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A little love for the Luli

Written by on Friday, 2 October 2009
Kyrgyzstan, Photoblog
4 Comments

luli_elena01

Luli, Gypsies, Roma. They go by different names. Remember when I wrote that I got back from a part of town where I was trekking knee-deep in mud? I was meeting Luli.

Wikipedia says that Luli are one of the eastern branches of Roma who inhabit parts of Tajikistan, Uzbekistan, Kazakhstan and Kyrgyzstan. We can leave it at that.

Only the devil knows why there are so many rumors about Luli among the Kyrgyz in Osh. Sad, but true: the Kyrgyz avoid, and even fear, Luli. I was told, in complete seriousness, that Luli don’t have graveyards, so they bury their dead at a secret place near a river head. Their main business is, allegedly, drugs. I was warned that once you enter their part of town, you may never come out.

On the outskirts of Osh there is a neighborhood called Yangi. Thanks to one wonderful person, I got a chance to see their life with my own eyes.

Almost everywhere, the first to greet you at the entrance to a house are children. The look in their eyes is guarded and serious, unlike a child’s.

Look Who’s Here

Lyuli, Osh, Kyrgyzstan, photo by Elena Skochilo

Lyuli, Osh, Kyrgyzstan, photo by Elena Skochilo

I can’t decide which one to pick. Let’s have both. A girl at the door.

Lyuli, Osh, Kyrgyzstan, photo by Elena Skochilo

Lyuli, Osh, Kyrgyzstan, photo by Elena Skochilo

I was accompanied by Ravshan, one of the few who spoke Russian, and whose family lives in relative comfort. Ravshan has identification papers. Most Luli have none. It is difficult to imagine, but it is so. No documents. If a woman or child gets sick, where are they to go? Nowhere. No one will admit them without proper documentation. When the time comes for a child to get a passport, he is once again out of luck. The parents have no documentation, therefore the child will have none either.

On the Street

Lyuli, Osh, Kyrgyzstan, photo by Elena Skochilo

They make a living by collecting recyclables – metal and plastic. A truck has arrived to pick it up, so everyone coming out to redeem their loot.

Lyuli, Osh, Kyrgyzstan, photo by Elena Skochilo

The weather was horrible that day: rain and snow. Two girls were bringing bread home, taking turns carrying a tattered umbrella.

Lyuli, Osh, Kyrgyzstan, photo by Elena Skochilo

This little boy with wonderful eyes isn’t afraid of the weather. There may be slush, it may be wet, his kite may not fly, but at least he has one.

Lyuli, Osh, Kyrgyzstan, photo by Elena Skochilo

These kids were going somewhere and got cold. The little one in the middle started whining. Just look at their faces.
Lyuli, Osh, Kyrgyzstan, photo by Elena Skochilo

A mother with a child emerged from one of the side streets.

Lyuli, Osh, Kyrgyzstan, photo by Elena Skochilo

Indoors

Lyuli, Osh, Kyrgyzstan, photo by Elena Skochilo

One of the poorest families. You can see a man in the background. He is an invalid, unable to walk. Only the mother works.

Lyuli, Osh, Kyrgyzstan, photo by Elena Skochilo

This boy has no father.

Lyuli, Osh, Kyrgyzstan, photo by Elena Skochilo

They live in a crumbling little house – grandmother, mother and grandson.

Lyuli, Osh, Kyrgyzstan, photo by Elena Skochilo

Luli love children. They treat them tenderly, pamper and kiss them. Simply love.

Lyuli, Osh, Kyrgyzstan, photo by Elena Skochilo

This is how they live.

Lyuli, Osh, Kyrgyzstan, photo by Elena Skochilo

Another family. The windows have no glass, and only a dim lamp provides light. I honestly cannot imagine how they survive the winter. There are only two sources of water in the neighborhood.
Lyuli, Osh, Kyrgyzstan, photo by Elena Skochilo

Even their pets are somber.  Look at the mother’s eyes, her facial features.

