Archive for August, 2007

Problems and Praises after Week ONE!

 I haven’t written a “Foreign Report” for awhile, but one is due, as of this morning I will have been one week in Almaty – a busy week, in which a lot of problems have been solved.  I’ve been thinking of the scripture that says, “He will not give you more than you can bear, and when tempted to sin (read “blow up,” cry out in pain, quit, etc.) He will provide a way out.  Some “ways out”: 

Problem #1 I have replaced the original SIM card I bought here; something happened to block it, I think the result of my first call being a roaming call to Paul on his cell here; Paul’s phone number is a Kiev number.  After that I could not call/receive from local Almaty numbers.   Praise also that I have a local cell phone.  The old number got corrupted I think, when I called Paul’s number in Kiev.  I think when I called it, it hung up my account.  It was cheap to switch to a new phone number and not too many people had the old one.  It did create problems of communication with Paul, our sharing an apartment and one key.   

Problem #2  Praise that I now have ” half a key.”  “Half: in that I can lock the door from the outside when I leave. That’s good. What is not good is that should Paul leave first and I’m inside, and he locks the door from the outside, well, I get the day off, because I’d be locked in It’s a complicated lock and apparently not just anyone can copy the key accurately. I’ve had three made now for a yield of 3: 1/2 !  But, we are so much better off than we were. And this has forced me to keep my nose to the grindstone in the office.  I am storing one suitcase and the projector in carry on case, inside that (large Samsonite) There is more room here in the office than at Paul’s and I will soon bring the other Samsonite here. 

Problem #3 There is a security problem in the offices, and I may read what I can on the locks, take pictures of  the suitcases and see if we can get Keys sent by Samsonite before you leave.  Also, I have apparently lost my reading glasses. I think at the hotel, in the bedsheets. They say they didn’t find them, but the case they were in was “too good”  I suspect, and when found by housekeeping they were not turned in. But, perhaps they will still show up. 

Praise 1) A tolerable passage, over 24 hours, of twelve time zones.  This was aided by experience of making the two overnight flights 3 times a year during the time I was with USDA here, and back with you in DC during your vacations.  Solutions: Sleep on the plane, drugged if necessary and not feeling like you have to stay up for the “free Movies” or food.  Melotonin at about bed time in the destination place.  Stay up between flights, and KEEP going once in Almaty although it is time to go to bed at home. This pretty much worked. 

Praise 2) I arrived after my classes had already met once or twice. There are 4 of them, and I meet all of them on Monday and Wednesdays, but only 2 on Friday.  I taught this past Monday and Wednesday: in total about 300 students.  I took their pictures, established a LOT of office hours, and am beginning to understand them, and they me.  It is tough duty. Experience in Ukraine will help. They seem to be “good kids.” My Russian helps. 

Praise 3)  A friend, Paul C., whom I met in church in Kiev when he is a “bachelor,” is sharing his apartment here, free. I buy meals out and groceries.  Kristina and I befriended Paul and his wife and two kids when they came to Kiev.  He is assigned her for three months, which covers the period until Kris comes on Oct. 12, TLW.   This meant I did not have to spend money, or more importantly, time finding a place to live, when I needed to adjust to teaching.

Paul is from New Zealand, married to a Philipino woman who has worked with Price Waterhouse  around the world.  We met in Kiev a year ago, and when he was transferred temporarily to Almaty, he invited me to stay with him.  It is a bit cramped, but a life (and money) saver, as it allows me time to concentrate on teaching and not house hunting.  I have a month to find a place for Kris and I. Again, what a blessing for Paul; without that provision, I would break. I think I am also good for him, someone to talk to, and I keep reminding him of the priority of his wife Cathy and communication with her. 

Praise 4) The school where I’m teaching did put me up for three days in the nearby Hotel Kazakhstan. This is where I was put up by the U.S.D.A. when I first arrived in 1992.  The U.S. Embassy was new then, and headquartered here. The “signals officer” stood on a balcony, pointed a disk at a passing satellite, and transmitted cables.  I can now use the hotel lobby’s wireless internet to send these messages. That is where I am now. Our university has a clinic for staff and family; also state insurance which we can pay for you, about $80 /year. That is good news. But my back is good and the feet tolerable, given the use of them. Praise! 

Praise 5) It is very warm which means that not having time to find sheets or covers does not bother me, sleeping at night on an air mattress. The mattress was priced at 10,000 tenge (about $80) but without really asking, readily provided at a 50% discount at $40. This is Central Asia, where bargaining is normal.  

