prepares a meal near the crumbling wall
of their basement apartment.
In the evening when the shadows thicken, the
voices lapse into silence and the cold becomes
unbearable, an uneven tap can be clearly heard
in the basement of a high-rise building in Yerevan.
Marlena Yeremyan, 42, is carefully moving from
one part of the room to another. The noise is
from the stick in her hand. She uses it to protect
her children from rats.
There are many stories about rats in this family.
The only son of the family, 11 year old Albert
Avagyan says that rats are especially bad during
cold days, and worse at dinner time. But it is
when the children are asleep when Marlena worries.
"The year before last, in winter, I was
sound asleep, and didn't feel the rat bite my
nose," says little Albert with childish naivety.
"I woke up from my mother's voice, I was
quickly taken to the hospital. We knew exactly
what to do, as once before a rat bit my sister
Arshakuhy's head. She even got e few stitches".
exactly up to code . . .
Twelve-year old Arshakuhy has scars confirming
her brother's story. She says that to get rid
of the rats they have recently brought home Murzik,
a gray cat. But not a lot has changed so far.
The close acquaintance of Marlena and her four
children with rats started in winter of 1992 when
the basement of 21 Zaryan street was given to
the family for temporary residence.
"Considering our abject social conditions
this place was given to us by local authorities,
and we were told: 'Hold on, we will give you an
apartment in spring'," says Marlena. But
the Yeremyan's have already passed 11 springs
in this basement.
There are some old rags on the damp, concrete
floor and walls, but they can't cover up the floor
holes and stop rodents from entering.
The main room is divided into two parts by old,
faded shelves. The first part serves as a living
room and dining-room; the bedroom is on the other
side of the shelves. There is a rag and some donated
covers in the bedroom, which serves for children
both as a reading-room and a playroom.
conditions don't have to mean bad grooming.
There is another room next to the kitchen. Numerous
old shoes are disorderly scattered here. Marlena
and the children collect shoes from the streets
to burn in winter and warm up a little. During
the coldest days, the metal door freezes shut
from the outside, locking the family in until
the ice can be broken.
"Every time it is raining or thawing, our
home is flooded," says Marlena. "The
street water runs through the window inside our
house, as the roads are sloping, and we can't
do anything. Together with children we have to
drain the house standing in water both in summer
and winter. After that we are being visited by
spiders and worms."
personal effects for a family of five.
Several years ago Marlena's husband left for
Russia to find work. After some years of hearing
nothing, Marlena learned that he died there.
For a while Marlena worked cleaning houses. But
after several years, she became ill and could
no longer work.
"I have been trying to find work in many
places, but no result," she says. "Today
we manage to survive getting some help from time
to time: flower, oil, cracked wheat. But we are
not used to complaining that we are hungry. If
the apartment issue is solved or if it at least
could be a little repaired, we would manage to
get by. The local authorities promised to grant
us 500,000 drams (about $890) a few years ago,
which we never got."
Marlena's home has become a featured stop on
politicians' campaign trail. They bring camera
crews and make promises but while elections come
and go, with few exceptions, conditions in the
basement have stayed the same.
wiring and damp conditions aren't a good
"Every time when I seem to have reached
the desired result, and my family is about to
get some assistance, either the official who promised
to help or the local administration is changed,
and everything starts all over again," Marlena
says. "The children already laugh at me every
time I come home either excited or hopeless."
Marlena says that to make her stop crying the
children every time give a performance for their
mother, tell her pleasant words or show good marks
"We have had and are going to have again
many terrible days, but God takes care of me and
my children. Knock on wood, I don't remember them
being sick. I wish I could do more for my children,"
Marlena says with tears in her eyes. "We
love each other very much, and don't demand a
lot from life."
The non governmental organization, New Armenia,
has provided some help for Marlena's family and
others. For more information about New Armenia:
Call (374 1) 52.47.12; email email@example.com.
To assist this family or to make a general contribution
to ArmeniaNow's HyeSanta
project, click here.