I am a child who was raised with love and care by my grandmother and grandfather. Therefore, I have a special bond with them. However, according to modern standards, it is not recommended to entrust a child’s upbringing to elderly people, and there is a logic behind it. For example, I cannot hug my father and say, «Dad, I miss you, I love you.» No matter how much I love him, I don’t allow myself to say it out loud. On the other hand, my three younger brothers, who were raised by our parents from birth, can freely express their love and longing to them.
I am the oldest grandchild of my grandmother and grandfather, and my father is their firstborn, followed by six daughters. My grandmother’s name is Zarya. She was born with the dawn, but everyone in the village called her «Zarken.» My grandmother gave birth to 13 children, including two sets of twins: Bekzat-Perizat and Aiman-Sholpan. However, only seven of them survived, and the rest passed away. It must have been difficult to take care of the twins in a yurt during harsh winters. Aiman-Sholpan passed away one after the other, when one was only one month old, and the other was five months old. My aunt Shynar was born by my grandmother alone in a yurt without anyone’s assistance. There was no one around, so she had to cut the umbilical cord herself. The baby was premature, and everyone believed that she would not survive. Among the Kazakhs, there is a tradition of putting premature babies in a winter hat called «malakhai» due to their small size. My grandmother did the same and hung the malakhai on a hook. Shynar stayed in the malakhai for as many days as she was not carried in the womb. Then my grandmother milked the goats and fed her daughter with the nutrient-rich milk. «Today we are alive, thanks to the Almighty, and tomorrow, we may not die,» my grandmother would say while feeding her daughter, hoping that the Almighty would spare her life.
My grandmother’s father, Smagul, was a war veteran who safely returned home. He met his future wife in Petropavlovsk while studying there. After completing his studies, they got married and moved to Zhanarka, where my grandfather became a primary school teacher. Later, he was promoted to school principal. My grandmother and grandfather met in Zhanarka. At that time, my grandmother was 15-17 years old, and my grandfather stole her away on a motorcycle and brought her home as his bride. There was a 9-year age difference between them. My grandmother’s father was very upset that his daughter got married without completing her education.
My grandfather was born in the village of Aktay in the Zhanarkinsky district of the Karaganda region (now Ulytau region), from the Saydaly, Kaksal clan. It is said that my great-grandfather was one of the comrades-in-arms of Khan Kenesary. Kenesary’s attack on the Aktay fortress happened in my grandfather’s historical homeland. My grandfather’s father died early, and his mother raised four sons and one daughter on her own. My great-grandmother, grandmother, grandfather, my grandfather’s brother and his wife, and their children all lived together under one roof for several years. My grandmother and her daughter-in-law were good friends. She taught my grandmother everything she knew.
Beyond the village of Aktay is the wintering place of Kyzyltau. There, my grandparents herded the livestock of the collective farm. The children studied in a boarding school and only came home for summer vacations. My grandfather was adventurous. He could hop on his motorcycle and be gone for weeks (laughs). Whether he rode around the village, went to visit friends, or went on work trips, no one knows, but he was often not at home. In those moments, to hide the absence of the head of the family, my grandmother herself herded thousands of sheep from the collective farm. Even if there were helpers, my grandmother was in charge. «Without waiting for your grandfather, I would slaughter the sheep, clean the intestines, and prepare the food myself,» my grandmother recalled.
Once, my grandfather left as usual to visit the state farms, and my grandmother was left alone with the young children. As dusk fell, she herded the sheep into the barn, fed everyone, and suddenly saw a silhouette in the distance that looked human. At first, she thought it was her imagination playing tricks on her out of fear. But an hour passed, and the silhouette was still there. Then panic overcame her, and she thought someone was waiting for darkness to kill her. Tying all the documents to her belt, holding the youngest child in her arms, and giving the slightly older child to her school-aged daughter, they walked all night to the nearest village. Later, when she arrived in the wintering place with fellow villagers, they discovered that it was their Russian assistant who usually herded the sheep. He had run away from the wintering place a few months ago but returned fearing my grandfather. If I were to tell you everything, my grandmother experienced many events.
When I was a child, my parents left me to be raised by my grandparents and went to Almaty to continue their education. I was very obedient, I didn’t bother anyone, and I was a bit chubby. My grandmother and grandfather often found me in the neighbor’s house in the evening because I would follow other children. I behaved in any house as if it was my own, without shedding a single tear. According to my grandmother, I loved meat and would shamelessly ask for butter. Until I was six years old, we lived in that wintering place. The distance between it and the nearest state farm was 15-20 km. My parents lived in the state farm. My father worked at the post office and distributed pensions, and my mother was a school teacher . On Fridays, my mother, accompanied by a neighbor, would walk to the wintering place just to see me. Sometimes they would hitch a ride. Sometimes my grandmother would ask neighbors to take me to my parents, saying, «She misses her parents.» Then I would leave on a horse and return on a tractor to my grandparents’ house. After 5-6 years, my grandmother and grandfather sold their livestock and moved to the district center.
