alina is also the electric engineer of their village. For a couple of thousand drams, she pulls in electricity wires into the houses of the villagers, repairs electrical appliances, to mention some. She has studied electrical engineering and is trying to earn the daily bread by applying that.
“If I sit without doing anything, who will take care of my children?” asks Alina. She does anything possible to earn some money. She even makes wooden artifacts.
“In all these years, I’ve never gone to the neighbors asking for something. We have worked and lived with dignity. One day we’ve been hungry, the other day we’ve been starved and like that have gone to bed. My children used to go to the neighbors and complain that I put the bread away and don’t give them to eat, but we didn’t have any bread, how could I keep it. Without my asking, the neighbors used to bring a sack of bread for the children to eat,” recalls Alina.
They didn’t have any bread this past January, too, and lived many hard days, because at that time Alina didn’t have any job. When the 40-year-old woman listed the physically heavy tasks she had carried out, I felt ashamed of myself since I could not do the same things.
“I’ve dug the foundations of houses together with men and equal to them. The men were digging for a couple of times and could not work any longer, and I have dug with them equally. I’ve done so many things that another woman wouldn’t do,” recalls an emotional Alina. In Artavaz, they call her “The hero.” This year Alina’s health has declined. She is trying to work like she used to, but she cannot do it any longer.
“I have worked very hard for 14 years and my right foot is already too bad. I have thrombosis and last year, while working, a vein in my right foot got injured. I used to go to work wearing a plaster cast. And now the doctor doesn’t allow me to work. He told me that if I wanted to live a bit longer, I shouldn’t do any heavy labor,” says Alina.
She does not pay any attention to her health and wants to continue working, but she is already unable to.
“They already know my place. Everyday a vehicle comes to our door to take me to work, but I’m not able to go. I know that I will not be able to do it.”
Alina, her two children, and her mother-in-law live in a half ruined home. Arevik, her daughter, is 19 years old and now is living in Russia. Alina has sent her daughter to her brother so that she will be able to get higher education. They have bought the house they currently live in from an Azerbaijani in the beginning of 1990s.
The place has been a storage in the past and humidity has completely destroyed the walls. The roof is also deteriorated and in wet season water leaks into the house.
“My son is my hope. I’ve told him that all these years I’ve been able to support them only with bread, I leave the house for him to build when he’s older,” says Alina.
Since Alina is unable to work this year, they get along with the pension of 20000 Drams ($ 55) and the 17000 Drams ($ 47) given to the children deprived of their caregiver.
They have a cow. For many years Alina has cut grass from the mountains with a rack for the cow, but this year she has decided to sell the cow, too. Her health does not allow her to go and get the grass, and she cannot put aside 70000 Drams ($ 194) to buy grass and sustain the animal in the winter.
“Until now I haven’t been able to pay for the books, either. 5000 Drams ($ 14) isn’t a big amount, but I can’t save that much to be able to pay for the books. I went to the doctor; my medicines would’ve cost me more than 10000 Drams ($ 28), so I didn’t take them. If I had that much I would’ve bought a sack of flour and my children would have something to eat,” added Alina.
In the past three summers, Alina has been working at the summer house of one of the wealthy people in the neighboring village Pyunik.
“I work at Karen Buniatyan’s house. I don’t know at which Ministry he works. He’s a good young man, with eyeglasses. It’s already been three years that I’m working seasonally at their home. I am a servant there. I do the laundry, the ironing, I clean the house. In the summer they come to their summer house and I go and work for them,” says Alina. She has also worked at the Kilikia Rest House belonging to Ruben Hairapetyan, the President of the Football Federation of Armenia.
The latter has even been surprised by finding out that the one carrying out the heavy labor is a woman. But nothing has changed after that.
He has paid Alina as much as he has paid the other workers. Alina says that it has been many years since they bought clothes from the stores. While working at wealthy people’s houses, they give her some clothes and she and her children use them.
Even after all this, Alina does not complain of her life and blames no one for her misfortune. She praised Rem Hairapetyan, the village Mayor, who has helped her family a lot.
“I will take care of my children as long as I can. When they grow up, maybe they will take care of me, too. I have given all my years to my children. If they are going to forget everything, that’s their problem, may God be with them. No, my children good, they will not leave me alone. But who knows, they might forget me after getting married,” adds Alina.