Archive for February, 2009

Central Asia and “Soul” by Andrey Platonov


I just finished reading a powerful short story that became a classic in the former Soviet Union. Perhaps because it touched a nerve with the “souls” of those who were struggling in a supposedly “classless society.”  It certainly irked Stalin enough to put Platonov on the black list of Soviet writers.  However, Platonov’s stories continue to surface, even today. 



I appreciate the cover on the front of this “Soul” book which uses the artist Kazimir Malevich opaque painting “Torso in a Yellow Shirt.”  I have run across Malevich’s works before in relation to Ukraine’s Holodomor [Terror Famine] and the devastation of millions of destroyed souls in the early 1930s. 


Platonov masterfully and craftily writes about famine which manifested itself in Central Asia as well without ever once using the words “starvation” or “famine.” [of course those words were verbotten in the 1930s]  I think the translators skillfully brought out Platonov’s Russian nuances into English which will hopefully make this a classic MUST read among westerners.  Please read the following quotes I found intriguing, I’m sure the original Russian is just as gripping.


p. 31 “Chagataev told the old man that he had come from far away for the sake of his mother and his nation.  But did his nation still exist on earth, or had it come to an end long ago?

The old man said nothing.

“Did you see your father anywhere?” he asked.

“No. And you – do you know Stalin?”

“No, I don’t,” Sufyan answered.  “I once heard that word from a passer-by.  He said it was a good word.  But I don’t think it can be.  If it is something good, let it come here to Sary-Kamysh.  This was the hell of the entire world, and no human being lives a worse life than I do.”

“It’s me that’s come,” said Chagataev. “Here I am.”


p. 105 “Then Chagataev gathered everyone together and asked whether they intended to live of their own accord or were they still living merely thanks to such outside forces as food, air, water and habit acquired at birth.  Nobody answered him anything.

Many pale eyes were straining to look at Chagataev, trying not to close from weakness and indifference.  Chagataev felt the pain of his sorrow: his nation did not need communism.  His nation needed oblivion – until the wind had chilled its body and slowly squandered it in space.  Chagataev turned away from everyone: all his actions, all his hopes had proved senseless…”


“…Did there remain in his nation even a small soul, something he could work with in order to bring about general happiness? Or had everything there been so worn away by suffering that even imagination, the intelligence of the poor, had entirely died?  Chagataev knew from childhood memory, and from his education in Moscow, that any exploitation of a human being begins with the distortion of their soul, with getting a soul so used to death that it can be subjugated; without this subjugation, a slave is not a slave.  And this forced mutilation of the soul continues, growing more and more violent, until reason in the slave turns to mad and empty mindlessness.  The class struggle begins with the victory of the oppressors over the ‘holy spirit’ confined within the slave: blasphemy against the master’s beliefs – against the master’s soul, the master’s god – goes unpardoned, while the slave’s own soul is ground down in falsehood and destructive labour.”

p. 109 “Half an hour later he was close enough to see that the entire Dzhan nation was sitting around this fire of quietly burning saksaul.  The nation was singing a song and did not notice Chagataev.  Chagataev listened to this song, enthralled…The song said: 

“We won’t cy when tears come to us,

we won’t smile from joy,

and nobody will be able to reach our deep heart,

which will make its own way towards people

and the whole life and stretch out its hands to them

when its bright time comes,

and this time is now near;

deep in our hearts we can hear our soul,

hurrying to come out and help us.”


p. 149 “Chagataev took Ksenya’s hand in his own hand and felt the far-away, rapid beating of her heart; it was as if her soul wanted to reach him and come to his rescue.  Chagataev now knew for sure that help could come to him only from another human being.


So it would seem that the communist idealist who believed in Stalin because he was essentially orphaned to the communist State, went on a mission to be the “savior” to his meager “pedestrian nation” in Central Asia, extracting it from near extinction.  However, in the end he needed saving from himself and those ideals that had possessed and tormented his life almost to physical death.  Ultimately, he was freed in the end of this short story by love from another desperate soul.

