Archive for April, 2010

April’s Astana Shapes and Sizes

If you are going to have a capital in the northern part of Kazakhstan, you might as well have some remarkable features about it in the architecture. The buildings all over Astana have names attached to them according to what they look like, they serve as landmarks because street names are too confounding. (Why? Because some streets have old Russian names, others have new Kazakh names)  Best to tell the taxi driver the name of the landmark instead of a street address.  With no mountains and no trees to speak of (except those young, newly planted ones that are finally showing neon green leaves), you must put your money and energy into shapes and different sizes of buildings.  I’ll focus on photos I’ve taken in the last month or so.  Tomorrow will be the GRAND May day celebration that is a holiday all over the former Soviet Union.  I may have photos from how the different places around Astana are festooned.

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UNICEF and Kazakhstan (Part II) and a poem

Yesterday at our Astana International Women’s group meeting, we heard a featured talk given by Hanna who represented UNICEF.  Hanna had many interesting facts to relate about Kazakhstan to nearly 40 expat ladies.  The questions afterwards yielded even more interesting anecdotes from Hanna. Something I just remembered today is that many childbearing women in Kazakhstan are anemic.  She explained that this was due to how the flour in Kazakhstan is milled, it needs the added fortification of iron in it but that is lacking for some reason.  Hanna stated that if it could be legislated that flour be fortified with the iron that women need, they would not die in childbirth or raise children who are also anemic at birth. Simple solutions when facts are known, when people care and are educated.

Kazakhstan enjoys many economic privileges and benefits due to its natural resources but there are still so many needy Kazakh and Kazakhstani people in the rural areas who do not get all the perks.  Hanna’s strongest point yesterday was that if families, who are poverty-stricken, dump their kids off at an orphanage the children’s fate is worse when they turn 18 years of age. They are released from the state-run home and left to fend for themselves. I know that is true because of the work some friends I know in Almaty who work with the disabled “social orphans.”  These unfortunate, cast-off children when they are 18 are put into a mental institution and many of them die or commit suicide.

Hanna emphasized that it is best if the children stay within their family unit or with relatives as the Kazakhs traditionally did in the past before the Soviet era.  Children should not be cast off into an orphanage where there is little hope and where the children are often beaten or mistreated.  Yes, they may be fed but their future is not good.  Another lady from the audience asked “What about the street children?”  Hanna had an answer for that but I don’t remember it.  I think my mind wandered to all the street children I saw in Kyiv, Ukraine.  I don’t see them in Almaty or Astana but I’m sure they are in other cities in Kazakhstan.  It is just too cold in the wintertime for the children to survive on the street in Astana, perhaps they can survive in the winter months in southern Kazakhstan, I don’t know.

Here’s a poem that I like, I’ve probably used it before but it is from Streams in the Desert.  I think that UNICEF can provide a stream of hope in Kazakhstan, they are doing many good works.  But there is much left undone…

Have you heard the tale of the aloe plant,

Away in the sunny clime?

By humble growth of a hundred years

It reaches its blooming time;

And then a wondrous bud at its crown

Breaks into a thousand flowers;

This floral queen, in its blooming seen,

Is the pride of the tropical bowers,

But the plant to the flower is sacrifice,

For it blooms but once, and it dies.

Have you further heard of the aloe plant,

That grows in the sunny clime;

How every one of its thousand flowers,

As they drop in the blooming time,

Is an infant plant that fastens its roots

In the place where it falls on the ground,

And as fast as they drop from the dying stem,

Grow lively and lovely around?

By dying, it liveth a thousand-fold

In the young that spring from the death of the old.

Have you heard the tale of the pelican,

The Arabs’ Gimel el Bahr,

That lives in the African solitudes,

Where the birds that live lonely are?

Have you heard how it loves its tender young,

And cares and toils for their good,

It brings them water from mountain far,

And fishes the seas for their food.

In famine it feeds them—what love can devise!

The blood of its bosom—and, feeding them, dies.

Have you heard this tale—the best of them all—

The tale of the Holy and True,

He dies, but His life, in untold souls

Lives on in the world anew;

His seed prevails, and is filling the earth,

As the stars fill the sky above.

He taught us to yield up the love of life,

For the sake of the life of love.

His death is our life, His loss is our gain;

The joy for the tear, the peace for the pain.

