My name is Saltanat, and I was born in the year represented by two infinity signs. I come from a village called Aliya Moldagulova in the Kobdinsky district of the Aktobe region. Unfortunately, I never got to meet my grandparents, but I have heard so much about them from those who were lucky enough to know them.
My grandparents were a wonderful, exemplary couple with many children. My grandfather, Künbolsyn, was born in 1932. His life was full of hardships, but he never let them define him. He managed to become a teacher, dedicating his life to education. Until the end of his days, he tirelessly taught and was known as an intellectual. «Some of his students had speech impediments, he worked with them, while others didn’t want to. He also found a way to communicate with the mute,» the villagers say about him. My grandfather was also a skilled woodworker and blacksmith, and he had a talent for painting. In his spare time, he would draw pictures of the popular cartoon «Well, Just You Wait!» for the children. They say that «a son raised by his father will always follow his example,» and that’s true for my father, who learned the artistry by observing his father. The oil paintings on the walls of the school were my father’s creations. I believe that my skills have also been passed down from my grandfather.
My paternal home in the village was built by my grandfather alone. He decorated the entire attic with great skill. My kind-hearted grandfather made a significant contribution to the revival and prosperity of the village. He loved the school dearly and wanted everything around it to flourish, so he brought seedlings and planted them around the building. But unfortunately, after my grandfather fell ill and passed away at the age of 43 in 1975, all the lush apple trees withered.
My grandmother, who became a widow at a young age, had to raise eight children on her own. It was not an easy task. She worked three jobs. Early in the morning, she would clean floors, then go to the kitchen, and even worked as a preschool teacher. In 24 hours, my grandmother managed to go to work, take care of the house, and give attention to her children. She was a selfless person
Speaking of my father, Serikbol, he often talked about the things they lacked in life. My mother also grew up in a large family. Both of them came from noble lineages and were righteous in everything they did. As the eldest, my father helped all his siblings establish their own families. And my mother, to hide the absence of parents from her sisters-in-law, handmade their dowries. According to Kazakh traditions, the youngest child becomes the «heir of the paternal home.»
Nevertheless, my father’s younger brother moved to the city for work, so we lived in the house built by my grandfather. I was the only girl. Due to negligence by the doctors, my mother had cotton and scissors left inside her womb, so she had to have her uterus removed. I am still angry with them for that.
Externally and in mannerisms, as well as because of his glasses, everyone called our father «Shurik.» He was kind-hearted and had a big heart. He was a jack-of-all-trades and an inventor. In his youth, he came up with a device inspired by the fairytale «Baursak» (translators note: similar to Kolobok — the main character of an East Slavic national fairy tale, represented as a small yellow spherical break-like being). The mechanism worked in such a way that when you tried to grab a baursak, it would automatically retreat into its house. This invention of my father’s was sent from the village to the district, and from there to the regional exhibition, but it was never returned to him. My father was only awarded a small prize, like tea and chocolate.
Nowadays, it wouldn’t be difficult to invent something similar, as there are plenty of devices and machines available. But back then, my father’s inventions were considered groundbreaking. We were the only family in our village that had a window that would automatically open at sunrise and close at sunset. Unbelievable technology at that time. This was also my father’s invention. Additionally, he created a system where water for the animals would automatically fill up from a tap. He was also skilled in painting and sewing. He was not only an electrician but also a television repairman. My physics teacher, Nagima Apai, used to tell me, «You are nothing like your father, you have no idea about electricity.» The whole village was impressed by my father’s abilities and craftsmanship. If the power went out in the village, people would look for my father as if he had turned off the lights himself. And if my father was able to restore the power, they would express their gratitude in every way possible. Any broken or malfunctioning appliances, like televisions or refrigerators, were given to my father for repair. Back then, my father didn’t ask for payment for his work. It was the 90s, nobody had money or stable jobs. Some would give him tea, others oil, or even meat. Once, someone even brought a scarf. No matter what people gave him, my father was content. In general, my father was never in a rush. He would smoke his cigarette, then meticulously complete his work. My mother would always get angry with him, asking, «Do you really need a ruler to do this? Can’t you do it by eye?» My father had a vast collection of tools, which sometimes other people would borrow. My father had seen a lot in his life. One day, while my mother was tidying up the yard, she stepped on a protruding nail. It went through her slipper and almost reached her bone. My mother continued working without showing any sign of pain, but in the evening, her