The Luli of Kyrgyzstan face persecution and fierce, racist rumor-mongering. neweurasia’s Elena trekked to the Luli village of Yangi, outside of Osh, to show the real life of this misunderstood and mistreated people.
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
I can’t decide which one to pick. Let’s have both. A girl at the door.
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
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.
The weather was horrible that day: rain and snow. Two girls were bringing bread home, taking turns carrying a tattered umbrella.
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.
These kids were going somewhere and got cold. The little one in the middle started whining. Just look at their faces.
A mother with a child emerged from one of the side streets.
One of the poorest families. You can see a man in the background. He is an invalid, unable to walk. Only the mother works.
This boy has no father.
They live in a crumbling little house – grandmother, mother and grandson.
Luli love children. They treat them tenderly, pamper and kiss them. Simply love.
This is how they live.
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.
Even their pets are somber. Look at the mother’s eyes, her facial features.
A typical street in the neighborhood. It’s cold, so everyone is staying in their homes, if you can call them that.
I accidentally disrupted their afternoon nap. One of their children recently died.
Kids work here, too, sorting wool.
Time for school. There is one nearby that offers education in Uzbek. Why Uzbek? I don’t’ know.
This hole in the wall is a shortcut to get to school. Adults use it frequently, too.
Many people carry their children on their backs.
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.
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.Share
Born November 15, 1980, Elena is an award-winning photojournalist and blogger from Bishkek. She is formerly an editor for the Institute for War and Peace Reporting’s Central Asia bureau, and regularly contributes photography to the Associated Press, Lenta.ru, and EurasiaNet. Her firsthand coverage of the Tulip Revolution was widely cited by bloggers and the mass media, and earned her a ROTOR Award. Check out her personal blog @ http://morrire.livejournal.com.