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UNICEF and Kazakhstan’s Youth

UNICEF and Kazakhstan’s youth:  This morning I heard an amazing speaker at the Astana Intl. Women’s club meeting which meets monthly at the Radisson hotel.  She emphatically stated that she LOVES the organization of UNICEF, I think her name was Hannah. She related an account of where she was in some African country where she witnessed a reuniting of a young girl with her mother after civil war that tore many families apart. She first showed a film about all the different things that UNICEF does for the sake of children around the world.  Immunizations, water, nutrition, education, other health issues, orphanages, rights of children, juvenile delinquency…she touched on many topics.  I wish I had taken notes because she also had a lot of statistics that she quoted related to Kazakhstan in particular.

Of course, as a teacher, what I was most interested in what she said about Kazakhstan’s young people relating to education.  She claimed that after Russia, Kazakhstan has the highest suicide rate.  She didn’t elaborate whether that was in the rural areas of this country or among the privileged.  Those students I am used to seeing are in westernized schools in Almaty and Astana.  The young people I work with know English, have traveled, come from good families and have hope.  Hannah said after Russia and Kazakhstan there is a big drop in the statistics and again I was curious what other countries she was referring to, did that mean C.I.S. countries only or in the whole world?  Certainly there is much poverty in Tajikistan, Turkmenistan, Kygyzstan, etc.  Why would Russia and Kazakhstan be so ranked with high suicide rates among the youth?

Once back at work, I talked to a young woman who majors in physics at a local university in Astana.  I asked her what she knew about suicide among youth in Kazakhstan.  She said she had heard of an instance recently where a young girl committed suicide when she found out the results of her qualifying exam to get into university did not make the grade.  You hear of these instances happening perhaps in China where the competition is very tight and there are few vacancies for letting students into their university system.  Here in Kazakhstan, I don’t know.  I need to explore that issue about depression, societal stresses and suicide of the Kazakh youth.  I know in the school system there is much pressure for them to succeed in learning in three languages (Kazakh, Russian and English).

The UNICEF speaker also went on to explain that immunizations for polio and also for tuberculosis need to be re-instated.  There has been an outbreak (I think in the Chymkent area?) of that where it was thought to have been eradicated since 1988.  Also, people who might have contracted HIV/AIDS are too ashamed to seek help.  One woman who had been infected by her husband would not take the medication that could have saved her life. She did not want to be stigmatized with having AIDS.  To her, that was worse than death, if her family learned of her AIDS, she would have been considered a social outcast.

The most shocking was about how there is still the hold-over of Soviet thinking among the doctors in Kazakhstan.  Their one and only definition of a live birth is if the baby is breathing air on its own. However, according to international standards of what is considered “live births,” set up by the organization WHO, there are 14-16 different ways to see if a baby, once born, is alive by checking palpitation of heart or other vital signs.  All those signs are ignored due to the old Soviet training of doctors that still exists in hospitals.  When I talked to a foreign doctor who is western trained, she said that perhaps if those babies who are birthed with complications, they might have defects or disabilities that families would not be able to take care of due to the expense.

One other thing mentioned was that many children who end up in orphanages in Kazakhstan are not actually orphans (defined by a child without father or mother) but they are castoff children and do indeed have a parent still living.  Our speaker said this concept of children being taken over by the government is another carry-over from the Soviet period where this was actually encouraged so as to train up the children according to the State-controlled regimen.  Hannah ended with a answer to a question among the group of about 40 women that the Kazakhs need to return to their own tradition of taking care of their OWN family and not giving up children to orphanages because many times if they have been institutionalized, they are without good job skills to enter the work force at age 18 when they are turned out to fend for themselves.

One foreign woman said that she and other expats had worked on a charity to improve the conditions of the orphanages because the toilets and showers were deplorable.  Our speaker said that this was a very delicate issue because if there is not better social networking to adopt these children into Kazakh families and have that working, it only encourages more people to “throw away” these young children into the orphanages that might have better conditions than what they are currently living in. She said it was more important for children, even living in poverty, to grow up in their own families or be adopted by relatives (just like what used to be done before the Soviet period) than to institutionalize children in orphanages.  She said it was important for charities to work and improve the conditions of the places where children currently are kept but better to NOT have so many “social orphans” in Kazakhstan.  If orphanages look better than a home in poverty, more and more children would be dumped.

Our speaker representing UNICEF had to rush off to another engagement so I didn’t have a chance to ask her my main question about depression and suicide among Kazakh youth.  She obviously has strong emotions about what she does for a living, obviously she LOVES children.

