Archive for December 15, 2008

One Thousand Tiny Paper Cuts in Kazakhstan…but no scars!!!

God will not look you over for medals, degrees or diplomas, but for scars.”


I don’t have scars from living in Almaty, Kazakhstan but 1,000 tiny paper cuts!!! Kazakhstan is NOT my home as I am daily reminded of while walking to my university to save on bus commute. (it costs about 50 cents for just one bus stop down the hill so I prefer to walk).  Every time a car tries to plow me over, even though I’m legitimately crossing the street on the pedestrian zebra cross walk, I know I am not in the U.S. where the pedestrian typically has the right of way.  This mentality on the KZ road is strongly car driver centered vs. pedestrian centered.


As long as I’m ranting, another major paper cut is that I don’t believe any of the nationals of Kazakhstan pay 50% of their salary for the flat they live in, but I do.  That’s for the convenience of walking down hill 20-25 minutes everyday to my university. (mind you, this is NOT a posh place but very Soviet looking three room apartment) Fortunately, I do not have to be caught in needless traffic jams and waste my time waiting for the lights to change to bring me to my place of employment.  My REAL commute from my REAL home in the U.S., if I were to fly home to be with my family, is about 10% of my salary. And for the record, my definition of “family” is not just my husband but also includes my parents, my sisters and brothers and my nephews and nieces.  I’m glad to have my husband here to encourage me in this city of romance for us, (we met in Almaty over 15 years ago) but I love to see my relatives more than just a quick and hurried visit once a year.


How convenient to have one’s family in the same time zone, perhaps in the same city, which is the privilege of those who call Kazakhstan their home.  My loved ones are 12 time zones away and some of my fellow Kazakhstani teachers have never traveled that far to know what jet-lag is all about.  My illustrious dean in Bishkek, Kyrgyzstan back in 1993-5 thought that we Americans could jump off the plane and start teaching within an hour of disembarkment.  Little did she understand the concept of having our bodies and minds catch up with us with the great invention of air travel making it nearly possible to be at two places at the same time.  Once this Kyrgyz dean traveled to the States, she understood why we were dragging around for several days after our time travel.  Few Central Asians know there is always an ache in our hearts about maybe never seeing some of our loved ones again since it is cost prohibitive to go home in a 24 hour trip to see a cherished family member if they were to die.  Kazakhs are very family oriented and that is a good thing but seems to work for only them and not us.  As a foreigner in a strange land, there is always that feeling that nags at you that someone you love could be lost to you forever.  That’s why your last goodbyes before you board the plane, well, you better mean it when you say you love them.


When we do fly home for summer vacation or Christmas holidays, we are locked into a certain airline that flies only on certain days out of Almaty, so much are we at the mercy of living at the “ends of the earth” as I like to affectionately call Kazakhstan. Since this country already takes out 10% of my salary for their taxes, I’m left with about 40% of discretionary money to work with for food and other essentials.  I used to frequent “Second Hand” stores (emblazoned in English on the side of the shops) close to the Green Bazaar to find “used clothes.”  However, I didn’t even have time to do that this fall semester, so busy was I teaching my dear Kazakh students.


Yes, I’ve had a full teaching load.  I was scheduled to teach 8:30 a.m. classes five days a week and my Tuesday and Thursday classes, which started at 8:30, didn’t end until 1:00 p.m.  I taught three classes back to back.  Besides that face-to-face time with students in the classroom, I also made myself available for their questions not only 24/7 by e-mail on my yahoo address (since we can’t access our university mail from home) but also I would sit in my office cubicle for hours on end, way beyond the six hours of required office hours. 


Also, another tiny “paper cut” are the many distractions with people in my office talking or asking for my help throughout the day.  It ended up that I would have to come in to the office on Saturdays to get my real work accomplished.  The other day, one Kazakh teaching colleague asked me to help her fill out a letter of recommendation for one of her students for a scholarship.  I pity the student who has this teacher who can’t even find adjectives or sentences to describe what she is like as a student.  I had to dismiss this teacher from my presence as I was too busy inputting grades.  Also, many students come in asking for so-and-so teacher as if I am the keeper of my colleagues’ schedules, it gets rather irksome to say the least. Paper cut, paper cut.


Thankfully the semester is almost over, one final “exam” left to give on Wednesday, Dec. 17 which counts 10% of the grade for my academic reading and writing course.  My students must resent hanging around as long as they have had to after completing their final portfolio assignment as of Dec. 4.  They know and I know with enough other hometasks and in-class assignments, quizzes and mid-term test what their grade will be, plus or minus a few points.  For a course that deals with words, we have had to deal with a LOT of numbers these 15 long weeks, no make that 17 long weeks!  I’m not technically done until December 20.


Just give me my Christmas vacation where I can hole up with some of my favorite books and not see people and I’ll be good as new again once the spring semester starts up again on Friday, January 9, 2009.  Another paper cut!!! Incredible, who would start a semester on a Friday and not on Monday, January 12?  Well, supposedly this is the fault of our last American Vice President of Academic Affairs.  He has since left, as of last spring semester, so it is easy to blame him for arranging our 2008-2009 academic calendar year.  Do you see why one would NEVER want to leave this great land of Kazakhstan?  Well, except for those blasted drivers who are kings of the roads and you as a mere pedestrian are merely that, someone easy to intimidate.

Paper cut but no scars yet!


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