I want to share with you the story of my grandmother, Shukurgul Karibaevna. She was a wise and experienced woman who was born in 1900 in Kazaly and passed away at the age of 82. Unfortunately, I never had the chance to meet my grandfather, Eshmurat, as he had already passed away in 1956, before I was born. All the children born before my father died in infancy. Because of this superstition, he was named Turganbaim, which means «the one who stayed alive» in translation. To protect him from the evil eye, his ears were pierced and he was called Syrgalym, which means «wearing earrings» in Kazakh. To avoid the evil eye, he was not shown to outsiders until the age of 7. After my father, my sister Turgangul and brother Turgali were born. My grandmother considered them her treasures.
My respected grandmother observed fasting and performed the five daily prayers, always remembering the name of the Lord. She did not participate in gossip or quarrels. From her eldest son, she had nine grandchildren who would compete to sleep next to her. Some of us would hide in her embrace, while others would lie at her feet. My sister Rahima used to say that she had enough of both my grandmother’s embrace and her feet. During the morning prayer, she would always drink boiled wheat with sugar and share it equally among us. When I think of her, I often remember this moment from my childhood and wonder “if she had her favorite dish”. The elderly are a treasure trove of wisdom. My grandmother would tell stories, legends, and fairy tales, and her storytelling was unmatched. I want to share one of her stories with you.
During the years of confiscation and famine, panic engulfed the entire country. Like many others, Eshmurat and Shukurgul had to hastily leave their homeland. Undoubtedly, it was a very difficult period when thousands of people suffered due to the pressure from the Soviet authorities and hunger. The Kazakhs had to flee to China, Tajikistan, Iran, and Afghanistan, while the population from Kyzylorda and Mangystau regions moved to neighboring Karakalpakstan, Uzbekistan, and Turkmenistan. My ancestors also moved from Kazaly to Karakalpakstan, when my father was not even a year old . My grandmother prayed to the Almighty for them to reach their destination safely and peacefully. According to her, she buried her gold and silver jewelry along the way. That’s how they reached Shomanai, where the descendants of Kame and my grandmother grew up and spread their wings. Later, the family settled in the Tortkul district. My father worked as an accountant in a state farm, and my aunt Turgali held a managerial position at a local brick factory. We called her «Akkokem,» as she was the first girl in the village to receive an education at a technical school.
My grandmother was a very talented craftswoman. We would gather and process sheep wool, spin it, felt it, and knit with it. Felting is not an easy task. It requires strength and dexterity of the hands. My grandmother and I would select the sheep wool, remove the dust, and beat it with a beater to smooth out tangled areas. Then, we would spread the wool on a piece of fabric, pour boiling water over it, and quickly roll it up in the fabric. We would fold it in half and join the edges together. She would also dye the wool. Overall, a lot of work was done together with our neighbors during felting. We would specifically designate a day, invite village girls and grandmothers, and alternate the gathering place between our homes and theirs. It was one of the ways we showed unity.
My grandmother used to create various figures and patterns with felt. She often used a curved ram’s horn or wrote the names of family members. My mother and I also independently made household items and would update them every 3-4 years. My grandmother taught us how to crochet properly and create patterns on felt rugs. I remember one time when I was helping my grandmother, I accidentally burned myself on the cauldron where the felt was boiling.
Grandma Shukurgul never fell ill, except in old age when she had surgery on both eyes. I took care of her during that time, combing her hair. In moments of gratitude, she would wish me a «long life». When I was sick, I would remember her words and think that her prayers had been heard by God. Now I am a grandmother myself. It is true what they say, «your own child is sweeter than honey, and a grandchild is more precious than life.» May her soul rest in peace, God!
As I mentioned before, there were nine children in the house. Following the superstition of «naming boys with similar names and girls differently,» four boys were named Ergali, Esengali, Seysehgali, and Meiramgali, and the girls were named Rahima, Razia, Rabiga (me), Agilash, and Kaliyash. Our parents worked tirelessly for us, raising nine children no worse than others. It is true that upbringing starts from infancy, so we were taught to work and earn our bread from an early age. They explained that bread earned through our own labor always tastes sweeter. My parents wanted all of us to receive an education. The eldest studied in Tashkent, and my sister Agilash attended the best university in Almaty. Fortunately, each of us found our place in life, started families, and acquired homes and children. I am immensely grateful to my parents.
