Posts tagged Russia

Politely “Unfriended” because of Russian Politics

I have a “former” Russian friend or really she was more like an acquaintance from Kazakhstan who I knew several years ago in Almaty. Last week she informed me that her grandparents were from Belarussia, Moldova, Ukraine, Poland. They had undergone much heartache with the purges under Stalin. In no uncertain terms she told me that the Russians suffered under Stalin as well. I knew that.

She was responding to one of my posts on Facebook about the Ukrainian Holodomor. I guess she was warning me a week ago that I was offending her because she thought I was blaming the Russians for what is currently going on in Crimea. I told her I was very careful to NOT say that the Russians are attacking Ukraine but rather Putin is. He, in turn, expects people to follow his orders so those in the army, who happen to be Russian, are invading Crimea and eventually Ukraine. (I have an adopted Russian nephew whom I love dearly and I realize all Russians are living under some tragic circumstances, not of their own doing!)

I am careful to not blame the Russians because I realize they have been brainwashed about what really happened on Maidan. I was not there at Maidan, but I believe video clips and eye witness accounts from my friends who were there on the ground are reliable. Russia Today (RT) is not credible. That is why one American journalist, Elizabeth Wahl, had to quit. She had to step down because she admitted there was a lot of hatred being vented toward Americans. It continues to foment, unabated.

For Putin, it is all about hatred of the U.S. and other western nations. That is what he is broadcasting to his own people, believing there are Russians trapped in the former Soviet countries. He still has the Soviet Union mentality when it was a “super power.” I believe his own country is about to implode, economically and emotionally. His own people are not happy with the way things are going. Indeed, some are satisfied with Putin. In fact, they are very proud of the Russians’ records at the latest winter Olympics. However, talk to the people who lived next to all that construction in Sochi. I’m wondering if those construction workers who helped build all the opulent buildings for the Olympics were actually paid. I believe they were slaves who HAD to do this for Putin’s own ego.

In my devotional yesterday I came across several verses that applied to Putin from Psalms 33:16-19:
“No king is saved by the multitude of an army. A mighty man is not delivered by great strength. A horse is a vain hope for safety, neither shall it deliver any by its great strength. Behold the eye of the Lord is on those who fear Him. On those who hope in His mercy to deliver their soul from death and to keep them alive in famine.”

Yes, the Ukrainians have the famine of 1932-33 deeply ingrained in their very being. Those who survived told their families about it. They do NOT trust anything coming out of Moscow because of what happened last time. So, due to Russian politics, I have been unfriended on Facebook. I will be praying for this individual who is feeling hurt because she is probably misunderstood and feeling ostracized by other westerns where she is living in Turkey. (I’d hate to be living in Turkey next year, because of what the young Turks did to the Armenians in 1915, but that is another tragedy.)

Here is what my friend wrote to me: Sorry, I am writing you a personal message – not on your wall, just to let you know that I am unfriending you and blocking on top of it. I don’t really believe you know what God is – this is your personal opinion. Instead of living and being friends you are spreading messages of hate. You and people like you splitting others. All the best.”

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Lost Malaysian Jet and Humpty Dumpty Politics

Let the mourning begin. The closure can now happen for all those families whose loved ones perished in the Indian Ocean with the Malaysian airliner tragedy. I can’t even begin to know or understand what the family members went through with the misinformation that was thrown their way. Twenty-six countries were involved in the search and rescue and maybe that is what muddled things in the first place due to language and cultural barriers. They were trying to use the latest in technology and pinning the blame on the pilot. I have a difficult time believing that a pilot would willfully take down hundreds of people on a suicide mission. Once they find the jet’s black box and the bodies, they will know what happened. Until then, the puzzles remain.

I get many comments still on what I wrote on this blog over five years ago. I just got a comment from a Voron who is Kazakh, teaching in Malaysia. He was saddened by my misperceptions of his great country of Kazakhstan. I responded that I must have been having a bad day, week, month, well year teaching at the university in Almaty. I saw things that were over-controlled and dealing with minute details to the fraction of points on how to grade composition papers. What was most galling to me was the composition teachers would assign nearly impossible writing assignments which made it easier for them to grade but made it very difficult for students to write. If these same teachers had done their own assignments they would have found out what a crazy assignment it really was. Some of these “English” teachers could not put a sentence together in English to save their soul. I am still angry about what I went through under that system that was still very Soviet in nature.

It is true what Voron wrote that I didn’t have a chance to really know and understand what is under the surface of the Kazakh culture. I have a very high respect for Kazakhstan and what they went through in their long and troubled history. In fact, when I write about what happened in Ukraine during the Holodomor (forced starvation period of 1932-33), I cannot neglect to try and educate people that Kazakhstan went through the same devastation. You only have to read “The Silent Steppe: The Memoir of a Kazakh Nomad Under Stalin” by Mukhamet Shayakhmetov, published in 2006 to know what the typical Kazakh survived during the purges.

That is how this blog got its name, “Kazakhnomad,” in honor of what Mukhamet wrote out in his ten years of seeing what Stalin was doing to his country and how it affected his family. Right now, the focus is on Ukraine and what Putin will do next. I would hazard to guess that Kazakhstan is very vulnerable right now in the northern area of Kazakhstan because Putin would use the same logic of saying that he needs to protect the Russian speakers from the Kazakhs. No different than what he is saying about going into eastern Ukraine to protect those of Russian ethnicity. I saw a joke something to the effect of a Russian in eastern Ukraine not speaking Russian anymore. How come? Well, he didn’t want Putin to come and save him from the Ukrainians. The Russians in Ukraine have more freedom than the Russians in Russia. Eventually what Putin is trying to do may implode on him. While all his troops are off to Estonia or Moldova, he will have unrest in his own capital.

