Stories

Asia Ahmetova: The Russian

The woman who brought into this world 20,000 babies

 

Asia is an amazing woman and she is the one who opens up the “Stories” section on our lifestyle magazine & hub. She is amazing in so many ways – one of them being the fact that she brought into this world more than 20,000 little humans who are now grown-ups and some of them probably already old or even not here anymore. Some of them may have done terribly good, some terribly bad, but the joy and miracle of life is so precious and untouchable that words may not have yet the power to depict this beauty that is born in front of a doctor, the assistants and the mother. Life is still a miracle for us and that chance that we have when we are born is incredible! We are already winners the minute we are born!

Asia has witnessed the miracle of life more than 20,000 times and as she recalls it, every single time she felt pure happiness!

 

Asia is one of the bravest women that I have ever met and apart from the fact that she brought so many souls into this world, she is my grandmother. This makes this story even more special!

1. Beginnings in Tatarstan, Russia

Born on a cold winter, on January 18th 1934, she is the first born in the Ahmetov family. Her father, Ahmetov Ahat Sibgatovici, was an accountant, while her mother, Ahmetova Gulsum Cotleva, was a gynecologist. She is born in Chistopol, in the Republic of Tatarstan in Russia. The town, the second largest of Tatarstan, after Kazan, is situated at almost 1000 km (about 600 miles) of Moscow. It is a flourishing town and during the Second World War (known as the Great Patriotic War) in Russia it becomes the shelter and home for the Union of Soviet Writers, an organization for all the professional writers at that time.

In 1941 the war begins. My grandma is just 7 years old and she already has two brothers: one of 5 years old and the other just a newborn. Her father leaves the family to be part of the war, while her mother starts working day and night at the hospital, taking care of the wounded. My grandma, Asia raises alone her two little brothers: Eldar and Rustem. The name of the youngest child, Rustem, was given to my father later, but we will get to that! Asia, at just 7 years old has to be mature enough to take care of her younger brothers, take care of the house chores, putting food on the table and take care of both her own education and the education of her younger brothers. I think that these years were crucial to her and impacted her choices later on, becoming the great doctor that she is as she learned how to take care of others at such a fragile age!

She is 8 or 9 when she starts teaching her younger brothers about Pushkin, Lermontov or Tolstoy. She reads them stories and poems, transforming them into amazing men.

In 1945 the war ends and my great-grandmother can be finally home more often and take care of the children. Asia is already 11, Eldar is 9 and the little Rustem is 5 now. They are again a family, but their father didn’t return from the war. They didn’t know much and the greatest fear of him dying on the front side arouse in all of them. But in just a couple of months, their father returns and the family is again reunited. He didn’t talk about the war and that time. No one knows what happened during that time and some family members said that he may have worked for the secret services, but he did return and everything went back to normal. As normal as it could be after such long years and such a terrible time of fear and uncertainty.

from left to right: Asia’s mother – Gulsum Cotleva; next to her Asia’s father – Ahat Sibgatovici and next to them Asia
up row from left to right: Rustem, the youngest brother, Eldar in the middle and next to them Vasile, Asia’s husband

2. Moving to Georgia & Krasnodar, where Asia falls in love

After the war, Chistopol was not attractive anymore and Asia’s father gets assigned to another job, so the whole family moves to Georgia, 2000 km from Chistopol, that means more than 1200 miles. Asia and her brothers learn Georgian and she finishes high school there. Immediately after that, the entire family moves to Krasnodar, in Russia as their father receives a better job.

Asia enrolls at the University of Medicine in Krasnodar. And there she meets my grandpa.

He was a Romanian, coming from a very poor family of peasants from Cluj. He was very ambitious and through hard work gets accepted into the Faculty of Agronomy in Cluj. One year later, he gets a full scholarship to study in the Soviet Union. That is how he gets to Moscow where he is assigned to Krasnodar because of its similar climate as Romania. Shortly after his move to Krasnodar, he meets a lovely, joyful and amazing student at Medicine. They fall in love…

My grandpa, 4 years older than my grandma, finishes University earlier and goes back to Romania where he starts sending her long beautiful love letters. This exchange goes back and forth, while she visits him during their holidays. My grandpa, Vasile, is assigned to work in Galati and gets a pretty good managerial position in agriculture.