The district center was like a city, there were only 1-2 cows here. I went to high school there. The school was too far from home, so my grandfather accompanied me to school. In the winter, on the white snow and the blue ice, he would take me on his homemade sled. Grandpa, unaware that it might be uncomfortable for me in front of my classmates, would put the sled in the corner of the classroom. In one class, there were 25-30 students, and my grandfather would always say to the teacher, «Oh, dear, we have arrived, let my daughter sit in front.» And he would wait for me to finish classes, talking to other old men in the yard. On the day when the last lesson was «Valeology,» my grandfather would say, «You have already exhausted my child. She studied mathematics, the Kazakh language, that’s enough. My child doesn’t need anything else but them.» That’s how he would pick me up after the last class. Maybe he was already bored or hungry? (laughs). On the way back, I would take out all the sweets and food from the bag that my grandmother had sewn, and eat it on the sled. In 1st and 2nd grade, we would ride the sled to school every day. When I was in fifth grade, my grandfather suddenly fell ill. During the examination, it was discovered that he had a liver tumor. His illness worsened over time, and he passed away shortly after… When we moved to the district center, my parents stayed in the collective farm and opened a shop there. When my grandfather died, my father sold the house, moved my grandmother to the village, and we all lived under one roof — my parents, grandmother, me, and my brothers.
Since my mother was a teacher, she would be gone from home from morning till evening. My grandmother managed the house. Early in the morning she would light the fireplace to warm the house, put on the samovar, boil milk, and separate it. She made kurt (dried, salty kazakh traditional cheese), cottage cheese, and ayran. It felt like my grandmother, not my mother, was the daughter-in-law in the house. But she always said that she couldn’t sit idle. After she finished all her household chores, she would start doing needlework. My grandmother was talented in many ways, in my childhood, she made everything I wore — chapan, felt socks, and hats with her own hands. Most of my things were «Made in Aizhe». Moreover, she also sewed vests, chapan, and socks by hand for her great-grandchildren, that is, my children. Unfortunately, I didn’t inherit these skills. When I got married, my grandmother organized my dowry herself. I jokingly called her a «businesswoman». She still sews the famous «Zhanarkinsky chapan» from plush and velour in our region. One such chapan costs around 2000-2500 tenge, and with this money, my grandmother would buy her medicines and necessary supplies. She used to have a push-button phone. Then she started telling us that someone’s children bought her a «phone that you can touch the screen». «It seems like those phones are great,» she would add in passing. Now my grandmother has two «cool» phones (laughs).
The zheltoksanovets family
My grandmother always went above and beyond to take care of me. When I was studying in Karaganda, she would send me frozen homemade dumplings and meat, reassuring me to focus on my studies and not worry about food. The meat was even packed in separate bags, labeled for specific dishes like pasta or beshbarmak. They would also send cake oil, which added a special flavor to soups and noodles. Grandma was always there for me, even from a distance.
I was pursuing my master’s degree when I gave birth to my first child, Dilara. My daughter was raised by my grandmother, who would rock her to sleep in the crib and feed her. For this, my grandmother moved to Karaganda to be with us. My husband, Rauan, and I would leave our child with her and confidently go out. During that time, my grandmother never called or bothered us with anything like, «When will you come back? The baby is hungry.» She did everything herself — washing, cutting hair and nails, ironing clothes, and singing lullabies. When my daughter turned nine months old, I returned to work at the university. Both my daughters were raised by my grandmother. In fact, she cared not only for her grandchildren but also for her great-grandchildren. Currently, she takes care of my younger brother’s children, who were born in 1995. Meanwhile, our mother is still busy with her job, taking her students to various competitions and Olympiads.
Speaking of my mother, she is originally from Zhetysay, where the true traditions of the Kazakh people are preserved. After finishing school, she independently enrolled in a university in Almaty.
It is worth mentioning that both my parents participated in the events of December 1986. They were young people who, along with their friends, joined a peaceful rally to express their grievances to the authorities. However, as history tells us, the peaceful march turned into a bloodshed, with brutal suppression. The young people ran in all directions, but the military units chased them, spraying icy water, searching with dogs, and brutally beating those they found. My mother managed to escape with her friends, and when they approached a store, they saw a Kazakh guy in military uniform. «What are you doing here? Why did you come?» — his questions filled them with horror. Then he told them to enter the store so they wouldn’t get caught. «And then go to your dormitories and go to bed peacefully!» he mumbled, pointing the way. The storekeeper also let them in out of sympathy, and later showed them a secret exit. In this way, they managed to avoid punishment. However, many were expelled, arrested, or expelled from the political party and the Komsomol. At that time, my father decided to join the army.
