Three years ago, at age 15, Maftuna’s parents married her off to an older man she had never met. Today she is an 18-year-old single mother living in with her parents in a suburb of Osh, Kyrgyzstan’s second largest city.
It’s the Central Asian labor migrant’s second-worst nightmare (an encounter with violent Russian xenophobes is usually the first): on arrival in Russia, an immigration officer reviews the submitted passport with cold intensity. Then, a red light goes off and a couple of border guards swoop in and lead the would-be migrant away. Border guards have identified another one on the list.
Like most residents of her children’s home in Osh, Nargiza is a part-time orphan. Her father disappeared when she was born and her mother works long spells in Russia. Nargiza has no siblings and doesn’t know her grandparents. But she does see her mother from time to time.
When Osh’s Uzbek Music and Drama Theater opened its 94th season last month, the actors looked nervously into the audience. They had not celebrated an opening night for three years, since before the theater was partially burned amid 2010’s ethnic violence in southern Kyrgyzstan.
Recent political changes in Kyrgyzstan have not tempered a brewing social and cultural quandary in southern provinces. An increasing number of citizens of the South are becoming practicing Muslims. For working women in particular this is creating a dilemma, forcing some to choose between their faith and their careers.