Caught the bus home with a colleague recently, and she told me her daughter is coming to visit tomorrow. I was shocked. Your daughter? I ask. Yes, she says. Your daughter? She nods, and turns down her mp3 player, which every young person wears on the bus these days.
Dalmira’s in her late twenties, lovely and tall in a tailored coat, always impeccably dressed in “girl clothes,” slit skirts and puffed blouses, with golden jewelry. I had assumed she was single, but she says she got married five years ago, then had a daughter, whom she named after a beautiful local actress, Anara.*
Little Anara is five now, but Dalmira’s been away from her family for several yeras. Her parents raise their granddaughter, Anara in the southern city of Turkistan,* her hometown. Sometimes older parents here will ask to be given their first grandson, who they raise as their own bonus child, but I suspect in Dalmira’s case she simply couldn’t care for the child and work as well. I’m constantly suprised at the number of my local colleagues who have obtained a child, with no father now lingering.
Dalmira tells me that she hates Astana, how “terrible” the winters are, how expensive it is, but she’ll live her until she’s older in other to have good work. Then she hopes to return to Turkistan, but by then her daughter will be grown.
As we sit waiting at the bus stop, some laborers cluster into a row of seats in front of us, slapping hands together in greeting, black jackets hunched over each other. Dalmira says that not only has she a child, but she’s been married and divorced already. She got married five years ago, but left after a year, leaving “because he beat me.” She couldn’t take it anymore and got out.
Out of curiosity, I ask if she has friends in south Kazakhstan who got kyz alyp kachu’d and she laughs, and says, “many, many!” Kyz alyp kachu means something like grab the girl and run! and is the local name for what happens when guys abduct girls and, either willingly or unwillingly, force them into marriage. There’s a rather dramatized Frontline episode about it by Peter Lom, as well as articles by Cynthia Werner, if you want to learn more.
Anyhow, it’s more common in the south, where Dalmira is from. She then tells me that she herself was kyz alyp kachu’d, or abducted into marriage, but gave her permission. She’d known the guy a couple of months, and was worried because she was getting old: “I was 24, so I said yes, let’s do it… But now I think, it was not good. You can’t have relationship with only four months, you should know [the guy] longer.”
We look out at the Caravan shopping mall, where a girl is walking bundled against the snow. I ask Dalmira if she’ll remarry, and she says maybe. But now she’s surrounded by younger and prettier girls, and it seems like ten girls to every guy here! Maybe that’s an exaggeration, but I get the feeling. She hops off the bus at her apartment, smoothing her skirts, and prepares to welcome her daughter to Astana for a quick whirlwind of shopping and movies, the short fun time they’ll have together before Dalmira’s back at work once again.