After completing his military service, he was able to continue his education, and that’s when he met my mother. She immediately agreed when my father proposed to her. My father was studying accounting at Narhoz, while my mother was studying chemistry and biology to become a teacher. Once they realized they were meant for each other, they decided to have a wedding and inform their families. In May, they traveled with friends to my father’s house in Karaganda. The train ride took about a day. After a while, they got off at one of the stations, and my mother asked, «Have we arrived?» But it turned out to be just a transfer point. After 5-6 hours, they finally arrived at the «Zharyk» station, where my mother asked again, «Are we there now?» «No, we still have to go to the Zhanarkinsky district,» my father replied. They then hitchhiked and made their way to Zhanaarki. My mother asked my father again, «Have we arrived?» to which he replied, «No, we’re going further into the village.» And then, in a ZIL car, they traveled on a dirt road, enduring every bump, until they finally arrived in Aktau. But even that was not the end. They still had to travel to the winter camp, which they overcame in a tractor cart. To become a wife , she had to travel for three days from a big city like Almaty to a small winter camp. Every day, they ate meat for dinner. After my mother’s arrival, my grandmother and grandfather set off to inform my mother’s parents about the upcoming wedding. They traveled in the direction of Zhezkazgan-Tashkent (by plane) — Shymkent-Zhetysay. And when they arrived at the in-laws, they said, «Your daughter came to our house in Zhezkazgan as a bride.» But my mother’s relatives said, «Oh my God, there was no need to travel so far, she could have found a groom here. We can’t come to get her now, let her stay. Once you set the wedding date, let us know in advance. We will come.» When the wedding day was announced, my mother wrote in a telegram, «Mom and Dad, bring me a bag of carrots, tomatoes, cucumbers, cabbage, melons, and watermelons. There are no vegetables and fruits here, they only eat meat day and night.» My parents’ wedding took place in August 1990. My mother’s relatives came to the wedding, filling the car with fruits and vegetables. At that time, watermelons were not available, and the villagers tasted it for the first time. And when my mother made pilaf for the first time, all the neighbors gathered, and since then, she only makes pilaf in a large cauldron. After getting married, my mother only visited her family once every 3-4 years because the journey was far.
My grandmother is a legend for me
Once, in our family chat, I casually mentioned that I had a craving for kumis. Little did I know, my grandmother was quick to respond. She called me right away and exclaimed, «Aisok, your kumis is finished! Your father informed me. I have many orders to fulfill, but I will come to you and bring some kumis.» Concerned about her traveling such a long distance, I suggested, «Grandma, it’s a 500 km journey. You will get tired. Just send it through someone, please.» However, she insisted, «On one hand, I want to see you, and on the other hand, I have a lot of work here. I can’t sit idle. I will get sick if I do. I don’t want to become dependent on someone. That’s why I want to keep moving and stay healthy.»
Despite having two cars at home, my grandmother always chose to walk. She believed in staying active and never complained about her health. It was admirable to see her walking straight, without leaning on a cane, while others struggled with their mobility. Witnessing her vigor, I was inspired to follow her example and keep moving constantly. My colleagues were amazed at my willpower when I would go to yoga once again.
From my grandfather, I inherited creative abilities. He was an avid reader who loved sharing stories with me. He read me «Alpamys Batyr,» the fairy tale «Ur, Toqpaq,» and Magzhan Zhumaev’s poem «Turkestan.» Thanks to him, I memorized them by heart. Despite living in a village, my grandfather was open-minded, lively, and interested in politics. He always encouraged curiosity and interest. Moreover, he was quite the joker, always teasing his elderly peers with rhymes.
In the evenings, if I spotted an old lady walking on the street, I would recite my grandfather’s poem by heart:
«Oh, my dear Kulaysha,
Where is the sun, like yesterday?!
If you dance like that,
Will Amanzhol like it?!»
Among my father’s six sisters, Aunt Gulshat also had a talent for poetry. The gift for writing poetry seemed to run in my mother’s relatives as well. My maternal grandfather was also fond of poetry. I believe I have been blessed with 1% of their talent, given to me by Allah. During my school years, I participated in various Olympiads and even became a prize winner. There was a time when I recited 150 poems by Abai by heart and received the grand prize for expressive reading. Throughout it all, my grandmother was there, supporting me and rejoicing in my achievements.
My dear grandmother has faced many hardships in life. Yet, she never held a grudge against my grandfather. She would simply say, «He was stubborn.» She often reminisced about how he would give her flowers, always focusing on the good and trying to hide the bad so that he would be respected. Today, as a wife myself, I realize that modern women do not tolerate such actions and humiliations from their husbands. Times have changed, and so have customs. However, I admire how Kazakh women, despite having lazy husbands, managed to do all the work themselves, take care of the house, and ensure its well-being. They never reproached men with words like, «Why don’t you work?» Everything that happened within the house was the woman’s responsibility.
You won’t believe it, but my grandmother used to cook four different dishes for lunch all by herself! My brother didn’t eat potatoes, and my sister loved dumplings, so she would cook their favorite foods for her beloved grandchildren. She always emphasized the importance of hard work and encouraged us girls not to sit idle. To me, she is a legend.
Now, my grandmother resides in the Zhanaarkyn district with my parents. She still travels to visit her daughters in Taraz, Zhezkazgan, and Almaty. I wish her many more years of life so that she can continue to be by our side, inspiring us with her strength and determination.
Interviewee: Aizada Rakhymzhanova
Interviewer: Gulnaz Tulenova
Editor: Ainur Yermakhanova
Translator: Diana Tsoy-Davis