“Mom, when money falls from the sky will you buy me a toy?”
6 year-old Gor was running up and down the dormitory room.
His mother called him back to remove his wet socks. Gor wouldn’t have any of it.
“The shoes have holes. The poor kid’s feet get wet quickly,” explained the mom. Gor’s sister, 5 year-old Angelina, stood and watched from behind.
Water coming from the discharge pipe and dripping rainwater has accumulated in the yard outside the dormitory in the town of Masis. Residents have placed large rocks in the huge puddle to walk over. Spider webs cover the dank and decrepit walls on the dorm’s first floor. The kitchen is located there. But there are only two old washing machines to be found in the room. One imagines that the place is being renovated. Sergei, a dorm resident, says that some residents haven’t installed water pipes in their rooms and must come here to wash their dishes. “They use these faucets,” Sergei says, adding that he’s ashamed to talk of living conditions at the dorm.
When I ask if there’s a shower in the dorm Sergei smiles, repeating the phrase, “No. Residents are embarrassed showing people what it’s like here,” he says. What passes for a shower is located near the kitchen. It too is full of cobwebs. “You’re probably thinking how we use the shower. But, what can we do?” Sergei says, inviting us upstairs to his apartment.
Sergei is 38. He and his family have been living on the third floor of the Masis dorm for a little over a year. They bathe the kids in the room. The parents go to friends to wash up.
The hallway is dark and silent. Sergei opens the door and introduces us to his wife, Gayaneh Hayrapetyan. She’s been married once before. Gor and Angelina are from her first marriage. 3 year-old Eric is Sergei’s son.
The couple pays 10,000 drams ($21) monthly for the room. They let us use the two armchairs. All the furniture belongs to the landlord. The children look us over with quizzical gazes. We smile back.
Seconds later Angelina discreetly smiles and says, “I will be a pretty girl when I grow up.” We laugh.
Sergei and Gayaneh sleep in the one bed; the children’s bed is the floor.
Last March, Sergei lost the sight in one eye when a fight broke out with in-laws. He was operated on but to no avail. He needs a 65,000 Euro operation in Germany. To become registered with a second tier disability Sergei has to pay the 25,000 dram application fee.
“We don’t have the money,” says Sergei, looking off into the distance. Gayaneh adds that they buy everything on credit and that Sergei’s parents assist financially.
“We’d be lost without their help,” says Gayaneh, adding, “I’ve been prescribed eye medication. Four tablets cost 16,000 dram. I can’t afford it.”
Sergei tells us he worked in construction for twenty years. Due to his eye accident, Sergei hasn’t worked for several months. “I’m really ashamed to tell you all of this, our troubles and all. It’s just that we’ve hit rock bottom. Maybe someone can help us,” says Sergei.
This year, the parents haven’t sent their son to school. They don’t have the money for decent clothes and supplies.
The children also need some decent nourishment. Gayaneh is forced to buy Eric’s diapers on credit.
Sergei asks his wife to make some coffee. We politely decline.
Gor’s birthday is on November 20. The boy has asked his parents for toys. “He tells me; mom when money falls from the sky will you buy me a toy?” says Gayaneh, looking at Gor and smiling.
We say our goodbyes and leave. Sergei escorts us, again saying how ashamed he feels for showing us where his family lives.
I ask myself just how despondent and dejected Sergei must be to show us the conditions in which he and his family lives.
As we walk away, Sergei’s faint smile turns sour; sadness etched on his face.
Photos: Narek Aleksanyan