Archive for February, 2008

“…Make Brave Reading.”

Martin Luther on his sick bed managed to write the following between his groans:  “These pains and trouble here are like the type which the printers set; as they look now, we have to read them backwards, and they seem to have no sense or meaning in them; but up yonder, when the Lord God prints us off in the life to come, we shall find they make brave reading.”

Ken’s economic students have answered a simple question for him when he asks: “What have your parents told you about life under the communist system?” The students’ answers are sobering:

Kamila wrote from her mother’s perspective:  USSR was a closed country, so there were almost no imports or exports.  People got goods by special tickets, so my parents and many other stood up at 4 or 5 o’clock in the morning not to be without products.  I don’t like this time, I think it wasn’t fair, because some people work hard, and some didn’t do anything, but the result was equal.”

 Elena wrote much about views on consumer/seller relationships in USSR:  “…to be honest my parents and grandparents do not really like to discuss that period of time.  The only words which are heard very often tell about the “great” deficit.  Though my father has some kind of nostalgic, because he remembers that people had a job, stable workplace.  I came to an idea that for him it was not a problem to be in the long lists, waiting for flat, for beds, for sofas and all necessary everyday things.  Many things were very cheap, such as ice cream, bread, milk, and available in the shops.
 There was an advantage, of course, because people with good working experience and many years of working got everything first of all.  And also there was some kind of corruption.  My Mom’s uncle was a director at the factory and could get many things from abroad through his friends.  I especially remember the story about red shoes on the high heels.  Also, many products were available with a coupon.In the offices for lunch break and at the end of the day, the bell rang to let people know they were free.My father’s family worked on the ground.  In the middle of spring they left homes for summer and some part of autumn to grow many fruits, vegetables and then sell them.  Coming back they could buy a car (Moskvich) and were counted as kings and very wealthy people.  Through agriculture, people who worked for themselves, selling products to neighbors, also could earn good money.”

Dauren wrote a kind of irony about conditions from the past compared to now:  “If we comparing Soviet Union and our days we can say that in Soviet Union there was money, but they don’t have products.  Nowadays we have everything, but we don’t have money.  (joke)”

 Gulshat wrote what she knew about USSR economy:  “Too many attention  was given to special products, and some product and service were out of consideration.  For example, in 1950s they grew virgin soil.  They used entire part of Kazakhstani land.  They didn’t consider demand for wheat, just continued to produce to match certain plan that was set by Moskow.  They used wrong tools of seeding, after what a lot of fat [fertile] land became infertile.  It was too harmful in the long run.” 

Yerik wrote:  “My parents said that in Soviet time was deficit of meat, sugar, cigarettes…we are KAZAKH, and can you imagine Kazakh without meat??? It’s like Russian without vodka, I mean “suhoi zakon.” 

Chingiz wrote about his father:  “…worked as chief accountant on car repair factory (which was a very prestigious and “benefitial”), he was able to purchase new car “Volga” which used to be quite rare and prestigious at those times.  And almost only car of such “rank” at neighborhood.”

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Kazakh Students Write about Soviet Union

A young girl named Ardak wrote about Soviet times:  “After the Second World War, Stalin ruled the country.  This period of time was heavy and difficult for people.  There was no food, no clothes, no medicine and a big number of invalids.  For our grandparents, it was a testing time.  People didn’t know how people abroad lived because the government did not allow to show American or European films, music, books, television, radio and literature were under administration control.  People who listened to foreign music or who wore clothes made in foreign country were punished.  So, they lived in a country, without any assumption [knowledge] of what was happening in the world.”

 Nastya is happy that she lives in a peaceful nation such as Kazakhstan, however, she knows from her grandparents stories it wasn’t always true:  “But really harmful and stressful time was after II World War.  This is a time when my grand grandfather and g.g. mother were young and they got married.  G.G. father was Kazakh, his name was Fedohmet A. and G.G. Mother was Russian, her name is Vera C.  It was a time when a president of Soviet Union was Stalin.  My ancestors had three children and they lived quite normal.  G.G. father worked in the government.  One day some people came to our house and took him away.  These persons were called “troyka”  My G.G.father was innocent but he was condemned and killed…my g.g.mother had to take her surname in order not to be killed.  And this is an example just from my family.  But in that time a lot of intelligent people were killed because of cruel politics of Stalin.”

