PAY DAY today, at least I hope that is true. Last month the guy behind the glass booth at my bank wanted a 1.5% commission for giving me MY money in tenge (150 = $1). I hope this doesn’t happen again because it had not happened all the other months I have pulled out all my money to pay for our rent and other necessities. When I loudly asked “Why?” in Russian, he decided he better not extract any money from my wad of tenge. Maybe it helped when I showed my university employee card, I don’t know. It used to be that all of us were paid more (120 = $1) but that all changed when the tenge dropped in value in early February. Consequently, since our teaching contracts are in tenge and NOT in dollars, we absorbed the shock of that 20-25% pay cut.
I’m adding more photos of the artwork that can be found in Almaty at Craft Fairs, see earlier blog posts. Some of these felt pieces run about $100 or more, they would be easy to carry home in a suitcase. However, on my low salary as an English teacher at a “westernized university” I can only take photos and admire them from a distance (me and the computer screen). I know my husband loves sunflowers so this blog entry is dedicated to him.
What my Kazakh colleagues don’t understand is that we have health insurance, property insurance, car insurance, life insurance and many other bills to pay in the U.S. while we also have to absorb the cost of our transportation to get to Kazakhstan to teach at our university. Tack on almost $2000 for every roundtrip ticket with KLM and NW airlines and also expensive housing in Almaty just to be close to the university, IT STARTS TO ADD UP! Seems we are paying out way more instead of earning for the privilege of teaching our Kazakh students in Kazakhstan. No wonder there are so few of us westerners left to teach at our university, they have figured out the dollars and sense of it all!!! Unfortunately, many of my English teaching colleagues don’t care about my plight as a westerner because they have their own problems to solve with the economics of the KZ tenge sure to devalue again in the next month (maybe down to 180 = $1). We, as Americans, can always leave if we can’t take the heat. However, the Kazakhs are stuck with their situation, this is their country for better or for worse.
In the end, with the economic downturn, it is the artists who really feel the crunch. They will not have anybody left to buy their art if more westerners feel forced to leave and the locals here will not be in the mood to buy either because they are feeling the pinch. So, while I gaze on these poppies and try to think bright thoughts by looking at sunflower photos on my computer screen, I can only hope that the students I’m teaching will do well in their respective jobs and help raise the standards and economy of this great land of Kazakhstan.
No wonder we continue to have plagiarism in the former Soviet country of Kazakhstan when we have artists copying one another with such detailed abandon. In the art world the highest form of flattery is to copy the masters. Sunday I went to the Almaty Crafts Fair and found a piece that was going for about $50 replicating the “genius” of Vincent van Gogh in his rendering of sunflowers in a pot. Though intentional, it is not easy to copy an oil painting while using colored wool pieces that are battened down to felt. The felt piece is very difficult to put together as each color has to be put in the right spot and then smoothed or pressed down. Refer back to my earlier post on Kazakh art.
Also, I’m showing what my friend Kathy bought this past Sunday at the Crafts Fair which will go on her wall. The one with the red edge has gold thread and different stones or beads attached, very vibrant and beautiful. Not meant to be knelt on but the other larger one is, yet that will possibly go to Kathy’s daughter and on her wall. Many beautiful things to take in at these Crafts Fairs in Almaty.
Part of our trip on Saturday was what we saw going to the Charyn Canyon then returning to Almaty. Two photos I WISHED I had taken but didn’t were the following: 1) young teenage girl, accompanied by three guys, wearing short shorts, tank top, pantyhose, and stiletto heels. Did she ever look uncomfortable walking the canyon!!! (Also, saw older Kazakhs walking in their stockings or nylons without their shoes on, obviously they came unprepared for hiking with uncomfortable street shoes.) 2) Kazakh man managing his little shashlik stand with the seasoned meat in skewers over the smoky embers. (that was our supper before we went back to Almaty). No, those pictures weren’t taken and next time I’ll be more proactive to capture that Kodak moment. Like I did the other day when I snapped two photos of the little children in the playground.
