My last part of a letter I wrote to Tanya, dated May 8, 1994. She was a teaching colleague and friend at the Twin Cities campus of the University of Minnesota where we taught ITAs (International Teaching Assistants) together.
20) How are you surviving in terms of food, heat, housing and friends?
The food has little fiber or what there is might be peeled off because of uncertainty in the pesticides used. I am back to eating the apple skins if they are good apples. Many people eat sunflower seeds everywhere. There is LOTS of meat here so for all vegetarians who plan to come to this part of the world, think again. Many of the Peace Corps volunteers that I trained last summer had to succumb to the lifestyle here or they were forever in a heat about all the meat that was served. It is simply part of this culture, the nomadic tribesmen herding their sheep around.
In fact, yesterday I was at the market wanting to buy some sheep for the manti [steamed meat dumpling] party I was to have with my Kyrgyz students that evening but there was only beef. On my way home I was walking on the sidewalk of the main drag when I saw a sheep running at full tilt down the main street in the oncoming traffic lane. He was being chased by three-four men. I thought to myself, “that was the sheep I need for my party.” The sheep kept getting away from the men and probably was hit by a car. It is unusual to see a live sheep in the middle of an urban setting, they are EVERYWHERE out in the country. Food is plentiful and the vegetables are seasonal. The winter months there were no cucumbers or tomatoes but now that is ALL that you will see for salads at restaurants for the next six months.
As far as heat, I had a cold apartment but that is because the windows are not insulated well. This is because of poor workmanship. However, the winter months here are mild compared to Minnesota winters. I didn’t suffer too badly from my cold apartment since I had an electric heater and blanket. I love the place where I live, seven stories up with a view of the mountains from the east AND west sides. I pay $130 a month for a four room “flat.”
You asked about friends…I have my teacher friends and I have friends that I made through Peace Corps, the sauna, and also the church that I attend. There are plenty of people here I can go to plus I have e-mail so that I can keep up with old friends back in the States!
21) Have you had to deal with any shortages?
No, not like when I lived in China (1986-88) where they didn’t have sugar for a time or butter at other times. But yes, because they don’t have peanut butter or brown sugar or Stateside items like that, I just bring it with me when I have a chance to go home. We do not have massive shortages that I am aware of like I experienced in China or that they have in Mongolia, for instance. Also, I have money that can buy me more things whereas the local people on their subsistence living could probably tell you about shortages.
22) Have you had many opportunities to get to know any of the faculty there?
Yes, my dean, of course we are becoming friends in a professional sense. Others that I teach pronunciation to, I have had them over for a manti party. I don’t feel particularly close to any of my Kyrgyz teaching colleagues since they often have more than one job to supplement their income. They are busy with family too.
23) Have you been able to make many friends with the locals? As I mentioned before, I have my sauna friends and my landlady is my friend, as is my Russian teacher. I have not invested a lot of time in getting to know their culture by going to their homes and participating in their traditions. It would be a Russified form and not a true picture of the real Kyrgyz.
24) How would you typify the culture? It is a sort of hybrid of Russian and Kyrgyz, more heavily influenced by the Russian communist way of thinking. Perhaps there is some Asian way of thinking but compared to the Chinese I know and living in China, the Kyrgyz are more westernized. By the way, they have a strong dislike for anything Chinese! Carryover of Russia’s prejudice against their formidable border foe.
25) Would you say that it is heavily influenced by Russian culture, Turkish culture, Mongolian or what?
As mentioned already, the Russians have heavily influenced the capital city and the Turkish language has had a heavy influence in the Kyrgyz language. Perhaps if you went out to the countryside, the Mongolian presence would be strong, but I don’t know.
26) Do you feel it is easy to get to know people or do you find the people to be somewhat reserved?
They are fairly easy to get to know and rather “too” straightforward about their opinion sometimes. (Russian influence) They are not reserved like the Chinese I know. In fact, most of the Kyrgyz students I have are quite extroverted and outgoing. Their speaking skills are very good for never having had a native speaker talk to them before this year.
27) How are you looked upon being a single woman?
It is much easier to be single here in Bishkek, Kyrgyzstan than it was in China. There they thought something was wrong with you if you weren’t married by age 25. Here, for foreigners, they made allowances up to 30. But here in Bishkek they seem to have a more westernized view of life and again this is my views from the people in the capital of Kyrgyzstan. Perhaps in the countryside they would think that I should be married with seven kids by now.
Tanya, that is all for now. Hopefully I have shed some light on the little bit that I know about this Kyrgyz culture. I remember a year ago I had these same questions. So answering them now to the best of my abilities made me think that I have actually learned something about this culture and am happy to share it with you.
By the way, Tanya, your name is very popular here. One of my best friend’s name is Tatyana, she is living in Almaty, Kazakhstan and her friends call her Tanya for short. I hope this has helped you and that you apply for a Fulbright here because they would love to have your expertise…
Posts tagged Russia
My last part of a letter I wrote to Tanya, dated May 8, 1994. She was a teaching colleague and friend at the Twin Cities campus of the University of Minnesota where we taught ITAs (International Teaching Assistants) together.