 Another classmate of hers by the same name of Nastya wrote something similar and shows her gratefulness for times past:  “I’m so happy that I live in Kazakhstan and not the Soviet Union.  I’m so sorry that there are so many sad pages in our history.  I do not have any of those feelings that my ancestors had.After the 1990s there had appeared books with “real history” not the history our parents were made to learn.  How many facts were hidden from people!  “Power corrupts, but absolute power corrupts absolutely.”  Leaders of socialism tried to move away from European model of economy which was based on market relations.  But in fact, it was the best.  Nowadays, Kazakhstan is moving to market economy.  Every event that was important for people is printed in newspapers.  No more queues in front of shops.  No shortage of clothes or food.Sometimes when I’m lazy to go to the shop for something, Mum begins telling about Soviet Union times.  IN most of these cases I want to laugh but in fact, it’s really sad.  Everyone had to go to another part of the city and stand for two or more hours just for milk and bread!  For us, it’s unbelievable!So we should be glad for everything we have nowadays.”

 Nazira wrote with pride about her grandmother and the many stories she heard from her.  “She was a seamstress and at the same time chairman of the Soviet Union’s group.  And as she told me, it was a very difficult time, because it was the time after World War II and all the industry didn’t work so good.  That’s why she used to do more than it was written in a lot of the orders and even she hadn’t got any time to be at home with her family.  As she had told me, at this time (from 1950-…) people were very industrious and they worked hard because they loved their country very much.  There weren’t any free food, any free clothes even any free time.  All they have only their hands which can bring all this useful things.  But if we can compare with nowadays time, I can say that now there is not so many factories, farms, because it was time of decay and government hadn’t got enough money to build it again after the war.But from the other side, it wasn’t so bad, as my grandpa said, if you were on the high post it wouldn’t be difficult for you to go to other countries, to have a good rest and etc.  And to become a boss, wasn’t so easy, because you had to be always “on eyes” of Soviet Union’s group and of course work hard as you can…”

 Another classmate by the name of Elnira wrote about what her mother had told her about Kazakhstan’s sad past:  “My mother told me about some history facts about time after this war.  This was terrible and hard time for all Soviet Union.  And because of that, Kazakhstan was the part of it, that time was terrible for my mother and her relatives too.  She told me about the time when they even couldn’t find any food to eat.  But because of that my grandfather, my mother’s father, was a very purposeful man.  (He had six children and of course he had to take care of them), he found a job and the family became more happy.In the 1960s to Mangyshlak came Taras Shevchenko, who was sent there to the exile.  And after that the building of a new town began the first name of my home town is Shevchenko, then it was renamed Aktau, which translation is White Mountain…”

 It can be said that the Soviet government ruined families as is the case with Dariga’s stories about her grandparents. “…it was a very hard time for our country.  I think it was the time of war.  And the village in which my grandfather lived was suffering from famine.  So the government decided to take all the children from their parents to some better living conditions.  And my grandfather with his little brother were taken too.  I don’t really remember, but it seems to me that the children were taken from Shymkent to some children’s houses.  Eventually my grandfather and his brother ran away and got home with a lot of adventures on their way.  What is sad is that no other children went back home when the war ended.  Parents of that village lost their children forever.”

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Our Balcony View of the Mountains

mountain topsmountainsThese photos show the view from our back balcony of the mountains to the south, beyond that is the small country of Kyrgyzstan.  Why I continue to think that mountains should always be in the north and going downhill in Almaty means south, defies any rational explanation.  (Others suffer the same mistaken notion) The reverse is true, going downhill in Almaty is north.  Maybe it is because I come from the flat plains of the Red River Valley in northwestern Minnesota.  When people in Colorado declare what height a certain mountain is in their vista, it means nothing to me.  7,000 feet versus 4,000 feet high has no bearing from one who comes from land that is as flat as a pancake.  I’m not even sure if we are below sea level.  No, what mountains mean to me in the different countries I’ve lived in such as the Philippines or Kyrgyzstan is the promise I take away from Psalm 121.

One day back in 1982 when I was a Peace Corps volunteer near Kalibo, Aklan I was going through a very difficult period.  My teaching job was fine, the students were great but I was lonely.  A song came to me and the refrain of it kept going through my mind as if to pacify my hurting spirit. I used a concordance to look up the precise location of the words which was from Ps. 121:1-2.  Spiritually I KNEW I needed help.  “I lift my eyes to the hills – where does my help come from? My help comes from the Lord, the Maker of heaven and earth.  He will not let your foot slip–he who watches over you will not slumber.”Now THAT is a promise I can hang on to while living in Almaty, Kazakhstan!!!

