24 Hours in Eki-Naryn

One day in a life of a Kyrgyz family

Danil Usmanov / Kloop Media

Part 1: The morning

The room is warm but stuffy, and the air is stale from six people breathing. Boldukan awakes to the sound of the alarm ringing: it’s 5:30 AM, time to milk the cow. Her 15-year-old son Nurbol set the ringtone to dubstep as a prank, and the frantic rhythm shatters the silence like a grenade. The song jars her awake each morning, but she keeps forgetting to change the ringtone.

Outside, the sun is rising, slowly illuminating mountain peaks a golden red. One of the hottest days of the year has just started. The birds are asleep, and the air is still with a fragile silence. But Boldukan is not in a mood to admire the landscape — she is sleepy. She puts on her boots and a heavy coat, milks the cow and walks her to the mosque, where people gather their livestock for pasture.

Heading back home, Boldukan passes by her neighbors’ houses, each yard bustling with the morning chores. As she reaches her own house, Tursun-apa, a neighbor, calls out to offer her tea. The 76-year-old lady has a hard time sleeping. She worked as a paramedic in the Eki-Naryn village for almost 40 years, and nightmares from the past still haunt her. Once on the way to a night call she was nearly eaten by wolves. “How can anyone want to drink tea this early?” Boldukan thinks and excuses herself, telling Tursun-apa that her appetite won’t wake up until 10 AM.

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Boldukan’s husband, Nurlan, wakes up soon after her and goes to water their field and fetch drinking water. Eki-Naryn has no running water, and the inhabitants fetch water from a spring or a stand-pipe. The stand-pipe is handier; you can park a car right next to it and load a quarter-ton at a time. Boldukan’s family used water from the stand-pipe for a year, until it got clogged. When the men went to clean the pipe’s well, Nurlan saw rot, feces, dead mice and frogs floating in the bottom. Since then, they fetch drinking water from the spring — usually, the children load a neighbor’s donkey with five-liter plastic bottles.

Today is laundry day, so they need a lot of water, and Nurlan drives to the stand-pipe. When he finishes filling two big iron cauldrons, there is already a queue building up after him. Although people know the water is dirty, half of the village continues to drink it — the spring is two kilometers away.

While Nurlan stands near the stand-pipe, taxis pass him by. Old Audi and Subaru cars fit six to eight people. The passengers sit on each other’s laps and hide under the seats whenever the police come in sight. The closest city is Naryn — 45 kilometers along a jerky pebbly road. Optimistic locals find the silver lining: pebbles are easier to ride on in winter than asphalt because the road is soft and doesn’t freeze. In winter, the road needs to be cleared of snow, which can be up to a meter deep — sometimes in order to leave a house you need to dig out the door.

Taxis drive by the crossing of the two mountain rivers for which Eki-Naryn is named. They pass by green, pink and yellow fields surrounded by hills densely forested with woolly firs. The forest pattern of one of the hills looks like a swastika — these trees were planted by a nameless exiled fascist, as the folklore goes. Boldukan’s older sister, Erkingul, and four of her children are leaving the village in one of the cars.

Danil Usmanov / Kloop Media

By 8 AM, the whole village is up. Usually, 10-year-old Zalkar is the last one to wake up in the house. He can sleep until noon. Today the boy is out of luck: first, the younger sisters, 9-year-old Salima and 5-year-old Akak, clamor and bug him, and then Boldukan pulls his blanket off. Soon after the breakfast, Zalkar will disappear until dusk. While the other children spend the day at home, Zalkar will sweep by on a bike with broken brakes (to stop, you need to put your foot into the wheel) or flicker in the distance while borrowing a neighbors’ donkey.

Bread, milk black tea, kaimak (home-made cream cheese), strawberry jam, and a portion of kids’ squabbling make the breakfast. The four children loudly fight and make peace, while Boldukan and Nurlan discuss their plans for the day.

Boldukan and Nurlan bought this adobe house five years ago for $5,000 from old neighbors who have since moved to a city. The house is only 300 square feet with two rooms connected by an open doorway. The toilet is outside — a shaky wooden outhouse with a hole in the floor and a rickety door. The furniture consists of two tables, two closets (one of them marks the kitchen area in the living room), a stove (doubling as a heater), a chair, a wooden chest, a TV stand, and a broken trifold mirror. Although six people live here, the rooms seem half-empty. As in most rural houses, there are no beds; everyone sleeps on the floor, with the kids in one room and the parents in the other. The lack of space has its advantages: it’s easier to warm the house in the winter when the temperature drops to −40°C.