I had written an update from Bishkek, Kyrgyzstan on May 8, 1994 to my colleagues and friends who were teachers back at the University of Minnesota English Center in Minneapolis. I will type out the questions asked by my American friend Tanya in bold and my answer follows:
1) Does virtually everyone speak Russian? Yes, everyone in the capital
2) Or do some people only speak Kyrgyz? People in the outlying areas perhaps ONLY speak Kyrgyz. We met a gentleman who spoke Russian poorly because of a strong Kyrgyz accent, this was only about a half hour outside of Bishkek [the capital of Kyrgyzstan]. My experience revolves around the capital so I may not be able to answer exactly.
3) What language do the people use in the markets, banks, schools, etc? They use Russian as the language of trade but the banks are trying to upgrade to English and the schools are teahcing both English and Kyrgyz. The markets is where you hear Russian and it is funny that some of the older vendors will sell things for “one rouble” they have not been able to change to mouthing the words for the new currency of “som.” There have been many changes and the issue of languages keeps the people in a constant staet of flux.
4) Does the younger generation speak any Kyrgyz? Yes, it is in vogue now to know Kyrgyz and very helpful if there is a grandmotehr at home who speaks it around the house. It is to these students’ advantage to be Kyrgyz in the first place and to have a working knowledge of it. The Russian students have a disadvantage now and have to work extra hard to learn it in order to be politically correct.
5) Or have they let go of past traditions? If you mean other than language, then I think the “traditions” you mean is their faith, their dances, their songs, etc. Many of the people in Bishkek who are ethnically Kyrgyz will say they are Muslim but do not practice any of the traditions known to be Muslim. They may have funerals or weddings in that tradition but a watered down version.
6) Do people listen to a lot of European and American music? Yes, I have recognized quite a few American songs here. Whitney Houston is a big name as are others but since I am not up on who is who in the music world, they seem to be better informed of the latest stars and hits. As far as European music I know even less but my guess is that they like American music.
7) Or is the local ethnic folk music still appreciated? I have a Canadian friend who has made it his life ambition to study the three strong instrument named Kosmus (?). He has been studying under ofe of Kyrgyzstan’s better known musicians, and his repertoire is up to three songs now. He travels in the folk music circles and can tell you a lot more about how well it is appreciated. I think it is by the older generation. As mentioned before the students I have, seem to liek English songs but then I work with some of the most privileged students in Krygyzstan who have money to buy the latest.
8 ) Can you still find folk dancing? Yes, I have been to several concerts at their concert hall that shows very vibrant, colorful costumes and beautiful dancing. A lot of what they show is the glamorized version of country life, riding horses, harvesting, courting practices, etc. One concert that I attended the dancers must have changed into 20 different costumes. It was wonderful with the Kyrgyz instruments playing the background. It is not an unpleasant sound like what you find in China with Peking Opera where the clanging and gonging is still ringing in your ears hours later.
(to be continued)
Surveillance is important but not the kind that we have been served up lately, it has gone on for decades but not on Regular Joe Citizen of the U.S. Now we can ALL be treated as suspects if we said the wrong thing from 20-30 years ago. Thanks to Edward Snowden for having a conscience about all the power he had as a techie. Now he is back in hiding after his 12 minute video-taped interview from Hong Kong. I watched it and thought he was quite articulate. The liberal press would paint him as some kind of high school dropout who became a grunt in the Army. Pretty miraculous to be a low-info kind of guy and to have that much knowledge about computers and access into that many people’s lives. People will long question whether what he did was right or wrong to be a whistleblower.
Granted, Snowden is toast, now that he has been identified. However, his biggest fear is that nobody will do anything about the intrusive surveillance to keep our government accountable for all the access and privilege they have for what we do from phone calls to texting to what we put up on the Internet. I DO care about what information is held on me because I know what they did to people in the former Soviet Union. I know what the leader of “the” Russia would like to do to some people who don’t agree with him. I know what they did to millions of people who lived in Ukraine 70-80 years ago who didn’t tow the communist party line.
We watched the movie “The Internship” this past weekend and it was funny in a few places. It showed how people my age or younger are feeling like dinosaurs if they didn’t get in on the computer technology wave. Also, it shows that students at age 21 are cynical about their future and do not live the American Dream. They have high tuition debts to pay back but no jobs to speak of. They may be tech savvy but not much on people skills and not many experiences outside of their virtual world. It was a sad commentary on both generations. The funniest line in the movie was when Vince Vaughn was trying to explain the concept of Instagram to these geeky teammates of his at Google. He kept saying, “On the line” when he really mean “online.” The kids patiently listened to him telling him that it had already been thought of before. He enthusiastically blathered on with “on the line.” The part with the strip tease bar scene was bad which made PG-13 rating embarrassing. I think they can’t be believed anymore.
