there's a will . . .
The bright-faced teenager uses her toes to bring
a fire starter to the gas stove. Then she uses
her toes to open the gas and light a flame for
making coffee, which she serves with a smile.
Mary Mezhlumyan is 18, and for the past 10 years
has had to find ways of daily existence far different
from others. Almost everyone in her town of Kapan
(about 320 kilometers south of Yerevan) knows
something about survival. Mary knows more than
Kapan is near the border of Azerbaijan, and in
1993, with the Karabakh war at a peak, it was
not a safe place. It was particularly unsafe for
eight-year old Mary one morning . . .
"Everything happened in a second,"
she recalls. "Together with my uncle's children
I was at my father's and uncle's work place. There
was a dog there I liked very much. I was playing
with the dog, when the military plane suddenly
began bombing with the cassette bombs. Somebody
fell in front of me, and for some time I didn't
feel or recollect anything".
When she regained consciousness, Mary awoke to
a life that would forever be different.
"When I put my hands on the ground they
momentarily melted. There was no blood, my hands
were burned and the wound closed. It was pretty
terrifying. We didn't find my hands, and my leg
was also injured. My dog was killed, everybody
around was injured, but I was injured more than
anybody else. Everybody began running around in
horror. My father lifted me up and ran to the
car. Even the doctors at the hospital were scared
at the sight, and for some time nobody came close
to me and helped me. I had my first operation
in Kapan, afterwards I was moved to Yerevan."
has learned to operate the TV remote with
her cheek, chin and shoulder.
Mary has had several operations since, and twice
she has been sent for treatment in the United
States. Five years ago she was given prosthetics.
"They were given to me when I was 13,"
she says, "and now they are too small on
me. They only have three fingers but still were
a great help to me. I was at least able to get
dressed by myself."
"I have been trying to live like others,"
she says, with cheerfulness and optimism that
offers no hint of the girl's horrifying past.
"She is still a child," says her father,
46-year old Karo who, himself, has struggled to
accept his daughter's injury and can't look at
"There are still going to be many difficulties.
Nevertheless today, when Mary does something by
herself, it's a great thing for us. If only everything
had been the way we wanted . . ."
Despite her father's and brothers' sad eyes,
Mary's cheerfulness doesn't go away.
"How can you look at a person and not smile,"
Mary has finished school, but still hasn't decided
on her future profession. Sometimes she wants
to be a variety performer and sometimes a computer
specialist, it depends on her mood. Like others
her age, she likes to go to clubs, listen to music,
sing, dance and follow the latest fashions.
lights the stove using her toes, then spoons
the coffee in like this . . .
"Everybody knows me in our city," she
says. "Sometimes I am being carefully watched,
but I don't feel bad about that. Sometimes, when
a boy looks at me, I smile at him, so that he
won't be sad. I very often go to clubs, I like
the atmosphere and the walls, but most of all
I like tango. Tango is both a sad and an intimate
Her best friend is a cousin, Karine, 21, who
was wounded in the leg by the bombing that took
Mary's arms. The cousins have become especially
close since Mary's mother, Nina, died of leukemia
two years ago. Since then, Karine has devoted
herself to helping take care of Mary. She helps
her bathe, cook and get dressed up for the disco.
Mary has learned some routine work on her own.
"I didn't do any house chores before,"
she says, looking at her mother's picture and
small crosses attached to the wall next to her
bed. "But after my mom's death I tried to
take over some chores and help my family".
After two years of practice Mary can sweep, using
her head and shoulders, and manipulates the stove
with her toes.
She could do more with properly-fitted prosthetics.
Using her mouth and toes, Mary writes, paints,
eats, changes TV channels, switches on and off
the room lights, and turns on the tape-recorder.
And she dreams of living a "normal"
life. It is a dream that includes having prosthetics
that fit, and a dog.
"I will love that dog very much, and with
the help of my hands I can do a lot of things.
I can even wear rings," Mary says, still
The non governmental organization, Luysi Shogh
has helped cases such as Mary (though not her,
specifically). For information about Luysi Shogh:
Call (374 1) 23.34.90. To make a donation to Mary
through ArmeniaNow's HyeSanta
project, click here.