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Stories from Avj: Hadicha, part 112 min read

 In Central Asia, Civil Society, Interview
Avj – a tiny village in the Pamir Mountains of Tajikistan. Majestic nature, welcoming people, dangerous roads, colourful culture, delicious plov, juicy apricots and sweet mulberries. In 2019, I went back to Avj to interview the locals about their lives and memories. What does the village mean to them? What are the most important places in Avj to them? What legends travel around? While each inhabitant portrays the village in a way, the village is a portrait of its inhabitants.

My Tajik “grandma” Hadicha starts to acknowledge that I have approximately a week left for interviews. Today she is going to the funeral of a young guy in a neighbouring village and is leaving the whole household in our responsibility – mine, Bahti, Adees, Jamshed and little Bibishka’s [Hadicha’s grandchildren]. Surprisingly, Hadicha comes back home around 3:30 PM. She enters the library and tells me that she would like to relax from cutting grass today and is willing to give me an interview. Great! I spent a lot of time thinking about how to approach my Pamiri “grandparents”, because it is hard to ask the people you respect the most.

Momo [grandma] Hadicha sits on the couch, and I sit on the ground. Bahti is listening to our interview. From time to time Bibishka enters the room, sometimes alone, sometimes with the cat. Momo Hadicha often bursts into tears and I don’t know what to do. This is the most heart-breaking of all my interviews. It is really impressive how much one person can withstand and still be a very kind, caring and warmhearted grandma to her actual grandchildren and her foreign ones. Some of Momo Hadicha’s stories I have heard already, but now they take on a more clear order timewise and location-wise. This is a story of a strong and educated woman who still dreams about writing new books, and she does it on a computer, although she is in her 70s. And, yes, she chats with her relatives on Viber and Facebook on her smartphone, and sometimes even sends selfies! 

How are you connected to Avj?

How am I connected to Avj? Avj is the love of my life! While I was studying at the medical college in Dushanbe, during the summer I would go back home and pass through Avj. That is where I saw my future husband for the first time. Of course, I had no idea then that one day we were going to be a married couple. He and his mother were standing on the road in Avj hitchhiking. He was young and handsome. My driver stopped the car and offered them a ride, and they got into our car. My future mother-in-law asked me in Wakhi [a Pamir language]: “Girl, are you from Wakhan?”, I said: “No, I am from Rin, a village in Ishkashim region”. She switched to my language, Ishkashimi, right away. She knew all of the Pamiri languages.

She kept questioning me. She asked who my father was, and he turned out to be her relative. She asked me where I was studying. It turned out that this young man, Shirinbek, was also studying in Dushanbe. Sometimes when we saw each other in the capital city, he would say to me: “Hello, zemlyachka [fellow-countrywoman], how are you?”, but nothing more. I didn’t know yet that my future would be linked to Avj.

In the beginning, it was really hard for me to study in the medical college, because everything was in Russian. When I graduated, I had only 4 and 5 on my diploma [the grading system was from 1 to 5, and 5 was the best grade]. I had good grades, but I didn’t receive the “red diploma” [diploma for excellent grades]. Those who got a red diploma went to the Ministry of Education in order to be enrolled in the medical university without an entry exam or competition. A few girls came back and told me: “Hadka, your name is also in the list of enrollment!”. They called me Hadka. That was unexpected, as I didn’t have the red diploma.

I knew that my father was really religious and quite harsh and most likely wouldn’t approve of this idea. Actually, I started my studies in the medical college only thanks to his brother, my uncle. My uncle was really happy that I got a chance to continue my education in the university without an entry exam. He said to me: “Go for it! This is a great chance for you!”. I was not sure what my father would say about this, but my uncle promised to talk to him and convince him. I submitted my documents to the university and started to prepare myself for my studies. My uncle went back home.

A week later I received a telegram: “Please, come home as soon as possible, your mother is ill and in serious condition. Assured by Dr. Shirinbek Davlatmamadov”. Assured by my future husband. That was my destiny! My poor mother – when my father found out that I submitted my documents to the university, he started to scold my mother: “This is all your fault! Hadicha already studied for four years, and now six more years? She will do something inappropriate and disgrace our family while living so far from us for so long!” For the sake of peace, my poor mother said: “Ok, this is my fault. I will make it right!”, and she wrote a telegram in which she pretended to be very ill.

This telegram needed to be approved by a doctor. She went to a hospital and met with Dr. Shirinbek. It was his first year working there. At first, he refused: “No, lady, I cannot approve this. You are in good health!”. My mother went there a second time, he refused again. When she went there for the third time, there was a nurse too. He said to Shirin [Shirinbek]: “Why can’t you approve this telegram? Look at this poor mother!”. In the end Shirin approved the telegram. After I received this telegram, I went to the dean’s office and explained the situation. They said: “Sure, go and visit your mother! You still have time to go home and come back before the semester starts”. But later my family didn’t let me go back to Dushanbe… My father was completely against my studies. I started to work in Ishkashim [a city about 30 km from Avj] in the same hospital where Shirin was working. I had a colleague who used to joke: “You two will get married one day!”, I was still angry at Shirin for his fake approval of the telegram and I told her: “If you want you can marry him yourself!”. She was married already, though.