Well, I promised a joke so I’ll end my blog on this funny note. More a joke on North Dakota but just the same, one that needs to be preserved.
“After having dug to a depth of 10 meters last year, Scottish scientists found traces of copper wire dating back 100 years and came to the conclusion that their ancestors already had a telephone network more than 100 years ago. Not to be outdone by the Scots, in the weeks that followed, British scientists dug to a depth of 20 meters, and shortly after, headline in the UK newspapers read: “British concluded that their ancestor already had an advanced high-tech communications network a hundred years earlier than the Scots.” One week later, “The Nordic Klub,” a Minot, North Dakota newsletter reported the following: “After digging as deep as 30 meters in corn fields near Velva, ND, Ole Johnson, a self taught archeologist, reported that he found absolutely nothing. Ole has therefore concluded that 300 years ago North Dakota had already gone wireless.”
Continued from yesterday’s blog posting, translated into English by Sasha Soldatow. Anna Ahmatova somehow knew how to write of her dark experiences in the former Soviet Union. Perhaps not unlike contemporary slavery that prevails in human trafficking which continues unabated around the world.
The word landed with a stony thud
Onto my still-beating breast.
Never mind, I was prepared,
I will manage with the rest.
I have a lot of work to do today;
I need to slaughter memory,
Turn my living soul to stone
Then teach myself to live again. . .
But how. The hot summer rustles
Like a carnival outside my window;
I have long had this premonition
Of a bright day and a deserted house.
[22 June 1939. Summer. Fontannyi Dom]
You will come anyway – so why not now?
I wait for you; things have become too hard.
I have turned out the lights and opened the door
For you, so simple and so wonderful.
Assume whatever shape you wish. Burst in
Like a shell of noxious gas. Creep up on me
Like a practised bandit with a heavy weapon.
Poison me, if you want, with a typhoid exhalation,
Or, with a simple tale prepared by you
(And known by all to the point of nausea), take me
Before the commander of the blue caps and let me glimpse
The house administrator’s terrified white face.
I don’t care anymore. The river Yenisey
Swirls on. The Pole star blazes.
The blue sparks of those much-loved eyes
Close over and cover the final horror.
[19 August 1939. Fontannyi Dom]
Madness with its wings
Has covered half my soul
It feeds me fiery wine
And lures me into the abyss.
That’s when I understood
While listening to my alien delirium
That I must hand the victory
However much I nag
However much I beg
It will not let me take
One single thing away:
Not my son’s frightening eyes -
A suffering set in stone,
Or prison visiting hours
Or days that end in storms
Nor the sweet coolness of a hand
The anxious shade of lime trees
Nor the light distant sound
Of final comforting words.
[14 May 1940. Fontannyi Dom
Weep not for me, mother.
I am alive in my grave.
A choir of angels glorified the greatest hour,
The heavens melted into flames.
To his father he said, 'Why hast thou forsaken me!'
But to his mother, 'Weep not for me. . .'
[1940. Fontannyi Dom]
Magdalena smote herself and wept,
The favourite disciple turned to stone,
But there, where the mother stood silent,
Not one person dared to look.
I have learned how faces fall,
How terror can escape from lowered eyes,
How suffering can etch cruel pages
Of cuneiform-like marks upon the cheeks.
I know how dark or ash-blond strands of hair
Can suddenly turn white. I’ve learned to recognise
The fading smiles upon submissive lips,
The trembling fear inside a hollow laugh.
That’s why I pray not for myself
But all of you who stood there with me
Through fiercest cold and scorching July heat
Under a towering, completely blind red wall.
The hour has come to remember the dead.
I see you, I hear you, I feel you:
The one who resisted the long drag to the open window;
The one who could no longer feel the kick of familiar
soil beneath her feet;
The one who, with a sudden flick of her head, replied,
‘I arrive here as if I’ve come home!’
I’d like to name you all by name, but the list
Has been removed and there is nowhere else to look.
So, I have woven you this wide shroud out of the humble words
I overheard you use. Everywhere, forever and always,
I will never forget one single thing. Even in new grief.
Even if they clamp shut my tormented mouth
Through which one hundred million people scream;
That’s how I wish them to remember me when I am dead
On the eve of my remembrance day.
If someone someday in this country
Decides to raise a memorial to me,
I give my consent to this festivity
But only on this condition – do not build it
By the sea where I was born,
I have severed my last ties with the sea;
Nor in the Tsar’s Park by the hallowed stump
Where an inconsolable shadow looks for me;
Build it here where I stood for three hundred hours
And no-one slid open the bolt.
Listen, even in blissful death I fear
That I will forget the Black Marias,
Forget how hatefully the door slammed and an old woman
Howled like a wounded beast.
Let the thawing ice flow like tears
From my immovable bronze eyelids
And let the prison dove coo in the distance
While ships sail quietly along the river.
[March 1940. Fontannyi Dom]
First published Sasha Soldatow Mayakovsky in Bondi Black Wattle Press 1993 Sydney.
