ASTANA – For Lena Toxanbayeva, the saying “it is never too late” has a literal meaning. The 80-year-old grandmother, who had never been beyond Kazakhstan’s borders until last year, has embarked on a journey to discover a whole new world. With the help of her grandchildren, she has pinned some world-famous destinations on her map like Spain, France, the United Kingdom and Thailand, mastered Disney World rides, tried to tame wild animals at a Thai zoo and continues to keep herself busy with new travelling plans.
“The first time I heard from my granddaughter that I had become famous worldwide, I couldn’t believe it,” Toxanbayeva told The Astana Times. “But when young people started approaching me in the streets seeking my blessings, I was very surprised. One or two passersby wouldn’t have gotten my attention, but when it’s constant and happens everywhere I realised it’s no coincidence. People would approach me and ask to be photographed with me and that was when I realised that people can become famous, even at 80.”
Toxanbayeva’s rise to social media fame started modestly with several photographs posted on Facebook by her granddaughter, Aidyn Toxanbayeva, who travels with her grandmother and shares all the positive emotions of the adventures.
“Foreigners can’t tell where we are from,” Aidyn told The Astana Times. “They think my grandmother is from Uzbekistan or Kyrgyzstan and mistake me for Chinese. For some three-four years, people would be really surprised to learn that I was Kazakh and could speak three languages, because to them I looked Chinese. But today, people do know about Kazakhstan. I think we owe it to our athletes for that.”
Vibrant and full of energy, Lena rarely gets tired according to her granddaughter. In almost all photographs, she is pictured in eye-catching, colourful Kazakh national clothes and by doing so, helps spread a little part of Kazakh culture abroad.
“We moved to Ust-Kamenogorsk from Kentau in 1993 and everybody spoke Russian there,” she recollected. “Kazakh was rarely used. That’s when I decided to wear a kamzol (a Kazakh traditional long vest without sleeves with embroidered national ornaments). It’s my everyday style now.”
“I have liked all the countries that I have been to! There are no words to express my true emotions about every country I have visited. I am happy to have walked along each street and each district wherever I was. I liked the numerous museums in London; they were live, spectacular and realistic. Phuket’s (Thailand) scenery and nature took my breath away and I enjoyed the exotic fruits. I loved Paris for its beauty, but the monochrome streets and monuments with evil faces left me doubtful about the city. Barcelona is a city of happiness – every street is unique and people are cheerful,” said Lena about her adventures in Europe.
“Now I am ready to travel to Mecca, but my children are not. It’s a holy place and one needs to be spiritually ready for this visit. My eldest son is getting ready for this trip and I hope to be in good shape next year to travel to Mecca. But until then, I am up to travel anywhere in the world. I am just waiting for the next vacation season to travel with my children and they don’t need to ask me twice,” she added.
There were times, however, when her children had to persuade the granny to travel, times when she felt scared.
“The first time I flew to London I was 79 years old. My grandchildren persuaded me to do it though I, myself, did not want to travel. I was afraid of flying,” Lena told the local media in an interview, “but I overcame the fear of flying well.”
Aidyn suggested other seniors might want to adopt her grandmother’s adventuresome spirit.
“People should treasure every moment of their lives and not just wait until the end of their days. Unfortunately, elders in our country are not enjoying their lives,” Aidyn told The Astana Times. “They dedicate their whole lives and all their efforts to raising their children and forget about their own ambitions. This is wrong! Children will get used to the comfortable lifestyle and might neglect their own parents. Then, we are surprised that we have elders in nursing homes. My grandmother is enjoying every day, she is still curious about life, she is very active. I would like to say just love your life and enjoy every moment of it.”