Boldukan was just 16 when Nurlan kidnapped her. In Eki-Naryn, bride kidnapping has stopped only recently, after one “lucky” man kidnapped a sister of a policeman. The policeman frightened the “groom” so much that the kidnapper is still single. Prior to that, however, bride kidnapping, ala-kachuu (“grab and run”), was so widespread that dating before marrying was the exception to the rule.

Nurlan searched for a bride for almost a decade. His uncle worked for the railroad, and Nurlan traveled all across Kyrgyzstan and Kazakhstan as a stowaway, selling vodka, chewing gum, and clothing. Everywhere, he looked at girls. He needed a wife who was used to the harsh conditions of his homeland, knew how to deal with livestock and could handle a household. The bride turned up to live on the next street. He didn’t notice her for a long time because she was a child, almost 9 years younger than him. When Nurlan decided to kidnap Boldukan, she was in the 11th grade and dreamed of becoming a teacher. He didn’t even consider courting her. “I was 25, and she was 16. I was afraid that if I start courting her, her parents will scold me. So I just spied on her over the fence” Nurlan recounts.

Sometimes girls are kidnapped on their way to the bathroom (in most rural areas bathrooms are outside the house) but most often they are deceived to come outside by someone they trust: a relative, a friend, or a neighbor. On a June evening, days before the last school exam, Nurlan invited Boldukan’s distant relative to drink vodka. After two bottles, the relative agreed to call the girl outside.

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Five men awaited Boldukan when she stepped out of the gates. The men grabbed her arms, gagged her, bound her, dragged her into a car and drove 400 kilometers away. They headed to Nurlan’s relatives in Bishkek, so she couldn’t run back home. She fought desperately during the first 10 kilometers but then went quiet. She understood that resistance was futile. “I was upset and cried because if you get married at a young age you don’t get to see or know anything. I thought: “What will my future be like? How will I be able to take care of my children?” I wanted to study,” says Boldukan. She thought that her brother would get angry and rescue her. The winding road to Bishkek took almost a day.

In Bishkek, Nurlan’s uncle put several Korans on the floor under her feet. Boldukan knew: if she left, she would have a sin on her soul for stepping over the holy book. She was also reminded of a proverb that is often cited to kidnapped brides: “Tash tushkon jerinde oor”, or “The stone is heavy in a place of falling”. In fact, the folk wisdom is used to teach that you should stay wherever you end up. In case of ala-kachuu, it means: if a man kidnapped you, stay with him. Returning home after being kidnapped is considered shameful because a woman “entered someone else’s house,” which is regarded as the same as marriage.

Boldukan also thought about her family. Three kilometers from Eki-Naryn, there is a bridge over the Naryn river. When she was 11 years old, her family was returning home on a tractor during the dead of winter. On the bridge, the car went out of control and crashed through a railing, slamming into the frozen river. Boldukan’s mother and younger brother died in the accident. Her father sent the girls to be raised by his relatives, and in the 11th grade, Boldukan lived with her grandparents and older brother’s family. They were poor. To pay for Boldukan’s college, her brother was going to sell their only cow which fed their whole family. Trapped in a house full of strangers, Boldukan contemplated this: “How will my family live without the cow?” Her brother came to visit her in Bishkek two days later. He saw the holy books and agreed that stepping over them would be a sin. She should decide herself if she was going to stay he said.

Instead of Naryn Teachers College, Boldukan graduated from, as Nurlan jokes, KAU — Kazan Ayal University, meaning “Women’s Kitchen University”. In a year, she gave birth to her first son. Today, she is 33 years old, has four children and considers herself happy — her husband is sober, they don’t fight, children are by her side, and everyone is safe and sound.

Danil Usmanov / Kloop Media

Sometimes a friend, who is not as lucky in marriage, visits Boldukan. Even though the friend’s marriage was consensual, after the wedding her husband changed. He started drinking, beating her and leaving home for days. The woman cannot leave the abusive husband because she cannot feed four kids on her own — there is no work in Eki-Naryn. Some women leave their children to relatives and try to start a new life, but she doesn’t want to do it. So she endures.

Enduring sufferings is inherent to everyone who lives in these parts. It is necessary to live through seven months of winter, crop failure, animal plagues, and hunger. These problems are familiar to everyone. Before moving into the house, Boldukan and Nurlan lived in yurts on summer pastures for 10 years, tending their cattle. They had to cook, do laundry, and wash without any electricity. The days followed a strict schedule: if you don’t milk cows and mares on time, the milk turns sour. Sleeping in a yurt was so cold that they had to cover themselves with two or three blankets.

