Archive for March, 2008

Happy Easter and Koke Tobe Cable Car

afternoon teapark benchBeatlesmtn backdropin cable carbeginning of Koke Tobe

Yesterday was an absolutely perfect day for our Easter celebration at church but better yet after a cable car ride to the top of (Koke Tobe) Blue Hill mountain.  For six months I have wanted to compare what I remembered it from 15 years ago when I was a TEFL Peace Corps trainer.  Often we, as trainers, would leave our training site to walk the serpentine, dusty road to get to the top.  The cable car was not functioning back then and everything was in very sad disrepair.  However, yesterday it was a delight to see the young girls dancing, the children’s playground, the zoo and many happy people milling about. 

The Narooz festive air crackled with different kinds of folk music along with contemporary western music.  Funny to see the Beatles statues which Ken sat next to all the while claiming he had taught them everything they knew.  I had heard at the Narooz party I attended the other day that there was a Kazakh group who patterned their singing and songs after the Beatles, consequently they were outlawed in the Soviet Union.  That, of course, only increased their popularity and so they were a simultaneous phenomenon in Kazakhstan while the Beatles were making headlines internationally.  I need to find out more about this group who popularized Kazakh music set to the beat of the Beatles.  Help me out, native speakers of Kazakh, please.

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“Naroozing” at Nazym’s place

woman on horse billboardNarooz billboardNarooz and museumsamavorNazym and Elainemy boss and me

Narooz, is a Persian holiday, as I understand it and not strictly Muslim but it has that element to it too.  It is the LAST of the New Year’s celebrations starting with our western one on January 1 and then there is the Chinese new year in the middle and all the other celebrations which bring in the new year according to all the different cultural traditions.  Let’s just say Narooz is as eclectic as Kazakhstan is, from the toasting that had a certain protocol of each guest giving a short speech with well wishing. First we had sampled the camel’s milk and mare’s milk (koomis) then the singing of a Kazakh song to a funny joke told by Zaira, to the very end gift giving by the hostess Nazym.  We were hosted by Nazym and her husband who had newly remonted (remodeled) their spacious flat.  Nazym’s sister-in-law had helped with the preparation of the many dishes, Greek salad, soup with potato and egg, deep fat fried bread, horse meat and finally monti (lamb’s meat in a dumpling).  Vegetarians would have had a tough time at this lavishly spread out table. 

We ended with sweets that were homemade and delicious and of course the obligatory tea from the samavor at the end of the table by the host and hostess.  Going out into the street there were happy celebrants walking everywhere with the festive mood in high gear by the sound of the music.  A good time was had by all except my dear Ken who was slaving away in his office so that he might celebrate our Easter celebration in good form today.  Happy Narooz and Happy Easter!!!

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Overlap of Holidays and Disappointed Friend

I was very sorry that I disappointed an Iranian friend of mine yesterday.  I had stopped by A.Z.’s optical shop on Wednesday however she was not there to confirm what we had discussed earlier, a lunch at her home at noon on Friday.  She wanted Ken and me to join her to celebrate the Persian holiday of Narooz and I’m sure she created a very lavish spread.  Since A.Z was sick and I hadn’t heard any more about the specifics of how to find her place, I thought the lunch date was off.  Unfortunately, I should have tried harder to locate her phone number or at least e-mailed her to see about it but my excuse was that I didn’t have her new, temporary phone number on my list.  (No doubt her phone number is floating around my desk on some little scrap of paper.)  

Meanwhile, A.Z. was having the same trouble trying to locate me by phone since I was at work.  We had scheduled for noon on Friday but it was the phone call on my cell phone an hour later that made me realize I had really disappointed my friend.  Her English isn’t that good but she certainly knew how to convey her sadness in our phone conversation.  I explained that I could not extract myself from all the work on my desk to go to her place at 1:00, it was too late.  If I had figured out how to get to her place I would have to leave again for another social engagement that started at my American friend’s place at 4:00 p.m.

Ken and I had been looking forward to participating in a Seder meal across town.  Once we joined up, we were stuck in traffic for over a half hour but it sure beat the committee meeting that Ken was supposed to be at on yesterday’s beautiful spring day.  Today is a beauty of a day and I’m scheduled yet again to join some fellow teachers at a Kazakh woman’s place for another big meal celebrating Narooz.  Tomorrow is our Easter Sunday so this has been one weekend filled with holidays overlapping each other.  Fortunately we have Monday off, not for our Easter but because Narooz is such a HUGE holiday in Kazakhstan.

I will have to try to make it up to my friend A.Z. somehow before she leaves for Canada in less than a month.  I also have to get better organized on putting people’s phone numbers on my permanent list no matter how temporary they might be.  Essentially we are all so very transitory on this planet and we need to treat each other with kindness especially when cultures and holidays overlap.

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Good Friday and I’m Sad!

Pretense exists in academia BIG time, that makes me sad.  I’m surrounded by it in spades here in Almaty, Kazakhstan.  The pre-existing Soviet style of education was filled with “Pakazooka” which my husband uses as a Russian term which means something for show but the opposite truth is hidden behind it.  Both Pretense and Pakazooka start with a “P.”

 Ordinarily I’m a fairly positive, upbeat type of person but not today.  Our very complex situation at our institution has caught up with me.  I’m sad because I was framed for a minor, minor incident, blamed for something that I didn’t do.  Another person lied about something so they wouldn’t have to take the rap, yet if they had ‘fessed up they would have been surrounded by grace.  More pretense!  Pretending that you are better than you really are, which is essentially PRIDE!!!  More “P.”

