Archive for November, 2009

My Kazakh Student Sanat’s Highly Esteemed Grandparents

I remember my parents telling me about their own parents from my earliest ages. I tried to put together all I do remember from what I heard into a united story presented below.

Yesshan, my father’s father, was born on 1 January, 1912 in Akmolinsk (contemporary Astana) in family of mechanist’s assistant Zhussupbek and his wife Matluba. He was the eldest of three brothers. Yesshan’s mother was originally from southern parts of contemporary Russia. Her parents moved to Akmolinsk district when she was small and died soon. Zhussupbek’s family brought her up.  Zhussupbek and Matluba loved each other from the childhood and when became mature, they got married. They put their best efforts to give children education. So my grandfather graduated from the Gymnasium in Akmolinsk and later entered Higher Military School in Tashkent.

It was thirties, the horrible time of repressions, when people used to disappear as if they never existed before. Zhussupbek passed away, and after the death of her husband Matluba went to Russia to find out something about her relatives and seek for better place for her children to live. She never returned back. Through all his life Yesshan tried to find anything about his mother, but till now, no one knows what happened to her.

After graduation from Tashkent, Yesshan worked as a mentor at first Kazakh Internat (orphan house) in Akmolinsk, among the pupils of whom he took care of were his brothers. Before Kazakhs did not have orphans since in accordance with Kazakh customs of Amengerlik, children who lost parents were adopted by close relatives, or members of tribe, otherwise these kids had no chance to survive in the severe environment of the Steppe.

The Great Patriotic War had started right after Yesshan’s marriage. So he was called as an officer to the forefront of the war actions. During the battles in Ukraine a shatter from the bomb explosion injured his head. Luckily he remained alive, but he had to wear a plastic insert the rest of his life. After spending a long time at the hospital in Moscow, he came back home far later after the end of the war. By this time his wife, who thought of him died, got married. Yesshan took his son and moved to Merke, a small countryside in the South of Kazakhstan. He espoused again and this time his elect was my grandmother. They had 10 children, and their first child, a daughter, was given a name Matluba in honor of Yesshan’s lovely mom.

My mother’s father was born in Kulan which is about 30 kilometers far from Merke in 1921. He was called to The Great Patriotic War at the age of 18. He was a participant of Leningrad siege. During winter time he had to spend hours laying in the snow or on the ice of the Neva River to secure the border of the city from the fascists’ assault. For him the War ended up with the breach of the siege ring.  He had to spend a long time in hospitals to recover. After the war he lived in Moscow with his wife, working as a policeman. But he could not endure the Moscow weather (consequences of getting cold during the Leningrad siege). Doctors advised him to move to the South, so he came back to his native Kulan, where he spent the rest of his life. The after war period was rather difficult. Although it was not publicly announced, the criminal rate was high. When striving against the thieves of communal property, he was shot from the rifle. He was killed when my mom, the youngest of the children, was only two months.

Every year my parents and relatives give Kudaitamaks (Kazakh ‘Dish to God’) in memory of each of my grandparents even though it passed a long time since they passed away. Without considering that they are my ancestors and being unbiased, I could proudly say that my grandparents were truly honest and honorable people. I wish I could resemble them.

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My KZ Students – Photo Contest Prize Winners

Last Sunday I displayed at the AIWC Charity Bazaar the 22 entries that qualified as the finalists for the Photo Contest that I sponsored amongst my 100 students of this semester.  I got some really good entries and was glad to have two judges who had the tough job of deciding on the winners.  The following photos were chosen of three top photographers: Roza Sviridenko, a law student from my masters class, (Stained Glass Window and “Secret Treasurer” in Paris). Daniyar Belkhojayev, from my academic writing class (Zerenda Lake and Almaty Mtns).  Finally Yuliya An, from my academic listening classes (Daydreaming and Trailer Going Nowhere, Greece).  My students travel!!!

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Photos of Busy Holiday Season (Part II)

Yesterday I showed some of the photos from our Thanksgiving feast.  Today is the Culture Festival at our university which I experienced after the big meal with a full stomach, watching my students sing and dance.  What fun to see Aina perform a solo in French and Karlygash as a model for a fashion show in the French Club; Nariman, Assemzhan in the German Club, Dana was dancing in the Turkish group, Xeniya was one of the M.C.s and Young Su and Jisun from Korea were in the Russian group.  Did I forget anyone?  When you have almost 100 students, you are likely to see many of your students in extra curricular activities.  I was proud of them.  I think the crowd stopper and stomper were the Turkish dancers, break dancing and hip hop must be a derivative from traditional, macho Turkish dance!

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Photos from Busy Holiday Celebrations

Thanksgiving was celebrated in full American fashion with dressing, turkey, mashed potatoes, salads, pumpkin and pecan pie, the WORKS!!!  Thanks to my long time friends from Minnesota, Kim and Erik, I was hosted with 30 other people. 