In October, when the snow on pastures became too thick, they moved to a barn closer to the village. The barn has no electricity either but it was warmer. Some people not only lived but also gave birth in these barns. Boldukan’s sister Erkingul (who was also kidnapped — they tricked to enter the kidnapper’s house, put a headscarf on and wished her happiness) gave birth to her youngest daughter in a shed. It was a February night. Her husband went away to the village, and she gave birth on her own. In the freezing barn in the dark, she cut the umbilical cord herself and warmed her child in her arms until her husband came back the next day.

Danil Usmanov / Kloop Media

Naryn people tell these stories with laughter and humble pride in their ability to endure difficulties. Nurlan recalls that once the whole village was left without electricity for three months and adds with a smile: “However, we almost didn’t notice it — we’ve lived without electricity for 10 years.” They like to recall the hardships of living on grasslands, ending every story remarking how wonderful it was no matter what.

Today there is no time for nostalgy: Boldukan is busy with laundry. Sometimes she sings while doing the household chores. But not today. She heats the water in a kettle, puts the laundry into an old Soviet washing machine, rinses it in a bowl, wrings and hangs it out — again and again, for hours on end.

Danil Usmanov / Kloop Media

Part 2: The noon

“If you think about it, we live for our children, and they live for theirs. I think other nations live for themselves. They marry or stay single if they want. Having a job, clothes, and everyday food is enough for them, whereas I need to think about the future, prepare a dowry and livestock for my children and save money for their wedding. I think our way is better because our children don’t abandon elderly parents,” says Nurlan.

As a firstborn, Nurlan grew up with his grandparents. This commonly practiced tradition is convenient for both parties; the young parents find hard both to work and raise a child in the city, while the grandparents hope that the grandchild will take care of them in their old age. Right after graduating school, when his grandmother got cancer, Nurlan moved to Bishkek to look after her. He didn’t like the city, it was too expensive and unfriendly. “In the city, you have to earn money every day. You slave for someone and then spend everything you get. And here — why do you need money? You don’t,” he says.

A year after his grandmother passed away, his brother living in Eki-Naryn with the grandfather died. Nurlan had to urgently come back and look for a wife that could take care of the old man and run the house. He considered moving to a city with the family but living in the village was much cheaper. A lot came for free: the house, water, meat, cream cheese, potatoes, and carrots. A family of six can live on $150 a month.

Danil Usmanov / Kloop Media

But even $150 is hard to make in Eki-Naryn. Only a few dozen of people live on paychecks — school teachers, the paramedic, the librarian, and the kindergarten teacher. Every eighth family lives off a children’s allowance, which is $15 per child per month. To receive it, you have to prove your poverty with a lack of home appliances, any new furniture, a car, or relatives receiving a pension and living with you.

Horses, cows, and sheep define the social hierarchy of a village. A family is considered rich if it has several dozen of livestock. The richest families have several hundred cattle. Boldukan and Nurlan’s neighbors, 65-year-old Suken and 67-year-old Tursunaaly are among the wealthy of Eki-Naryn.

Everyday life of rich villagers has little difference from the life of others. Tursunaaly kidnapped Suken when she was 19. “In those times everyone was kidnapped. The words “Tash tushkon jerinde oor” were ingrained in us. The parents said: “If you are kidnapped, stay and get married,” Suken recalls. She gave birth to 10 children: nine sons and one daughter. Despite the wealth (they have more than a hundred horses alone, each costing $300 to $1,000), the old woman spends her Sunday just as her neighbors do, weeding the potatoes. They lived on summer pastures for almost 40 years and only recently built a house in the village just recently. Now they are building another one for their son — a two-story home, made of bricks, with plastic windows and a blue tiled roof.

Danil Usmanov / Kloop Media

Baktygul, Amantur and their four children live right across from that house. Their family belongs to the quarter of the villagers who don’t have cattle. The house where they live was empty so they moved in for free. The child allowance is their only steady source of income. Every spring, Amantur heads to Bishkek. He joins his fellow villagers who work in construction and earn from $150 to $300 a month, spending part of it on rent, food, and vodka. However, the family doesn’t want to leave Eki-Naryn. “We lived in Bishkek for a couple of years, and it was harder than here. Everything we earned went to cover the rent. My relatives from Kochkor (another village in the same region) asked us to move there — it’s much warmer. But we don’t want to. The people in Eki-Naryn are nice, the village is friendly, and we got used to the weather,” says Batkygul.