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Say “expatriot” and NOT “expat!!!” (sigh)

The other day I was reprimanded by a Russian speaking colleague about using the word “expat” incorrectly.  (*I* am an EXPAT!!!)  According to her, I should say “expatriot” instead.  I told her that I prefer saying something that I have been for almost 15 years in two syllables rather than in four.  I thanked her for helping me out in my native language of English. However, try to tell someone they should say “television” rather than t.v. or better to say “electronic mail” instead of “e-mail.” To me, to say the full extension of a commonly used term is absurd.  I have had many expat friends among American, British, Australian, Canadian and New Zealanders when I lived in Philippines, China, Kyrgyzstan, Ukraine and finally our most recent stint in Kazakhstan. ExPAT, EXpat, expat!!!  Check out definition of the word, it is an informal term that was started by the British but Americans have managed to make it even more slangy by using the short “a” instead of the long “a.”


The reason I was corrected was due to a meeting we had at the Language Center last week where I got up in front of about 50-60 of my teacher colleagues and gave three suggestions that I found useful in my teaching.  The first was how to conserve on the usage of paper.  I asked for a show of hands, “How many of you e-mail your students about their assignments?”  Five or six timidly raised their hands which means only 10% do, the others are traditionalists and just count on meeting up with their students during the scheduled class or during office hours. 


My second suggestion was to tell them that I was purposely raising the standards of my MBA students by having my “expat friends” come to the classroom to listen to their 7 minute speeches.  I also remarked that this is good P.R. to have the expat community aware of who our soon-to-be graduates are.  Some of these expat visitors might be future employers for our graduate students.  My third point was to have guest lecturers come to the Listening classes for the students to listen to live people rather than just taped conversations all the time.  Last semester, my students’ feedback indicated they LOVED having expat guest lecturers come to visit so they could interact with them.  I could see some teachers nodding their heads in agreement.  Again, a way of building up the reputation of our university which at this point we need some good P.R.  Er, Public Relations to be clearly understood.


Apparently my Russian speaking colleague was just giving me “constructive” feedback that the other Kazakh teachers thought they heard me say I was bringing my “expert friends” to my speech classes.  They misheard me talking about my having an “expert community.”  Hmmm…I already know many of these teachers don’t like to write (or read), now I’m wondering about their listening comprehension skills in English.  Perhaps they need to be working on the same material they dole out to their students in the overly redundant listening and notetaking classes. In some cases, I’m wondering how their speaking is during the classes, I think there may be more Russian spoken than is healthy for a “westernized” university. I also think my teaching colleagues are way too isolated in their own clique to realize that their English may not be as good as their students.  In any case, to my ears, “expat” sounds very different from expert.  But then again, my American friends ARE experts in their particular fields of expertise.


So, yesterday I blogged about an expat friend of mine Brenda.  Also, I subbed yesterday afternoon for another expat friend Nancy who went on a recruiting trip to western Kazakhstan.  Then last night I had another expat friend Julia visit my speech classes again and she brought her husband Dan this time.  I wonder what these Americans would say to someone who might try to correct them that they should call themselves “expatriots?” 


Sigh, sometimes the snarky comments among my peers wear me down, but my lovely students build me up.  THEY are the reason I am here in Kazakhstan.


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Dalmation Dog and Diamond


I enjoyed a meal at my friend Brenda’s place on Sunday and she enjoyed showing off her two dogs.  The one in the picture is Molly her older Dalmation dog who is deaf but has a very sweet spirit, never barks.  The other one does to make up for the both of them.  I wish my husband and I could have a dog, but our nomadic lifestyle does not encourage that sort of ownership.  I would not want my parents to be saddled with that responsibility while we are away.  Ken thinks there should be “time-share” dogs, he may be on to something.

