Diguine(Mrs) Sissee was born in 1957, in the Yezidi-Kurdish village of Alagyaz in Armenia. As was the tradition in her culture, her future husband kidnapped her on her way to school, when she was 15 years old. He locked her one full day in his house to ruin her reputation (having spent a day in a stranger’s house without someone chaperoning her was enough to presume that she was no longer virgin and not suitable to get married to someone else),
Her wedding was followed by the traditional “apple throwing on the new bride” ceremony, where the bride stands in the middle of a circle of people and mainly the mother-in-law throws apples towards her head to test the new bride’s strength. If the young woman stays still and despite the injuries on her head does not fall or loose conscious, it means that she will be a good and strong wife and will bear healthy children’s. And so was Diguine Sisee, she didn’t move a bit, even though it was hurting like hell and her head was almost numb.
She didn’t even smile during her wedding; a good bride should show modesty and is not festive during her own wedding and stays as silent as possible. She didn’t want to cause any shame for her parents.
After the birth of her 3rd child, diguine Sisse did not want to get pregnant anymore, since the village life was becoming harsher; the Textile manufactory where she used to work was closed and the family’s economic situation was becoming more and more difficult. Diguine Sissee was the only breadwinner of the family and continued supporting everyone by working from her home, baking bread for the villagers while her husband wasted most of the money on alcohol.
With the passing years and two other unwanted pregnancies, diguine Sissee’s health worsened; at first she complained about hearth problems, high blood pressure which eventually affected her whole organism. For the past 10 years, diguine Sissee couldn’t visit any clinic; none were available in her village. After menopause, she was suffering from a prolapsed uterus, meaning her cervix was almost coming out of her vagina. Doing harsh physical work everyday continuously and bearing lots of weight for her regular tasks worsened her condition gradually. Her body was in pain, she couldn’t urinate normally and her heart was not feeling good. Every time she was putting aside some money to see a doctor, somebody would need it urgently; school tuition had to be paid, the electricity, child cold had to be treated with expensive antibiotics, birth of grand-children, etc.
When for the first time I set foot in the village of Alagyaz, it was to know more the place and meet a former volunteer who use to come to our Women’s Center.
Three weeks later we were back to conduct a sexual health and reproductive seminar for the young women in the village. Diguine Sissee was waiting for us in front of the school entrance and as soon as we finished the course, she approached us intimidated at first, with a forced smile on her face, hiding her pain. We couldn’t do much that day. We felt helpless. We only advised her to go to the hospital. But she already had done that. She told us that the hospital was a little far, she walked there one full day, and when she arrived, they told her she had to pay 1000 US for surgery. Which she did not have and that was 5 years ago. Now the pain was unbearable.
Anush, one of our trainers on sexual health was not ready to surrender. She inquired everywhere, even called the ministry of health and finally found out that diguine Sissee was eligible for free surgery (because of her social and health status). Overwhelmed by happiness, Anush took the 4 hours trip to the village to announce the good news and accompany diguine Sissee with all the necessary papers to the hospital.
Today, Diguine Sissee is no longer with us. Her heart surrendered in a very cold February afternoon. The doctor refused to operate a couple of months ago, stating that her health condition was very bad and she couldn’t survive a surgery, and that would have been possible only a couple of years ago…when they did ask her 1000 US for the surgery. How ironic!
Anush was devastated. She grew attached to the middle-aged woman for the past months.
When we heard the bad news, we looked at each other, couldn’t talk and were thinking …if we only met her a couple of years ago.
Women are still dying in the villages of Armenia (and in other villages) because of the lack of basic health services.
And what are we doing about it?