feet started swelling. That’s when my father took her to the district hospital. The doctors said they would have to amputate her leg below the knee. But my father was against it. He brought my mother back to the village, treated her wound with aloe vera, and performed the necessary procedures. After some time, my mother started jumping and skipping again. Even though we lived in a rural area, we never had a day without bread at home. As long as my father was alive, we didn’t see any problems in anything. When I was a student, I was given the «coolest» phone of that time — a «Panasonic». My late father always told me, «Never depend on other people. If you have a soul in your chest, work tirelessly. If you don’t like something, speak up.» When the economic crisis of the 90s and mass unemployment hit, my father quickly obtained a house in the city by working multiple jobs without any days off. That’s how we moved from the village. When we moved, the house, which used to be a gas station, was expanded and transformed into a two-story building. During that time, I spent more time carrying bricks and hammering nails next to my father than cooking. My father would scold me if I didn’t know the names of the tools. A measuring tape, a level, a hammer, a marker were always within my reach. My father and I installed doors and windows in the house and worked on the interior walls. But then my father fell ill. I believe he was jinxed, and soon he passed away. At that time, my mother was over 40 years old and couldn’t find a decent job. She worked part-time in every establishment, and I worked and studied part time. Everything we earned went into building our house. Eventually, my mother and I finished the house. Last year, we sold the house that we had built with our own hands. The buyers have already opened a cafe. Every time I pass by, tears fill my eyes… My husband used to be a bus driver in Aktobe, and in such conversations, people often ask, «Where are you from?» My husband would always say he was from Oyyl, and I was from Kobda. «Ah, so you’re Shurik’s son-in-law. Your grandfather was a kind person and a jack of all trades,» our fellow villagers would praise him. When I hear warm words about my parents, it means more to me than any other praise. If I ever went to the village, I would often meet locals who would say, «Oh, you’re Shurik’s daughter. Your father was a true man…»
Sweet taste of childhood
In my childhood, I was one of those who silently spoiled things. Maybe I inherited that mischievousness from my mother. I remember playing with Barbie dolls. We would sew different outfits for them, show them off to the girls in the neighborhood, and boast about our creations. During one of our «meetings,» my neighbor showed off a new ball gown for her Barbie. I wanted one too, so I flew home on wings of excitement. My mom, who was busy with something, didn’t notice me. I entered the house, and my eyes fell upon the curtains in the living room. And so, I cut out pieces of fabric with patterns and sewed a dress for my doll in the backyard. I made a hat out of cardboard. Then I heard my mother’s voice shouting. But I ran away from home and only returned when my father came back. I hid behind him and avoided my mother. He couldn’t help but smile. My mother was angry, but not in front of my father. «Don’t scold the child, I’ll bring new ones from the city,» my dad said. It turns out, I had sewing skills even back then.
During summer vacations, my mom would send me to my grandmother’s. She was a kind-hearted person who never said no to me. She called me «Saltomek» and always took care of me. In my grandmother’s house, I was never alone, but always with the children of relatives. No matter how much we misbehaved, she never frowned, but rather tried to share her love with us. We would wake up early in the morning and spend the whole day outside. In the evening, my grandmother would count us in and send us home. Water was scarce, so we all washed with the same water, and when we entered the house, we would collapse from exhaustion and fall asleep. We were of no use, just noisy troublemakers. When she called one of us, she called all of us because she couldn’t remember our names.
My mom’s mom was bedridden only in her old age, over 80 years old. When I once went to visit her, my beautiful and dignified grandmother became small and frail. I couldn’t visit her often, and when I did, she would give me everything she had, which made me feel incredibly uncomfortable. When I think of her, tears involuntarily come to my eyes. Then my sons, not understanding, come to me and ask, «What happened, Mom? Did Dad upset you or is something hurting?» Her soul loved and cared for me, may it find peace!
…Memories of childhood always remain the warmest, especially the objects we used. The miracle stove, oven, and waffle maker were my mother’s favorite tools. We would manually prepare the dough, bake buns, and spread them with dissolved sugar. In childhood, we would sit by my mom’s waffle maker, eagerly waiting for something to be left for us. As soon as my mom left, we would immediately steal a waffle and quietly eat it. I remember there was Uncle Ben’s ketchup and «Rama» butter. Then there was a tea called Happy, but without knowing English, we called it «Narrou.» There was only one telephone in several houses, plus a second person silently listening on the other line. Then, when evening came, our moms would sit and watch the series «Just Maria» and «Wild Rose,» which became cult favorites in the 90s. Every house also had large clocks with drawers, and their ticking could be heard throughout the neighborhood.