Many variants on how to spell the canyon I went to yesterday, I like calling it Kazakhstan’s “Little Grand Canyon.” More shots of yesterday’s event of going to this place that is not too far from the Chinese border, very remote! Raining today so I’m glad we went on a sunny day yesterday though it is much drier at Charyn Canyon than in Almaty. Almost to the canyon I observed out my bus window men carrying large white sacs on their back, turns out they were harvesting wild green onions in selling along the road side. The lilac trees were in various stages of blooming along the little villages close to the road and the mountains were to our south in a wide panoramic view from my bus seat. What a great day for an adventure outside of the city. As you can see all signs are in three languages, Kazakh, Russian and English.
The Soviet mindset seems to be alive and well in Almaty or maybe something else is happening on a lovely Friday afternoon. I took photos of the pristine mountains, blooming flowers, lilac trees and then I saw a children’s playground I had never really seen before. I snapped a photo of a little boy at the top of the slide. Then I took another of three little kids piled on the top of the slide.
A woman from a group of caretakers called out in Russian asking what I was doing. I stumbled through my rudimentary Russian to explain I lived in the area and then a woman who was dressed in Muslim garb (head covering) asked me in English, “Why are you taking these pictures?” This irritated me that I was under suspicion as if doing something sinister after they had probably seen me take photos of the lilacs. It had been a spur of the moment action when I took two snaps of the children playing in the playground. I said to her in my stiff and ruffled English, “I take photos of mountains, of trees, of flowers and now I just took photos of these children because I think they are sweet!” Okay, they let me go with that.
What were they going to do, confiscate my camera? No way!!! I thought it odd, would we do the same to someone in the U.S.? Do these ladies have something to hide or are they ashamed? What balanced this was seeing a little doggie propped up on our garbage with some fake flowers thrown in for good measure. Thank God it is Friday, I’ve been around a little bit too much Soviet mentality lately, I’m going to the canyon tomorrow!
In yesterday’s blog I wrote that I would include my officemate Sholpan’s father’s picture when he was a young man. Apparently he was quite talented as a poet, journalist and writer. In this photo which Sholpan proudly has on her desk, he is reading a book by Abai, a wise Kazakh sage and poet. Unfortunately, I found out from Sholpan that he died of some illness in Moscow at the young age of 44 in 1966 when she was only about 5-6 years old. She has no other photo of her father. Then she told me, through another Sholpan in our office who has better English, how she came by this one and only cherished photo.
I think her sister was riding a trolleybus in Almaty and was recognized by a former family friend. She used to take care of Sholpan’s father when he was a boy and she had this photo of him as a young man. Probably a LOT more to this story that I’d like to find out. Sholpan keeps asking her older sister for specific information about him so I may need to interview Sholpan’s older sister. I’ll keep my readers posted when I find out more about this very illustrious man named Izbergen who travelled widely during the Soviet Union’s chaotic years of the 1940s and 1950s. From what I gathered he was in Ukraine and Russia on assignment as a journalist. (to be continued)
Yesterday I blogged about an officemate named Sholpan showing her family postcards that are over 50 years old. They have stories to tell with each one, of course written in Russian on the back. I just like seeing the colorful greeting cards on the front. Sholpan told me the one sent to her with the playful Chinese children was sent from her father when she was only one or two years old. (Actually the babies don’t look too Chinese to me, probably painted by a Russian artist) He suggested at that time that her title would be “Dr.” Sholpan and later she did want to become a medical doctor, instead she is a Russian teacher. The other card from yesterday that I showed about International Woman’s day was written by her sister but as if Sholpan as a baby were writing to their mother. I found out more about the folktale showing the Mama goat and her seven kids while the wolf prowls around the corner of the house. My students told me the Mama warns her children to NOT open the door to strangers, but once she has left, the wolf uses a falsetto voice to trick them. (see yesterday’s blog)
Today I am showing a Happy New Year greeting card that was sent by her father’s journalist friend, Yuri Ozerov from Smolensk, Russia to Almaty, Kazakhstan. Another card with red roses was sent to Sholpan from her father again both published in the 1950s. Sholpan’s father, ever the romantic, sent a Congratuations card with Lilies of the Valley flowers on the front to Sholpan’s mother, Rahat. He was at Yalta, Crimea in Ukraine at the time when he sent it with his poem of love and admiration for his wife. He sent it December 1960 and claimed there were many beautiful women in Crimea but his wife, Rahat, surpassed them all. If I am able to, I want to scan a photo of Shopan’s father reading a book written by Abai. Maybe tomorrow.