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Falling Down and Standing Up Again

Tamara Babadzhanova's story posted by Erich Makarov on February 10, 2013 at 2:45 pm. Tamara emigrated from Baku, Azerbaijan to New York, United States in 1996

Often times we take for granted the great safety and peace of our American homes. Before moving to the United States, I lived in Baku: where I was born and lived most of my days. Although life could not be characterized by particular wealth or great luxuries, and I had already lived past my young days, I always found ways in which to entertain myself and lead a fruitful life. My house was always filled with guests, I did not miss any exceptional ballet or opera productions playing in the city, and I always had time for exciting events and gatherings. Regardless of the restrictions of the Soviet life, I managed to enjoy myself and live in happiness until a horrid event shook my life off of its foundations. In the very early 90s, the republics of Azerbaijan and Armenia entered into a deadly genocidal conflict. Baku was the primary target of violence and hatred. Since I was of Armenian descent, and Armenians were being killed right and left in the city, I could not leave my house. I lived in constant fear and felt absolutely defenseless against my oppressors: I had to flee. Around this time my daughter, Gulya, married a young man named Vladimir, and they soon produced their first child. Fortunately, Vladimir’s sister resided in the United States and invited the family to come to live with her. However, for some strange reason, my documents could not be prepared in time and they left for New York without me. I new I had to escape Baku, and so I decided to move to my sister’s home in Leningrad. This was the toughest period of time in my entire life. We lived very poorly and I had to work on the most demeaning and tough jobs, such as janitor and night guard. I worked night and day to sustain us for over three years. This whole time I endured and prayed that my children would take me with them, and finally I was officially given permission to move to the United States. For me this was a moment of sheer ecstasy and joy. America had always been the country of everyone’s dreams, and especially after what I had to live through, it seemed like a miracle. However, I had no idea of the tragedies and joys I would experience in my near future.

When I first came to America, I moved into my family’s apartment in Brooklyn. In order to sustain us, my daughter and her husband had to work multiple jobs in addition to going to college. I was left with the raising of the child and the housekeeping, so that my daughter could study physical therapy. To me this was a challenging yet liberating job. Compared to the last few nightmarish years of my life, helping out my family was a great blessing. However, one event occurred that would change me forever. Soon after my arrival, Gulya became pregnant with another child and gave birth. But to everyone’s horror the girl, Alice, was horribly deformed.  Immediately she had to undergo multiple operations. The poor child would never be able to walk. After seeing her suffer, my beautiful little granddaughter, I vowed to never let her down until she could walk by herself.  From that moment on, she became my everything. At home, I would never put her down; I took her everywhere and made sure she was always comfortable. One time while my daughter was in college taking an important exam, I had to take Alice to a doctor’s office in the city. After looking her over, the doctor told me he needed to perform multiple tests on Alice. However, this required the presence of Alice’s mother.  I pleaded the doctor to take administer the test without Gulya. I had to call Gulya many times for confirmation of her approval, but she could not come to the office because of an important exam. After hours of hysterical begging, I managed to convince the doctor to do the test. I knew very well that I was willing to do anything for my little Alice. Often times I would take Alice to the hospital and stand by her side for days. I was not allowed to stay at night, so I slept on the floors in the hospital. My dream was to see my baby get on her feet and become like everyone else. I kept a journal detailing the pains and horrors of Alice’s suffering so that when she was cured, we would never forget what she had lived through. But by God’s will, Alice did not make it. After six years of distorted life, my girl died. For these last years, she was everything to me. Alice’s death was by far the most depressing moment in my life. No physical suffering or fright could ever compare to what I had to endure at the death of my granddaughter.

Soon after the death, Gulya received news that’s she was pregnant again: this time with twins.  Everyone in the family was begging her to have an abortion for fear of a repetition of Alice’s tragedy. But Gulya was a strong woman. She ignored the warnings and went to multiple doctors in order to find out if her children would be healthy. After multiple tests, the results showed that her twins would be perfectly normal. Indeed the two boys were like angels when they were born. Once again, the job of raising the two fell on me. After Alice’s death, Gulya decided to work as a therapist with special education children and had to work on three jobs. Vladimir could not find a job and would often help in the synagogue, and keep the household. For a time, everything was working out. The two boys were wonderful, and we had our own spacious house on Staten Island. But evil was always right around the corner. Gulya was found to have breast cancer. She had to go through multiple very serious operations and lose her breasts. However, with our prayers, she survived the horror and became a cancer survivor. As horrible as this turnout was, we were still extremely thankful that Gulya survived. From then on, life took a different path. The two twins turned out to be extremely talented and are already teenagers. I moved to my own apartment where I live by myself. Every morning my daughter comes over, and I make her fresh squeezed juice to help her with the recent illness. And on Alice’s birthday every year, I take my walker and in rain or shine, I walk all the way to her tomb and pray to her. On a more positive note, my social traditions have slowly been returning to me. Together with my new elderly friends, I go to classical concerts almost every week and once again invite and enjoy their company. 

As hard as life may have been for me in America, I thank God every day for his mercy. He saved me from the genocide in Baku and the poverty of Saint Petersburg. Maybe if I had stayed, I would never live to such an age, and could never help my dear family. This country has made me who I am today and I will always love it more than any other place on the planet.