Aghun and her four children live in Abovyan. They have no address.
You have to tell the minivan driver to stop near the maternity hospital. Then you have to start asking passerby if they know Aghun-the homeless woman with the four kids.
Many are amazed to believe that there could be someone who’s even interested in Aghun. Some even told me to “steer clear of that woman. She’s nuts.”
One youngster gave me similar advice when I asked. He then pointed to a nearby hillock.
Approaching, a number of scattered small iron trailers came into view. I found myself thinking how anyone could possibly live here.
I then caught the powerful whiff of something noxious burning. People in this neighbourhood burn discarded shoes and other garbage to keep warm.
I knocked on the door of the best kept trailer. Aghun looked me up and down; somewhat suspicious at this unannounced visitor.
Stepping inside, I noticed a young boy rifling through what looked like a bag of trash. He was pulling out the shells of sunflower seeds. He was eating them.
Aghun invited me to sit down and then realized there was no place to sit. The sofa was piled with old blankets and blackened pillows. There was no place to walk, the floor being covered with broken plates and glasses.
An official from the Abovyan Social Services Agency told me that Aghun, her real name is Aghavni Nersisyan, has no passport and no officially registered residence.
The official said that she had registered Aghun at her workplace so that the woman could at least receive government assistance.
Aghun is a familiar sight in Abovyan. She begs daily and sends her kids out panhandling as well. Aghun denied sending her kids out to beg, claiming that she sends them to school to grow up educated.
“I do whatever I can for my kids. Whether it’s collecting bottles, this or that, just to have some money to feed them,” Aghun said.
The Social Services official, Hripsime Aydinyan, told me that the kids don’t go to school and that Aghun has a tendency to lie to certain people.
“A number of foreign reporters came to write about her. The government even paid to have the kids sent to a boarding school in Byureghavan. The kids ran away. That woman is set in her ways,” said Aydinyan.
The official says that Aghun once owned a three room apartment in town that she sold a few years ago.
“I should say the apartment was taken from her. She was suffocating in debt. Aghun lived the same way when she had the apartment. She and the kids probably haven’t bathed in years,” said Aydinyan. “The woman’s problem isn’t financial but mental. I live in the house opposite their trailer. During the summer, I see the kids eating ice cream all day. Aghun got a onetime payment from the government when she had her last kid. The woman went and purchased a plasma TV. Maybe she’s sold it by now.”
Aghun blames the government for her present condition. She says that it’s impossible to care for four kids on her monthly 41,000 AMD ($110) allowance.
“All I want is some work so I can take care of my kids. I do what I can. It’s best that they stay with me then going to the orphanage,” Aghun says.
The woman told me she used to work at the Abovyan shoe factory. She claims her husband left for Russia. She has no need for a new boyfriend. “Too much trouble,” she tells me.
Aghun says that her 11 year-old son asks about his father often. “I’m too ashamed to answer. All I can do is go under the covers and cry myself to sleep. I don’t want my kids to see me in that state.”
The woman says she can’t abide either the local social service agency or the state government. Even though the social workers have prepared Aghun’s paperwork to get job training, they still call her a “bum”.
When I asked who is responsible for getting Aghun back on her feet and integrated into society, Aydinyan and her colleagues argued that their only job was to get the woman her financial benefits.
I posed the same question to Aram Zaqaryan who heads the social division at the Abovyan Municipality.
“We have nothing to do with this problem. All we do is draft and implement social projects; you know like paving the town’s roads and stuff,” was Zaqaryan’s amazing answer.