Single Mother of Three: Waiting for the Blackberries to Care for Her Kids
Entering the village of Akori, not far from the town of Alaverdi, we see no one. The only trace of human activity is the smoke slowly wafting from the grey cabins.
We hear voices emanating from the trees, whose leaves have turned yellow.
Two striking auburn-haired girls are collecting walnuts in the garden. The kids are cracking the walnuts, with difficulty. It’s hard to remove the inside kernel without pulverizing it entirely.
Stella, the children’s mom, is standing next to her cabin. She calls out to us, asking who we are and what are we looking for.
It’s cold outside. Inside, the stove is burning. The warmth is inviting. Stella has hung persimmons near the stove to dry.
The cabin is divided into three small spaces - a small bedroom, a living room, and a kitchen. 32-year-old Stella Vardevanyan and her three children have been living in this cabin since February. It belongs to a neighbor, who’s given it to the family temporarily.
Stella tells us that she tries to make it comfortable and nice looking. There are furnishing details that one can’t overlook; the way the cream and brown curtains are hung, the clean and ironed towels placed near the stove.
Karen, her two-year old son is sleeping in the other room. We talk in hushed tones. Susanna is her 10-year old daughter. Mariam, the 7-year old, is the middle child.
There’s a bitterness hidden beneath Stella’s smile. Karen has never seen his father. Stella was pregnant with Karen when the couple divorced. The father now works in Russia.
“He left to work abroad, and never returned,” she says, sighing. We don’t ask what happened. Stella, however, wants to talk more on the matter. She says that even if he returns, she’ll never get back with him. Last year Stella heard that the man divorced his second wife.
Before moving to the cabin, Stella and the kids lived in her family’s house. While residing there, the children weren’t eligible for state assistance as other other family members were living there.
“I didn’t receive an allowance for two years. I then registered my residency at my maternal grandmother’s address. She was an elderly woman. I received an allowance for seven months. She then left. I didn’t have a key, and couldn’t live there. I went to my parents’ house. Officials then learnt from Paros [an educational, cultural and humanitarian foundation-ed.], that I was no longer living there and cut my allowance for three months,” Stella explains.
Today, the family receives a monthly stipend of AMD 38,000 ($78), and a child allowance of AMD 25,000 for Karen.
Stella uses the money to pay off a variety of debts. Her brothers, who work in Russia, assist her as well. She doesn’t know how long they’ll be able to send money since they are of marriage age and will have to take care of their own families.
Now unemployed, Stella says she wants to work. The family harvests blackberries and cornelian cherries in the nearby forest during the summer. Some days, they can pick AMD 6-7,000 worth.
“What can I do? Who would like to see a ten-year old taking care of a two-year old? I can the fruit for use in the winter. This way, along with the bread we can buy with the stipend money, they’ll have something else to eat,” Stella says.
13,000 drams from the stipend is spent on firewood; 1 cubic meter. It’s barely enough.
Stella tells us her kids aren’t complainers, and can adjust to just about anything.
“They’re mature for their age. They’re not picky when it comes to meals or clothing, like some children,” she says.
Susanna, a good pupil, is learning to play the kanoon (a string instrument resembling a zither). A reserved girl, Susanna confesses she’d like to have her own kanoon when I ask her about her dreams.
Stella isn’t optimistic about finding work, and thus, that much will change in their lives. “I’m just waiting for the blackberry harvest to take care of my children,” she says.
The neighbor’s cows, trampling the stone wall, enter the yard behind Stella’s cabin. Mariam, followed by her sister, rush out to shoo them away. The cows keep destroying the wall, and the family constantly re-erects it; stone by stone.
We say it’s about time to go. Stella replies, “Well, you’re not staying here.” We all crack up, laughing.
Before departing, Stella invites us back in the summer. “It’s beautiful here then. Come and stay.”
Photos: Saro Baghdasaryan