Any Other Photo {Cat and the Kyrgyz Women}

Readers, we have a different kind of Any Other Photo for you today.  You know that we’re opening up the AOP series wider, so that it’s not just restricted to readers who are married, but still retains the principles of AOP – ie: a picture that taught you something fundamental, or a picture you love, and why. 

My good friend Cat has taken the bull by the horns and written an Any Other Photo that not only embraces what it is to be a woman in two very different parts of the world, but talks about the lessons she learned from meeting women who, on the surface, seem so very different from us but fundamentally, are driven by the very same things.  About overcoming prejudive, and nervousness, and where that can get you.  About how it’s not what you have, but how you think that matters. 

Happy Friday, readers: 

Anna said during our glorious reunion at the weekend that she was trying to draw Any Other Photo away from the preserve of weddings and to showcase other meaningful moments in readers’ lives. As an unmarried person, this idea appealed to me. But it would be great if it reflected on an aspect of being a woman, she said. After flicking through various mediocre albums of family holidays and by-gone Christmasses, I came upon this photo. Nothing to do with weddings (as gorgeous and heart-melting as the previous AOPs have been) but still saying something important about being a woman. Bingo!


It was taken in August 2011 during a meeting of women with their support worker (the man with his hand raised) in a slum on the outskirts of Bishkek, the capital of the small Central Asian country, Kyrgyzstan. Many of the women in this photo are internal migrants who have fled fighting in the south of the country and have come with their families to Bishkek in the hope of finding work. But they are mostly illiterate and jobs are scarce; as such, the migrant families are often pushed into abject poverty.

I had heard about a project that helped these women to work their way out of poverty by forming ‘self help groups’ through which they could work together to find employment and acquire amenities, supporting each other in the process. Naturally I wanted to meet them. You can read more about Kyrgyzstan and the self help project here.

I must admit I was quite nervous. I worried that our worlds would be so different that we would have nothing to say to each other. What would a single, childless British PhD student have in common with these women? What on earth would we talk about? I worried that there would be all manner of customs and traditions that I wouldn’t know about and would unwittingly break thereby offending everyone. I worried that they would be angry or resentful of me for being a wealthy westerner, that they might want me to help them in ways that I was unable to. And that I would be stricken with a transnational version of “middle class guilt.”

But aside from the horror that I was nigh thirty and unmarried, we all got on famously! I admired their children, the delicious food that kept arriving to the table in industrial amounts, their beautiful, brightly patterned headscarves. They asked me about my family, my impressions of Kyrgyzstan, my career plans. We discussed recipes, Kyrgyz politics, the riots that were happening in the UK… We talked late into the night and I received many further invitations of dinner and of day trips.

What this AOP reminds me of – the reason that it is such a special photo to me – is that it reminds me that, fundamentally, people are the same the world over. Sure, variations in culture, religion and politics are all fascinating to study and experience, but beneath all that it is family, food and friendship that make women – and men – tick. And even though it seemed to me at first that our worlds were incommensurable, we wanted to find commonality and we did. Perhaps this sounds trite (if not downright obvious), but it is something worth remembering when some people try to exploit our differences for political ends.

Categories: Any Other Photo
8 interesting thoughts on this


  1. Gwen
    Posted July 26, 2013 at 8:53 am | Permalink

    Lovely Friday reflections. I think you’re right about people. I believe that human nature means that we tend to be wary or nervous about “difference” – love, friendship, shelter and the opportunity to express ourselves.

    • Gwen
      Posted July 26, 2013 at 5:51 pm | Permalink

      Only just realised phone comment seems to have deleted a couple of sentences but I’m sure you get my drift anyway!

  2. Peabody_Bites
    Posted July 26, 2013 at 9:28 am | Permalink

    This is a GREAT AOP – and a wonderful picture of the fundamental commonalities of individuals who actually want to build bridges between one another, notwithstanding superficial, and not so superficial differences which at first seem insurmountable. It reminds me so many of days and nights spent with women across Asia – mostly South and Central: how frightening it seems when you first reach out to people and how rewarding it is when they embrace you. Sometimes figuratively but usually, in my experience, literally and repeatedly…

    Also a lesson which translates well into daily life in the UK / US where it is all too easy to live without being brave about meeting new people or allowing superficial differences and insecurities to stop you from engaging with others.

    Also, I loved Kygystan when I was briefly there in 2007 so much that I just went on a Cat-stalk through the AOW archives and might have developed just a small fangirlcrush.

  3. Posted July 26, 2013 at 9:30 am | Permalink

    I love this Cat, especially your last paragraph. If this is what opening up Any Other Photo leads to, it’s a huge thumbs up from me! x

    • Posted July 26, 2013 at 11:06 am | Permalink

      Hurrah! We were a bit nervous because it IS a departure, but change is often a very, very positive thing!

  4. Posted July 26, 2013 at 9:45 am | Permalink

    I love this so, so much.

    A fantastic start to non-wedding AOPs. :)

  5. Posted July 26, 2013 at 1:55 pm | Permalink

    This is just the perfect thing to read on a Friday, it’s so easy to forgt that we are all human, I think sometimes in the face of tragedy, we lose sight of everyday humanity. And this is the worst because it stops us relating to people experiencing tragedy, it puts them on another plane to ours, when really we’re all just people. There is a lot to be said for human empathy, that’s what this reminds me of.

    KL xx

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Hello! We're Clare, Aisling and Anna and welcome to a corner of the world where smart, flawed, real women talk about the bigger picture; about their experiences, stories and opinions on all aspects of being a woman today, from marriage to feminism to pretty, too.

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