When Oyjon Nurmatova got married at 19, as every young lady she dreamed of a happy family with loving husband and lovely children by her, not that in ten years she would have to leave her far remote village in south of Tajikistan for one of biggest cities of the world – Moscow seeking for a job to feed her three children, mother-in-law, and imprisoned husband.
Oyjon Nurmatova, 33, as thousands of other women in traditional patriarchal societies, was not able to go to school and planned of only a housewife life. But the fate had a different plan for her; it was though tough, but made her strong and educated her to survive, changing her social role from a depending housewife to the only breadwinner of a large family. IOM helped her no longer be separated from the family and make enough money at home to take care of her adored ones.
Oyjon was born and lived her whole life in remote district of Shahritus in south of Tajikistan, close to the Afghan border. Her story is similar to many others in her native country. Civil war resulting in collapsed education and economic system did not allow her to get a good education. She got married; few years later her husband left for Russia and got imprisoned there. Her husband is the only child, so the family left behind had only Oyjon capable physically to take care of two children and an old and sick mother-in-law.
The rest of the story also reflects the rising feminization of Tajik migration process – Oyjon went to Moscow not only to make earning, but also to be closer to her husband to take him food and comfort him psychologically, leaving little children with their grandmother. Oyjon would accept any job offer, even hard and paid little – cleaning, cooking, loading. She would divide her small income into three parts – for accommodation and food in Moscow, food and other assistance to husband, and for remitting to Tajikistan. Oyjon’s Moscow life continued for 1,5 years, until she gave a birth to her third child there and had to return home with a newborn baby in hand. She recalls:
“My mother-in-law also was sick and there was no one to take care of her and my other children. What a wife would I be to my husband if I left his mother, and what a mother would I be if I wouldn’t come for my own children? I could not take them all to Moscow, it simply was impossible”.
In Russia, Tajik migrant workers are mostly not enough educated and financially able to properly take care of their migration documents. For many of them return to Tajikistan means a re-entry ban due to violation of migration legislation. She returned.
“My salary in Moscow was not huge to save any money. The only source of our life became small pension of my mother-in-law, relying on which we would not survive. Let Allah bless our neighbors and relatives, who while not being rich themselves, lent hand of help to us”.
Neighbors also told her about IOM-run project, which allocates small income-generating grants with USAID funds. Oyjon’s story touched each heart at the local NGO “Chashma”, IOM implementing partner; she received a fridge, a big oven, a shawarma maker, a thermos, a toaster, a microwave, and other food-making utensils. The assistance came in very good timing - starting last September the nearby schoolchildren found tasty samsa and sausages to buy.
“This help changed my life; it gave me not only a source of income, but made me sure that I can take care of my family. It gave me a hope to a better future. Now my children go to school, I can buy them clothes and books and other school appliances, as well as can pay for their school. I bought some chicken for breeding; I bought stones to build a wall in my yard”.
When the author visited Mrs. Nurmatova she was coloring her entrance door, which was not renovated for years. It was a difficult week for her, as she has just lost her mother-in-law, and neighbors and relatives would keep coming. She wanted them to see that she is capable to take care of the house and the family and to keep the honor of her husband up by respectfully mourning his mother. By coloring her entrance door, Oyjon was also ready to enter a new life, a lighter and happier life. By coloring that door, she symbolically embraced a new herself, a stronger version of herself.