Translated by Sasha Soldatow
The attached photo is a wonderfully warm, Kazakh teacher who got hurt by her own educational system while teaching at a westernized university in Almaty. I knew her to be a good, motherly type mentor to her university students. She is neither a bad writer or bad teacher but her superiors dismissed her without any explanation. I’ll withhold her name but let it be known that I witnessed several painful injustices (my own included) within this so-called institute of higher learning while teaching three and a half years in Kazakhstan.
I want to highlight the writings from two Kazakh women in this blog. One I know only from reading a website titled “Vox Populi” and the other is a former student of mine. I think the two go together because they are suffering the same angst of living in a country of Kazakhstan that is going through phenomenal growth spurts. There’s baggage from what used to exist from the Soviet Union, yet hopeful anticipation in what could be their future in Kazakshtan. The first one is named Madina and a summary of what she said in Russian in an interview to Vox Populi after I used Google translation.
“A typical dream for us 30 year olds in Kazakhstan is to go where we feel our rights are not violated, where there is law and order and where the government works for its citizens. I am part of an astonishing generation, we were born in the Soviet era where we grew up during the breakup of a single state (USSR) but have taken off running during the construction of a new nation (Kazakhstan). Therefore, many of our own parents will never understand that we have a sense of choice.
When I was 27 years old, I began to choke on what surrounded me, the country, the people, our laws. My friends and I found the easiest way out, we just ran away and left for a half a year to the United States. America seemed at that moment a bulwark of democracy. I left Kazakhstan with the underlying idea of staying in the U.S. This is so typical of us to dream to go somewhere else…but experience showed us all the same problems in the U.S. Eden, NO! I went back to Kazakhstan but I came back more relaxed. I learned to accept the imperfections of the world.
Even with blatant injustice in Kazakhstan, my contribution is to keep working on this project to uncover everything that happens in our country to show a different life, to expose social problems and talk about difficult situations. Unfortunately, I am not a revolutionary in spirit, to ride with a sword. Also, I do not like publicity, but I admire people who are active citizens righting wrongs. If we had a “Swamp,” I would have walked out. No, instead I have gotten up on a stage, not to be encouraged but to be listened to and supported. Civic engagement in Kazakhstan doesn’t happen because the majority believes that stability is better than change.”
Here’s the second one from Aigerim, a former student of mine who nails it about where the problem of slavery works into the mindset of the Kazakh citizen. She was a teacher who got in trouble with her superiors for pointing out some errors in her contract. They are to teach critical thinking to their classes but at the same time they are to obey and not object to injustices. She is NOT a bad person, teacher or writer…read on:
“Bad writer is a bad English teacher. I want to be a good teacher, or at least not another person reciting same old song or grammar rule. I stand firm on the point that any skills or knowledge taught should be relevant.
When I conducted IELTS classes at my former work place, which is an elite focused and fully funded from President`s fund, I committed to turn this extra-curricular free of charge classes into a writing experiment. We watched and reflected on films, then wrote on blogs. Some of students created and posted their own poetry. Indeed, learners came up to a stage where they reflected on their lives. They wrote great essays about teenage suicides and problems of education in our country.
While my students were making their best in critical thinking, my own free speaking brought me into trouble with a department manager as I enquired too many questions on controversial points in a contract. Well, I don`t regret appealing against bosses, I am quite happy with my new job. When my writers learned about my resignation due to my being a wrong format, one student replied with a phrase that still warms my heart, “If you’re A4 format and they’re A5 (smaller), that doesn’t mean you’re a bad teacher, you’re just different.”
Young people can think critically until they are framed into stupid rules. Nowadays it is common to think that you have to say what your teacher wants to hear and you get a point, do what your boss wants and keep your place of employment. The problem of slavery exists not only on construction sites and massage parlors, but in thoughts and enslaved wills of ordinary people.
My colleagues were obedient and got another year of their teaching contract. However, I wonder whether these teachers are able to teach young people to think critically and act globally.”
I love my former student’s writing about being different and indeed she is NOT a bad teacher or a bad writer. On days like this, I feel the same where it is difficult to write and English is my native language. Some days I feel defeated in trying to explain from my “A4 framework” that I don’t fit in with the A5 environment whether it is in the U.S. OR in Kazakhstan.
Merry Christmas! Here’s my final installment to this five part series of answering 11 questions about Kazakhstan. I’ve had fun recalling scenarios that happened to me or things I thought about during my 3 1/2 years of teaching in Almaty and Astana. These questions asked by another foreigner were good, I thought. I invite those who feel more knowledgeable than me, to add your comments so we can all benefit. Not much is known about this BIG country of Kazakhstan. I would wish MORE people from the West would know and visit it. Here’s the last part:
6. What is the role of Multi National Companies in Kazakhstan? The multinational companies such as Deloitte, Citibank, Shell, Chevron and other oil companies all provided jobs for those Kazakhs who were well educated. It was said that a lawyer from Kazakhstan who knew Kazakh and English and how to write well could easily start out with a salary of six digits in US dollars. The incentive among young Kazakh people is to get hired in a multi national company for better pay and a chance to travel outside the country. Sorry, since I only worked in education I can’t answer that question very well. I DO know that in Almaty, where I taught English at the university, the emphasis was on business. Many of these students got jobs right away with the multinational companies once they graduated with their “western” degrees.