Lyuli, Osh, Kyrgyzstan, photo by Elena Skochilo

A typical street in the neighborhood.   It’s cold, so everyone is staying in their homes, if you can call them that.

Lyuli, Osh, Kyrgyzstan, photo by Elena Skochilo

Lyuli, Osh, Kyrgyzstan, photo by Elena Skochilo

Two sisters

Lyuli, Osh, Kyrgyzstan, photo by Elena Skochilo

I accidentally disrupted their afternoon nap. One of their children recently died.

Lyuli, Osh, Kyrgyzstan, photo by Elena Skochilo

Kids work here, too, sorting wool.

Lyuli, Osh, Kyrgyzstan, photo by Elena Skochilo

Time for school. There is one nearby that offers education in Uzbek. Why Uzbek? I don’t’ know.

Lyuli, Osh, Kyrgyzstan, photo by Elena Skochilo

This hole in the wall is a shortcut to get to school. Adults use it frequently, too.
Lyuli, Osh, Kyrgyzstan, photo by Elena Skochilo

Many people carry their children on their backs.

Lyuli, Osh, Kyrgyzstan, photo by Elena Skochilo

I will repeat myself by saying that the weather was nasty, but this did not prevent the children from dancing outside the day before Nawruz.

.

Lyuli, Osh, Kyrgyzstan, photo by Elena Skochilo

Such happy faces!

In conclusion, I will allow myself to quote a passage Nikolai Bessonov also cites in his very interesting article about the Luli.

“It is impossible to find out anything about the Luli from the Luli themselves. They avoid interaction, limiting themselves to beggary. Men, when strangers try to make contact with them, become aggressive and avoidant.”

The same nonsense. I wandered for half a day around the neighborhood, accompanied by a guide, who spoke poor Russian, and saw no signs of aggression or hostility. They are open, friendly and bubbling with life.

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4 Comments »

  • Ben says:

    This is one of the best posts I’ve ever come to see on neweurasia. Thanks so much for sharing these photos and stories.

    Reply

  • [...] Elena presents a photo-post about her visit to the community of Luli (or Gypsies, or Roma) on the outskirts of Osh, a town in southern Kyrgyzstan. Cancel this reply [...]

  • Aneta says:

    Oh, my God! I was so moved by the pictures and eyes of these poor kids and adults. I can believe people can live in this way… One question came to my mind after seeing it: How could we help them? Is this possible?

    Reply

  • American in Bishkek says:

    Elena, this was a nice post, bringing light to a population that is so frequently overlooked. However, a little more background research would have been nice; some of this seems like you’re on a sight-seeing tour of poverty and Southern KG for the first time, rather than focusing specifically on the plight of the Luli. For instance, if you know anything about Kyrgyzstan (or Osh) you know that there are Uzbek-language schools throughout the area, because of the large Uzbek populations there. Their existence is neither a mystery nor particular to the Luli. And there are certainly non-Luli in this region who live very similarly to what you’re showing here – in terms of poverty, in terms of household decor, and customs.

    Also, please be careful when you make comments like “…their homes, if you can call them that”. No matter how dilapidated a place is, if someone puts their heart into it, it is a home. It may not qualify as a “house,” but it is abundantly obvious from these pictures that even the poorest of the Luli have put a great deal of care and pride into making their dwelling space home-like with what little they have. I understand your point, that they are living in horrible conditions, but please note that your tone sounds quite condescending from time to time, as you dismiss the little they have as being sub-human.

    Aneta, one group that prioritizes “Roma” populations in this region is Soros Foundation/OSI. The UNDP also has some programs that prioritize the Luli…but frankly, they are all a drop in the bucket. I’m not aware of any really wide-reaching programs working here in KG (nothing in comparison to programs working with Roma populations in Central & Eastern Europe) :o/

    Reply

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