I can’t remember one sweet memory or nice scene from my childhood. The blind belief in regressive morals, especially at that time in the villages, was perceived as preservation of national customs. Now I realize how much it shattered the establishment and life of families.
Going through a crumbling marriage, my mother tried to go back to her parents’ home with her only child, but she was not accepted. Divorce was considered a shame. They scolded her and urged her to accept her fate, to tolerate and to endure and to go back with her husband. My father was an alcoholic. Even after three more children were born nothing changed in his behaviour. He used to get drunk and then to throw all of us out of the house. We used to hide in an empty building where my mother always kept some covers. But do you know what used to worry us the most? That, God forbid, someone would see us hiding. Windows bothered us, not because of the harsh cold, but because of the fear of being seen.
My mother’s miserable salary as an ambulatory cleaner in the village could not even cover our most essential needs. And in addition to struggling with extreme poverty, we were also struggling to hide it. When my classmates were telling where and how they had spent their holidays I usually invented something, or presented my dream as a reality, for example that I had been at Lake Sevan.
My mother noticed early how well I reacted to music and could move with the rhythm, and when I was in 10th grade she was able to send me to dancing classes. The monthly payment of 2000 AMD was a great sum for us, but my mother thought this could be my chance and door opener. And for several years I really had some success. Because transport, hotel and food were covered I could even join dancing tours in different marzes [regions]. It seemed that I was beginning to live.
I was 22 years old when my relatives, according to the customary way, introduced me to a guy from the nearby village. I didn’t mind and I secretly hoped that perhaps I would get the taste of happiness. The young man made a good impression and we started to date. Still I hardly knew him when he urgently proposed to marry. We knew he had been working in Russia and came back to get treated for pneumonia and to get married.
After my engagement I heard that he had tuberculosis, but I knew nothing about this disease. I didn’t even know that it was contagious or sometimes even lethal. For me it was the same as pneumonia. So I paid no attention to it and got married. One year later I had a little baby girl. When she turned six months she started to get sick very frequently. My mother-in-law was the one who decided which doctor to turn to, what kind of treatment my daughter needed, and even how many injections to get. I did not realize that my mother-in-law was hiding a secret.
During my second pregnancy my husband left for Russia to work, but our social conditions were not improving. When I had my second baby girl we couldn’t even afford baby food. My mother-in-law decided to feed my weak and sick new-born with cow milk. The result was tragic. Although my husband came back urgently we could not save the life of my baby.
My elder daughter’s condition was continuing to be worrying. She was frequently being sick, and my mother-in-law was still the one answering the doctors’ questions. When they were asking what kind of diseases the parents underwent she used to answer quickly; “only pneumonia”. However, in April 2010 the doctors referred my daughter to the dispensary for tuberculosis in Abovyan (RTBD). Tuberculosis was diagnosed and treatment suggested, but my mother-in-law refused it and took my baby to a psychic. Of course it didn’t help and we brought my daughter to Abovyan again, this time in a worse state. Further examinations were done and we got the cruel news: in addition to TB my child’s HIV test was positive.
Without being tested I immediately realized that my husband and I also were sick. After two days in RTBD a doctor came from an HIV clinic and we started the treatment. To avoid the cruel reality or to hide the traces of the diseases my husband again left for Russia. I was looking after my child in the hospital. The support I received was from my mother with her very tight financial means, and also sometimes from my mother-in-law.
Before being discharged from RTBD, after 50 days of treatment, I was also diagnosed with TB. Life continued to be very cruel to me. The only thought that gave me some strength was that I had to save my daughter. Both of us went through regular TB treatment and continued the HIV treatment. Then every six months we were rechecked for TB. Meanwhile I was trying to convince my husband to come back to Armenia for TB and HIV treatment. But he refused. I thought he was afraid of the stigma.
The news of our disease was spread wildly in the village, and my husband told us to come to him in Russia. I agreed and left Armenia hoping that I could convince him to start his treatment. Unfortunately he continued to avoid it. He could never find strength to face the reality and was suffering from feeling guilty. After some time we ran out of HIV drugs and it was impossible to get them from Armenia to Russia. As the treatment was interrupted our condition seriously worsened. I came back to Armenia and decided that I was the one to run my life, and no one else.