In childhood, we loved Indian movies. The films «Zita-Gita» and «Disco Dancer» were hits. We would stick their pictures on the refrigerator, cupboard, and become their fans. We would paint our foreheads and wrap ourselves in fabric, calling it a sari, imitating them. «Agaya-agaya» was all we knew in Indian and we would sing it at our homemade concerts. My mom and dad would also dance to Indian songs. Additionally, we loved looking through photo albums. Taking photos was also a ceremony. There was no way to know if the photo session went well or not. You didn’t know if your eyes were closed, if you had a red face, or if your hair was messy. Somehow, we patiently waited for the photographer to go to the city and bring back the developed images.
I often find myself longing for my homeland, the village where I spent my carefree childhood. Oh, how things were different back then! We would lock the door and hide the key under a bucket or a brick, never thinking it was unsafe. If we were in a hurry, we would simply wrap a wire around the handle. We knew that locking the door was only necessary at night; during the day, everything was open. Maybe there was no theft in those times…
Nowadays, if the power goes out in the city for just an hour, we act as if it’s the end of the world. But back in the village, we would have power outages that lasted 1-2 days. It was a regular occurrence to clean the wick and wipe the glass when the light went out. When the lights went off, we would read and drink tea by the light of an oil lamp placed at the bottom of the stove. We would create silhouettes of dogs and rabbits on the wall using our hands. We would handle everything with care, making sure not to break the glass of the oil lamp. We would cut the wick with scissors. Nowadays, when people say «candle,» many think of a wax one, not knowing what an oil lamp is.
I remember the rural life, how my mother would wake up early in the morning, milk the cows, send them out to pasture, and then tend to the stove, emptying the ashes, making butter, and cooking millet. She would clean the house and the barn, tend to the garden, pull out weeds, raise chicks, wash carpets, spin wool, cook food, feed the livestock, chop firewood, and brew tea. She did it all. My father would often go to the base, and that life under the sun was his duty. Every morning, my mother would light the stove to prepare something, be it millet or butter, or simply warm water for laundry. I didn’t like the sound of the boiling kettle because it was my responsibility to add firewood to the fire.
In those days, families had many children. How patient the women were, setting the table and washing clothes for all of them! What wonderful quality the clothes had, as they were passed down from one child to another. And what about now? Mink coats, the latest iPhone model. We have running water, central heating, no livestock, no more than 3-4 children. The stores are filled with convenience foods. We buy and make, we have diapers that we don’t wash, and laundry is done in a washing machine. We also have the internet. But still, we get tired and say, «Oh, there’s so much to do in this house.» Meanwhile, the previous daughters-in-law prayed that their husbands wouldn’t drink or throw parties for them. The current daughters-in-law are in a hurry to move out as soon as possible, separate from their mothers-in-law. The times and the people have changed…
My mother was a strict person, raised during the times of Stalin and Brezhnev. I, too, was kept on a tight leash, despite being an only child. One day, I asked my mother for permission to go to a disco. There weren’t many discos in the village, so we didn’t dance as freely as others. Suddenly, my mother, wearing a dress, a red scarf on her head, and galoshes, burst onto the dance floor. She looked around, searching for me. I wanted to disappear from embarrassment as everyone shouted, «Saltanat, your mom is here!» Blushing, I ran outside and headed home, with my mother following me. At home, my mother lectured me for two hours because I had stayed out past the agreed time. After that, I was too embarrassed to show up at school, but I couldn’t transfer because there was only one school in the village. However, a funny incident happened to me at a party. In order to ask my mother for permission to go somewhere, I would clean the entire house, do the laundry, and showcase all my skills. Even then, my mother would hesitate to let me go. She would say, «We grew up without parties, go ask your father.» Then it was somewhat possible to ask my father for permission. My mother, on the other hand, was the supervisor, saying, «Girl, don’t put on too much makeup, don’t act like a devil, don’t let your hair down, wear a longer skirt.» As we left the house, us girls would go to the party house, each carrying cosmetics, a curling iron, and even a change of clothes. We would curl our hair, apply makeup, and drown ourselves in strong perfume. The smell of those few perfumes was intoxicating, and the frequent use would often make us feel dizzy from the alcohol content. We would suffocate ourselves, even though these were our classmates whom we saw every day. During the party, we would drink diluted juice and make toasts. On that day, my mother let me go for two hours.