Yesterday I saw Brenda and she told me that she had lost her diamond out of the six facets on her ring.  I was horrified to hear this.  It was a very nice diamond her husband had given her about ten years ago.  She had been sad the night before when she came to observe my students’ speeches but I hadn’t had a chance to talk with her.  She had just discovered that her diamond was missing.  I asked how her husband took the news, Brenda said he was fine with it.  Good perspective to think that it is only a diamond, not a life. Imagine my surprise when I finally looked at my text message last night at 11 p.m. on my cell phone to read the following:

“I was watching the academy awards and sobbing.  Reached for a kleenex and heard something hit the table and there it was! A miracle!”

So, whatever angels are attending my friend, she found something valuable that went missing.  God answers prayer!

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Photos from Falcon Hunt and Speech Classes

The two different topics are mutually exclusive.  My friend Kathy from Indiana took the photos of the Falcon Hunt last weekend.  I took the photos of my Academic Speech Classes last night.  We were very pleased to have three expat friends of mine attend the classes to listen, evaluate, ask questions and enjoy my MBA students.  A good time was had by all, except for the bunny rabbits in the falcon hunts, that is. (be sure to double click to maximize the thumbnail photos)



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Request from My Former Ukrainian Student

The following e-mail was sent to me by a former Ukrainian student in Kyiv.  I would LOVE to help her out but I’m flummoxed as to what my response should be to her.  I don’t have any connections in the American film industry but I want to help her pursue her dream. 

Tonight I just had my Kazakh students,  who are pursuing their MBA degree,  give their first informative speeches.  They talked on what they are passionate about for their own personal reasons such as, photography, Pushkin, solar energy, distance education, corruption, multinationals, oil industry, raising children, etc.  HOW great for both my classes to have three expat visitors come to observe, evaluate and witness my students in action.  My students were a bit nervous but thrilled too.  Tomorrow I’ll show photos of our group and also some falcon photos (courtesy of my friend Kathy’s camera and her visit last weekend where falcons do the hunting). 

Here is what Renata wrote:

Good afternoon!

At least it’s afternoon in Ukraine now. Thank you for a birthday greeting, it was nice and surprising to hear from you. Sorry for answering so late, studying was really harsh and I didn’t have internet connection for some time. But it’s better late then never.

I’d like to thank you for all the writing skills that you taught us, and all the knowledge that I got from your classes, far as I still apply them in all other classes and in life.

I am writing to you also with a request for an advice. I know that you have a great experience in editing and writing, and you might have enough knowledge and experience, to be able to answer my question.

I have this little dream for quite a long time, and a decided to take attempts to implement it, no matter how childish and unreal it might look. I have an idea of a movie screenplay in my mind, a gorgeous screenplay. i don’t have enough experience in screenplay writing, to be able to put it down the way it has to be written in order to be presented to somebody who might get interested in it. I also wouldn’t like it to be released in Ukraine, I would like to have it presented in U.S.

Could you please advise me, or give me some ideas on how from your point of view this can be done, or maybe you know someone in U.S that I might contact with and get an advice.

Thanks in advance.

Best regards,


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Natasha’s proverbs with English meanings

Baba with cart – mares work easier. (we are better off without you; it’s easier for the horse to start when the woman gets off the cart) this proverb about resignation something or decision making.


Wolf’s legs are fed. (the dog that trots about finds a bone, wolves live by their legs) this proverb about that person must be very active all his life.


Than one hundred times to hear, it is better to see once. (one eyewitness is better than two hear-so’s; the proof of the pudding is in the eating) this proverb meaning about travel.


How many wolves do not feed, still in the forest looking? (give the wolf the best food, but he would hanker for the wood; what is bred in the bone will not go out of the flesh) the meaning this proverb self-improvement


Smoke without fire is not. (there is no smoke without fire, nothing is stolen without hands) this proverb about decisions.


