“People my age don’t receive benefits or a pension and we don’t have work. How can you live?”

This is the transcript of an interview with Ruzanna, recorded in Stepanavan, Armenia, on February 13, 2011. You can listen to the interview (in Armenian) here:

I was born in here in Stepanavan. My granddad arrived as a migrant. Not my grandmother, she came from an orphanage. They got married. They had three boys and a girl. Everybody lived here. I have one sister. We are the children of the oldest son. I graduated from the pedagogical institute. I worked in Stepanavan as a teacher for 22 years. I studied in Kirovakan [currently Vanadzor]. I had five children, five girls, who all have higher education. Two are working, one is married and the two others are studying: one is in the last year of her master’s studies; the other is in the second year at Brusov [State Language University] in the Tourism Section. My husband works in a gold mine. First he was head engineer at a building management office. In those difficult years after the earthquake [of December 7, 1988] in which I lost one child… After that we kept livestock to maintain our existence, we gave our children a start in life, we gave them education.

Did you lose your child during the earthquake?

Yes. It was a year and a half old [interviewee did not specify the sex of the child]. The child died during the earthquake in my mother’s house. A five-floor building collapsed. My mother got out. Another of my girls also got out, but my young one didn’t. After that I had two more children. I was pregnant [at the time of the earthquake]. I was evacuated to Ukraine. I gave birth there. They received us very well there. We stayed in Ukraine for three months, until forty-days after the child was born. We went in February; I gave birth in March.

Eventually we bought livestock. We had cows, horses, tractors. We set up our household. For many years, until last year, we kept livestock and that’s how we were somehow able to ensure appropriate education for our children. Last year we sold the animals. Well, sold… We gave the animals [to the buyers], but they haven’t paid the money yet.

My husband works in the goldmine and I remain without work. The children are all in Yerevan. One is married, I have one grandchild. And the other four live together.  Of course I go to visit them there, they come here.

You mentioned you worked as a school teacher. What were your working conditions?

When I still worked, they were very good.

Have there been changes, for example, since Soviet times?

I mostly worked during Soviet times. Then I had the baby who died during the earthquake. After that I got pregnant again. I went from one pregnancy leave to the other and after that I didn’t work anymore. Until the children grew old enough…Who was I by then that they would give me work… Besides, there was no work anyway. Or if there was, they gave it to younger people. Why would they give a job to someone my age? I am waiting, two years from now I will get my pension.

What is your year of birth?

1958.

Have you always lived in this house?

Yes. After the earthquake we had a ‘domik’ [temporary prefab or container-like housing for those who had lost their homes in the earthquake]. After the earthquake we used to sleep outside. We used to make a bonfire outside. The children slept outside on cots, we slept sitting up.

What was the state of this house after the earthquake?

It was cracked. It was deeply cracked to the ground. We managed to repair it little by little. The children worked, they sent money. I have a sister-in-law in the US; she helped. In the end that’s how we got on our feet. We have a house somewhere else, near the boarding school. That house was left unfinished. Until now we are unable to finish it. It’s a good, big house with two floors.

What do you think about the future, yours or that of the country? What are present-day problems?

There are very big problems; for example, everything is becoming more expensive. People my age don’t receive benefits or a pension and we don’t have work. How can you live? My mother-in-law is an old woman. She gets a pension and we basically live on that.  We barely manage to collect my husband’s salary to pay the children’s tuition fees. Two of my daughters are students: one is studying for a master’s degree; the other is at university [an undergraduate]. Everything together makes up one million dram [about 2740USD]. And they need to live there; they need food.

Both of them work, but the program one works for is about to close down. So she won’t have a job. That’s Taguhi. The other also works, but on a voluntary basis. She works as an exam supervisor.

And were there any other issues in your personal life?

No. I worked in two places. I worked for the regional authorities, first as a statistician, later as a sector manager. From there I changed to a technical school where I worked as a teacher of physics and astronomy. I haven’t had any problems. Well, I was fired. They fired me from my job in 1996. The downsizing had just started. As I said I went from one pregnancy leave to the next, so they decided I was a superfluous employee.

Later they fired even more teachers and pretended that allegedly they raised the salaries. But what is the point of that? People were left without work, they added a few people. They sort of divided the salary money. They didn’t allow one person to work a full-time job and to receive a full-time salary. They divided the work such that you, me and she have work, that we all work, but what do we each get? A tiny sum. Not enough to feed a family.

I said I was waiting for my pension, but I don’t even know how much that will be, because they don’t take into account the number of children you had and the benefits you receive, like they used to before. I have five children. The pension is not based on my salary. It is some standard and they do some additional calculations.

Do you do anything else?

As I said, we used to have cows. We used to be busy with that, I made milk, I made cheese. Now we work to some extent in agriculture, we have land. We grow wheat, potatoes. I mentioned that we have a house up there and there we also grow something: potatoes, beets, carrots, beans… If it is a lot, we sell it. If not, then it’s only for us. The bread is from our own wheat, the potatoes are from our land, the beets and carrots are also ours. Agriculture helps us out to some extent.

And if you sell your produce, do you do that here in Stepanavan?

Yes. Before I also made cheese. We sold cheese, butter, sour cream. Now we have the one room that we rent out to tourists. That’s what I am busy with. It’s a summer business, when the tourists come. They leave very, very satisfied, because they do ‘exotic’ things here. I prepare food for them, dinner, pastries. They leave very satisfied. They even often buy me gifts! They come from different countries: Italy, Switzerland, Austria, England, the US, Spain, even from Israel — from all corners of the world.

And what about the tourists who come stay here, what if they are a man and a woman and they are not married? Is that a problem for you if they want to stay in that room together?

A woman and a man who are not married? We have a room with two separate beds, to tell the truth. One [of the beds] is a bit big; it’s actually a couch that folds out, not a bed. They can also sleep together. If they don’t want that, they can sleep separately. After all, they are very satisfied because we give them nice and thick mattresses. They imagine themselves in a real village atmosphere.

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