But can you believe it? In just two hours, I had to do it all. At one point, my mom stood in the doorway, looking like a firefighter who had single-handedly put out a raging fire. At that moment, I realized that my «Cinderella time» had come to an end, and that day I returned home feeling disappointed.
Mother in law, that accepted me without judging
Now that I have grown up, I have become a mother of 3-4 children and I have a spouse. Allow me to share my adventures from the early years of my marriage. Despite being from a rural background, my father did not allow me to milk the cows, stoke the samovar, and many other things. He told my mother not to exploit me unnecessarily. My responsibilities only included cleaning the house, doing laundry, and running errands. And this had an impact on my married life.
One day, my mother-in-law offered to have tea from the samovar. Inside, I was praying that she wouldn’t send me for this task. But no, she sent me. As a knowledgeable person, I went and filled the samovar with firewood and paper. I thought there was a pipe connecting it to the tap. Watching the water flow out from under it, I couldn’t understand the reason. I had to go look for matches. My mother-in-law, sensing my adventure, came out and checked the samovar. She burst into laughter when she saw that I had filled it with firewood from top to bottom.
Another time, everyone went to work, and only I was left with my eleven-month-old child and a cousin. The cousin was a teenager and went off to play. After some time, I decided to do the laundry and put water in the cauldron to boil. At that time, there was no gas or water in Akzhar. I filled the kettle with water, lit a fire under it, and after feeding the baby and giving water to the animals, I went to look for my cousin. I was pregnant, carrying the child, and went all over Akzhar looking for my cousin. I barely found her, and we came back home to find the hearth on fire. I got scared and poured a bucket of water into it. And the cauldron split in two. «What do I do now?» In the evening, my cousin was the first to return. «Saltuk, what happened to the cauldron?» he asked, understanding the situation. I was most afraid of my late mother-in-law. I don’t know if she was really calm, knowing all my mishaps, or thought it was useless to say anything to me. Just after listening to me, she said, «Oh well, we’ll get another cauldron from Aisulu (my mother-in-law’s sister).» And after that, I was never allowed near the hearth.
Once, my mother-in-law brought home apples. «Make compote,» she said and handed them to me. I had never done anything like that in my life. There was no internet either. Then I started washing the apples she brought. One wash, two washes. And I kept thinking, «What should I do?» My mother-in-law, who was suspicious of my apple washing, came up to me and said, «Okay, I think it’s enough washing, let’s start.» On the sixth wash, after seeing the «doubtful» look on my mother-in-law’s face, I called my mother. I whispered so that my mother-in-law wouldn’t hear, «Hello, mom, how are you? Good, thank God. Mom, let me ask you something, just don’t scold me, how do I make compote?… Oh, mom, don’t scold me. I never learned it before. Yes, mom, no time, tell me quickly… Okay, and then how much sugar do I need… Mm, okay okay. I’ll contact you later.» I turned around, and there was my mother-in-law, who understood that I was washing the apples so thoroughly not because of «cleanliness.»
Once, my mother-in-law went to visit and brought a toy for my daughter. I, being used to being the only child in the house, asked, «What did you bring me?» After that my mother-in-law brought two candies from the guests — one for me and one for my daughter. If I was sent to the store, I always bought myself an ice cream with the change. I was the youngest daughter-in-law.
My mother-in-law loved me unconditionally and always turned a blind eye to my mischievous antics. She was the only person who fully accepted me, my flaws and my sometimes childish behavior . I am forever grateful to her for that.
You see, I believe my genes played a role in shaping who I am today. Almost all of my father’s seven siblings were teachers or linguists, and I too had a desire to delve into the world of humanities. From a young age, I was captivated by journalism. However, my late father was hesitant to let me pursue my studies in Almaty. «You are my only daughter, stay close to me,» he said, abruptly shattering my childhood dream.
Undeterred, I decided to enroll in a cooperative technical college near my home, specializing in programming. But amidst my studies, I also managed to acquire skills in journalism, dietetics, and handicrafts. As Abai once said, «We consume livestock, but not art.» So now, my family and I make a living through our craftsmanship. My husband is a carpenter, having left his job as a driver to pursue his passion for working with wood. His wooden creations grace the walls of every home, capturing the ancestral heritage of our clients. As for me, I specialize in making toibastar — souvenirs and various items for celebrations.
Respondent: Saltanat Serikbolkyzy
Interviewer and editor: Ainur Ermakhanova
Translation: Kymbat Kalieva