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His Grace is Great Enough

His grace is great enough to meet the great things–
The crashing waves that overwhelm the soul,
The roaring winds that leave us stunned and breathless,
The sudden storms beyond our life’s control.

His grace is great enough to meet the small things–
The little pin-prick troubles that annoy;
The insect worries, buzzing and persistent,
The squeaking wheels that grate upon our joy.
by Annie Johnson Flint

My day will be busy enough, it is my own personal “Super Tuesday” and many places to be.  I love the line “the insect worries, buzzing and persistent…” It seems to explain some of the everyday, garden variety problems we face at our university but good to be reminded that His grace is great enough in the great and small things.

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Powerful Cars versus Careless Pedestrian

busy Almaty intersectionParliment buildingToday I was honked at by a driver as he was making a left and I was crossing the big intersection.  I was walking on the red light so I was in the wrong, the driver was correct in admonishing me.  I don’t usually go out in the middle of the intersection until I see green and had even watched another young man before me go through as a nonchalant pedestrian on a RED light.  Already a long day could have been made much longer if I had been hit by the oncoming car.  The driver’s angry look and his blast on the horn jolted me to realize I was fortunate that he was aware of my presence. 

However, too often cars are showing off their power and typically don’t stop when we are legitimately crossing at pedestrian crosswalks.  We, as walkers, are powerless against their four wheels.  The other day I walked past a formidable looking government building where they used to make traffic laws for the country until the whole national government picked up and moved to Astana in the northern regions of Kazakhstan.  How many people lose their lives due to negligence on both sides, drivers and walkers.  In any case, whatever snow we got in big fluffy billows of white has now mostly melted down and thankfully the sidewalks are clearing.  If the cars don’t run you over, the “black ice” will get you at sundown.

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Under the Snow and “Under the Leaves”

Presidents PalaceThe following poem would be more appropriate in the spring yet we are still into winter in Almaty which makes it much more hopeful in Kazakhstan than in northwest Minnesota where the temps have been hovering way below freezing (-20 and -30) for several weeks.  So glad to be where it is warmer and today it is a clear enough sky to see the valley below and the pristine mountains above us.  Though it looks cold and forbidding, there is hope buried in my heart that we will see green leaves again, soon!!!
Thy Hidden Ones

Thick green leaves from the soft brown earth,
Happy springtime hath called them forth;
First faint promise of summer bloom
Breathes from the fragrant, sweet perfume,
Under the leaves.

Lift them! what marvelous beauty lies
Hidden beneath, from our thoughtless eyes!
Mayflowers, rosy or purest white,
Lift their cups to the sudden light,
Under the leaves.

Are there no lives whose holy deeds–
Seen by no eye save His who reads
Motive and action–in silence grow
Into rare beauty, and bud and blow
Under the leaves?

Fair white flowers of faith and trust,
Springing from spirits bruised and crushed;
Blossoms of love, rose-tinted and bright,
Touched and painted with Heaven’s own light
Under the leaves.

Full fresh clusters of duty borne,
Fairest of all in that shadow grown;
Wondrous the fragrance that sweet and rare
Comes from the flower-cups hidden there
Under the leaves.

Though unseen by our vision dim,
Bud and blossom are known to Him;
Wait we content for His heavenly ray–
Wait till our Master Himself one day
Lifteth the leaves.

PS. 83 is what the author of this poem reflected on, fits our situation in Kazakhstan.

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Marshmellow World of Almaty

Walking path

Kazakh flaglittle man, big walk

Walking to my ultrasound treatment yesterday morning was pure delight!  A marshmellow world indeed where I had to duck low below the heavily laden branches on some of my walking paths.  My favorite photo is the path just west of the President’s Palace where a man was walking downhill from me, he is a speck of black in the wide walking path.  The day before it had been raining and walking to the clinic meant walking far away from the cars splashing up water that collected in puddles.  The beauty of yesterday also meant later in the afternoon when it was melting to be careful of the icy sidewalks, especially at sundown.  I minced along home walking uphill and was careful to NOT slip or slide on the compacted snow.  Beauty is indeed fleeting and can turn dangerous within hours.  I domarshmellow worldn’t even want to know how many accidents happened in Almaty with the roncoming cars in Almatyoads being plugged up with snow and pedestrians doing their customary daredevil jaywalking to stand in the middle of four lanes of traffic.  The good news is that I don’t have to do my ultrasound treatments anymore!!!