7. What are the key factors driving the economy and will this be sustainable in the long run? The country is flush with natural resources in minerals and oil. They are also the highest exporter of uranium, surpassing Canada, so supposedly they have money. However, I think that there are certain people who are getting the money and others who are languishing. They do not seem to know about philanthropy, they have been taught under the Soviet system that capitalists are greedy. So when capitalism was opened up to them, they are on the take and will take full advantage of “opportunities” that come their way legally or illegally.
With this kind of mentality to be out for number one, it is not sustainable. There is corruption and those who are at the bottom will rise up against this. I think we are already seeing this happen in western Kazakhstan with the strikes at the mines. Something is very much amiss in Kazakhstan with the “slave mentality.” I saw this worked out in the university where the higher-ups lorded it over those who were to be subservient. Nothing egalitarian about conducting staff or business meetings. The human trafficking is another issue that is not good. The traffickers are moving into Central Asia and Kazakhstan is a target as well as a harbor for those victims who are trafficked from other countries.
8. How do you view the standard of living in Kazakhstan (e.g. medical facilities / poverty gap / infrastructure / education)? Medical facilities in the big cities are adequate. I visited quite a few while in Almaty. But anything outside of the big cities are probably abysmal just judging by what I know of the educational system. Imagine having a doctor who cheated on his exams, he will not make a good doctor where there are real people with real life and death problems involved.
9. Comment on tourism in Kazakhstan. Tourism could be a great thing for Kazakhstan if they could get their beautiful and scenic areas cleaned up. Unfortunately, the Kazakhs do not know how to keep their environment pristine. My husband and I visited several of the nearby lakes to Almaty and the people just throw out their garbage so that it looks like a big trash dump. There is no civic pride in keeping their park areas beautiful. People will not go to far out of the way places where it is still untouched because the roads are so bad and they would have to really rough it to have that kind of adventure. Someone with an entrepreneurial spirit would have to take advantage of what is there but I suspect they would have to pay lots of bribes in order to get anything done. Such is the corruption that exists at every level of government, local, province and up to the top management on a national level.
10. Please comment on the cultural heritage of Kazakhs. I do not know that much about the Kazakhs’ cultural heritage since I don’t know their language and really didn’t study their history much. I did ask my students to tell me about their great grandparents. They did so with great pride. You are considered a good Kazakh if you know the names of your ancestors going back seven generations.
11. What is the impact of tightening government control on country legislation (registration of religious groups) This last question is very tricky. The tightening of control of a lot of things such as not letting blogs flourish is an example of no freedom of expression by young Kazakhs. This is the freakish thing about a young country that is run by older people who were schooled under the Soviet system. Their default button is to become more centralized and tighter controlled instead of less so. Picking on certain religious groups will only backfire but it is true they are afraid of extremist, terrorist groups. Once that goes awry like an Arab spring, then that will scare off the multinationals who bring in good business for their country. Trust is needed for peace and calm to reign throughout the land. So the leader of the country is doing a very delicate and dangerous dance. Keeping the terrorist influences at bay while being courted by the Chinese who are communist and trying to relinquish the fingerprints of the stranglehold that the Soviet past gave to them. There has not been a democracy in Kazakhstan and when the leader expires, the vacuum created by no future leader being groomed for succession will be the most awful thing to witness…”
If you enjoyed the last three days of my answering just one question I was asked, then just know that I only have two more parts left to answer the remaining 11 questions. Here is how I answered the following questions:
2. What areas do you see a gap for improvement in the long run for success? The huge gap is TRUST. People don’t trust each other and there is much corruption and much nepotism. Your Kazakh family comes first before expertise. Westerners will have to trust the Kazakhs if they will invest in businesses in Kazakhstan. Broken contracts or greed makes those foreigners who come to help teach a bit careful. By the time the expat teacher arrives, it is too late, there are many surprises. I think the Kazakh wants to think of themselves as “clever” and want to take advantage of the unsuspecting, trusting foreigner. Afterall, they have been indoctrinated from Soviet times that western capitalists are greedy and selfish so they are just gouging them first.
The one thing that IS improving is service mentality, the Kazakhs seem to know they have to have a good reputation as a restaurant or hotel in order to have repeat business. But for the long run, they need to gain the trust of expats instead of trying to grab for the money and not listen to the voice of authority or reason on how to use the money wisely. OR to not lose the trust when the contract is not abided by as understood in three languages. I could go on and on with this question but TRUST is very, very important to build and maintain long term partnerships.
3. In your view, what key opportunities or threats exist for the nation? The threats for Kazakhstan will always be the same as they were 200-300 years ago. China has always been a huge threat, as is Russia. However, the Arab spring has Kazakhstan feeling very nervous, thus the “snap election” for their current president who has been president for the last 20 years.