Caution is the parent of safety. (God takes care of those who take care of themselves) safety


Looking in the book and saw Fico. ( See nothing) not wish for environment


Case time – fun hour. (there is a time for all things; business before pleasure) the meaning this proverb discipline


Scientists Light and Darkness is not a scientist. (knowledge is light, ignorance is darkness; learning is the eye of the mind) education


You might have a hundred rubles but should have a hundred friends. (rather have a hundred friends than a hundred roubles; a friend in court is better than a penny in purse) friendship


And wants, and tunic, and pain, and no mother orders. (love it so, but mother says no; the cat would eat fish and would not wet her feet) behavior


Do not look, to others still, and see, that you got. (cast no greedy eye at another man’s pie; who invited you to the roast?) greed



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“World Class Flat” and Wise Buys (Part II)

Here are my “Wise Buys” for those more astute, speculating shoppers:

1)     Naturally, one should always start in the bathroom area of one’s flat.  That is where most other people who are cost saving start, never mind the big ticket items such as cars, washing machines, computers, etc.  In our flat’s bathroom a more appropriate term would be “Water Closet” because it is as big as a closet.  I have a foot high metal holder for toilet paper, towelettes, spray.  I bought this at the Green Market and not the barahoka, so you KNOW it is stellar quality. Mind you, not manufactured in China. I also have the kind of spongy matting (forest green) that people use in bathrooms, imported from Germany and of very good quality. Again, not made in China which is a major selling point made often by Green Market sellers.  Okay, I dislike bathroom humor so thankfully this part is over with, moving on…


2)     These next items are for our truly “green thumb” shoppers.  The next place to look in order to save money for us is to sell all my plants.  When I first arrived to our flat that my husband had secured over a year and a half ago, the whole place was devoid of the color green.  I LOVE green (especially our old style American dollars) so I made short work of a trip to Ramstor just a block away and I bought 10 green plant holders, potting soil and the requisite GREEN plants.  For some reason I have many “Mother-in-laws tongue” plants that seem to proliferate.  So, not to use the ubiquitous “mother-in-law” jokes that abound in the former Soviet Union, I will refrain from writing any more.  Just know that my 14 + plants are healthy, they make our “World Class Flat” a home.


3)     For those of you who observe Christmas as a holi-day, I also have a collapsible Christmas tree for sale.  This has many fond memories attached to it having celebrated two Christmases with us here in Kazakhstan.  This tree I bought at the Green Market and is from Poland so you KNOW it is of top notch craftsmanship.  It stands less than a meter high when on a box and I will throw in the twinkling lights to the highest bidder.


4)     Apparently, we had our place newly remonted, meaning we had a European style remont which means absolutely NOTHING was on the walls, just whitish wall paper.  I suppose I prefer that over the gauche red carpets one sees in packed in living rooms and overly stuffed book shelves of outdated books in Russian printed in Moscow in the 1960s.  Yes, with bare walls, I could actually be creative with using pictures of my own taste to fit our color scheme of blue, purple, tan, beige, red and off orange linoleum.  So I quickly bought 14 frames at the big Tsum department store, matted the pictures off our old Carl Larsson and Terry Redlin big calendars and asked my hubby to drill the nails into the wall. (I found out later that these @ 18 inch by 20 inch frames were much cheaper at the Green Market)  Of course, the walls on our “World Class Flat” are patently secure with a 6 inch thickness of concrete so my dear husband went through many drill bits on some of our more fortified walls.  In any case, I will eventually sell all 14 frames and it will be of no extra cost to you, dear smart shopper, if you actually LIKE the pictures I matted under the glass and in the frames.


5)     One of my prized, big ticket items is a small CASIO keyboard.  It has more keys than the person at Housing who strenuously requests all foreigners to give over an extra set of apartment keys for “our protection.”  Well, maybe not, I counted my piano keys and it is short two octaves of the 88 keys that a full sized piano would have. However, it does have all the bells and whistles you could possibly want to make it sound like an accordion or a trumpet, ad naseum.  Me, I just prefer electronic pianos with an on and off switch, but this one also runs on battery.


