Memories of Jamal apa

I was born in 1950, five years after the end of the war. My father always tells the story of how I had a sweet tooth as a child, but back then, there weren’t many sweets on store shelves. And not only sweets but also regular consumer goods were in scarcity. It was a time of economic reforms in 1957, and I remember my grandmother giving each of us a piece of refined sugar during our tea party. My family used to hide sugar from me, they wrapped it in the edges of a tablecloth (laughs).  There is a saying, that children just copy what they see, so one day I hid sugar myself at the edge of a tablecloth.   My father noticed it and said: “Lets stop hiding sugar. Let her have it if she wants”. I was the only child in the family at that time growing up among adults — my grandparents and parents. Looking back, it’s hard to imagine how difficult it was to get sugar then, and today’s youth probably wouldn’t believe it…

As I said I was born in 1950, and my husband Amanzhol, who is eight years older than me, was born on June 22, 1942, in the midst of a brutal war. My late father-in-law was unable to witness the moment his son was born, as he had gone to the front three or four months before. Unfortunately, he did not return to his native land. After that, my mother-in-law raised her daughter and son alone, working hard to provide for them. During those times, all men were sent to the front, and wives, old men, and children who prayed for their well-being worked in the rear. My mother-in-law was among them, and she worked tirelessly, taking a hoe in her hands, mowing the grass, and sowing the crop. Thus, my husband was born in the field, surrounded by the love and determination of his mother.

When my mother-in-law gave birth to my husband, the foreman came ten days later and called her to work. Her late mother-in-law told him: “Fear God! Let the daughter rest for at least twenty days and gather her strength!” — and exclaiming kicked him out of the house. But, five days later, the foreman returned with an order to return to work.  They had nothing to do but to set up a tent near the field, so that my mother-in-law could take care of the child (my husband) and roll up her sleeves and work. It’s amazing how much we can endure! On the other hand I think these hardships shaped my husband’s character, making him more determined and resilient and helped him achieve success in life.

Me and my husband are from Zhezdinsky district in Zhezkazgan. We met when I was just eighteen and he was twenty-six, started off as friends and then fell in love. After graduation, he went to serve in the army while I pursued nursing. It wasn’t easy for me at first since most of the classes were in Russian, and before I studied in kazakh language. But I persevered and did my best to memorize the lectures.

Six months later, my husband returned home and we got married in Zhezkazgan before he was deployed to Turkmenistan, Turkestan military district (which was part of Ashgabat). Turns out it’s easy to move at a young age. One word from my husband, «Don’t be afraid,» gave me great confidence.

However, our lives took an unexpected turn when China attacked the border in May 1969. The families of officers and soldiers were transported by plane to Damansk Island, bordering China, and we were placed at the Saryozek station for over three months until things calmed down. Over time, half of the army was returned, and half was detained on suspicion of a «repeated attack.» So, on September 11, we were again returned by train to Turkmenistan, to the military camp where my husband served.

To be honest, I really liked life in Turkmenistan. I worked as an X-ray nurse at a local hospital alongside my Turkmen and Uzbek colleagues.  I loved the local culture and how people preserved their national identity. It was a wonderful experience to work with my colleagues who were all Turk language speakers. I learned that they were offended if I spoke Russian. Many of them came to work in national clothes. Many turkmen were wearing national clothes at home and to work and they were not shy at all to speak their native language.  Even the schoolchildren went to classes not in uniform, but in turbans and national clothes. It was a beautiful sight to behold!

After six months, my husband’s military service ended, and we safely returned to our homeland. During our stay in Turkmenistan, we even sent various tech equipment to our parents in Zhezkazgan, including a refrigerator and a TV, which were difficult to get in our city at the time.

After returning home I got pregnant with our first child, and we went on to have four more children. We brought them up together with my husband.  Now some of our children live in Almaty, some are in Zhezkazgan, they have families of their own and we have grandchildren. I feel grateful for our family and the life full of love and devotion that we’ve built together.

Interviewee: Jamal Daukenova

Interviewer: Gulnaz Tulenova

Editor: Ainur Yermakhanova

Translator: Diana Tsoy-Davis