Opportunities would be to utilize the expertise that young Kazakhs come back to their country with after being on the Bolashak grant (Kazakh term meaning “future). Other students have been on similar grants with IREX and have studied abroad and have learned how western nations tick the short time they have absorbed it. The opportunities for older people to learn from the younger would help speed up the pace of modernization. However, the older people feel threatened by those who are younger who know more. So this is a difficult balancing act they have to do between generations.
4. What are the key benefits and challenges of working and living in Kazakhstan? The amazing ex-pat community is the key benefit of living and working in Kazakhstan. People who are willing to take on the challenge of living in a country that is broken and feels like a hurting proud nation with past glory. I use the example of Ukraine when we taught there that it was like dealing with a colicky baby, it needed to be fed and burped. The diapers needed to be changed, they were, as a nation, taking baby steps in the late 1990s. Perhaps during that same era Kazakhstan was doing the same.
NOW in 2007-2011 the post-Soviet baby of Kazakhstan acts like a teenager. They act as if they want the keys to the car yet they don’t know about paying for the insurance or buying gas. They just want to go and carelessly drive around with the family car. They are rebellious and want the benefits of being considered a “developed nation” while they are still in their formative years of development.
So that was the challenge of living in the country of Kazakhstan. They are NOT a developed country yet, if you look at the WHOLE country. However, with more time and maturity they will get to that stage but you can’t just look at Astana and Almaty and judge that as “developed.” In like fashion, the Kazakh peoples have a sense of impatience and want to take the foreigners’ money but do not want to be accountable for what they do with it. It is very maddening for those of us expats who are in positions of authority, experts from other countries to see this nonchalance about capabilities and expertise and to be trashed for what WE know as experts in our field. Essentially, we are all on short contracts, we are trying to work ourselves out of a job so that the Kazakh can stand up on their own without our aid. Much like a mother nurturing her baby to become a teenager and eventually adulthood.
If you take the training wheels away, they will start riding the bike on their own. However, there seems to be a sense of national pride at stake that they even NEED us in the first place. How often we thought as expats “They NEED us but they don’t WANT us.” A very strange paradox because the Kazakhs are supposedly known as a very hospitable people. There are many good stories from the past where Kazakhs helped those foreigners like the Koreans or Ukrainians who were dumped off of trains during the Stalin years of purging “Enemies of the People.” The Kazakhs would care for these people who were left to die on the steppes. Things are different these days after twenty years of “independence.”
Unfortunately, the Kazakhs know they NEED help but they are sometimes too proud to acknowledge that. Also, because Kazakhs come from an oral tradition, they know so much about their own culture but they do not realize that most of the world does not even know they exist because nothing much has been written about them. Those Kazakh students who have gotten fellowships or grants to study abroad find that out the hard way.
The most vexing thing about living in Kazakhstan is the “They need us but they don’t want us.” And that runs through all matter of experts from whatever field be it in oil, accounting, banking, mining, etc. I heard this from other expats and so that gets back to my original point. It doesn’t matter if they are from Norway, German, U.K. Canada, Australia, wherever you are from as a westerner, you have more in common with each other than living amongst people in an unknown country such as Kazakhstan. The Kazakhs are trying to find their own identity from their rich past. But also they want to fit in with westerners in the present 21st century while holding on to the baggage of their Soviet indoctrination. This makes for a very complex kind of maturing into being proud of who they are as Kazakhs, it will take time.
5. Can you comment on customs and ways of life of Kazakhstani? I did not know many Kazakhs and their customs or ways of life. I only knew the educated ones and the Kazakhstanis I would consider those who were born in Kazakhstan but are not necessarily of Kazakh ethnicity. The Kazakhs are very proud of the fact that they have so many ethnicities living peacefully beside each other. They have their holidays and their rituals and practices but I think a westerner, like a former Peace Corps volunteer, who lived in the rural areas would do a better job of writing about bride kidnapping, trained eagles that hunt game, sheepherding and nomadic lifestyle with yurts, etc. I lived in the urban setting where all such Kazakh customs are little known to me.
(to be continued)
What is it about the BRIC(K)(S) countries which are supposedly the economic powerhouses? They simultaneously have very complicated bureaucracies to work through in order for tourists to visit their lands. Kazakhstan is among the list of eight nations which are coincidentally in the BRIC (Brazil, Russia, India and China) structure. Some would like to add Kazakhstan and South Africa to make it spell BRICKS but the first four letters is what is traditionally known in the world of economics as the countries to watch as they continue to flex their monied muscles.