One summer, they plan to meet in Chisinau, in Moldova, as he had a business trip there and it was closer to Krasnodar. Asia unfortunately arrives late in the city and runs to the airport where my grandpa supposed to be with his delegation. There she finds out that the plane to Romania already took off. Sadly, she gasps and looks for a way to return in Krasnodar. Only that my grandpa knew that she was coming so he couldn’t leave without seeing her. He arrives in a limousine with the delegation, gets out of the car, runs to Asia, gets down on one knee and asks:

– Will you marry me, Asia?

She looks at him surprised with her eyes in tears and accepts. He kisses her passionately in the wild and joyful clapping of everyone there. They arrange a big party that night in Chisinau, celebrating their union and knowing that they would part the second day as he had to return to Romania and my grandma to continue her studies.

When she returns married back home, the whole family goes nuts as they couldn’t believe it. I don’t know if they did agree or not, but who could stand in front of true love? My grandma recalls that she was also courted at that time by an American, but she admired my grandpa’s determination, hard work and stubbornness to get what he wants. And he did, he got “The Russian” as everybody would call her when she would move to Romania.

3. The journey continues in Romania

At the end of the 1950s, Asia follows her heart and moves to Romania, in Galati. She doesn’t know anyone, she doesn’t know the language, but she is married to a well respected guy in that region and more important, she has a doctor’s degree in gynecology, as her mother. She already knows 3 languages and the most important thing is that she knows Latin as she studied all the medical terms in Latin. So she picks up Romanian quite fast. During that time, Russian was also an important language studied in schools so Romanians also knew a bit of Russian and that made things easier. She recalls that in just the first days when she arrived she wanted to go to the market but Vasile didn’t tell her where the market was, as he was gone in field trips very often. Asia only knew the word “pui” that means “chicken” so she gets out of the apartment, goes out in the street and asks “Pui?”, “Pui?”

Asia, now 84 years old, laughs with all her heart in a powerful almost soprano voice recalling this memory from 1958 in Galati. She goes on saying that people were so lovely and nice and they did understand her mimics and Romanian words combined with Russian and helped her out, showing the market, going out shopping with her so she quickly made some great neighbor friends. But the work was very important for her. She could not be a housewife.

With just a couple of sentences learned in Romanian, she goes to one of the best hospitals in Galati and starts working as an intern.

You can imagine that back then, medicine was not as evolved as it is now, there were no machines, no computers, so doctors had to actually FEEL a patient, to touch the place that hurt and diagnose. Only when they opened a patient in an operation, they could tell if the doctor was right or not.

4. “The Russian”

On a gloomy day in 1959, a very difficult case arrives at the hospital. Great doctors from the whole region come to try to decide what to do with the patient and put the correct diagnosis. Passing by, probably to bring some paperwork, one of the doctors asks Asia to feel the patient too and to say her opinion. A bit nervous, but wanting to help and to save that poor woman, Asia gets close to her, looks her in the eyes and gently feels her abdomen. She could feel that the woman was so scared, trembling of fear and on the verge of crying. Asia says “It will be okay, don’t worry,” in a better Romanian than when she arrived 6 months before.

She feels the woman’s abdomen for about one minute and then she looks at the doctors and with a very determined voice, but in a lower tone, she says:

It is cancer.

The doctors look at her amazed and look almost angry at themselves as they didn’t think for one second that it could be cancer. They operate that day this woman and when they open her, they see that it is indeed cancer. One of the doctors runs at Asia and almost yells:

How did you know? It is cancer!

I just knew the moment I felt her, came Asia’s reply.

She gained enormous respect that day and they started to call her “The Russian”.

At the end of 1959 she is pregnant with my father and stops working at that hospital, only to move to the Maternity of Galati, one year later after my father is born and the Maternity officially opens. There she learns the profession! She starts doing night shifts where all of the emergencies arrive and she is in charge of taking quick and difficult decisions.

Romania was under communism regime during that time, so the abortion was illegal. But there weren’t many options for protected and safe sex like there are today and many women turned to alternative methods of provoking miscarriages. These methods were terrible and in many cases, the women were carried at the hospital in great pains, bleeding, with all sort of terrible complications that brought their death many times. Asia couldn’t save them all…

I look at my grandma now and tell her that she was like a super-heroine for those women. She laughs for a moment. Then, she smiles and nods. “Probably”, she says!

5. Her son, Rustem

My father is named after her youngest brother, Rustem, with whom she still has a very deep connection. He is the only relative to have survived her family and taking into consideration that she took care of him since he was just 1, Asia is basically his second mom.

