A Shepherd’s Tale: Few green pastures in the life of blind villager
Khachik wakes with the dawn, but doesn’t see it. In fact it is daylight that brings darkness to his world, ending his sleep, and the night dreams that even the blind experience.
For Khachik, like other shepherds, dawn brings the task of milking and of taking goats and sheep to graze – to pastureland that is two or three kilometers from Khachick’s village of Yeghegis. Evening signals the return trip.
He knows the road by heart, feels with his walking cane for the fence here and familiar stones on the roadside there, then the shrubs, and now he hears the murmur of the stream. And the ringing of the bells on the necks of the vanguard kid and two lambs tells him their place.
He knows the animals one by one – one by its fatty tail, one by its ears, horns, fur and even the voice. He raises them from the very young age like his own child, feeds them with sugar and bread keeping in his hands.
And Khachik’s aide is his donkey. Leave it anywhere and call it and it will bray in response.
Khachik also mows down grass for winter with a scythe. He is careful, he knows where stones are and does not mow with too much force so that his scythe does not hit an unknown stone, he then gathers it himself and his wife and mother tie it up and bring it home.
He fixes everything that needs it – iron, oven or electricity.
Khachik Khachatryan, 35, lost his sight at 17. He lost the sight of his left eye in the 6th grade at school in Kirovabad [now Gyandja in Azerbaijan] because of a blow he got from his teacher: “I was sitting and talking to my classmate. She said: ‘Keep silent. Keep silent.’ I laughed. She walked up quickly and stroke straight at my eye. The stick was quite thick. I bent, opened my eye and saw it had faded. I had an operation on it, but it did not help and so it went blind.”
In 1989 the family fled Kirovabad and Khachik settled in the town of Abovyan with his father. A year later he lost the sight of his right eye in a street brawl. “We quarreled. He wanted to strike at my ear, but I turned and he hit my eye. I used to see at first, but the retina was damaged.”
His only good eye eventually went dark.
The narrow rooms of a hostile where he lived where there were concrete walls all around, like in a prison, made him feel his blindness even sharper. Khachik moved with his mother and sister to the village of Alayaz [now Yeghegis] in Yeghegnadzor region – about 130 kilometers southeast of Yerevan, where the house and the broad fields were a relief.
Yeghegis was once populated with Azerbaijanis and now is mostly inhabited with refugees.
At fate’s decree his sister Narine is also blind. She lost her sight when she was two.
Khachik’s parents are divorced and their enmity was reflected in their mutual accusations in Narine’s blindness: his father would say she did not take too much care of the child, so the child had hurt its head striking against the wall, it had swelled. The mother, meanwhile, would blame Narine’s blindness on the father’s alcoholism.
Nine years ago Khachik married Armine, 31, who used to be Narine’s classmate in the Yerevan school for children with eyesight problems. One of Armine’s eyes is ablated and the other sees only 30 percent. Still, she manages on her own.
Their son Grigor, 8, suffers from squint he has inherited from his mother. His eyeballs move, and he can’t look straight. Grigor lives with Armine’s mother in Yerevan to attend the school for children with eyesight problems. He has now moved to the second grade. He visited his parents in summer. Doctors promise they will stop the movement of his eyeballs and Grigor will see normally. Doctors have prescribed drops for summer, so that to decide in autumn whether it’s worth doing a surgery or not: “My son is not with me all the year round, it’s painful for me, I would also like him to be treated, so that my son is by my side,” says Armine. But how can they pay for it?! The operation costs about $400. And Khachik’s husbandry only provides food for the family.
There are only Khachik and Armine living in their home. Khachik’s mother Maria married Benik, a refugee like her in the village and moved to him. Benik’s wife had passed away, as he says, because of the distress caused by their son’s mental disease. Khachik’s sister Narine also got married but the guy left her after several months. Now she lives alone.
Khachik is the only one in the village to take sheep and goats to pastures every day.
The villagers tend the village animals in turn. As sheep graze in farther locations and stay longer, there are two flocks tended in turn – one for lambs and kids, the second for sheep and goats. Khachik does not take a turn, because it’s above his capabilities to manage a whole flock in the dark. He takes lambs and kids to the pastures himself, but his sheep and goats go with the flock. Khachik’s are eight sheep and six goats. He pays 2,500 drams ($7,5) when his turn comes every 20th day, so that someone takes his animals instead of him. But sometimes, like the last time, no one wanted to replace him and the sheep went out and were lost in the pastures.
“It’s a shame for our village it cannot support a blind man. The glory of the strong is in helping the weak,” says Kochar Kocharyan of Yeghegis. “Khachik should be removed from the turn and the village should undertake the tending of his animals.”
But the village does not take any step.
Taking lambs to the pastures every day is another unavoidable torture – under the heat of the sun, hitting stones and thorns, a forced work, without which the family will starve.
Khachik’s disability pension (6,000 drams — $18) and poverty allowance (12,000 drams — $36) cover the utility service expenses and the payment for grazing sheep, but it does not suffice for the most necessary food – sugar, flour and pasta.
When he sells lambs and kids, getting 14-15,000 drams ($42-45) per each, he will buy food, some clothes. They will not be able to afford themselves everything, but they won’t starve.
It’s quite long time already he has been planning to buy a pair of good sporting shoes, because a bad quality one will soon be worn out in the field. But an average quality pair costs 12-15,000 drams (($36-45) the price of a lamb) and then, when he knows his son’s shoes are torn, he says: “It’s better I don’t have, but he does, and my wife does.”
He listens to spiritual cassette recordings – to the New Testament, to Psalms. Khachik says he believes in God. He fails the Christian oath of forgiveness, though. He says people have become cruel and without conscience. People shout when his kids cross someone’s territory telling him to keep them away from the land; and though he explains he cannot take them too far, they curse him and his blindness.
This year is the worst: the villagers have already lost three of Khachik’s animals. One had hurt its head, another one was brought injured and he sold it, and the third one was lost in the mountains. It fell down and died, and Khachik could not even get the use of its meat. He said to the shepherd that day: “You could at least give me a kid instead. Don’t you have conscience?!”
The man mocked Khachik, telling him to go get the sheep himself, then added in anger: “You don’t even have an eye so that I could pull it out!”