Archive for December 16, 2009

Sadness, Much Sadness and Going Away Party

Yesterday morning I was greeted with the very sad news that a Kazakh colleague’s daughter had died in childbirth, the baby grandson survived the delivery but this woman’s only daughter died.  Compound that with the heartbreaking fact that this same Kazakh woman had just lost her husband less than 50 days ago.  Sadness, much sadness.  Yesterday was also scheduled a going away party for me by one of the four rooms of teachers down in the bowels of our Language center.  These ladies are known to put on the best parties and they put one on for me, in my honor because I am going away from this place of employment.  I’m NOT leaving Kazakhstan!!! (unless someone else knows something differently.) In any case, I hadn’t thought about it before but those who attended my party are not Kazakh, except for one, but rather they are Kazakhstani. 

That perhaps has been the crux of my problem, I don’t see people and their ethnicity, I see my fellow teachers and my students as PEOPLE!!!  Some of these ladies were born in Russia, another in China, one is of Korean background, others are mixed or of Russian ethnicity, half of them were born in Almaty.  I told these ladies that this photo of them would be put in my blog, they seemed to have no problem with that.  No need for a written consent form.  However, I warned them that I am considered an “Enemy of the People.”  That didn’t seem to deter them either from being seen with me, a purged member of the pack.  One Kazakh lady’s sister was purged this past summer and another teacher in this picture was also purged.  Empathy draws all kinds of ethnicities together.  Perhaps that is why these ladies were brave enough to be seen with me, an American castoff, banished from the group of about fifty English teachers who are Kazakh and Kazakhstani.

The delicious spread they brought together for this going away party was superb.  They like to use any excuse for a party, I guess, even an emotional, going away party.  My favorite dish was a colorful confetti looking salad brought by Alla, Aigerim brought pancakes with cottage cheese filling, Irina brought mushrooms and pickles, Luba brought an apple cake, other salads, one with herring, were in the mix along with chocolates and goodies.  We talked about what we would all be doing during the winter break, many said they would sleep, bake, host people, play with grandchild, one joked that she would be writing a proposal for a conference paper for the next two-three weeks.  One lady said that she had just dreamt about creating a new syllabus about Stylistics, actually that was a nightmare because she didn’t know where to begin.  We laughed, we talked, we ate and drank tea in fine party spirit.

However, our thoughts were on our colleague who was grieving her huge loss.  Before the party, I set out to buy a sympathy card.  I went across campus to our university bookstore and found a beautiful, handmade card.  Two irritations normally crop up when shopping and I expressed this at the party.  One, they never seem to have envelopes to go with the card you buy in this country.  So, I bought a black piece of paper that was fashioned into a kind of receptacle for everyone who signed it and added money for the grieving mother and widow.  Second, no one ever seems to have change for a Kazakh banknote of 5,000 tenge.  That was all I had and it took about five minutes for the vendor to run down the appropriate change for me.  Now, if I express this sort of irritation that all the others agreed as a common perplexity, does that mean I hate this country?  No, I’m just venting here on this blog as I would back in the U.S. about something mundane but an unnecessary nuisance.

The way I figure it, the person who handmade the card could just as easily made by hand an envelope to sell with the card.  However, I might have an explanation for why shop vendors never have enough change when you pull out a 5,000 or 10,000 tenge note.  They are either declaring that they don’t do too much business and they don’t care whether they sell me the card or not. OR, this is to serve notice to potential thieves: “if you intend to steal from our shop, sorry we don’t have any extra money around for you to loot!”  There seems to be a twisted supply and demand about making proper change in this once planned economy gone market economy.  They need to work out the wrinkles on that one.

In the late afternoon, more disappointment to learn from my American colleague whose visa expired yesterday but the powers that be did not have the proper stamp to put in his passport. They are out of stamps, nada, nyet!!!  He has non-refundable tickets to leave Almaty for the U.S. early, early Saturday morning and so something will have to change in a hurry. Except today, Dec. 16 is Independence Day for Kazakhstan and all official offices are closed today and tomorrow.  His last shot at getting a proper visa to leave the country and return for spring semester to teach will have to happen on Friday.  What are the chances?  I’ll keep you posted but my stating this fact on this blog might make it look like someone isn’t doing their job right, so where are we to lay the blame? 

 (to be continued in tomorrow’s blog)

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