 What is it about education that puffs people up?  Someone writes and publishes an article several years ago in some journal.  Big deal, does that make them more knowledgeable in all other areas of life?  Hardly, yet they do know one tiny piece of their own little puzzle. We all inhabit a very large but complex world.  These same “know-it-alls” have some letters behind their name that start with a “P” which puts them in a higher pay bracket.  Do these Ph.D. types REALLY know the very people they are trying to educate?  I doubt it nor do they care.  They seem to care only for their own ego and reputation based on whatever theory they are promoting in their own sphere or discipline.  The Soviet Union’s scholars pushed a LOT of theory and had very little real application.  If they had used authentic research with hard evidence, it would have gone against their ideology that communism was supreme.

 I have a strong empathy for the people of Kazakhstan who want to know and learn in order to be a part of the twenty-first century. They were thought of as awkward and behind the times in comparison to the rest of the world. Yes, many Kazakhs may have their own quirky way of going about their education since they’ve only come out a system that promoted pretense and pride just 15 years ago.  That system under its own heavy weight of lies caved in and it left many shattered lives as a result.  Some grabbed for the goodies and property, others scrambled for other perks with Kazakhstan’s natural resources.  A new, rich class of Kazakhs exist who care nothing for intellectual property and believe they can use their new toys or equipment to steal from others. We call that same practice, which is common in the classroom with the advent of the computer, plagiarism.  Another “P.”

 What to do about a group of people who do not want to write their own thoughts but would rather “cut and paste” others’ writings?  This gets back to the first “P” I mentioned about pretense.  The old way of thinking prevails, “We pretend to teach and the students pretend to learn.”  I know Someone who came into this world 2,000 years ago who took the rap for us, he took the blame.  He tried to teach an ornery lot of people who were filled with themselves.  He went to the cross to rid the world of a lot of “P.”  I’m sad today but feel I can say along with Paul from Galations 2:20 “I have been crucified with Christ…”

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“See-me” Side of City Life

gutter garbagemore garbagegarbage dumpIn the last week or so brigades of university students have been out raking and cleaning up the ground-bare lawns from the sum total of a year’s worth of trash.  Glass and plastic bottles along with wrappers and plastic bags could be seen everywhere and then it gets stuck in the gutters with the rains we have had every other day.  In Soviet times there was a name for this spring clean-up day.  If only people would just dispose of their waste in the trash recepticles so it would not be unsightly the rest of the year, it would make for a less “seemy” looking city. 

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Three views of Almaty, plus one

valley to northglass buildingmountainsMan hole cover

Spring has arrived and there is a clearer view to the north into the valley of Almaty.  The glass building continues to be built to the west and the mountains are to the south.  Ken’s fourth view is down into one of the drainage tunnels to accommodate all the run off from the mountains.  Notice the man, hole and cover, many covers are purposely upturned to collect the fast spillage from melting snow or the rain that turned to sleet-snow yesterday.  The air is clear, fresh and hopeful of a promising spring which will eventually turn into a hot summer.  For now, we enjoy it!!!

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Clockwise Prejudice About Kazakhstan’s Education

This Independence celebration of Dec. 16 that the Kazakhs celebrate may have a strange origin with violence of students clashing against the Soviet authorities.  But then again, our own American independence was a bunch of distinguished upstarts railing against the prevailing British authorities of their time.  Freedom was birthed by people standing up for what they believed was right even though it ultimately meant bloodshed.

Yesterday at work, I talked to a teaching colleague friend of mine who has blue eyes, like me, another Helen. She has a similar background to the Helen, as a Russian-Kazakhstani, whom I blogged about yesterday, though she is about 10 years younger. Helen was from northern Kazakhstan where she claims the educational system is far superior than that of the south. (Almaty is in the south) Helen admitted she had not wanted to come to Almaty but here she is with a high profile job.  I have a great deal of respect for Helen as a very hard worker who has high standards.Helen told me that the southern part of Kazakhstan is considered more nationalistic and doesn’t have as good an educational system but better than the western part of the country where there are simple villagers and nobody wants to go there to teach.  Eastern Kazakhstan is similar to the north in being better education-wise.  So, the way I understood it from Helen’s perspective, the North is best, then east, then south and then western Kazakhstan is the worst.  Clockwise prejudice about education.

I also found out more about the December 16, 1986 event from this second Helen.  On that day, she said that the airport was closed while she was trying to fly into Almaty from her home in the north.  She remembers when she went to the Green Market, not many sellers were there to sell their products.  Also, she said people stood in their customary lines in complete silence.  They did not chatter with each other during their long waits but went about their business of purchasing with little or no talking.  Many more Russians back in those days than now and there were mixed reviews about the student demonstration incident even among the Kazakhs. Apparently, according to Helen, the students were very unruly and destroying things but also there were Kazakh administrators in the college dormitories using sticks to goad on students to get out in the square to be a part of the demonstration.  Cars were stationed on the square ladling out vodka or other alcoholic brew along with drugs to incite the students.  Therefore, the students were caught in the crossfire between the police who were trying to uphold “law and order” and their university administrators who wanted to maintain their positions of power.  With a change in leadership from Moscow, their positions of authority were in jeopardy.  Thus, the rebellion about having an imposed non-Kazakh leader to come and take over.  I believe that is when Nazarbayev came in as Kazakhstan’s president, soon after this revolt.So, now I want to find someone who was actually on the square that particular day of Dec. 16, 1986 and find out from their perspective about what REALLY happened.  This reminds me of the Tianamen Square incident which happened in Beijing, China in 1989.  Later I taught mainland Chinese students who had been on the square and they spoke with fear about the violence and terror they felt during that tumultuous time.  I believe, the desire for freedom and independence is bred in all our hearts, no matter what nation.  We, as Americans, take for granted what our forefathers fought for these many hundreds of years ago.  Counter-clockwise thinking about our freedom AND our education.

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