To get visas and the wait time tourists are resigned to go through is the following for these difficult-to-get-to countries:
1) India – $76
2) Russia – $140 – 90 day wait
3) China – $130
4) Brazil – $140 one month
5) Bhutan – $20 – 3 months
6) Iran – $30 3 months
7) Kazakhstan – $40 – one month
8 ) Saudi Arabia – $500 (if you want to do the hajj, you have to have money, obviously)
Here’s what was originally written about Kazakhstan and the seven other countries :
KAZAKHSTAN Apply a month in advance. Fee: $40
Why Go: Fictional Borat may have put Kazakhstan on the map, but it’s actually the ninth-largest country in the world by size and a place that combines Islamic, Western, and Soviet culture into an unusual mix. Adventure seekers come for the many mountains, which provide both trekking and skiing opportunities. Others come to explore the nomadic past of the Kazakhs and to see UNESCO World Heritage attractions, including petroglyphs and nature reserves that are home to such species as the rare Siberian white crane.
Why It’s Complicated: When it comes to visas, all the “Stans” can be tough, according to Habimana. For Kazakhstan, for instance, you need to write a personal letter of intent to the embassy in Washington, D.C., stating the purpose of your trip, the places you plan to visit, and your dates.
What to Do: Follow the instructions on the embassy’s website, and apply a month out from your trip (approval takes a couple of weeks). While the government enacted new rules in 2010 to try to simplify the process, what that means for tourists remains to be seen. Fans of bureaucratic garble will appreciate the official description of the changes, which are “aimed at further liberalization and streamlining of Kazakhstan’s visa regime.”
My young university friend just returned from the Not For Sale Global Forum in Sunnyvale, CA had many impressions that were exploding in her head after listening to about 50 speakers. However, the main thing about the evils of human trafficking is that it revolves all around economics. So, if there is any common thread among the BRIC countries, they appear to be one of the worst offenders when it comes to using people to build up their own economies.
We already know what happened to the Soviet Union when they forced their own people into labor camps to work off their being too wealthy (i.e. kulaks or Enemies of the People). Those during Stalin’s time who were not of the correct political stripe or who told the truth were punished. They were forcibly sent to hardship posts in the gulags of Siberia and Kazakhstan. Unfortunately, many of the talented ones died.
So, the same can be written about these modern day, complicated countries that have too much paperwork and red tape to go through. The BRIC countries undoubtedly have bureaucrats who are pocketing the visa money. No surprise there with corrupt governments from the very top. They are also turning a blind eye to those traffickers who are bringing people in or out of their country illegally. Police are easily being bought off with huge sums of money so the trafficking of innocent people continues.
Westerners, who should know better, do not want to be a part of this complicity of trafficking by remaining unaware and silent on the subject. How can we help? By traveling to these countries to see with our own eyes? As aforementioned, that becomes an arduous process money and time wise. Laws must be placed on the books, law enforcement must be mobilized to catch the predators in the BRIC countries and those victims who have been enticed and trapped free to return to their families and their lives before slavery. Maybe another way to avoid all the red tape is to be wise as shoppers and not buy products that have come out of BRIC economies? Hmmm…I wonder if that will ever catch on in the U.S?
Hopefully we will not be part of the complications in human trafficking by our complicity of silence, ignorance and doing nothing?
I will continue on the theme of the Slavery Footprint survey which will help explain how this all started for me in Kazakhstan. That country is so unfamiliar among Americans, they typically mix it up with either Russia or Afghanistan if they DO have a sense of where it is on the globe. Simultaneous to this and as little known is the topic of slavery and human trafficking among most Americans. So when you combine the two topics I have a passion about, you come up with a lot of blank faces or confusion. The following are two fictionalized composite conversations I have had with some uninformed persons:
Uninformed person UP: ”Where did you say you lived and taught again?”
Kazakhnomad – KN: ”Kazakhstan, for three and a half years. Kaz–Akh-Stan. Difficult to spell, even more arduous to pronounce.”
U.P. ”Is that close to Afghanistan?” [for some reason everyone knows how to pronounce that country]
KN: ”Not really, the closest neighbors to Kazakhstan are Russia to the north and China to the east.”
U.P. “So, what did you think of teaching in Russia?” [the most irksome question because it means they either didn't listen to me or they don't know that Kazakhstan has been an independent country from the former Soviet Union for 20 years.]
KN: ”Yes, it is perhaps easy to confuse Russia with Kazakhstan. However, the Kazakhs look Asian in appearance while they speak a Turkish kind of language which is their native language. It’s true, they DO speak Russian simply because they were under Soviet rule for 70 years. In order to survive, they learned to speak and read Russian.”
Here’s another made up conversation that I encounter concerning human trafficking:
U.P. ”You mean we still have slavery? I thought that was abolished two hundred years ago with Wilberforce and other abolitionists!!!”
KN: “No, today there are about 27-30 million slaves in the world as we speak. Slavery is worse than ever.”
U.P. “Yes, we hear about far off, obscure countries that have slavery, maybe stone age tribes that are not connected to the 21st century.”
