I don't want to get old in Armenia
Julietta is born in 1934, She is my downstair’s neighbor. When I moved to my new apartment 2 years ago, Julietta was cleaning the entrance and talking to everyone passing by. I smiled at her and went up to my apartment. From that day, she always chats with me when I leave the apartment and tells me that she went to the church and prayed for me and for my children(I think she says the same thing to everyone in the building).
Julietta lives alone in her one bedroom apartment. She spends her days on the stairs or in the pak , collecting things from garbage cans, papers and pieces of rags from the streets. I never understood what she was doing with all that stuff. But one day, as I was walking down the stairs, her door was open, so I peeked inside saying “hello”. The first thing that struck me was the smell, an unbelievable smell, a mix of urine, dirt and old things. It was horrible, I couldn't go inside, the entrance was blocked with all kinds of stuff, from old soviet refrigerator to thousands of different size and color nylon bags filled with things. The whole apartment was full to the ceiling with all kind of items: bottles filled with water, dresses, curtains, boxes, newspapers books, food containers, empty cans, nylon bags filled with garbage that she did not have time to open yet, broken toys, I even saw my old stuff, everything I threw for the past 8 months.
OMG, I thought, poor lady, what is she trying to do? There was no place in her house to sit or to lie, everywhere filled with filthy old stuff from other people’s garbage.
I thought she was alone with no family and since Armenia doesn’t have adequate support for elderly people and even less for elderly suffering from Alzheimer or other mental disabilities, the only thing to do was to survive in a way in this dumpster that she was immersing in day after day. I gave her some money to light a candle in church (her favorite activity) and run quickly upstairs because the smell was becoming unbearable.
Four days ago, I returned from Shushi and as I was taking my stuff up to my apartment with my whole family, I saw her sitting on the stairs with her door open and half of her things and collection outside on the stairs all the way up to my floor.
She was crying. The neighbor downstairs was renovating his apartment and needed to go inside her apartment to do the plumbing. Since they couldn’t enter, the door was stuck behind all her stuff; they helped her put part of her things outside.
For the past 5 days she is trying to organize her belongings (her garbage) and sleeping on the stairs to guard her things so nobody can steal them.
Julietta needs help. She doesn’t have water in her apartment, she doesn’t have money, she doesn’t shower and she is forgetting lots of stuff. She has a daughter and a son that she did not see for the past years even though she says the opposite. She has neighbors who are loosing patience since the smell coming from her and the apartment is awful .
For the past couple of days I am trying to think what to do to help her. Calling the police is out of question, since they don’t know how to treat people with dignity, specially people like her. Social services did not call back. She is not giving me her daughter’s number or her son’s, saying that they are busy with their families.
Today I covered my nose with a handkerchief and entered her apartment to open the windows to let the air enter. A group of cockroaches fled away instantly from the open window, even they couldn’t bear the smell and the mess.
Julietta is not alone, there are lots of elderly people like this in Armenia, some on the streets begging, and others lonely in their houses without any support or human touch.
We say we are a nation who respect the elders and takes care of them…in the meantime some of them are just waiting that death comes and spares them the unbearable shame they are left with.