6)     Another item is my HP LaserJet 1018 printer that has an extra filled print cartridges. It runs like a top.  Well, it should, it was purchased so we could continue to do our jobs at home while we are away from our office computer and printer. My husband and I buy our own reams of paper so that cannot account for the high erosion of paper that is lost by our university.  You find these things out when we are told to not use as much paper.  You see, they too are only trying to cut corners to save money where it really adds up!!!  That goes for number 1 above, we buy our own toilet paper at Ramstor. I can’t even imagine anyone embezzling toilet paper at our university except maybe impoverished college students.


7)     Finally, we also have the usual toaster, crock pot (from the U.S.), juicer, upscale hot pots for heating water necessary for any post-Soviet kitchen.  When the apartment complex heat is eventually turned off we have the SEVEN oil filled heater that will have to be sold along with heater fans to keep ones feet warm under one’s desk.  We have a boom box that uses both tapes and CDs. 


8.     I will give away music CDs, what is left of my DVD and video collection, my textbooks and reading books to those people I count as friends and important colleagues.  I may even have a phrase book or two in English on how to properly use Jesus Christ’s name rather than using it profanely.


This fine tuning we MUST do in order to pay back our credit card company and to run our “World Class Flat” more effectively, until we leave on cordial terms with our landlady, of course.  I’m truly grateful we have things to sell and not have to sell ourselves.  Unfortunately, some Central Asians have been forced to sell themselves into slavery due to their dire and grim circumstances.  (please read “Two Kyrgyz Women” to get perspective) Others have, perhaps, sold their souls.

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“World Class Flat” and Wise Buys

There have been some important developments in a special meeting I had recently with my dear husband.  We raised three specific issues:

1) Our credit card company has been harassing us more and more with their high percentage of interest we are charged monthly.  Such threats exerted by the credit card companies are onerous to say the least.  At the same time, these credit card companies are only too willing to give us a check of money to sign away our lives.  We could do without that kind of pressure.  (Please read to the bitter end of this satirical diatribe)


2) We need to relinquish our expensive, Soviet flat, and scale down to a smaller model.  Currently we live in a “World Class” three room apartment (maybe Khrushchev era) with original linoleum and turn-of-the-1970s furniture.  The foundation of the building seems steady and durable against any unforeseen earthquakes.  However, as nice a view of the mountains that we enjoy most every morning, we know we MUST resolve this issue with our landlady before March 13 that being a “Friday the Thirteenth” and whatever ill omens may attend that particular date for those who are superstitious. We are not.  We actually like our landlady and she likes our rent money in dollars. Yet an unfortunate and cataclysmic rupture in our relationship needs to happen soon and very soon.


3) I continue to seek “Special Status” amongst my teaching peers as someone who only holds a terminal M.A. degree in TESOL. I have been a member of this international organization and am in good standing since 1990.  I have been to nine different annual conferences in the last 19 years. I am looking forward to attending and participating in my tenth international TESOL conference in Denver, Colorado on March 20. Sadly, at our Kazakh university, all research funds have been cut so I will have to wing it on my own, about $2,000 of airfare and other ground transportation out of my own pocket. I have known since last October that my paper was accepted and there is an 18% acceptance rate of all such proposals at TESOL.  Sans the “Special Status” prestige, I know in my heart of hearts that I am special, at least I know my husband thinks so. Right dear?