Slowly but surely, our relationship began. I mean, you can feel if you have a special bond with someone. Once, the chief physician sent Shirin and me to Namadgut [a village in the region] for a while. After Namadgut, I started to feel that he was paying more attention to me than to the other girls, and I was all shook up when I saw him too. I avoided Shirin all the time. He would want to talk to me about something, but I would escape. Then Shirin wrote a letter to me, how romantic! Another guy gave it to me and said: “Read it and reply!”. I said I won’t. He said: “I’m older than you, you should listen to me!”, so I took the letter and read it. Shirin wrote to me in Russian: “I have serious plans and I want to talk to you about them, but you avoid me all the time. I would like you to be my sputnitsa zhizni [life partner]!” …Hadicha and Shirin several times have wished for me to find my sputnik zhizni. I love this expression. It means so much more than formal “wife” and “husband”, especially in Russian and translated to my own language Latvian. They both seem to be real sputniki zhizni to each other…

At the end of this letter Shirin wrote his name. Guess what? Right on that day I received a similar letter from another guy too! I told my colleague that an unknown guy wants to marry me and is ready to go to my parents. I was acting weird that day, so this colleague later asked me: “Is this all because of that letter?”. I told her: “Oh, if there was only one letter of this kind!”. I gave her the letter from Shirin, but I ripped off his name. She tried to guess who the author could be, but couldn’t guess the right name. When I told her that this letter was from Shirin, she was really surprised, as he always seemed so serious, hardworking and strict. Later I wrote him a letter too. I explained that this decision is not up to me, but up to my parents. They didn’t even allow me to go to the university, who knows what they will say about this. And our exchange of letters began! How stupid of us, we worked together, but instead of talking we exchanged letters. All of Shirin’s family came to my parents to ask for my hand. I was still very young – only seventeen, but I told my mother I would like to get married to this young man. My mother somehow persuaded my father to allow this marriage.

Once, Shirinbek and I were sitting and working in the same room – he was working on his papers, I was working on my papers. We were not married yet. Then my brother came. He brought me food, or at least pretended that this was the reason for his visit. He had a very harsh demeanor, but he didn’t say anything. He went home and made a scandal there. My poor mother, she always got all the rage and complaints! It was planned so that his wedding will be first and then mine, but he screamed at my mother: “You know what your daughter is doing? Hadicha has to get married first! Otherwise she will disgrace our family very soon!”. When I arrived home in the morning, my mother told me about the scandal, and I said: “What do you all think about me? Why would I disgrace our family? Shirin is not going to rape me! What are you afraid of?”. But my brother was very strict and insisted that my wedding would happen first. He was afraid that I would lose my virginity before the wedding which would be a terrible shame to the whole family. Finally, I succeeded in calming him down and convinced him that nothing like that is going to happen. His wedding was in November, and ours was on 5 December.

For a while we lived and worked in Ishkashim, then Dushanbe, and then Ishkashim again. In 1971, I experienced an offensive situation in the hospital. I was insulted for no reason. I was working for a midwife in the hospital in Ishkashim. I often needed to work at night, for some strange reason, childbirth usually took place at night. If the childbirth was difficult and a surgeon was needed, Shirin was also called. He would also stay in the hospital overnight if there were people who underwent difficult surgery. Basically, Shirin and I spent days and nights in the hospital. Shirin’s mother was angry: “Why did you study medicine? I can understand if you have to work during the day, but at night? You have children!”. She was looking after our children: Jamshed, Malika, and Nozim.

One time I was called at night to the hospital two times. I went to the hospital, then back home, then again to the hospital, then back home again. In the morning when I went to the hospital for my usual working day, the chief physician blamed me for being fifteen minutes late! It felt so unfair! We had a dispute and I left crying – after all, I went to the hospital twice at night and now I was blamed for being fifteen minutes late! I had spent days and nights in the hospital not counting the hours, but now this…

On my way, I met Kudrat’s [Hadicha’s neighbor] uncle, a brother of his mother, who was the head of a weather station in Ishkashim. He asked me what happened and why I was crying. I asked him: “Please, can I work in your weather station?”. Surprisingly, there was a free vacancy! I left the hospital and started working at the weather station. They sent me to study in Almaty, Kazakhstan. It was hard to leave my children. Jamshed was six years old, Shirin brought him to the kindergarten. Nozim was four years old, his grandma in Mulvoj [a village about 5 km from Avj] agreed to look after him. She was happy that I finally left my work in the hospital: “I will look after your children while you study in Almaty, only if you leave your job in the hospital!”. Later, Shirin brought Malika to Almaty, it was too hard to live without her as she was only one year old at that time.

Shirin visited me in Almaty and told me that he is getting a new job in Khorugh [a city about 80 km from Avj]. When I finished my studies and we moved to Khorugh, I went to their weather station and asked for a job. They said they don’t need a radio operator, but they need an aerologist, so I had to retrain again. No, thanks. I went to Shirin’s coursemate who worked in the hospital. Once when he was in Almaty for qualification courses for doctors, he visited me and got angry: “You studied for four years and worked for six years in medicine, but now you are coming here to study in the school of hydrometeorology? Are you stupid?”. When I went to him in Khorugh, he recruited me right away. First, I was a medical statistician, then I worked in the ambulance, but in the end I was back in my field again – consulting women, until we moved to Avj.

After Malika’s wedding, Shirin moved to Avj. He was working as a chief physician in the sanatorium and was building our house. I was still in Khorugh and I decided to stay there until our youngest son Olim graduated from the eleventh grade [final grade].

To be continued

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Read more of Solveiga Kalva’s interviews in Avj:

Featured image: Box made by Hadicha’s brother / Solveiga Kalva
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