After taking her fifth child to kindergarten, Nazeli drops in at her neighbor’s house to warm up.
The 40 year-old mom can’t afford to burn wood to heat up her own house. Instead, Nazeli is forced to burn cardboard and old shoes and clothes that she’s collected.
“I feel awkward, but…We collect trash and burn it. We can’t afford wood. I’ve sent my daughter, not yet three, to kindergarten so that she eat lunch and get warm. As for clothing, people send stuff,” says Nazeli, a resident of the Djrarat, a neighborhood in the town of Hrazdan.
Nazeli’s other daughters, Astghik and Anahit, attend school. “The children aren’t the best of pupils. Sometimes I can’t even buy them notebooks. They get depressed because I can’t…,” says Nazeli, her words trailing off.
Nazeli tells me that the kids skip classes when she can’t pay various school fees for Xerox copies and the like.
Nazeli points to the doorless toilet-shower in the corner where the children bathe.
The eight member family gets by on a monthly allowance of 52,000 AMD (US$108) and her mother-in-law’s pension. Artur, her husband, worked at the Hrazdan bus station and was paid 1,500-2,000 drams daily. He had recently left for Russia to find work but returned after not finding any. Artur has now left for Yerevan with their 17 year-old son Sashik in the hope of finding odd jobs. They live with Nazeli’s mother.
There’s a small patch of land opposite Nazeli’s house where the family grows potatoes and beans. Neighbors help out by giving cabbage, potato seeds, and other basic foodstuffs. A few days ago, some people stopped by with clothing, shoes, and food items. They also brought plastic wrap to cover the drafty windows in the house.
“We are still using the rice, wheat and pasta they donated. It was a great help knowing that the kids wouldn’t go to bed hungry,” says Nazeli.
“These are the cabbages people just sent. They said go and pickle them.”
Nazeli’s other son, 15 year-old Ruben, learning to be an auto mechanic in a local vocational school. Classes are free and the family gets 4,500 drams monthly to cover travel expenses for Ruben. Since the school isn’t far, Ruben walks and the family pockets the money.
Jars of various pickled vegetables
In winter, the family gathers in one of the house’s two rooms where the stove is located.
When I ask “what is the best thing in the midst of all this hardship”, Nazeli says it’s her children.
“I live for them,” she says, adding that her priority is to see that they are properly fed.
“For the past five-six years, my husband and I have been sleeping on the floor in the winter. Where can eight people sleep?”