Here are my heroes. I was sent to Gyumri, Armenia, to teach English, but what consumed me instead was the Mankatoon (մանկատուն), The Unwanted Children’s House, the State-run Orphanage for, as the director once told me, “babies 0-5.”
The nurses you see here are my heroes. They were faced with the impossible task of taking care of children the locals didn’t even think were human. In 1996 we were faced with massive shortages in so much (food, medicine, etc) that plagued Gyumri. These women, who hadn’t been paid in months, perhaps years, were, on top of having to take care of their own families, ones who came every day to the orphanage with love enough to care for those who no one else would. And the mortality rate for these children was terrible. With no medicine and the only thing we could feed them was watery, emergency-aid soup, they died. All the children I took care of for two years are now dead, so I’ve been told. I was only 25 and not ready to face a world where children starved to death and I was powerless to do anything about it.
I think, one day, I will see my babies again and apologize to them. Because they died and I survived and I carry that guilt everywhere I go.