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Madina’s Grandfather was a Distinguished Teacher of USSR

Everyone has grandparents.  I have them too, but I had not any time in the past which I had spent with them.  My grandfather (his name was Satbay) on the side of my mother had closed his eyes by my half year of age.  So, I do not know what kind of person he was, but I know that he was a teacher of math and physics.

When he was a little boy, the authorities had shot dead his parents and he had to change his family name to Aronov.  He did not tell anything about his youth in such a way so my mom cannot narrate me anything that I want to know today.  He was a distinguished teacher of USSR and some information was written in encyclopedia, but it is not enough for me.  His wife, my grandmother, was an orphan too, her mother froze up so she was taken into another family from an orphanage.

What about my grandparent son the side of my father?  I cannot say anything about them too.  I know they lived in Turkmenia all this time and had not any scope to connect with us because authorities did not give any permission for their passage.  Their ancestors had moved from Kazakhstan about 70-80 years ago, when life in their native land had become unbearable.  However, two or three years ago, they returned to Kazakhstan again.  So that twice I have met my grandmother and once my grandfather since my birth.

I don’t feel anything toward them except respect.  I don’t blame them therefore, I just deal with it because I understand that I can do nothing about this problem of not knowing more about them.

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Iliyas’ Grandfather was a Gold Miner in East Kazakhstan

Every Kazakh family has a rich history, that begins from the far past this is because everyone in Kazakh traditional society must know about his ancestors seven generations back. Using this knowledge Kazakhs may find a lot of relatives (this fact is very important and can be helpful to prevent incest when people get married). So our family is no exception. But now I want to tell about my grandparents, my grandfather Adilgazin Kadyr and my grandmother Sadykova Kulash.

My grandpa was born in Boke village, where people mined gold, in 1940. This settlement is situated in East Kazakhstan, in the mountains. His father was gold miner, but the Second World War had taken him to the front as many other Soviet men. Many people like my grandpa starved. People who didn’t withstand difficulties became food for worms. But little Kadyr-ata survived. He was very smart and wanted to read, to study, to be happy. But his childhood is unhappier than ours. When my grandfather was 18 he went studying in the Pedagogical University in Uskemen. I’m proud of my grandpa, because he is hard worker. He ended studying in the university with good marks and had bearing arms in Turkmen for three years (he often tells me long stories about his military service).

Then he became teacher of history in Boke School. History is his favorite science, because he wants to know what events happened be in the past. In Boke he met my granny, teacher of biology and they got married. My grandma is great mother and a wonderful housewife. She brought my grandpa three boys. One of them is my father.

My grandpa’s hobbies are body-building and reading. Every day he and granny do some exercises, that help for their health, although Kadyr-ata went for boxing and took part in many different championships. My grandfather has a rich library, where you can find books with various topics and tastes.

The years went. By after teaching for ten years Kadyr-ata became headmaster of his school. He is very a good leader. His school won a lot of regional competitions, the graduates showed good results on exams and everybody didn’t forget my grandfather’s merits. But now he and my granny are retired and live with us in Astana. They are happy to see their grandsons everyday.

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Meuryert’s Grandfather has a street named after him

When I run out of words or photos of my own experiences in Astana, Kazakhstan, I like to show off my students’ writings about their grandparents.  The following is written about Meuryert’s grandfather after she went through old photos and newspaper clippings, revisiting him in her memory.

Two weeks ago when I was at home in Karaganda, I found old photos of my grandparents. Also there were many articles from different newspapers. And all of them were about my grandfather. From one of the photos my grandfather looked at me. The photo, in which time was stopped, was very beautiful and professional. His eyes had reminded me of eyes of my mother. They were very kind and clear. His sight was very acute, it was full of confidence, aspirations, resoluteness, he knew what he wanted. But his wrinkles reflected everything which he endured. So this photo truly transferred the person of my grandfather.

My grandfather, Karimov Garibzhan Karimovich (1910-1995), was the participant of the Great Patriotic War. At war he was on the second Belarus front in a tank company. He was a commander of the tank. He had passed Russia, Belarus, Poland, Austria by 1945. The victory he had met in Germany. He had a lot of fighting awards and medals: the award of the Red star, the award of a Patriotic War of the second degree and others.

After the end of war and arriving home, he started his lovely favourite work. He was a teacher at a rural school. His subject was history. Pupils loved lessons of my grandfather very much, they attentively listened and asked many questions. Probably, because my grandfather was the participant  of many historical events he could tell about it very brightly and truthfully.