Praise 6) We, more specifically Kristina, have many friends here. They have presented themselves for information on the community, help with finding future housing, needs to buy Tenge for dollars sent by their agents to our hometown bank, helping us both.  In the intermediate run, we hope to cooperate with them in doing “movies” like we did in Kiev. TLW.  We await the release of “Amazing Grace” the film released in theaters in America in early March. It is about John Wilburforce, the Parliamaentarian who worked so hard to end slavery in England and its trade in its colonies. 

 7) and the last I’ll list. It is a blessing to have this long weekend.  Constitution Day was yesterday, and this was extended for some into a 4 day weekend.   

Much has been accomplished, much yet to do. 

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Kazakh holidays

We will be celebrating Labor Day weekend in the U.S.  Thankfully there is also a long holiday at the university so my husband, “Kazakhnomad,” can get some rest before he starts up again next week with his heavy teaching load.  I’m not sure the name of this holiday, if in fact it is an old Soviet one, new Kazakh one or Muslim in nature.  [It is called Constitution Day] All I know is that T.G.I.F. applies tomorrow for professsors and students alike.  I wrote the following from something I gathered about Central Asian holidays from my Kyrgyz students’ assignments 14 years ago. 

Kazak Holidays

What struck me as I read my students’ writings was their religious holidays such as Ramadan and Kurbun-ayt.  The Kazaks are nominally Muslim and several said that Orozo Ait was the “Muslim Easter.”  I am not sure how they are able to equate Jesus Christ’s death and resurrection from the cross to their “fasting, praying and reading the Koran.” They also celebrate Nooruz which is a spring holiday for Muslims.  “The men get up and go to the mosque to do namaz. After that, they go home and slaughter a sheep.  On these days every man puts on new clothes and pays a visit to others.  People want to show their love and faithfulness to Allah.”  One writer readily admitted that “People who call themselves ‘Muslim’ don’t really practice Islam…similar to Americans who also consider themselves Christians but are not true “followers of Jesus Christ.” 

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Survived Second Day of Classes

I’ve finished my second day teaching, or most of it.  I look out my office window on Abai. I felt I didn’t have it all together and may have blown my cool some in the class of 90 students at 9 am.  I will work on the logistics of class assignments. Students maybe are not used to doing or handing in homework, and don’t know the vocabulary of doing it in English.  But, I think I made progress.I am VERY, VERY glad that there is a long weekend coming up.

I am going to eat in a few minutes when my 11-12 a.m. office hour is over.  I used it to sort the papers from the various classes. I need some files. I did not have time to eat breakfast, maybe just as well since I’ve been running to the bathroom all the time, and this way there was no need. I’ll go easy eating in light of my two remaining classes.


I went to eat in the student ” grill”  below.  I think you’ll appreciate the contrast with when you were here. [back in 1993]  There was a long line at the cafeteria, so I went to the adjoining area which has a waitress. I ordered tea, soup, and a plate of beef and three kinds of carbohydrates (rice, potatoes and corn) which I largely ignored.  I hope my stomach takes it.  (if I had some Pepto Bismol handy, I’d take it.  I took my temperature, but despite all the sweating, I am 98.6) I’m trying to drink a lot – the rooms are hot, although my office window opens.  I will change my shirt and pants for the meeting at 4 and dinner at 5:30 (for new faculty.)


The whole place smells, like everyone has deodorant breakdown.  I know it’s me, but I’m suspecting it is everyone. It is hot.  Our university is close to the market, like TIKKO. Several students smile and say hi, I have about 300; that must be 10% of the student body.  I’m thinking they have me doing a lot of teaching, and aren’t giving me help, just headache and strait jacket: my secret defense is Admiral Rickover’s idea; “The only way to bring change is to not care if your head is cut off.” Think of it, as J’s way



I am back to my office after teaching my two afternoon classes and then a meeting and social gathering until about 6:30. There were people there when I left. I had the most fun with a fellow who knows John Clarke, who had been a prof at AUCA two years ago, discussing philanthropy. He’s from Missouri.  Then, I enjoyed sitting with J.P. with three student body officials. They laughed a lot at my Marx => Keynes => Ken story (I built it up.)  They knew it was a joke and didn’t think I had a big head like you and Ron.Figuring that Paul won’t get home till 8:30, I’m going to go shopping for a few things, like an office water heating pot.  There is Tekno Mart to the back of our university.  I plan to stay with Paul until the end of September. He is here until Nov. 15, but I think he has to travel some, for visa reasons, so the apartment may be empty for me!  I’ll have time to talk over things this long weekend.  I’m not sure I can find a bank open to open an account.

