My Azhe (grandma in kazakh), whose beautiful name was Irisaldi, meaning «harbinger of happiness» in Kazakh, raised and brought me up. She was born on August 15, 1926, in the village of Shyeli, in the Kostanay region. She witnessed the world transform before her eyes, enduring hardships that would have broken the spirit of many. From famine to war, the era of the Soviet Union to the attainment of Independence, and even the recent trials of the coronavirus, she faced them all with unwavering bravery. She passed away in February 2023, at the age of 97.
She possessed a calm and wisdom that seemed to radiate from her very being. Whenever she would share her life stories, her voice would be filled with tranquility, never boasting or exaggerating. In my eyes, my Azhe’s most heroic act was her unwavering dedication to our family. She had a generous spirit.
She lost her father at a young age, forcing her to start working to survive. Those were dark times, where humanism seemed to be fading away. I remember her stories, tales of people who, in the face of hunger, made unimaginable things, sacrificing even their loved ones.
When the Great Patriotic War erupted, Irisaldi was only fifteen years old. With her brothers off to the frontlines, she matured far beyond her years. Like countless others during that time, she contributed to the war effort from the home front. From dawn till dusk, she toiled in the collective farms, plowing, sowing, and harvesting. She tended to the livestock and loaded wagons with food supplies for the soldiers, all while finding solace in the glow of kerosene lamps as she penned letters to boost their morale. It was a time of hardship and sacrifice, but my Azhe always spoke of it with pride, knowing that it was the only way she could support her brothers.
After the war, she continued to work the land, immersing herself in agriculture. She even learned to operate a tractor at a young age, breaking barriers and defying expectations. With love and respect for hard work, she raised her children, imparting her life principles onto them. Azhe firmly believed that honest work and strong family values were the keys to happiness and strength.
Education held a special place in my Azhe’s heart. Though deprived of the opportunity due to the war, she understood the value of knowledge more than anyone else. She sought self-education and created an environment that fostered learning. «Knowledge is what can level the playing field between the poor and the rich,» she would say, her eyes twinkling with wisdom.
Growing up in a time when different ethnic groups coexisted in Kazakhstan, my Azhe developed a profound sense of tolerance and acceptance. In those trying times, people of all backgrounds fought side by side against hunger, supporting and uplifting one another. The echoes of that unity reached us in the most delightful ways. Our dining table was adorned not only with traditional Kazakh beshbarmak but also with dishes from different cultures. From Caucasian dumplings to beef aspic, the flavors of diversity filled our home. And my Azhe’s handicrafts, oh, they were a sight to behold. Her blankets, known as «korpeshki,» and her intricately designed pillows brought warmth and coziness to our humble abode. I always felt loved and protected in her presence.
Although she is no longer with us, the wisdom she demonstrated will always live in my heart. We will remember her as a strong and kind woman who embodied the best qualities of Kazakh culture and traditions.
Interviewee: Zhandos Aktayev
Interviewer: Gulnaz Tulenova
Editor: Kymbat Kaliyeva
Translator: Diana Tsoy-Davis