(1) During lunch with our Kazakh family on Saturday, Scott asked what Oksana, Arina’s birthmother, was like. Granny and Yasha answered simultaneously:

“She had BAD luck with men.”

When Scott asked the question, he was thinking more about this Oksana:


And he expected something along the lines of:

— she was impossible to keep in clothes, since she was a tomboy who always tore holes in the knees of her pants; or

— she loved animals.

To be fair, we found out that both of those facts are indeed true and just like Arina. But the first thing we learned about Oksana will, in our minds, always be the emphatic

“She had BAD luck with men.”

(2) She was loved. Oksana’s two younger brothers, especially, adored her. Granny Valentina had three daughters (one with her first husband, two with the second), and then she had her boys, Vasiliy and Yasha. Yasha said that the brothers loved to prank their sisters, but they learned not to prank Oksana, after she locked them in a room all day as retribution.

I’ve already mentioned that her first marriage lasted, like, a second, because as soon as her husband hit her, she called Vasiliy and Yasha. They went to pick her up and take her home, and that was that.

At least the wedding provided an occasion for some of the only photos of Oksana we have, although I seriously thought about penciling “jerk” above his photo.


^ In the only photo of Oksana we had before this trip, she was partly covering her face, and Yasha said it’s b/c she had a cold sore. “That’s not a good photo of her,” he said, “but she was a very pretty woman.” Yep. We can tell.


I also mentioned in a previous post that Oksana’s family did not care for her final partner, Valery (Arina’s birthfather). They said he was a heavy drinker and always wanted Oksana to drink with him. When Oksana died, Valery did not call the family, and he told the authorities that she had no family other than himself. The Valentinas* found out about her death through one of the only mutual friends they shared with Valery.

Vasiliy and Yasha went to the morgue and were turned away. When they returned with the necessary paperwork, proving that they had the right to claim their sister’s body, she was released to them and they buried her beside her father. One of the more heartwarming moments of the trip was seeing how tenderly they care for the graves, which are in a field within walking distance of their village. Whenever a significant day rolls around (birth, anniversary, etc.), they decorate the plot. Below, you can see they recently celebrated Dedushka, even placing his favorite plate and coffee cup on the grave:


Yasha said that he and Vasiliy went looking for Valery after the fact to ask him, “What happened?” and “Why did you say Oksana had no family?,” but they never found him — which was probably a very good thing for Valery.

(3) Oksana loved. It was hard on the family, especially Yasha, when they realized that Oksana had lied about taking Arina to Malutka and relinquishing her rights. Yasha insisted that he would have done whatever was needed to care for Arina, even if that meant taking a second, third, fourth, fifth job.

I assured him that his sister knew that, because he was already caring for Ira, and she was probably too embarrassed to ask him to do the same for Arina.

But, also, I think she understood what Marcus knows and Will learns in the film version of About A Boy. Sometimes you need more family, more backup, more of a support staff. Oksana loved enough to find that for all of us.


* Valentina is actually Granny’s first name; Oksanich is the surname — but, when I didn’t know/couldn’t remember Oksanich, I started referring to the family as the “Valentinas” and it just kind of stuck, b/c it’s such a fun name to say. 🙂

Next List: The Top Three Things We’ve Learned about Kazakhstan . . .