Much more to report on.  Maybe you can call me in the office tomorrow?  I’m trying to think of a good time. I don’t want to come in too early, but if I got here by 10 a.m., that would be 9 p.m. your time. 

 I think I may have said I enjoyed beer with this Canadian/Australia, expert on Central Asian agriculture, whom Bill L. told me about. A short half hour meeting. I then came back to work and got to the apartment about 8 p.m. Still no 2nd key and Paul wasn’t home from work yet (still no phones or phone numbers that work) so I went to a nearby cafe we’d eaten at before. We finally “hooked up,” and I was exhausted and slept well.
The limitation of the arrangement, which will be reduced with a second key, came when I woke up early. Paul sleeps soundly, but I don’t want to leave and leave the door unlocked. But, I did, as he had stirred. At 6 a.m. there are no busses, but it is a good time to walk. I did. Still I was barely ready for classes.  Lots to do yet.


 I’ll be here at my office all weekend!  I’m glad to have a regular job after spending some of the summer preparing to better serve as a C. teacher in this situation. We will act as informal helpers and facilitators of campus activities, as we did in Kiev. That is why we come, not the money or need for a job here. It is still rough, and this time, I especially disliked leaving our beautiful rural Minnesota home at the peak of the fall season, and leaving Kristina. She will join me in October.


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Kidnapping or Stealing the BRIDE!!!

Ken and I met in Almaty Kazakhstan 14 years ago, in May of 1993.  In the fall of 1993, I taught at an upstart, westernized university in Bishkek, Kyrgyzstan and fortunately I still have my students’ old papers to remind me about their country’s customs and culture.  Kyrgyzstan and Kazakhstan are very similar.   

What struck me as I read my students’ writings were their Muslim religious holidays and customs.  But I was most shocked to learn the old tradition of “Kidnapping or stealing of the bride.”  This practice is supposedly outlawed but many of my former students wrote of their aunts or own mothers being subjected to forced labor in her mother-in-law’s yurta.  Not a good way to start a marriage where the selfishness of the new husband is shown, not caring for the young bride’s feelings.  Western women’s libbers could have a field day with the treatment of women in the outback of Kazakhstan.  One student wrote that some women were still forced to follow the old traditions of Islam and wear paranja.  They are too afraid to assert their rights as women. 

Not all Central Asian traditions are obsolete or outmoded, some are happy especially with naming a newborn baby.  According to custom, “an old man in the village or the grandfather names the baby.  They connect this name with the baby’s future.”  The student who wrote about this had four brothers and their names were “Aman, Esen, Bolot and Beren.”  In English it meant “they will be happy, healthy and sound.”  

Happy was the woman who was able to bear boy babies for her family.  According to one of my students, this is “because every family felt obligated to have a son.  He would continue the name, be a continuer of the tribe.  Husbands made their wives get pregnant until there was a boy.  Sometimes families had more than ten children.  However, if the wife could not give birth to a boy, then the husband would leave his wife.”  Fortunately, one enduring GOOD trait in Kazakhstan is that young men respect their elders.  “Showing respect to an older person shows your level of being cultured in word and being well bred.”  Another student appreciated the older person’s perspective and that old sayings played an important role in the villages.  They wrote “sayings are like a small island of philosophy.  It opens all sides of life and gives advice on how we can overcome problems…They are like a little summary to help us live life.” 

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Survived first day of classes

It has been a long day.  I left key in office and locked myself out – went to guard desk where I picked up key at 4:50 this morning. I am through with the first day of teaching. I survived.  Thank you for your thoughts and prayers.  Bright lights:  some of the student reactions in class. I especially liked the last class, which was smaller and all the time seemed very attentive.  I told them that there is less talking at the back of the room, than in Ukraine. I said that I observe a “higher level of academic culture” than in Ukraine.  I reminded three boys who were talking (a little – they quit) that the competition with Ukraine and the reputation of Kazakhstan depended upon them.  It seemed to work! 

I told students of your mother keeping Dagny [my 96 year old grandma who died in 2001] and caring for her, as used to be traditional, and people would not have thought have doing otherwise – but now in America, that care has entered the market.  I asked them what was better and we agreed, the former.  I said they should keep some of the traditional decisions and decision making.  Struck rapport.  They do not know of “mezhenaty”  and “philanthropy.”