Danil Usmanov / Kloop Media

Single women often leave the village. If a woman didn’t get married till 25, she is called “kara daly”, which translates as “black shoulder blades”, because back in the old days girls were married off before their hair reached the waist. In cities, young women can find work more easily than men; they get hired at sewing workshops, grocery stores, and restaurants. Married women also take temporary jobs, as Boldukan’s sister Erkingul did. She went to pick strawberries in suburbs of Bishkek, where a full bucket is worth 50 cents. Her four children — aged from 9 to 16 years — asked to go with her. During the first day, they will earn $75. For Eki-Naryn, that is a lot of money — it’s the average cost of a sheep.

In winter, even the cities lack work. Those who don’t have enough money to wait out the winter at home try to pan for gold. Until the nineties, no one knew that the Naryn river had gold. Since then, the villagers regularly pan and dig for gold, getting prostate inflammation, hemorrhoids, and bronchitis along with the precious metal. Two men were killed by rocks that fell from cliffs surrounding the river — Nurlan’s brother was one of them. Most of the gold miners are single or young men from the poorest families in the village. Teams of three to five work in severe cold from October to April, when the river level drops. Some dig pits several meters deep until they reach the water and search for grains of gold. Others wash river gravel.

On average, they mine a gram of gold per day, which can be sold in a local store for $30. However, the miner’s revenue comes down to luck. For example, this winter, Amantur washed gold and for several weeks but came home empty-handed. He grew desperate and left to work in the city as soon as it got warmer. Just at the same time, another team of his fellow villagers started mining 10–12 grams each day. Another villager, who prefers to work alone, panned out more than $600 of gold one month. The lucky man prefers to keep his success in secret to avoid competition. He took the biggest find, weighing 18 grams, to a dentist in Naryn who makes gold crowns (illicitly, since placing them is prohibited).

Gold teeth shine on many local faces. At some point, they were the height of fashion. In the mid-nineties, a city dentist came to Eki-Naryn. The entire week he set gold crowns. Some villagers even sacrificed their healthy teeth to be fashionable.

Danil Usmanov / Kloop Media

Everyone who needs money tries to pan for gold. Nurlan also was working on the river for two months, but this was long ago. Today he is considered to be a wealthy man. He owns many cattle: 70 sheep, 15 cows, and several horses. He also has a small car fleet: a truck, a passenger car, and a tractor. All three are parked in a yard surrounded by a fence self-made from wire and sticks.

Usually, the only time when Nurlan gets to see big money is in December, when he sells the cattle. For the rest of the year, Nurlan uses cars to feed his family, working as a cab and a tractor driver. He brings building materials to his neighbors from the Naryn city, helps to move to summer pastures and back, drives cattle to livestock markets. The fleet requires frequent maintenance: the passenger car is 38 years old, the tractor — 33, and the truck is 19.

Nurlan spent the last two weeks repairing the cars from morning till night. He learned to fix cars by himself, using the trial and error method, which left a lot of scars on his body, including a large burn across his right shoulder.

Danil Usmanov / Kloop Media

Part 3: The afternoon

Boldukan bakes fresh bread for lunch. Although Naryn is considered to be the most meat-loving region of Kyrgyzstan and even is named after a horse meat dish, the staple of the local diet is bread. Boldukan makes five loaves every two days. When money is tight, the family has bread for breakfast, lunch, and dinner, but this hasn’t happened recently.

Every now and then neighbors drop in at their house. Each needs to be treated to at least a piece of bread, and a half stay to drink tea. In a day, a villager drinks up to 20 cups of tea. Over tea, people discuss business and gossip. There is only one thing that the villagers appreciate more than tea and gossip, and it’s a good joke, a tamasha. For fun, they can even matchmake a married woman for a man who is desperate to find a bride. Sometimes grownups play like kids, chasing after each other or jokingly wrestling.

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All 759 Eki-Naryn residents know each other, and many are related by blood. There are few secrets in the village. The neighbors know how much you earn, what do you worry about, how often you beat your wife, how much you drink, and what your mother thinks about it. If you don’t share it yourself, your children will spread the news. Tanned and red-cheeked children run about the streets, backyards, and gardens, laughing and playing. In the spring, an outbreak of rabies impelled the villagers to shoot all watchdogs that scared children from exploring the neighborhood, and now the kids feel like they are the masters of Eki-Naryn.