For now, we just wait and see and try to puzzle out what remains of the former Soviet Union that Putin is trying to put back together. Probably no different than when the experts finally find the big pieces of the Malaysian jetliner. Only thing is that Putin is really Humpty Dumpty and “all the king’s horses and all the king’s men, couldn’t put Humpty together again.”

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Difficult to watch…plane cockpits, black boxes and ocean

I haven’t posted for a while simply because it is so difficult to know what will happen next. I’m sad about the Malaysian airliner going in to the ocean, if that is what really happened, because there are so many families affected by this tragedy. However, I wish the news media would quit showing all the possible scenarios of plane cockpits, black boxes and ocean views from satellites. REALLY?! That is such yellow journalism, meaning that it is cowardly and not asking the hard questions about what is really happening in Ukraine.

What county would be next for Putin to “save!?” I am betting on Kazakhstan as a possible candidate. Although the fearless leader who is power in Astana would not let that happen. If something were to happen to him though, you can bet that Putin would be right there to save the Russians from all that is Kazakh! I do believe that there is enough information that has been disseminated to the people in both countries about their Soviet past so that they would not welcome a re-visit of those times again. That is what Putin wants, a re-establishing of the great and mighty empire of the Soviet Union. However, from what I have read there is much unrest and too many people who know what is going on in Russia to have that happen. Those who know the truth have been put down or marginalized which only makes things worse. The truth will eventually come to the top.

I read about Estonia where they might have a visit from Putin’s troops too once he is through with Ukraine. They made no bones about kicking out the Russian people and went back to their Estonian language with the fall of the Soviet Union. I think that would be a bad move on Putin’s part to try to tell the rest of the world that Estonia is next on his agenda. Maybe the West will wake up to this power-hungry dictator in the making. Maybe not.

Sochi Olympics was such a farce. Putin wanted everyone to think he was some benevolent benefactor of the games while all the time he is masterminding the invasion of Crimea. This has been in the works for years. Kazakhstan needs to pay attention and be ready. Perhaps the leaders in Astana are already awake to this fact. In the meantime, it is difficult to watch plane cockpits, black boxes and ocean.

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Watching the Situation in Crimea

So much has happened since the last time I posted. Maidan was a surprise and perhaps this ultimatum at 5:00 a.m. in Ukraine will be another upset for the evil side. Of course, all the propaganda that has been pumped into Russia about what has happened the last three months in Ukraine has been showing doctored up photos and changed scenarios. Interesting how the media is trying to make it look like extremists have taken over from the western part of Ukraine. I am finding out from my former students that people who live in Eastern Ukraine and are Russian ethnicity and Russian speakers do not feel compelled to be speaking the Ukrainian language. That is one of the major reasons for Russia to enter into this new set up government in Kyiv, they feel them must come in and “protect” their loyal subjects. The truth of the matter is that these people who have lived in Ukraine all their lives feel themselves to be Ukrainian even though they speak Russian. Interesting, huh?

Well, with enough countries dropping out of the G-8 meeting and the market going down for their investors in Russia, they will see that the lies they propagated are backfiring on them. Putin had his crowning success with the Sochi games, he should have been happy that they had the most medals at the Olympics. Instead, it looked like he was pre-occupied and scowling the whole time.

What is interesting is to see all the footage that has appeared of the former president Yanocovich’s (sp) palatial “dacha” just 12 miles north of Kiev. He had been given money to pave the pock marked roads in Ukraine instead he had a very nice asphalt road made to go to his dacha. That is now being called the “Museum of Corruption” and showed the opulence that he “enjoyed.” He managed to steal the people’s money in three years time and put it into this house and other toys that he collected. His wife or ex-wife lived in Donetsk and probably didn’t know anything about what lifestyle he got accustomed to. Now that has all vanished as he has sought cover from the Russian government and under Putler (Putin + Hitler).

I have read many reports on the social media about what is actually happening in the Crimea and in Ukraine along the eastern border. I have been to Sevastopol several times. I remember seeing some Crimean, Ukrainian and Russian flags flying. The city has a LOT of history and has museums about some of the great battles that have been fought on the Black Sea. It is a strategic place for Putin to secure. The Russian government was leasing it from Ukraine but now it wants it without paying anymore. It also probably wants the eastern half of Ukraine as well. Good luck with that.

What has happened, from what I can tell, is that this division created from the outside has only solidified the two parts of Ukraine because the east for sure doesn’t want to be controlled by Moscow. That smacks too much of what it used to be like under the Soviet Union.

Well, I wait and see if the 5:00 a.m. ultimatum has been met or if they are in the middle of a bloodbath as promised. I’ll find out tomorrow…stay tuned.

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Twenty-seven Questions and First Impressions of Kyrgyzstan (Part III)

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…

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Twenty-seven questions and first impressions of Kyrgyzstan

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)

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North Dakota Joke about Wireless and Ongoing Surveillance

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.”

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Poems by Anna Ahmatova (Part II)

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.

VII

THE VERDICT

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]

VIII

TO DEATH

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]

IX

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

To it.

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

X

CRUCIFIXION

Weep not for me, mother.

I am alive in my grave.

1.

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]

2.

Magdalena smote herself and wept,

The favourite disciple turned to stone,

But there, where the mother stood silent,

Not one person dared to look.

[1943. Tashkent]

EPILOGUE

1.

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.

2.

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

 

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“Bad Writer is a Bad English Teacher”…oh really?!

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.

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Answers to Questions about Kazakhstan (Part V)

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…”

 

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