Almost like home where we sang and laughed and carried on, almost like I was back with my own family in Minnesota.  Thanks Kim and Erik and thanks for getting the bird, what a sacrifice he made! Now I have my Christmas tree up with all the decorations and have pulled out my Christmas cards from last year.  I’m ready to enjoy a less busy pace of life once all classes and meetings are done and grades turned in.  Tomorrow I’ll show the photos from the Culture Festival at our university where many of my undergraduate students participated.  Busy times, but fun ones as the Kazakhs celebrate Kurbanait or KURBAN AYT (Eid al-Adha) holiday today and tomorrow.

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More Paintings from Tengri-Umai Art Gallery

Happy Thanksgiving!!! The following was an e-mail I got from an American art friend of mine.  As Americans, we are all thinking Thanksgiving and turkey today in this Central Asian former capital of Almaty, Kazakhstan.  We have MUCH to be thankful for. 

I would like to go see these paintings with my own eyes.  Some paintings appear to be affordable for my teacher’s budget.

 I have prepared the private show of pieces by artist whom were working in Kazakhstan between 1950-1990s of the previous century. In the show there are included around 100 artworks of different styles and sizes, price range from $100.
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> I would be happy to meet and help to look around in the gallery for everybody at any suitable time since 12am upto 7pm everyday from the following Wednesday to Saturday.
> (on Sunday – by a preliminary appointment).
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> It would be nice if somebody who would like to come to the gallery to look around the show… Welcome to Tengri-Umai gallery!

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Finished Reading “A Short History of Tractors in Ukrainian”

What a poignant story written by Marina Lewycka, where to begin?  This book “A Short History of Tractors in Ukrainian” depicts a dysfunctional family in the many layers she produces in this quick read of 324 pages.  For those who know their Soviet history in Ukraine, there will be nothing new about the different locations mentioned and what the Ukrainians underwent during the famine of 1932-33, Great Patriotic War and post war year repressions. 

For those people from the West who know little to nothing about the Soviet period of collectivization, industrialization, famine, purges, repressions, the reader is compelled forward, the author deftly records historical fact.  The reason you read on through the somber details is really the underlying fabric with the bright ornamentation of the character development of the 46 year old daughter Nadia who writes in first person about her Big Sis Vera.  The two sisters team up to help their 84 year old father struggle against the demon 36 year old hussy from Ukraine, Valentina who marries him to improve her lot in life in England.

Meanwhile, the engineer father who is probably certifiably crazy is paranoid and love starved, writes a short history that is woven throughout about tractors.  The eccentric father was the Big Idea guy who was married to the two sisters mother for 60 years, she was the one who had the Ukrainian friends in their community in England. Masterfully composed from beginning to end, this book reminded me once again that I had just finished reading another book (The Help) that was layered with family stories tied up in political big picture drama in the U.S. in the 1960s. 

Not sure I can read too many more of these emotional books about families being so far away from my own family during this Thanksgiving season.  I just learned that a colleague lost a one year old niece to swine flu. The one fear we as foreigners have is losing a loved one while living so far away.  It happens. Family is very valuable and blood does run thicker than water.

Here is one painting at the TENGRI-UMAI art gallery, here in Almaty, Kazakhstan that I enjoyed looking at. It reminds me of my Mom and three sisters, our sitting around the piano making music with singing and stringed instruments.  Looking back, I came from a fairly normal family.  For that I am thankful.

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Reading a Book from the AIWC Book Sale

Even though I was in charge of the Book sale for the AIWC Charity Bazaar, I only bought TWO paperbacks.  One book I knew about when I lived in Kyiv, Ukraine several years ago and was intrigued by the title: “A Short History of Tractors in Ukrainian.”  It is a hilarious fiction novel that must have been built around a real life situation.  An author just can not make something like this up.  Layers of Ukraine’s sad historical reality are packed into every page with the development of each character.

Having lived and taught in Ukraine for about 7-8 years and interviewed and befriending older members of the Ukrainian community in Minneapolis, I know a bit about what went into this book.  It’s written from the 46 year old daughter’s perspective who teaches at Cambridge, about her 86 year old Ukrainian father who marries a 30 something voluptuous tart from Ukraine.  The family dyanmics become even more wild when two estranged sisters after their mother’s death fight together to usurp the brassy lady from their father’s home.  I’m in the middle of this book and the tension continues to build.  Funny, funny, but sad really.

I’m looking forward to reading my other nonfiction book once the Christmas vacation arrives but that will happen only after all powerpoint presentations are complete, all grades turned in, all chances of appeals by students elapsed.  Reading books is a nice escape from the funny/sad reality I am living in in Almaty, Kazakhstan.

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