This is one of my friends story. I have no reason not to believe that.

            She is from western Kazakhstan, but it turned out that she fell in love with a guy from the south and got married. Now they have a daughter. They live with her husband’s family in Astana.

            This is how her life looks like now: every morning she gets up at 5 o’clock and prepares breakfast for the father-in-law, mother-in-law, husband and his brother. Notably, they eat a great breakfast: samsa, kuyrdak, tea, flat cakes and so on and so forth. Everything should be fresh, just out of the oven, so kelin wakes up a couple of hours earlier before everyone else.

            Then all, except for the father-in-law and mother-in-law, go to work. My friend has time to work on two jobs: as a cleaner in the office and a dishwasher in a restaurant. She gets so tired through the day, that she is ready to fall. Comes home in the evening and continues to work: prepares dinner, feeds the whole family, washes the dishes, cleans the house, does the laundry (by the way, there is no washing machine in the house, only a basin). No other member of the family touches a broom or a basin with laundry. This is below their dignity. They usually rest in the evening, drink tea, watch football or TV shows. And the kelin tends to all of them. She washes everything of all the family members even up to their underwear. Moreover, when relatives visit (and since the family is from the south, there is always a relative in the house), it is the responsibility of the kelin to serve them, too: feed, wash, and iron. All this is done at night, sometimes up to 1-2 am. And again a wakeup call at 5 am.

           With all this duties on kelin and her contribution to the welfare of the family, she is not an equal family member. For example, she cannot participate in a conversation at a family table. She should be silent and only pour the tea. She should sit at the doorstep, near the samovar (kettle), with a head covered with a scarf. She should not look into the eyes of family members, her gaze must be lowered to the ground. She cannot even call family members by their names; she has no right to do so. When the family goes to large gatherings or to a picnic in the nature, the kelin, like Cinderella, stays at home. She is not supposed to rest. She must look after the household.

            And in all other matters kelin is a powerless member of the family.

            I asked her why she needs it, why does she live as a slave. Was this what she dreamed of when she imagined her happy family life? How did she ended up in a voluntary slavery?

            She just shrugs her shoulders. She says that everything happened gradually. Little by little, her parents, the future husband and the whole environment prepared her for this life. And now she’s already used to it. And now it’s her family.

            But you can live in a different way, you can be a free woman with equal rights, I say. She does not know what to answer. At the same time she loves her husband and believes that he loves her too. Maybe she is embarrassed to say what I also understand: if she gets a divorce now, she will never get married again, her social status will be lower than the current one, and she will get the sympathetic or contemptuous looks from others. It’s better to be a slave in the family, than free and single, she says.

           “Tell me,” I asked her, “and when parents of your husband will die and your children will be grown up, will you also live according to these customs?” Your kelin will also be a slave in your house?

           She says she does not know. For now she cannot even imagine herself being the women of the house.

           And I contemplate, will she be the same? Will such patriarchal medieval relations in some families continue to exist in our modern Kazakhstan?

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