The children’s laughter blends with the pounding of a hammer, the bellowing of a donkey, and the afternoon call to prayer. Half of the villagers have gone to pastures to feed the cattle. The rest prepare for the winter in a different way: they repair houses, work in fields, and stock up animal dung. Everything needs to be done until September when the first snow comes. Above this bustle, a hawk, hunting for chicken or mice, hovers high in the sky.

In the afternoon, Boldukan sends the girls to buy onions. She rarely lets them play far away from home: her second son drowned in a creek when he was three years old. The girls consider a walk to the store a big journey. They race against each other, taking shortcuts through backyards and peeking into their neighbor’s windows. The village has two grocery stores, each called after its owner — Mira’s and Dashka’s (Dashkayim). There are no signs — the stores are set up in their owner’s home. To buy groceries, you need to ring the bell and wait until the lady puts aside her domestic chores and comes to the door. The assortment is limited: no perishable products; fruits, berries, or cakes. Vodka and sweets are the best sellers. Sometimes there are cucumbers and tomatoes.

Danil Usmanov / Kloop Media

Just a year and a half ago no one believed that something less hardy than potatoes and carrots would grow at this altitude — almost 2,400 meters. One day Nurlan’s old acquaintance called him and offered to engage the village in a UN project that helps rural women open small businesses. This is how Eki-Naryn got its bakery and a dozen of greenhouses, where the locals grow cucumbers and tomatoes.

Nurlan’s friend, his namesake, owns the biggest greenhouse. He got so carried away by his creation that he tripled its size, planted squash, apples, and raspberry (“This is an experiment!”), and started selling the cucumbers. He offers them almost twice as expensive as in the stores. “Imported vegetables don’t smell like anything. Try how our cucumbers and potatoes smell! They are organic and environmentally friendly,” he explains.

Nurlan-gardener also does other work: he butchers cattle, pans for gold, works the land with an old tractor. His wife Jyrgal helps him garden the greenhouse. Nurlan kidnapped her 25 years ago: “I liked her at first sight. How could I court her? Her parents didn’t let her go outside the house”.

He had to kidnap her twice. The first time, her mother was furious and took the schoolgirl home (Jyrgal didn’t get to finish high school). “When guys were kidnapping me, they pushed my mother so hard that she fell to the ground and cried. Mother was furious, so she came to take me back”, Jyrgal recalls. “But in a month she changed her mind and told me: “You will go and stay there”. Why? Traditions”. Nurlan got a hint that he can kidnap the girl again. “When I came to see her again, she smiled at me. I understood it right away: that’s it, I can kidnap her”, laughs Nurlan. That’s what he did — exactly two months after the first attempt.

Danil Usmanov / Kloop Media

Jyrgal tells the story of her kidnapping with a mild smile, as if she perceives it as something inevitable, similar to the severe climate that she grew up in. She gave birth to seven children, receiving the title of “mother-heroine” and a $20 bonus to her future pension. The family receives child allowance for the six children still under 21. Their youngest is 4 years old, and Jyrgal hopes that she will be their last child. But the woman is not sure. However, Nurlan agrees: “I don’t have time for that, I work from morning till night and get tired”.

The greenhouse drains his energy. This year, Nurlan plans to harvest almost a ton of cucumbers. With eager gleaming in his eyes, he dreams aloud that one day his Eki-Naryn cucumbers will be sold in labeled packages all across the country.

Nurlan’s success inspired some other villagers to build greenhouses. He often visits other greenhouses to lend a hand and two weeks ago saved Boldukan’s cucumbers from ants which had nested below the seedlings. Now these cucumbers are almost ripe, and sometimes Boldukan goes to the greenhouse just to admire them.

The cow returns just before sunset. She finds her calf herself. Three weeks ago the calf broke his leg on a mountain pasture, and the fracture didn’t heal. Today the lower half of his leg has fallen off, and now the calf has a bloody stump instead of a hoof. The cow comes up to her child and tenderly rubs him with her head, comforting her child. Boldukan waits until the cow finishes caressing her calf and then milks her.

Soon Hozier’s “Take Me To Church” is heard across the village. Someone is celebrating a wedding. In a half an hour the music stops, and sad ballads of local drunks take its place. Nurlan listens to them while smoking his last cigarette for today. The dusk brings an abrupt darkness, and the first star appears in the sky — Jupiter.

