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Marine Martirosyan

Karen from Kapan: Cooks, Cleans, Sews and Dreams of Restoring His Mom’s Sight

Karen, a 13-year-old boy in Kapan, has just one wish.

“Dreams? It’s important that my mother can see. We’ll take care of the rest,” he says.

His mom lost her sight four years ago. Karen has been forced to take care of all the household chores; cooking meals, sewing, and even baking. Once, he baked a cake and took it to school.

The boy’s face shows no sign of the burdens he has to carry alone. We talk in the kitchen. Karen is shy but tells it like it is. The kitchen is a simple room; an old cabinet with a few dishes, some cups, a rickety table, a chair and a piece of wood used as a bench.

Karen sits on the wood, and I on the chair. I ask how his days go by. He shrugs his shoulders as if to say quite normally. Bread dough rests covered by a towel on the cabinet. “My mom tells me what to add and I mix it altogether. Then it goes in the oven,” he says.

Karen has learned how to plaster. Before I arrived, he’s mixed up a batch for the bathroom. “I can’t do everything, but I learn by doing. I still can’t operate a metal saw,” he says, adding that the iron must be cut straight, otherwise he can be injured.

Karen says that he doesn’t want the kids in the yard to call him a momma’s boy. But he has no alternative. After school, Karen stays at a local care center. He’s only home on the weekend. During the week, friends come by and do the household chores. His sister, who lives in Shikahogh, has a family of her own and can’t always come by to help. Karen understands that they have concerns of their own and is thankful for the help they provide.

Karen often collects flowers for his mom, Lousineh Aroustamyan. She says that when Karen brings her flowers, he describes their color and shape, and then tells her to smell them. There are roses near the TV and on the windowsill. Mrs. Aroustamyan often warns Karen from picking flowers from the gardens of others, calling it stealing. Karen’s reply is that a flower is a flower. “He says, ‘I bring them to make you happy’. Is that bad?” she notes.

When they go out to visit others, Karen’s mom says her son makes sure she looks her best. “He polishes my nails; both fingers and toes. When we go out, he says I’ll be the prettiest mother in the world,” Mrs. Aroustamyan says.

Karen’s mother started losing her sight years ago, when her first husband beat her. She’s lost total sight in one eye and can just see a bit of light in the other.

Neighbors bring Karen items to sew, like blanket covers. Relatives describe Karen as a boy always ready to help out.

“I always tell Karen that a person must be strong,” says the boy’s mother. She’s been married twice, both unsuccessful. She has two sons from her first marriage. Her second husband, Karen’s father, is a Russian. A second son died shortly after birth.

Mrs. Aroustamyan’s eldest son was sentenced to five years for burglarizing a house and is now serving time in the convicts’ hospital. She says that he began to exhibit psychological problems while in the army and was let go before his tour of duty had ended. “He’s married with one child,” she says.

Mrs. Aroustamyan receives a monthly disability pension of 21,000 AMD (US$44) and social assistance of 23,000 AMD. During our conversation she mentions the names of all the people who have come to her aid. She remembers them all.

Last year, Karen wrote to Armenia’s president, requesting that the government help restore his mother’s sight. Necessary surgery will cost just over two million AMD.

We watch Karen sewing a purse. His mother says she wants her boy to enter the army. Karen doesn’t like the idea, saying he wants to become a deliveryman. We laugh. Karen did work for a time as a delivery boy in Kapan.

“Karen loves to go to the swimming pool. When I receive my pension, I gave him some money to go,” the mother says. I ask Karen if he’s a good swimmer. He smiles and says, yes.

“I dream of seeing my boy’s face. It’s been four years. He’s grown. All I can do is imagine what he looks like. I think he’s a handsome boy,” says Mrs. Aroustamyan, holding back the tears.

Karen is busy at the sewing machine. His mother says, “Karen sew a potholder. We don’t have any.”

The boy threads the needle. To ease his mother’s concern, he responds, “Mom, take it easy. I got it."