Even before the war when he was 18 years old, my grandfather participated in actions of illiteracy liquidation in rural cities. Such people were called «Red Teachers». Subsequently, he had received the higher pedagogical education, and all his labour activity has been connected with school, he worked as the school principal and director of the region.

Really, people die physically, but their soul remains in each of the surrounding people. I have read interesting thing about death in “Harry Potter”. The wizard divided his soul and left them in different things. And when he was killed one part of his soul became free and he has revived.  As in this fairy-tale my grandfather left his knowledge, wisdom and good qualities with us. My grandfather lives in every heart of my family, in hearts of his pupils, friends and colleagues.

Last year in village Kazgorodok of Akmola area for fighting and labour merits of my grandfather his name was given to street – Karimov Garibzhan’s street.

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Photos from “Cool Runnings” and Ken’s Birthday Party

Our movie audience at the National Library continues to expand.  Last night we had over 50 people watching “Cool Runnings” and there were at least nine of us Americans to discuss this comedy with each little cluster of Kazakh students gathered together.  This gave more students a chance to practice their English speaking skills after watching a very funny movie for just one and a half hours.  Granted the auditorium was very warm (I think the heat wasn’t turned off yet) but everyone stayed on to discuss.  Very gratifying for the birthday boy after Ken was presented a present by the American Corners gal and we all sang happy birthday to him.  I was actually surprised that most everyone in attendance knew how to sing “happy birthday.”

The American friends I had invited to celebrate cake afterwards, came over to our two room flat. We were able to comfortably fit ten people in our living room.  They amazingly all ate my five layer cake that looked like a disaster because of the icing problem, but it tasted particularly good with vanilla ice cream.  Since I had such shallow cake pans, I had made a chocolate cake (3 layers) and then a carrot cake (2 layers).  I have two more carrot cakes in the freezer that I’ll pull out tomorrow night for a reprise of more birthday good wishes for Ken.  I wonder if there will be any more birthdays to celebrate before we get to May!!!

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Astana Spring Birthdays and Misc. Photos

Seems a rash of birthdays at work lately.  All of us dutiful employees troop to whatever office has been designated as the party room.  Several speeches are given, gift given to the birthday celebrant, clapping and then we trundle back to work.  This past week there has been no cake, juice or other goodies. Perhaps people have run out of time, energy or funds to underwrite each celebration in this busy month of April. As I write this, I’m baking the third cake for my husband’s birthday party later this evening.  I wanted it to be a surprise for him but it won’t be, I had to explain all the ingredients that I needed for Ken’s favorite carrot cake.  Since he is the main shopper in our family, not as easy to pull of a surprise in Kazakhstan.   If all show up, there will be 15 people enjoy the frutis of my labor in our living room, spilling over into our kitchen and balcony.  It is cool as I write this, while I wait for the third batch of cake to come out of the oven.  More photos taken in the last week.  Enjoy the view.

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Photos of Astana on a spring day

What’s amusing is a week ago I was writing about a country south of us that had just suffered a tragic revolution and it was barely touched by the world’s news media. Maybe because “Kyrgyzstan” is just too difficult to pronounce.  Let’s all try to pronounce  EYJAFJALLAJOKULL!  All together now!

Spring like weather brings out the best in people in a place as cold as Astana.  Some go out biking, others walk, young couples are out with their babies in strollers.  Heartwarming to see doting grandparents with the toddlers who have just learned to walk.  If it weren’t for the bad volcanic ash air that has rolled in after a week of exploding in Iceland, the Astana air would be great to breathe now.  Well, last weekend the air was good.  I’d hate to think what it is like to breathe in Europe, hopefully this volcanic thing will be capped soon, I need to make travel arrangements to go home to the U.S. in about a month for my Dad’s 80th birthday!!!

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Nauryz Celebration Photos (Part II)

Last Sunday we were surprised  to happen upon this festive celebration, a continuation of Nauryz in Astana.  They had started celebrating this event a month ago around March 20th so perhaps this is the last of it.  I was the only weigoren (Chinese for foreigner) wandering around  the grounds taking photos.  I was invited to join their feast in the yurt but I declined, (notice the shoes in the foreground). I had to catch up with my husband as we were going to the Artoym market to buy fruits and vegetables.  Maybe next year in Astana!!!

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