Stones For Potatoes: “We are strong, we stand”
By Gayane Abrahamyan
On an old metal bed in a dark and wet room, the four sons of Lusine Karapetyan fight the cold, under their father’s jacket, used for a blanket.
Through holes in the door, the December wind finds its way across the empty floor to the children’s bare feet.
The father. The boys. The life.
The floor was once covered with wood. But it was taken apart to sell. Part of the walls are coming down, too. Hamlet Galajyan, 31, will sell the stones of their home at about a nickel each to pay for 150 kilograms of potatoes.
The family of six bunches into one room, filled with smoke from the stove. It used to be a family of eight. But seven-month old Mariam died in 2001 and one-year old Vahan in 1999 – from poverty, their father says.
“Where is my daughter’s picture, bring, let them see”, says Hamlet and leaves the room to hide the tears from his visitors.
“You see, my child was hungry, we had sold everything we had. We now dismantle the walls of the house to sell. We have sold even the wood on the floor”, says 27 year old Lusine.
With a strong strike of the hammer Hamlet dismantles the last ruin of the wall. He will take down 500 stones in this cruel trade of home for food.
Hamlet is a mason. He builds homes for others; then tears his down so that his children don’t starve.
“All around the village there has not been a house like ours, if someone had a wardrobe we had two; nobody had hall furniture except us”, says Lusine with a pity.
Today only 6 square meters of dirt floor-room hold two metal beds. Before, it was a four-room home, finely decorated.
The Galajyans live in the borderland Yeraskhavan village of Ararat Marz where unemployment has become a permanent form of life.
Destroying a house to save a home
The villagers call Yeraskhavan Kambakhavan (kambakh – in Armenian slang used for something far or forgotten).
There is no drinking water in the village of 750 inhabitants. A five-ton water truck comes to the village every two days to sell water at 40 liters for about 20 cents. Nothing grows in the saline soils of this village except desert thorns.
“A place where water is sold for money, is not a place to live, we just do not have a chance to escape,” says neighbor Alvard Saribekyan, 35. “We would long ago if we could.”
According to the regional administration, 90 percent of Yeraskhavan is indigent – 10 percent are lucky enough to be qualified only as “poor”.
“The condition of Yeraskhavan is awful, we are not alone,” says Hamlet. “If water is bought for money, how can one manage anything else?”
“In this poor, forgotten village no one makes even a single cattle shed. I could do the work for 1000 drams. I happened to go to neighboring villages to find work, but the transportation and accommodation expenses exceeded the money I earned. Desperate, I came home walking in the night and once I hardly escaped the wolves.”
The Galajyans don’t even get a pension, because Lusine doesn’t have a passport, and two of the children don’t have birth certificates.
“. . . we go on somehow . . .”
“My Tatosik and Sargis do not have birth certificates (because it cost money to have them registered). My children are hungry today; where can I find 10,000 drams for them to get the paper?”
For several months the Galajyans have had no electricity. It was cut off because they could not pay the bill, about $14.
The elder son 8-year-old Harutik helps the mother with many children; when the mother goes to fields in summer to gather crops for pay, he takes care of his baby brother.
“It’s me bringing milk from the neighbors, boil it, feed him, change the diapers or wash the floor; I even happened to wash the dishes”, says Harutik a first grader who is proud of how well he does in school.
Harutik’s most important responsibility at home is the fuel. He fetches pitch kept in a station since the Soviet times. And despite the awful soot and smell from the oven it’s better than the cold.
Potatoes are the everyday food for the Galajyans. Want to help the Galajyans? HyeSanta recommends blankets, clothes, a stove and livestock. Estimated cost $550. Click here.
“If we have pasta, I make a dinner and we go on somehow. If no, children stay hungry; what can we do?,” says Lusine. “Whom can I ask for help? You may ask once, twice, who will give? What can we do? We are strong, we stand.”
The young mother has delivered her two children at home; there is neither doctor in the village nor a medical service. A year ago she gave birth to her youngest – Andranik, who weighted 4 kilograms. According to medical estimations Andranik today should weight at least 10 kilograms, but he is hardly 6:
“In summer he was hardly 5 kilos. He eats potatoes now that’s why he has gained weight a bit; there have been days they couldn’t give the baby even sweetened water. If they get water they give him simple water without sugar to make him silent”, says a neighbor to Galajyans Perchuhi Karamyan.
The winter cold cutting like a razor the children are barefoot and wear thin cloths. They wear what the neighbors and the relatives bring.
“People help, we wear used cloths, my eldest went to school this year. We bought new clothes for him, but for so long we haven’t bought any new clothes”, says Lusine.
Harutik, who “earned” new clothes when he turned eight, says he doesn’t believe in Santa.
“It’s not Santa who brings, it’s mothers who put presents under the pillows. I am old, why should he bring them to me. If he brings presents to my brothers that would be enough, they are small, and they play with stones and soil; if he only brought a toy car…”