I think I’ve completed and turned in all the paper work to get registered, and I think paid this week – Wednesday.  That would be the last day of classes, as they are canceled for Friday associated with Constitution Day. As in the past, they didn’t know this until the last minute!! I think it is only 4 a.m. your time, and I am starting to fade. I may have to fade and go to Paul’s before I hear from you.

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Bad Backs and Communication Glitches

The following is the latest communication I got from the Kazakh Nomad: I fight to stay awake and am taking Tylenol, Advil, muscle relaxants for my back which took a beating in the trip here. I’ll survive. Have to figure out the system here and be ready to teach Monday and Wednesday. There are four different classes both days, with a total of 280 students!!

I got home from Paul’s place about 10 p.m. and couldn’t connect with my laptop notebook on the lobby wireless. I fell asleep over the keyboard!  About midnight I awoke and wrote you a long letter, which I put on a flash. Now, my office computer won’t allow the flash.  Another communications glitch to figure out.


The other new professor in economics has been looking at apartments with the university’s person. There was a perfect three room apartment on 5th floor, apparently very near Paul’s place. A couple had rented it but the wife can’t navigate the stairs. I think I will look at it soon.  It was $1,500, but came down to $1,100. This area is near the sports complex and swimming pool.  Paul’s place really is tiny.

I can see that you may have run out of steam; I certainly did yesterday.  I still have to do a WHOLE lot to prepare for my classes tomorrow. My first day of teaching means meeting 280 students.  I will do much of it on my back with my notebook. I may have to transfer data from that on CD — but WHOA! I have no CD drive on this computer either, just a floppy!  I have no floppy on my notebook!!  Maybe the hotel computer will let me transfer.

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Body blocking traffic gridlock

My very first blog about our adventures in Central Asia where my husband and I first met in May of 1993.  We have come full circle back to the origin of our courtship in the Tian Shan mountains near China.  My husband, the “Kazakh nomad” just arrived in Almaty, Kazakhstan yesterday and has much to tell me about the changes from 14 years ago.  He is a “take-charge” kind of guy but I told him over Skype that I did not want him to do any more body blocking of traffic, it could be hazardous to his health.  Especially in Kazakhstan!!!  The following is what he wrote in a composite form from several e-mail exchanges we had.

It is 6 p.m. [Friday night] here which it turns out is 7 a.m. your time  (Kazakhstan apprently just “fell back” with Day Light Savings time) It is very hot in Almaty and nothing seems to have air conditioning. 

Plane arrived about 6:00 a.m. because of late departure (mechanical problem) There are a couple of ” Soviet ”  things; an announcement not to take pictures at the airport. They x-ray (some) of your bags WHEN YOU ARRIVE. (I dont’ know why.) I was very late getting through a crowd at passport control and joined Canadian professors in a KIMEP bus that sat in an incredible traffic jam. It took forever to get in from the airport.  I finally got out and blocked traffic bodily so we could get in to the street. I stood in front of essentially cars inching their way through the parking lot.  Not a soul was  Minnesota nice.

We are being put up in the Kazkahstan hotel, the tall one with the crown like top.I got a long time to get to know a nice young Canadian from Vancouver who is also in this department. He is Syrian, born in Uganda , but his family was forced out by Idi Amin.  He is Muslim, but says he has just started reading the Bible.  Single. Worried about the cost of an apartment, that may take 1/3 of his salary.

I am assigned a fourth course and I wanted to get an idea of how my replacement teaches and how the students behave.  So I went to my Friday 3 pm class and 38 people were there. The substitute, a fellow from Bangledesh with Canadian citizenship taught as I listened then I introduced myself and asked them some questions. All were Kazkahs except one Korean. Three had been to the States, they seem like nice kids. I get a reprieve in that there are only two class days next week, then a big vacation.  I however got saddled with another section of introductory economics, and with two sections of macro, I have 280 students, a total of 4 (50 minute) hours of standing on MW and two on F.  It will be a semester of learning how to teach introductory economics sitting down.

I am impressed by the place. The library has a recent journals section, where one can go and just read. There are several Russian economics and Kazakh economics journals in Russian.  Classrooms are well equipped and I have a desktop and flat screen, and HP printer all of my own. It is sunny and probably in the high 70s or low 80s.  Lots of traffic out the window on Abai, but I need the window open for ventilation. I think I need a fan, pictures on walls, to make it livable.

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