Togzhan was the only woman I’d meet in Zhezkazgan whose refrigerator stood in the kitchen. I took that as a sign of prosperity.
Usually refrigerators were in the living room. When Woody and I moved into our own apartment, the refrigerator that came with it was in the bedroom!
But I digress. This is a post about Togzhan. It’s actually my second post about Togzhan. the first one went live May 15, 2013. I hope you’ll go back and catch that one too.
Educated as an English teacher, Togzhan had stayed in school to get an additional degree in finance. Now, she’d say she “stayed at the university,” for “school” has a very specific connotation and no one over 14 attends one. But old habits die hard.
When she graduated, she took a job in the finance department of Kazakhmys, the copper company and the town’s major employer.
The first time I’d gone to her apartment had been to try to get some sponsorship money from the huge copper company for my movie night project. Togzhan had listened politely, asked a few questions, and then served me tea while she told me clearly that Kazakhmys would never give money away. Corporate sponsorships had not yet come to Kazakhstan.
On another occasion, I found her helpful in explaining how the tenge had been introduced into Kazakhstan, not quite two years after independence.
Orchestrated personally by President Nazarbayev, the public announcement came on a Friday night after the banks had closed.
The newly printed and minted tenge were flown into the country from some secret location in England over the weekend and at 8 a.m. Monday morning, the tenge replaced the Russian ruble, at one tenge to 500 Russian rubles, rendering, overnight, everyone’s rubles worthless.
“All very quiet,” Togzhan had said. “He was very smart.”
I spent much time with Togzhan and her pre-teen daughter Assema over the next eighteen months. It appeared she was divorced but “What happened?” was not a question I felt comfortable asking in a country where polygyny (multiple wives) was on the rise. I knew only that her daughter’s father lived in Almaty — I’d seen pictures in the family album — and Assema visited him often.
I’ve lost track of Togzhan in the ten years since I went to Kazakhstan. But I’ve heard that she’s now remarried, has moved to Astana, the capital, and has a new young son. I wish her well. Assema, her daughter, must be in her twenties now. I hope she’ll write me.
With whom have you lost touch over the years?
What are some signs of prosperity that you use?