KN: “I first encountered the slavery/master mentality when I lived in Central Asia. But I also saw glimpses of it in my past travels to Hong Kong, living in the Philippines as a Peace Corps volunteer, and teaching two years in China. Mostly though, the master/slave attitude is prevalent in Kyrgyzstan and Kazakhstan because of age old traditions that marginalize women. They also are using many men from Uzbekistan and Kyrgyzstan to help build skyscrapers with their oil money they have in Kazakhstan. Sixty percent of the slaves in Kazakhstan are men, they need shelters and rehabilitation for them.”
U.P. ”These unfortunate people who are supposedly slaves by your definition and who live in poverty should be thankful to foreign organizations who provide employment opportunities. These people can move up in life to be employed by some tobacco or cotton plantation or on some construction site.”
KN: “With our western sensibilities and code of ethics, yes, employment means honoring a contract where the employee would be treated fairly and would get the wages they had been promised. Sadly, there is trickery involved where the desperate person is told one thing and then the next thing they know their documents and freedom have been stripped from them, they become slaves…”
U.P. ”Hopefully those victims of trafficking will be freed and helped to get a job. Very sad indeed.”
KN: ”Saddest of all are all the children in India, China and Africa who are used to help make products for us. They are missing out on their education to better themselves and have hope for their future.”
So, you see as an embattled educator my mission is to inform people about a region of the world I care about deeply and make people aware of the ugly concept of slavery which is lived out daily in desperate places all over the world. Even in my own home state of Minnesota or in the neighboring state of North Dakota, slavery is going on. I found out that in western North Dakota many young girls from the Indian reservation are being brought to the “men camps” near Williston and Dickinson and they are forced or tricked into being “prostituted women.” These girls are forced into this smarmy “occupation” because there is wealth from oil money in western North Dakota and too few women around. Oil money has perverted many morals in Kazakhstan as well.
What is to be done about the demand? Where are the morals or ethics in protecting those who are powerless? What can those who become informed about slavery in the world DO about it?
(to be continued)
I started this Kazakhnomad blog almost four years ago when I returned to Kazakhstan after a gap of 15 years. My intention was to inform a western readership about this amazing country…the good and the bad. If you read the following articulate comments written by Kazakhs, you will see that my base of readers is perhaps not as western as I first thought. I have had comments from Dutch, French, German, Spanish, British, etc. When looking at my daily hits I can also tell that my blog readers are from Italy, China, Singapore, Japan, Korea, etc. What I value most are the comments from the Kazakhs and Kazakhstanis who can inform me about their country. See what you think and feel free to comment…
The following is from one of my former students, naturally she would be flattering. Read tomorrow’s blog entry and there are some contrary comments:
“I like reading your blog. You write so many useful and educating things. My part of work is so easy, I just read what you have analyzed for hours so even days or years. You bring us a ready dish just to swallow. Reading your topics I even wonder: ”How do you find time and power for all of these?” Concerning the above given quotes I want to add that we also have this proverb “It is better to see once than hear 1000 times”. I think some of suchlike quotes are common for all Central Asian countries. Waiting for your next blog and anecdotes.”
“Hopeful view, I’d really like to think in a similar way, but I don’t. A metaphor. If we see education as a house, there was an imperfect but a solid house built at the time Kazakhstan was part of Russia, then the USSR. Since the independence, education has never been on top 1000 list of priorities of the country’s leaders. Too bad so sad, they said. C’est la vie. Now the house is half-broken half-deserted only a pitiful reminder of the past glory, quality and strength. It’s leaking everywhere, the water, heating and sewage systems work sporadically if they do. Power comes on and off. Basically it’s rapidly deteriorating and is nearing a collapse. A complete rehaul is required. If it had been properly maintained, repaired, reinforced and added to, then it would be the same house or even better, but, alas, now it’s in a really, really bad shape comparing to what it used to be.
Yes, too bad they’re beautifying the tip of the iceberg whereas the bottom part is quickly melting away…”
“Glad to hear such praise about our younger generation. I was a bit pessimistic about the way they are, but you actually gave me some hope and a reason to be proud.”
The following is from another commenter about education in Kazakhstan:
“Yes, teachers are low paid in KZ, it doesn’t matter university or school teachers. I don’t think that there are teachers who work unpaid, at least their salary is government based, so it is paid on time. But nowadays problem of downsizing, every government budget based organization are dismissing their employees, so the others who remain has to work twice. That means much stress, because I think most difficult part of being teacher or for ex: doctor not teach many students or observe many many patients, but the paperwork that has to be done. This takes more time then their direct job duties.”
Bribery and Corruption
“Interesting. Yes, even in the Kazakh army the high-ranking officers force soldiers to build their houses… It’s terrible. There wasn’t much of such shameful exploitation of the vulnerable in the USSR times… It would be something out of the ordinary if something like that happened. The educational system was way, way better at the time. Both of my parents are retired university professors. Many things that you can see happening these days are uniquely Kazakhstan or post-Soviet phenomena rather than rudiments of the socialist system.
And I agree that people in ex-USSR do not trust each other. In the West, the people tend to trust each other except when they see a reason not to. In ex-USSR, people tend not to trust each other except they have firmly proven their trustworthiness to you.”
(to be continued )