Hey Soul Sister

I originally wrote this on June 21, 2011, but Kazakhstan decided that it didn’t want WordPress to work, so now that I am in America, I have uploaded it.

I love words.

I love the power and depth behind words. I love how words that inspire and destroy. I love how words can create and heal.

I love Russian words.

Granted, I’m not the best person when it comes to the Russian language. Not at all. However, I’m in awe of the sheer magnitude a word in Russian can have, especially when it towers over a mere and pathetic English term.

Thus, it seems like every Russian and Kazakh I know is a poet.

Today I went to the special needs orphanage to say goodbye. There were two young girls that I have grown close to named Polina and Aina. When Polina realized that I was leaving Kazakhstan, she became very serious.

Aina, myself, and Polina

Polina said that when my sister Grace left Kazakhstan for America last October,

“I didn’t understand she was leaving for good, and when I realized that I didn’t say goodbye to her properly, it was painful. My soul hurt.”

My soul hurt.

I think that’s beautiful. Not what she means – I’m not taking pleasure in another person’s suffering – but how she chose to express it. It wasn’t that she was “sad” or “upset” or even “heartbroken” – but her very soul, the essence of her being, hurt.

Polina also said that Grace was her родная сестра. Now, Google Translate says that this simply means “sibling”; however, literally Polina meant that Grace was her “native sister.” Google Translate also states two other definitions: “full sister” and “German sister.” (Why German, I don’t know. Master Google didn’t offer any insight.)

In Russian, the words “sister” and “brother” can have two meanings. It can refer to the biological sibling of your immediate family in which you share a parent with the other person. It can also refer to your cousin, although if you want to differentiate between the two uses, you will sometimes say, двоюродный брат or сестра. (двоюродный means “once removed.”)

Today I said goodbye to one of my sisters.

I met Dinara when I was about 11 or 12 years old. She showed up in my world pushing her baby sister Danara in a stroller and with a limited amount of English vocabulary. She became a constant fixture in my life. We went to church, we went to camp, and she was always over at our home.

She was different from me. In looks, she was – and still is – the skinniest person I ever met, a fact that she often bemoaned. I will never forget the day she said to me, “Emily, I want to go to America so that I can come back as fat as you.”


She wore an amulet with verses of the Koran printed inside for our entire thirteenth year and seemed puzzled that I had not taken any precautions to protect myself from such an unlucky age. I was more fascinated that she couldn’t take the charm off. “Not ever? Not even when you shower?”

She’s the only person I know of my generation who has ever actually handwritten letters to me. I received a couple in 2000 when my family and I were in the states for 7 months.

Her grandmother was a former member of the KGB.

In Kazakhstan, students finish high school after 11 years, not 12, but Dinara finished in 10 and went off to college and then university. We began to lose touch, mostly because she was so much busier than I but also because she suddenly became so much more grown up.

Needless to say, our lives weren’t normal, but is any great friendship?

I am very thankful for the friendship and love that Dinara shared with me. She was such an influence in my life, and provided for me a chance to see life from a different perspective.

I have many soul siblings that I’ve made in Kazakhstan: Dinara, Danara, Oksana, Noemi, Nazym, Asiya, Yura, Nurlan, Sayan, Aleftina, Olga, Polina, Vova, Nastya D, Nastya B, Larissa S. Irina, Rimma, Leyla, the orphans, Aziza, Stepan, Basar, Rouslan, Elisa, Scott, Jon, Pamela, the Rodriguezes, Diane, Ashley B, Ashley O, Mike, Brian, Chelle, Aussy, Taylor, Crystal, Lee, the Moran family, Zika, Larissa Z, Monica, Tifin, Cathy, the Requenas, Nadia, Jan, and so many more.

You have made such changes to my life. Some of you have moved on to different parts of this world. Some I have had to leave in Kazakhstan. One has died.

My soul hurts when I remember you, but I’m thankful to realize how deep your friendship has taken root.

May God bless you even more richly than you have blessed me.


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