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Father comes home tomorrow A photo essay on the lives of migrant workers' families back home in Kyrgyzstan

Источник: Meduza
Photo: Elyor Nematov

Recorded over several months in 2014 and 2015, Elyor Nematov's "Father Comes Tomorrow" explores the lives of migrant workers’ families in Kyrgyzstan. It is a second chapter in "I Am a Foreigner," a photo-documentary project depicting various aspects of labor migration from Central Asia to Russia.

"Father comes tomorrow" is a common phrase millions of children in Central Asia hear when they ask the questions "Where is my father?" and "When will he come back home?" Those who look after the children—mothers, grandmothers, older sisters, and older brothers—use this phrase over and over again, though no one knows when "tomorrow" itself actually comes.

This photo story is about migrant-workers’ families—mostly the women and children who wait and struggle to survive, while their loved ones work in Russia, trying to make ends meet. Many Central Asian children grow up without seeing their fathers. Many women, meanwhile, are left with the task of raising their children on their own. 

Meduza presents Elyor Nematov's "Father Comes Tomorrow."

Photo: Elyor Nematov

The wife of a migrant worker. She hasn't seen her husband in two years. Aravan village, Osh oblast.

Photo: Elyor Nematov

Family dinner. Chek village, Batken oblast.

Photo: Elyor Nematov

An elderly woman shovels mud from a dilapidated road near her house. Osh city, Osh oblast.

Photo: Elyor Nematov

Baysiya, 45 years old, raises her three grandchildren. Their parents work as a yard-keeper and tractor-driver somewhere in the Russian Federation. The youngest child is six months old, and the oldest is now three. Byasiya's sole income is selling butter, which she makes from the milk of her only cow. "Your parents work,” she tells her grandchildren whenever they complain about their parents' absence. “They will be back one day," she says, "when destiny wills it.” Djangijer village, Batken oblast.

Photo: Elyor Nematov

Mahfirat, a 60-year-old woman, collects bricks for the restoration of a destroyed house. Osh city, Osh oblast.

Photo: Elyor Nematov

Tologon, 63 years old, takes care of her two grandchildren: one six months old, and the other two years old. “They often talk to their mother on the phone,” she says. “I say [to the children] that their mother will arrive in the summer. When summer comes, I say she will come in the winter, and she'll bring a lot of money.” Aravan rayon, Osh oblast.

Photo: Elyor Nematov

A six-year-old boy whose parents divorced after they both went to work in Russia. His father began a relationship with another woman and later abandoned his mother. Chek village, Batken oblast.

Photo: Elyor Nematov

A 14-year-old girl takes care of her older sister's daughter. The older sister divorced and went to Russia to find work. Karabag village, Batken oblast.

Photo: Elyor Nematov

A three-year-old boy whose father was imprisoned in Russia for three-to-five years for the accidental death of a colleague on a construction site. Aravan rayon, Osh oblast.

Photo: Elyor Nematov

Laila, 70 years old, is raising four grandchildren. Their parents have been working in Russia for more than three years. Laila receives a monthly state pension of 3,400 Kyrgyz soms (about $50). “Whenever a plane flies over us in the sky, the children ask me, 'Maybe it's our parents coming back?' And I tell them, 'Your parents will come, be patient.'” Djangijer village, Batken oblast.

Photo: Elyor Nematov

Begimay, 16 years old, and her mother Baysiya, 45, take care of her older sister's three children. Her older sister, brothers, and father all work in Russia. Djangijer village, Batken oblast.

Photo: Elyor Nematov

The children of migrant workers bathe in an aryk (stream) near their house. Chek village, Batken oblast.

Photo: Elyor Nematov

The son of a migrant worker. Karabag village, Batken oblast.

Photo: Elyor Nematov

A mother with her infant. It is rare to meet a working-age youth still residing in a Kyrgyzstani village, as most have left for Russia to find work. Chek village, Batken oblast.

Photo: Elyor Nematov

The children of a sanitation technician who lives in a small trailer somewhere in Moscow. His three children and wife wait at home for his return. Aravan rayon, Osh oblast.

Photo: Elyor Nematov

Women cooking Sumalyak, a traditional Springtime dish. Osh city, Osh oblast.

Photo: Elyor Nematov

Begimay, 16 years old, takes care of her older sister's three children. Her older sister, brothers, and father all work in Russia. Djangijer village, Batken oblast.


Photo: Elyor Nematov

A one-year-old child left by her parents and raised by her grandmother. Her grandmother has made a crib by installing a lattice around a bed. Because she is unable to take care of her granddaughter regularly, the grandmother devised this contraption to make sure the child can't wander away when she's on her own. Karabag village, Batken oblast.

Photo: Elyor Nematov

Savrinisa, 54 years old, raises three grandchildren. Because of the economic crisis in Russia, her children are unable to send home money. The family's only source of income now is cultivating a small field of tobacco leaves. Djangijer village, Batken oblast. “I tell them that their parents will come soon and will bring them many sweets and chocolates. They call their children once a week. Their mother gave birth to another son there, so they will bring another child [when they next return]. Before, their parents sent money regularly, but lately we've had to survive on my pension. The only way to make extra money is this tobacco garden.”

Photo: Elyor Nematov

Klara, 26 years old. Her mother died from an infarction just before returning home from Moscow. One month later, her father died from complications due to alcoholism. Klara has dwarfism. She dreams of becoming a master cosmetician and getting married. Osh city, Osh oblast.

Photo: Elyor Nematov

A middle-aged female works on a renovation crew repairing a school during summer vacation. Renovation work is commonly considered to be a male profession. Isfana city, Batken oblast.

Photo: Elyor Nematov

A woman walks through a small grove of trees cut down for winter firewood. Djangijer village, Batken oblast.

Photo: Elyor Nematov

Sixty-year-old Ainysa and her grandson. All of her children work in Russia. Chek village, Batken oblast.

Photo: Elyor Nematov

Anarbek, 27 years old, was effectively enslaved in Kazakhstan for nine years. He left Aravan at the age of 17. In Kazakhstan, he was forced to live in a tiny enclosed space and performed hard manual labor without any compensation. He was even sold several times to different individuals. His parents searched fruitlessly for him, and eventually feared that he was dead. Fortunately, Anarbek was eventually able to escape, literally running away from the last place of his indentured servitude. Aravan rayon, Osh oblast.

Photo: Elyor Nematov

Akmal, 30 years old, constructs a new house while raising four children, as well as two children from a neighbor. Normally, it is the women who are left behind, but Akmal's wife is the one who trekked off to Russia. She works as a waitress in one of Moscow's countless cafés. Batken city, Batken oblast.

Photo: Elyor Nematov

Asylbek, approximately 30 years old, holds a portrait of his brother who disappeared without a trace in early 2013, after working in Russia for 13 years. Their mother died in March 2013, and the family has no way of informing him. Batken city, Batken oblast.

Photo: Elyor Nematov

Kurbanbek, 19 years old. When his mother died of cancer, his father left the children to look for work in Russia. Kurbanbek takes care of the children. Chet Village, Batken oblast.

Photo: Elyor Nematov

Aliya, 45 years old. Two of her sons and her husband work in Russia. She has been building their house using the money they have sent to her. Aliya has directly managed the construction process. Karabag village, Batken oblast.

Photo: Elyor Nematov

A pregnant widow of a migrant worker, approximately 30 years old. Chek village, Batken oblast.