My grandfather, Urkenov Gainulla Temirgaliyevich, was born in 1943 in the village of Taskala, Taskalin district in the West Kazakhstan region. He was the thirteenth child in the family of shepherd Temirgali, and due to lack of resources and the ban on abortions, he was an unwanted child. However, despite this, my grandfather was the most successful of all the children. He graduated with honors from the Leningrad Engineering and Construction Institute and obtained a higher education. He worked as a civil engineer and had a successful career. Later, he was invited to take up a managerial position in our town of Aksay — the deputy akim (mayor) of the Burli district, responsible for economic affairs. When I think about how my grandfather could have simply not existed in this world, tears well up in my eyes, knowing that I wouldn’t have had such a wonderful grandfather. An entire lineage would have been interrupted. I loved him very much. Unfortunately, five years ago, my grandfather passed away.

My parents met in Bashkortostan when my father was undergoing military training, around the 90s. My father went to a dance and wanted to invite a girl, but his friend intercepted her. Then he approached my mother, and that’s how they met. They corresponded for a couple of years, after which my father brought my mother to Kazakhstan. In 1993, I was born. However, they got divorced after nine years.

When my parents divorced, the first thing my grandfather did was to continue to communicate with me and my mother. He wanted to support us in every way possible and be our pillar of strength, showing me that I wasn’t alone and that I had someone to rely on. He adored my mother, and when she crossed the threshold of his house, he happily exclaimed that «light had entered his home.» He never treated my mother as a daughter-in-law, but rather as a daughter. I remember my mother telling me that there were often many guests in my grandfather’s house. And when the feast was over, he would give the floor to my mother as the most honored guest. And so it was every time.

I loved my grandfather, and I often asked him, «Do you love me?» and he always smiled and replied, «Yes, yes, I love you,» then hugged and kissed me. As far back as I can remember, my grandfather was always «Gainulla Temirgaliyevich» — dignified and serious, but not with us — he was a beloved and loving grandfather.

Grandfather Gainulla loved his parents very much and respected them. Throughout his life, he helped all his brothers and sisters — building houses, providing financial assistance. And when his mother went blind towards the end of her life, he was the only one who took care of her. Not because he was the youngest child, but because he loved her unconditionally.

Aksai is a small town in western Kazakhstan, where my grandfather moved with his wife when he was 30 years old. He built his own house there and lived there for 45 years. They had two sons with my grandmother. My father is the eldest, and Uncle Serik is the youngest, whom I also remember as someone who brightened my childhood. He often looked after me, and when he had children of his own, I also looked after them, so I feel like I repaid him in full.

We had a wonderful tradition of going to the bathhouse every Saturday. Grandma was still alive then, and we would gather at their house and after the bath, we would drink tea on the summer terrace while Uncle Serik grilled potatoes on the coals. Back then, we didn’t have phones, so we would just talk for a long time about everything.

Grandpa worked in the civil service until he retired. Many houses and buildings in Aksai were built by his hands or according to his designs. He loved his profession. Moreover, he was always generous. I’m not sure how many families he helped, but I know he never turned away those in need. However, his work wasn’t always smooth sailing. My mom used to tell me that when he was a deputy and a well-known architect, their house was always filled with guests every Saturday and Sunday. But one day, he was removed from his position because he was fair and spoke the truth to people’s faces. Someone didn’t like that. Only about 10% of people stopped talking to him. But it affected Grandpa greatly because he was a man of the people. My mom always said that he was the only official who spoke without a script. When Grandma was alive, he would always rehearse in front of her. When I grew up, I realized that public speaking runs in our family. My father, Uncle Serik, and I are all like that. By the way, I always rehearse my speeches in front of a mirror or someone else.

Grandpa was very educated, so he gently advised me to know all the laws and the Kazakh language. As far as I can remember, Grandpa was very modest. He never bought a car, and he had a government-issued «Volga» for work. He could find common ground with absolutely anyone. I guess I’m just like him in that aspect. I’m very sociable at work, but at home, I’m quiet, just like him. He had an amazing memory — he remembered all the birthdays and phone numbers by heart.

When he retired, he opened his own construction company, but it went bankrupt in 2 years. Grandpa immersed himself in his grandchildren. Perhaps that was the second blow in his life after Grandma’s death in 1998. He mourned for a long time until he met Aunt Valya.

And so, immersed in his grandchildren, my grandfather first took them to daycare and then to school. That’s where I grew up and went to study in China, only coming back for summer vacations. Gradually, I noticed that his eyes began to dim. I felt very sorry for him, and I always empathized with him. I think this is a major problem for older people in Kazakhstan — they lose their purpose in life after retiring. Although in China, many even 90-year-olds have a very active life, and grandparents take care of themselves. I think if it were the same for us, my grandfather would have lived even longer.

Interviewer: Gulnaz Tulenova

Respondent: Nelly Urken

Editor: Kymbat Kalieva