Danil Usmanov / Kloop Media

Part 4: The evening

At 8:45 the streets and backyards of Eki-Naryn suddenly become deserted. Children flee the playgrounds, where they were just playing catch and hanging on monkey bars. Men and women hurry to finish work, leaving their neighbor’s homes, and climbing on roofs to fix their antennae. Dozens of TVs turn on all across the village, and whole families huddle in front of them to watch the Turkish soap opera “The Brave and The Beautiful”. Boldukan cooks in the other room, peeking at the TV out of the corner of her eye. Sometimes she yells to the children, “What’s going on?”, and runs to watch, abandoning the raw meat on the cutting board.

Eki-Naryn also has its own story of Romeo and Juliette. 16-year-old Dilbar and 18-year-old Beksultan met in school and dated four years, though their parents were against it. It was a rural misalliance. The boy’s family is well respected and owns a store, while the girl’s father is a known drunkard and cattle-stealer. Eventually, love took over, and the young couple celebrated their wedding last week. Local romance does not always have happy endings, however. In the early nineties, one villager hacked another one with an axe out of jealousy.

When the TV show episode ends, the children stay in front of the TV to watch a cartoon about the adventures of Mowgli. The sound is off because the cartoon is in Russian. Although Russian is taught to villagers since the second grade, language proficiency doesn’t exceed simple sayings like “Can I speak to you for a moment?” or “Take it easy”. The villagers use these phrases with a swanky intonation, as if trying to imitate Terminator’s “Hasta la vista, baby”. Sometimes, the Russian appears in another context: naughty kids are threatened that if they keep acting up, the Russians will come and take them.

They have meat noodles, chuchuk, a horsemeat sausage, bread, and milk tea for dinner. Boldukan and Nurlan discuss their plans for tomorrow, exchange news and talk about life. They discuss that the boys need to visit the bathhouse, that Nurlan’s younger brother plans to marry (the bride’s father offered not to bother and just kidnap the girl —“it’s cheaper”), that the calf needs a prosthesis, that Boldukan is tired of her allergies, and that some women in Bishkek live with two husbands. When they’re done, it’s almost midnight. This is the first time in the day when Nurlan has a free time. He spends it on social media.

Danil Usmanov / Kloop Media

For the past year, Eki-Naryn has been enthusiastically exploring the Internet. In social networks, Nurlan learns news about neighbors and chats with relatives who live in Bishkek, Moscow, and Tyumen. This fall, he wants to buy a house in Bishkek so that the children could study there, and he searches for options online. Boldukan and Nurlan have long decided that they will do their best to provide the children with the education they themselves lacked. However, Nurlan doesn’t want to leave Eki-Naryn. When Boldukan says that her allergies get better in the city, he half-jokingly suggests that if she finds him a second wife she can move without him.

Online messengers change the lives of the youth of Eki-Naryn. Courting girls became much easier. Before, you had to bribe children with sweets to pass notes; today you can simply exchange numbers. There are no couples yet who met online in Eki-Naryn. A couple of years ago, while driving home from Bishkek, Nurlan picked up a girl who was headed to Naryn city. She shared that she met a shepherd online from Kochkor, and they married after a year of an online relationship. She realized that the person she knew online was very different in real life, and Nurlan picked her up when she was fleeing home from her husband.

While her husband is online — sometimes he can go on till two in the morning — Boldukan makes the beds. She takes thick blankets from a wooden chest and spreads them on the floor. Children go to bed one after another. She turns the lights off in one of the rooms, and children continue arguing in the dark: “You farted!” — “No, you did it!” Soon, the only sound breaking the silence is the phone beeping: Nurbol, the oldest of the four, exchanging text messages with a classmate.

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Boldukan washes dishes in a basin and cooks jarma, a drink from a crushed grain, for tomorrow. The children fall asleep to the sound of dishes clattering. Finally, Nurlan goes to sleep. When Boldukan finishes her chores, the whole family is asleep. She switches off the light, takes off her headscarf, and at last falls asleep.

By then, Eki-Naryn is plunged into darkness. Thousands of stars flicker in the night sky. The Milky Way and hundreds of constellations are clearly visible. The night is full of sounds: the river roars, crickets chirp, airplanes fly above, and cars pass by, whirling up dust that sparkles in the headlights. A gentle wind blows, swaying a lantern hanging by the door. Its light attracts night butterflies that tap on the bulb until the sun rises.

Russian version of this article is published on Kloop Media

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