Archive for September 24, 2008

“Buried Treasure” in Four Students’ Stories

        The following are stories about grandparents I received orally from my Kazakh students and some are real treasures worth the time digging up.  As I wrote notes, I asked questions all along the way.  Their names are typical Kazakh names, Aigerim, Bahtiyar, Galymzhan and Dana.  Some names are difficult to pronounce for westerners.  Of course, each has a meaning unbeknownst to me until I ask and usually they will tell me the Kazakh meaning. 

My first story starts with Aigerim.  She is an attractive 22 year old and very communicative.  She talked about her dad’s grandfather who was born in Kyrzlorda in 1904 and died in 1999.  She recalls hearing that the early years of 1930s were very difficult ones where many people starved.  Fortunately for her family, they went to another country of Turkmenistan, she can’t remember if it was Ashgabat or not but her father was born in Turkmenistan. 

When her great grandfather found out that things had normalized after the starvation period, the whole family returned to Kazakhstan again.  Aigerim’s father graduated from school and went into the army at age 19 and when he returned from where he was stationed in Ukraine after two years of service, his grandfather had moved the whole family to Almaty.  The great grandfather of Aigerim had checked it out because one of his daughters had married a man from Almaty and he found that it was a suitable place to live. 

Aigerim commented that it was very unusual for an older person to make such a decision to leave their home place where he was born.  Perhaps it was because he had worked for the railroad during WWII and was used to moving around.  She knows that her father was very thankful for the move from Kryzlorda to Almaty and he would often say, “Thank you my grandfather” for the move.  Aigerim’s father was the oldest of 8 children, he is 47 years old now as he was born in 1961.

Second, Baktiyar probably has the best English skills in speaking of the four students and he is a faithful member of my English class.  He has some Uighur connection and has heard many different stories about what has happened to that particular ethnic group.  He was cynical when he said there are two different versions of his grandfather’s death.  One is that he was a tragic war hero during WWII but the other story is that he liked to gamble and he was shot during a fight.  Baktiyar thinks the second story is more likely, he didn’t have as much to share about his family history.

However, Baktiyar DID say that his grandmother was married five times.  She had five children, four sons and one daughter.  After WWII the family moved to Almaty and unfortunately the half brothers and sister didn’t get along with each other, while they shared the same mother, they each had a different father.  Such was the life of struggle when there was no man in the family.  All this is on Baktiyar’s father side.  On his mother’s side, her mother died when she was 10 years old and her father had died earlier.  So Baktiyar’s mother’s big brother was like a father to her.

Third, Galymzhan is from Shymkent and had help from his classmates to get his story out, he has the weakest English skills.  He will be getting married on October 24 to another woman from his hometown but whom he met in Almaty. Once married, he is determined to go back to Shymkent to find out more information from her still living grandmother.  He wished he knew more to tell his inquisitive American teacher.

As it turns out, Galymzhan’s great grandfather was a very rich man many years ago on his mother’s side.  In fact, in his village or aul, he was considered a powerful leader.  When things got dangerous for him after the Bolshevik revolution in 1917, his great grandfather knew he had to bury his gold and silver in the ground.  He ran off to Mongolia or China, Galymzhan doesn’t remember which country and there he hid out.  Meanwhile his family was left behind near Turkestan, about 30 kilometers away in a village there, a place called Kemtau.  The group joked about how they would like to go back to Shymkent and find that “buried treasure.”

Galymzhan said that his grandmother was from Taras and she worked all her life in a factory on a sewing machine.  She was awarded many medals by the USSR for her outstanding work.  Yes, she was a good communist, we all smiled at that thought.

Finally, bubbly and funny Dana spoke about her father’s parents, her grandmother and grandfather.  They were in Ashgabat, Turkmenistan but later moved to Shymkent and then Aktau.  Her father is a lawyer who practices law representing a factory in Almaty.  Her mother is 44 years old and a teacher at an elementary school.  She got married when she was 17 years old, they have five children, two boys and three daughters.  Dana recalls that her mother’s father was very handsome, tall and intelligent.  He never was sick a day in his life, when he went to WWII he got many medals.  He died around 1991 and Dana was so surprised because he always appeared so healthy.

Dana had a funny story to tell about her father because she thought the day’s assignment was to come up with a “funny” story.  NO, I had wanted a “family” story and I was glad that all four had complied.  I am hoping to find out more from my other students tomorrow.  I believe every single Kazakh, and other nationalities who are called Kazakhstani, have interesting stories to tell about their grandparents. Ethnographers and qualitative researchers would have a treasure trove to dig up if only they would travel and live in the “ends of the earth” for a spell to discover what a great country Kazakhstan really is!!!

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