By GIRLWITHABOOK Co-founder, Lena Shareef
I’m not great with kids. I never have been. My brother makes fun of me for it all the time because (somehow) kids love him. It's so unfair because he's extremely indifferent towards all children. I, on the other hand, have a better time relating to kids when they reach high school. But anywhere between the ages of six and 14, I just don’t get. Some kids are blessed with confidence from the moment they can wobble on their own two legs. That usually scares me and I’m envious because I’m still struggling to build up my own self-esteem in my mid-twenties. On the other end of the spectrum, I’m not really sure what to say to the shy kids either when they give their quiet one-word answers. That’s what you get when you put a bunch of introverts in the same room. Silence.
On this trip, however, things were different. About halfway through our time in Kyrgyzstan, we visited Naryn province with our awesome guide, Azamat. Once he understood what kind of stories we were looking for, he suggested we visit his aunt’s home in a very small town in Naryn where she lives on her own with her four young daughters, the oldest of whom is ten years old. Their father had passed away a year ago.
We were excited to meet this family since this was going to (finally) be our first case study of young girls. We were also nervous about showing up at Azamat’s aunt’s door because as we found out, the same exact time that we were going to be there was the one year anniversary of her husband’s death. In Kyrgyz culture, the family of the deceased essentially cook a lot of food and invite other family members over as a way to remember their loved ones who have passed. This lasts for about three days...and our arrival overlapped perfectly with that.
So. We’ve shown up at this beautiful three-room home to meet and interview four lovely young girls on the first anniversary of their father’s death. All while there are dozens of other aunts, uncles, cousins coming in and out of the home to pay their respects. On top of that, we could only communicate with other people through Azamat, our guide and translator. Let’s just say, there were a lot of awkward smiles, nodding our heads, and drinking tea (so much tea).
Most of the time we would sit in a quiet corner of a room and try to stay out of everyone’s way. Whenever we did see an opportunity, we pulled out our cameras to capture life in this home and and the girls interacting with their family. Despite the fact that these people all came together to remember a man whose life ended too soon, we saw a lot of joy in this family. We saw it when we played clapping games with the girls. We saw it in their grandfather’s expression when he would gesture for us to eat more when meals were served. We saw it in the older cousins who would help their aunt to feed the sheep and carry hot water into the house. We saw it when all the women of the family were crowded in the kitchen making noodles or boiling another pot of tea.
This place also made me realize that maybe kids don’t hate me that much. We thought we might be causing a lot of distress, especially to the young girls, with our cameras and following them around at school. And the timing couldn’t have been worst because of the anniversary. But of course, as we would say to each other countless times throughout this entire trip, we were wrong. Not only were the girls all for it, they loved us. They loved being around us and seeing how our cameras work. They loved showing us around their farm. They got so excited every time we walked into a room. We got particularly close to the two eldest girls Saikal and Ainazic, who are ten and eight years old respectively. These are the girls we focused on in our case study. We interviewed them in their home, filmed them walking to school, and in their classrooms. It’s amazing they didn’t get sick of us. But then again, we did make them look like rock stars, following them around school with our cameras, as all their classmates stared with their mouths hanging open. *swag*
One moment I won’t forget was when we were filming Saikal’s class. We were sitting in the back corner. Olivia and Jen had their cameras out and I was capturing the audio with our recorder. Saikal and her classmates had been doing a group activity, which involved standing in a circle of some sort. And near the end, when all the students were going back to their seats, Saikal rushed over to me and gave me a hug. She didn’t say a word, just grinned and ran back to her seat. I couldn’t help smiling either. It was one of the most random, touching things that happened to me while we were in Kyrgyzstan. Here was a girl who was not afraid to show affection to someone who didn’t even speak the same language as her.
At the end of the nearly three days we spent there, I found it really hard to say goodbye to those girls and that family. They reminded me so much of my own. I didn’t need to speak Kyrgyz to know that we share a lot of love and similarities. Hugging those girls for the last time was really tough for me. As we drove away, Azamat told us that even though the timing of our arrival was slightly awkward, our presence there was a welcome distraction from somber occasion. He thought we really made a difference in those girls’ lives.
I certainly hope so, but I know for a fact they’ve changed mine for the better.