Yerevan’s Malatia Dormitory: Hope Endures Despite the Hardships
"Look, that’s God," says 9-year-old Erik, looking at the portrait of Mona Lisa.
He then starts jumping, and his sisters join him. Sadness is present in the children’s eyes, and even when they jump, they don’t shout joyfully.
"Erik, you say it’s God?" smiles his grandmother, then her smile disappears and she lets the other grandchild, one-year-old Edmon, off her arms. All of us look at the picture. The grandmother sighs and murmurs, "Erik, Erik, he says it’s God."
Christine, a mother of six, is silent: she watches her children play and wipes her wet eyes. The conversation is not an easy one to start. The children sitting on the bed look at their mother.
We start talking about the picture hanging in the room with cracked walls. Cristine quickly wipes her eyes. She says they got the picture as a gift, and they like it very much. Then she smiles. Her smile changes the atmosphere of the room.
"Christine is delicate, she’s probably crying because she’s happy that you’re here," her mother says, and Christine nods her head in agreement.
Christine Karapetyan’s family of eight lives in a forgotten dormitory in Malatia district of Yerevan. Her husband, Manouk Kharatyan, isn’t home. He’s a laborer and earns 3-4,000 drams a day. The family receives a state allowance of 63,000 drams ($132) per month for the children.
"Manouk's salary is mostly spent on food for little Edmon. Baby food is expensive – 2,550 drams. Sometimes, when we buy it, the others stay hungry. When we get the allowance, we pay off our debts, " says 33-year-old Christine, mentioning that they have many debts.
She says she would definitely go to work if she didn’t have health issues. Her mother confirms,"Christine has neurosis: there are moments when she turns into stone." She hasn’t visited a doctor since she doesn’t have money.
Christine’s mother, Teresa, lives in the same dormitory, on the third floor. Two of the children stay with her overnight, since the family doesn’t fit in one room. The grandmother helps the family, washing dishes at a restaurant twice a week for 3,000 drams. She used to clean houses, but she doesn’t have any more clients.
"I would work if my health allowed. I used to sell greens at the Malatia market when I was still at school," says Christine. It's been eight years since they’ve conducted business there. The rent for a spot is too high.
Christine and Manouk met at the dormitory. They fell in love and got married. Teresa says, "I didn’t agree with it at first, since he was poor." Christine contradicts, saying that love is the most important: Manouk, hardworking, lost his mother at the age of five. There were six children in the family.
Now, Manouk has his own six children. Three of them go to school. 11-year-old Anahit dreams of becoming a policewoman. Christine proudly says that Anahit has decided to buy school uniforms for Edmon with her first salary.
They have no water in the dorm room, since they have to pay 50,000 drams for the installation of a water meter. They take water from their neighbors. There is no gas in the building. In winter, they buy firewood, but the small room doesn’t get warm. The cracks in the windows are large, and when it rains, the water comes in from the damp ceiling.
Scorpions are permanent residents of the building, and sometimes they manage to get to the bedroom. Christine falls silent after talking about scorpions, and the children look at her again. "My six children are the ones who give me strength," Christine adds.
Photos by David Banuchyan