The minute that her son is born, she starts loving him with all her heart and everything that she does is for him. An exaggerate care at time overwhelms the little boy, but Vasile is gone almost all the time, so Asia has only got Rustem.

There are some friends too. She has some very dear friends in Romania, some Russians as well, but between work and home there isn’t much time left. She visits many times her family in Russia and she always brings Rustem with her. My great-grandmother also visits them many times in Romania and spends time with her daughter and grandson.

The best part of my grandpa’s job though was that they could travel! And they did! They saw Italy, France, Spain, Germany, Austria, Croatia, The Netherlands! All Europe in all its splendor! They spent weeks on the road, camping and visiting the great museums, palaces, feeding themselves off art and culture.

It’s fun now as when I go in a city where she has been, Asia tells me what to see there and vividly depicts the places like she has just seen them.

6. Retirement and changes

In 1991, Asia goes into retirement. But she still can’t stay at home. Her son, Rustem is now married to the beautiful Mariana and they have a little child: Lara Roxana Popa – myself. She spends lots of time with me during that time, but she is still young and strong so she partners up with a doctor and have their own private cabinet just on the street where she leaves, 2 minutes away from home. Many years go by and their work is successful and well known as they were both some of the best gynecologists in the city. But one day, the doctor with his lovely wife decide to retire and move up in the mountains. That doesn’t stop my grandma to make something on her own.

In 2000 she opens up her own private cabinet in her house. She improvises a wooden wall to separate the hall and turns her own room into a cabinet choosing to sleep in the living room. She could not just let all her patients go, patients who deeply cared about her and trusted her. She was “The Russian” and she still remains a legend in the city! The doctor who knew how to FEEL the patient and who was always right! “She has a gift”, people always said about Asia!

In 2007 my grandpa gets sick and she decides to close down the cabinet for a while and take care of him. But she still decides to go 2 days per week to a private clinic to meet patients there and just get a commission from the clinic, much less than what she earned with her private cabinet, but she never did it for the money. She always did it for the people! She recalls that there were times when she didn’t even take any money if she knew that the person is poor or in need of the money.

Sadly my grandpa dies in 2008, but along with his death come troubles. The house where they were leaving in the Old Town of Galati was claimed by a Jew family who has fled the country before the communism regime and even if my grandpa bought the house from the Romanian state in the 90s, in court this evidence was demolished and after years and years of court and lawyers, the house was eventually returned to the Jew family and my grandma had to move in a small 2-room apartment less than 2 years after my grandpa’s death. After a life of living in a beautiful spacious house with rose garden and attic, Asia begins a new life in a modest apartment. But she continues to work and that is what keeps her in power. It is the thing she did her whole life, her cause! She saved lives and she brought lives into the world! She needed to help and make good! Always! And she never complained. Not even once.

I remember that I was visiting her once in the 2-room apartment and she told me that if she were younger, she would have gone to work in Italy or Spain, but she can’t do that anymore. She was 78 at that time. I really feel that she wished to go to Russia to live with his brother as well, but she didn’t want to leave my father, mother and I. She always wanted to protect us!

Shortly after my visit, I get a phone call one night. It was my mom telling me that she is in hospital. She had a stroke. I was in Bucharest at that time and I got on the first train to Galati. I remember even now after so many years that cold winter day and that moment when I saw her in hospital, completely incapable, as she has never been one day in her life. I feel that this was also her greatest fear: the woman who was always taking care of others, now had to be taken cared of. It was so difficult to accept this. But I know that in that state she demanded to have some make-up on. She always had such a beautiful Elizabeth Taylor make-up on, always had her hair in a perfect bun and slept on long cylindrical pillows to not ruin the bun over night and always had the most impeccable dresses, furs, coats, leather gloves, pearls and extravagant jewelry. She loved looking good even in the hospital where she faced life and death every day. But she always said that you must at least look good!

Asia is 84 now and she has recovered partially from the stroke. She is in great health but the fact that she still needs to be taken cared of is not a thing she loves. But she still looks beautiful! She doesn’t use as much make up as before as she can’t leave the small house, but I keep buying her red lipstick whenever I get the chance. She didn’t want to be filmed and I agreed with her, as I want you to have this beautiful image of her, the image that she had her whole life! We did browse the old photo albums together and chose these pictures that you are seeing. “So many memories in that box”, she said! But still so many memories in her as her mind is as sharp as ever and she recalled all these precious moments in her life and those 20,000 and more children!

Mariana, my mother, Asia and Rustem

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