Fortunately, I am honored to be an Official TESOL Blogger for this annual TESOL event which draws in 5-7,000 participants from all over the world. (No doubt my readership of this blog will spike as a result.) I will also present a 45 minute paper about what I have experienced while teaching in Kazakhstan.  I hope to eventually get this paper published.  Apparently, in Sweden you do not need a Ph.D. to teach at their universities but instead show that you can consistently publish in order to be promoted.  At our current university it is those who hold a Ph.D. degree, but don’t necessarily publish, who have gravitas while other Ph.D. degree holders do not.  Even the prized Ph.D. degree doesn’t seem to count anymore because inexplicably it is WHO you know and not WHAT you know that is important. (sigh)


I had wanted three of my Kazakh teaching colleagues, who are also students in the MATESOL program, to accompany me to Denver but due to the recent financial crisis where all our salaries dropped 25%, they all eventually bowed out.  Please don’t get me wrong, I feel very privileged to teach at our Kazakh institution of higher learning in Almaty, but I cannot afford the financial or emotional costs that this sacrificing of funds brings us to.  We must divest immediately in order to take action in this dilemma we are in.  We MUST sell all our personal possessions (we will give our clothes away what we don’t wear on our backs), which hopefully might be of value to others.  Nobody but us take full responsibility for these actions.  We are accountable for all our decisions in order to continue to live and breathe the thin air of Almaty.  My hubby and I know we must run a lean and trim, (did I say efficient?), household, so we must sell, sell, sell!!!  Somehow we will get by, we will survive, we WILL prevail!!! (to be continued in tomorrow’s blog)





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Nurlan’s proverbs with meanings


Do something instead of talking.( Instead discussing activity, you should do this activity).


Little business is better than lots of time of idleness. (It is better to do something than do nothing).


If you don’t walk, you never fall. (If you do nothing you will never make mistake).


If you sell something without mind you can lose money. (Before do something you should think about it carefully).


A money does not smell. (It doesn’t matter what you do, when you earn money).


The weak peace is better than big quarrel. (It is better to find compromise than begin war).


A money is good servant, but bad owner. (You should manage a money, but a money shouldn’t manage you).


A kind word treats, but a wicked word kills. (In a difficult situation word of approval better than criticism).


Even a dog remembers, who feeds it. (If you help somebody they don’t forget it).


In a healthy body is a healthy spirit.


One book teaches a thousand people.


You should repair sledges in the spring and a wheels in the autumn. (Any business requires preliminary preparation).


The spring isn’t beautiful in a foreign county. (To any man nowhere is as good as at home).


Any family has a fool. (At any society there is an individual who always harms).


Many men, many minds.


Without working you don’t catch a fish.( If you want something you should be hardworking).


The silence is gold. (If you talk a lot you can say foolishness).


The sun also has spot. (There are no people without failings).

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Baurzhan’s 23 Proverbs

1         The eyes afraid – hands doing

2         If too afraid of wolves –  do not go to the forest.

3         In the cultural country respect the teacher.

4         Risk – precious thing.

5         The problem will call the problem.

6         If poor marrying then the night will seem beautiful

7         The trouble doesn’t go alone.

8         The poor aren’t afraid of death.

9         Who get up early- will get more.

10     Men is head wife is neck.

11     Married me without me.

12     The rich will not understand poor.

13      Wealth is the water.

14     Will be day will be food.

15     Take the wife looking at her mother.

16     The road of the girl is narrow.

17     Thief is scared of own shadow.

18     Wife is the soul of her husband.

19     Wedding and death – sisters.

20     Money opens all doors.

21     The law was created for the rich and punishment for the poor.

22     The knowledge is better than wealth.

23     Talk less do more.

24     Little people see big dreams.

25     With people the dark days seems holidays.

26     The sugar is sweet but can’t change the bread.

27     Want to know the future of people look at the young generation.

28     To dream a lot – to dream nothing.

29     Who helps others will achieve own dreams.

30     The bag of dreams doesn’t have a bottom.

31     Not all married women – wives.

32     Don’t ask from whom travels a lot ask who knows a lot.

33     You can know when you study you can reach when you go.

34     No one wants to dance under the fear.

35     Don’t be afraid of the beginning, think about the finish.   

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