Where to Turn?: A look at life in distress
Seyran tightly pulls his belly full of scars with a cloth so his body can withstand the burden of building material. Working on a construction site in 1992 he was injured and had his spleen and half of kidney removed. Two years later he underwent surgeries on his stomach and duodenum and some tube was inserted into his abdomen. He uses his half-health at a construction materials base, carries cement sacks and metals 12-14 hours a day. But the money he earns, which is a little more than $100, is not enough to keep the family happy, and his wife, 35-year-old Melania speaks slightingly of his poor health: “He is an artificial man.”
They live in the same apartment at the Abovyan hostel, but they are divorced. Forty-year-old Seyran is a refugee from Shamkhor. The difficulties of 17 years’ of married life with Melania became insurmountable in the last year and because of their troubles their three children went hungry and their life became intolerable.
Every morning Seyran leaves 200 drams on the table with which the children have to buy food for the whole day. “We buy bread for 100 drams and drink tea with bread,” 12-year-old Levon says. “And we divide the remaining 100 drams among ourselves. That little one (11-year-old Aram) does not understand that we have no money to buy food, he uses his money to buy pop-guns. I say, daddy, leave some more for us to buy eggs to eat with bread, he says he doesn’t have it.”
And they eat late, at about 10 o’clock. Daddy comes from work, wakes up his children and together they have supper. “He comes at 10.30 or 11.00 p.m., wakes us up to eat,” daughter 15-year-old Alvard says. “I say, daddy it’s late, my body is disturbed when I eat and sleep. It would be better if you left some more money for us to eat during the day. He says that but for our mother he would leave us more.”
Melania says that she can no longer live with Seyran, he cannot maintain the family, did not manage to pay the electricity bill, they have run into debt, he drinks and hits her and his swear words are spread all over the hostel. “He uses the worst street swear words,” Alvard says. “The neighbors do not say to him, they say it to me – your father uses bad words, what can I do?”
And Seyran is in stress all day long that his relations with his wife have become strained and his family is falling apart (unlike his wife, he doesn’t say that they are divorced.) He says the reason is that he came home in the evening and she was not at home. And once he found a mobile phone of a stranger. “I am a man, I work for a whole day, come home in high spirits to spend time with my family and your wife is not at home. What will you do? It’s a family, quarrels will always be there, we have raised our children together, went to the merry-go-round, quarreled, but when night came we went to bed together. What happened that she turned away from me?”
One of the neighbors tells that Seyran lost his temper when he came home from work and saw a strange man drinking coffee in his home. But before that it wasn’t like this, Melania for years looked after Seyran’s parents confined to bed. “She was very devoted, she cleaned under those elderly people.”
Seyran admits that he drinks, he swallows cement all day long — shouldn’t he drink a couple of shots from time to time? – swears and hits his wife: “What shall I do that the walls of this hostel are thin and the neighbors hear the swear words.”
Recently, because of the noise police were called after Seyran. “Can a woman bring police to her husband? I am a man, I said several more swear words than I should have,” Seyran asks.
Now he dreams to join his wife: “Yesterday, I said to my daughter, tell mom to take the pillow and come and lie next to me. Her mother said don’t even hope, it will not happen. Why should my family have been destroyed, my sister doesn’t come so I could cry on her shoulder,” he said.
If the wife listened to him, would be kind to him, he says he would leave more money in the mornings. But his wife hates her husband so much that she doesn’t even want to hear about reunion and the children remain hungry in the middle of the collision of hatred and love secrets. As Levon says: “He takes his revenge on mom and we suffer.”
The children tell that their father constantly tries to set them against their mother, says it would be better if she goes and never comes back. At that time they will have more to eat, or he will drag her by the hair one day and throw outside. “Dad, I say, why? She is our mother, isn’t she? There’s no sweeter thing than mother. No matter how bad she is, she is mother,” Alvard says. “He says, you are on your mother’s side. You have no respect for me.”
Alvard also complains that boys at school embarrass her and her father never comes to defend her. And although she wants to study, she will have to leave school after finishing eight grades.
The children think only about eating and getting warm, someone promised to lend shoes to Alvard for winter. Little Aram’s shoes are torn and his feet get cold. There is no money to buy shoes. How can they buy shoes when they have a debt of 12,000 drams (about $33) for school textbooks.
“True, I used to leave more in the past, now I leave 200 [drams],” Seyran says. “I am doing so for my family to improve. What shall I do? Who do I work for? I work for my children. One month I will give money for shoes, one month for books. I can work thus hard, I can’t do beyond that. What shall I do? Shall I give money for shoes, books or sweater at this moment?”
Neighbor Rita Avanesyan says that Levon often comes to her and cries, doesn’t know how to find a solution to his parents’ quarrel, how to impact his father, how to overcome everyday starvation. Perhaps it is better for him to go to the army, become a soldier so that his father should fear from him, reckon with him? But the army is also a salvation for Levon to get away from the family. “No, not only this,” Levon says. “I want to go to the army and not to come during leave, not to see this situation anymore.” But he still has four years to go before he reaches the call-up age.
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