My mother and father were the same age, both born in 1930. They lived next to each other and attended the same school. Their childhood was stolen by the merciless year of 1937 and the harsh war. They had to grow up early and work hard. Turganbai Eshmuratuly only completed three grades of school and then studied in the evening department. He worked as an accountant for many years and opened a shop after retiring. He had a dignified and noble nature, combining noble and majestic qualities. He didn’t have any bad habits and performed the five daily prayers. He set an example for us not with words, but with actions. He was a family man and an excellent grandfather. I was daddy’s little girl. My late father tried his best to spoil me — he always had sweets for me. I would cry when he went to work. Until I turned six, I would sit in front of him and drink tea together.
Speaking of my mother, Patima Meshitbaikyzy, she grew up as an orphan and went through many hardships. She took care of her sick mother and looked after her only brother, who followed her. My mother was quick with multiplication and division, like second nature. At sixteen, she came to my father’s house as a bride. She didn’t like to dwell on the past or be sad. She spoke her mind as it was, without embellishment, which made her words sharp and cutting. She was resilient. «I gave birth to my third child while picking cotton, and then I went back to work in the collective farm,» she would constantly reminisce. After work, my mother would cook meals for nine children, make traditional coats (kurt), and boil butter. In addition, she also made patchwork quilts. We didn’t buy clothes from the store because my mother sewed dresses for us.
In the post-war years, the development of agriculture, the irrigation of deserts, and the improvement of farming were planned throughout the Soviet Union. It is well known that in order to supply water to agriculture, the first step was to dig canals. At that time, there was no machinery available, so the canals, which were 30-40 meters wide and 2-3 meters deep, were dug by hand. This was a truly selfless labor. All villagers took part in it. At the request of the collective farm, one person from each household was chosen, mostly women. According to the conditions, each person had a daily quota that had to be completed by sunset. At the end of each week and month, the results of the socialist competition among those who dug these canals were summarized. Certificates and valuable prizes were awarded to those who distinguished themselves. My mother worked diligently and always moved ahead. That’s why my grandfather used to say to my grandmother, «Prepare tea for our daughter-in-law, she is bringing glory to my name.» Thanks to her hard work and perseverance, her name, «Eshmuratova Patima,» was announced on the radio, and she was given a watch and a radio as a gift. In the cotton harvest, my mother was also among the leaders. Taking into account these merits, she later became a district deputy.
She was a true mother to the people. If anyone had a quarrel, she would reconcile them. She never sat idle and always solved someone’s problems before noon. In the afternoon, she would attend celebrations as an honored guest. Both my mother and my sister-in-law were very honorable. They lived under one roof, united like sisters. My parents had 29 grandchildren from nine children, and for them, they were like huge trees with lush leaves.
Despite living in Karakalpakstan, we were a united dynasty that preserved the traditions of the Kazakh people. Our dastarkhan (traditional Kazakh table) was always full, and the stream of guests never ceased. My father was a respected man in our region. Many admired us, saying, «What good children they have, what a close-knit family.» I believe that it was this admiration that jinxed my brothers, who left this world prematurely. It left a deep mark on my heart. My parents passed away when they were over 80 years old. There is a saying, «A person does not die on the day of their death, they die on the day of oblivion.» But as long as our family and all our relatives are in good health, I am confident that their names will not be forgotten.
«Only when I see the white poplar, I will see you.
If the white poplar disappears, what will I see?!» wrote Mukagali once. And I miss my grandmother, who loved her grandchildren, my loving mother, from whom the light of compassion always emanated, and my noble father, who took care of his grandchildren.
In conclusion, I would like to thank you for celebrating our values, passed down from generation to generation. May your work be recognized!
Author: Rabiga Eshmuratova
Translator: Diana Tsoy-Davis