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More wisdom from C.S. Lewis

“When you teach a child writing, you hold its hand while it forms the letters; that is, it forms the letters because you are forming them.  We love and reason because God loves and reasons and holds our hand while we do it…The teacher is able to form the letters for the child because the teacher is grown-up and knows how to write.  That, of course, makes it easier for the child.  If it rejected him because ‘it’s easy for grown-ups’ and waited to learn writing from another child who could not write itself (and so had no ‘unfair’ advantage), it would not get on very quickly.  If I am drowning in a rapid river, a man who still has one foot on the bank may give me a hand which saves my life.  Ought I to shout back (between my gasps) ‘No, it’s not fair! You have an advantage! You’re keeping one foot on the bank’?  That advantage – call it ‘unfair’ if you like – is the only reason why he can be of any use to me.  To what will you look for help if you will not look to that which is stronger than yourself.”  Mere Christianity, Book II, Chapter 4

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Distilled wisdom from students’ grandparents

The other day I subbed for a Kazakh teacher who went to Turkmenistan to recruit students for our university.  I was MORE than happy to take the two 70 minute classes in order to follow the speaking-listening textbook, but also to find out the level of the students’ writing.  As a seasoned writing teacher, I asked them to write for me in 30 minutes anything they remember about what their grandparents had told them about the past.  I purposely kept it open and vague so that I would find out what was MOST important to them in relating what their grandparents had told them about Kazakhstan’s past.  Some wrote on more recent events such as the rebellion of Dec. 16, 1986 but others went back as far as Genghis Khan.  Most wrote about the cruelties during WWII and the forced Soviet collectivization and only a few said they didn’t have any memories due to having no grandparents or coming from a different country.  In any case, these were some of the surprise quotes I cherish from these Kazakh students:

 “P.S. I was so surprised with such an exercise from your side.  But it is so important that you do, moreover, I think it is really great, useful and deep.  Thank you. Honestly, it touched me…”

“I do believe that today’s people should thank their grandparents for everything they did to make us live happily as we do now.”

“My granny tells this story with tears in her eyes.  She says that the main thing that she learned during her life is that you should help people in need and they will not turn their backs on you when you need it.”

“It is very nice of you to be interested in our country…Sorry for not writing widely of that story, I am just not good at re-telling stories…”

“‘It was very, very hard time.  But people survived because they hoped’ once said my grandmother.”

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Long Wait Monday; Expedient Wednesday

Two contrastings days.  As if the ultrasound technician had been waiting for me this morning after I walked the 15 minutes to the clinic to get my first treatment for my swollen foot.  The first 5 minutes were a bit painful as she put the ointment on and used her wand to bear down on my edema ankle.  The next 5 minutes were more predictable but I was wondering how long this would go on. Fortunately only about 10 minutes. 

Monday’s long two hour wait for the actual x-ray to find out that nothing was broken was almost too painful to reflect back to.  Monday catches up on all the weekend accidents, Wednesday is more relaxed from overwrought patients.  Fortunately, I had someone next to me in the waiting room who could speak English and had broken her foot in a skiing accident.  That helped pass the time to talk besides reading homework papers.  Apparently, people from this part of the Central Asian world are used to sprains and breaks because of the skiing industry but also because of the icy sidewalks.  When I lived in Kyiv, people had to be more wary of overhanging HUGE killer icicles that threatened their very lives.  Anyway, happy to say the two week ultrasound treatment is all paid for by insurance and I might as well take advantage of this even though it cuts into my work of teaching and other related duties. 

Something totally unrelated to the above topic is a quote I picked up from C.S. Lewis from his classic book Mere Christianity:  “…fallen man is not simply an imperfect creature who needs improvement: he is a rebel who must lay down his arms.  Laying down your arms, surrendering, saying you are sorry, realizing that you have been on the wrong track and getting ready to start life over again from the ground floor – that is the only way out of a ‘hole.’  This process of surrender – this movement full speed astern – is what Christians call repentance.  Now repentance is no fun at all.  It is something much harder than merely eating humble pie.  It means unlearning all the self-conceit and self-will that we have been training ourselves into for thousands of years…”

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