Archive for August, 2010

Photos from “The Land of Enchanted Horizons”

A young Kazakh woman from work gave me some beautiful photo postcards of Kazakhstan’s landscapes published by “Perfect Gift.”  She just came back from Michigan on a Bolashak grant and wanted to send some of these postcards to her professors and friends back in Michigan.   I think these photos are beautiful!!! The photographer’s name is V. Yokushkin.  The fine print on each card is very difficult to read the names of each of these places, fortunately they are in three languages, Kazakh, Russian and English.

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Letter dated Oct. 12, 1994 – Kyrgyzstan

The following letter is the last of this series I found and retyped for my blog audience.  It reveals what I was experiencing 17 years ago while still single but about to get married to a man I met in Almaty, Kazakhstan on May 2, 1993.  It was a long courtship for Ken, but it was a necessary wait and see period for me since I had finally enjoyed being single and LOVED my work I was doing with Fulbright.  But all good things have gotten better for me and Ken, we are in Astana together now, where we are supposed to be.  Hey, it’s better than being in Afghanistan, which the salaries for both of us are very tempting, but no thank you.

Oct. 12, 1994

“But as for me and my household, we will serve the Lord.” Joshua 24:15. This verse is what Ken is having inscribed in our wedding bands.  We will get married in several months and have our honeymoon in Israel.

There was a close call with my dad two weeks ago where he had to be hospitalized from some strange intestinal ailment.  It was a three hour long operation and put a scare into my whole family since it happened so suddenly.  Ken was right there beside me by telephone, praying through the difficult times of not knowing what was happening with my Dad.  Fortunately, my dad should be recovered in time to walk me down the aisle on December 24th.

It is right to marry Ken after knowing him for over a year.  I could have missed it, I could have let him go.  I cannot believe that someone could really love me and put up with me for LIFE!!!

It is not unlike my Russian friend, Tatyana, who lives in Almaty and I want her to be one of my bridesmaids. She simply can’t believe that I would fly her to the States to be a part of our wedding.  It means getting a letter of invitation, a visa, her passport in order, plus the plane fare arranged.  I told her in June to make the necessary preparations by writing friends of hers in the States so she could stay with them after the wedding.  It hasn’t happened because of her unbelief and the time for buying airfare tickets is NOW! Because she thinks something could go wrong with her Kazakhstan government not granting an exit visa, she doesn’t want to get her hopes up.  Inertia was winning.  People are still steeped in their old way of thinking.  They have been programmed to think negatively.  Thinking it will not work, it will not happen.

I also want to bring Jyldyz, as a traveling companion for Tatyana. She is a Kyrgyz, 16 year old girl who will play violin and piano at our wedding.  She will fly with Tatyana to New York from Moscow and then into Chicago.  They will take a bus to Minneapolis from there together. The two girls will have an extra week or two to do what they want on their own (while we honeymoon).

Back to reality here in Bishkek, the downside of being the only American English teacher is that I have a heavy teaching load this semester.  It is like giving an essay test to 60 students and returning their results to them each week.  Each student’s assignment takes about 10-15 minutes to grade.  The decision was made by me to give up my Fulbright grant at the end of January, four months early.  That is when Ken and I will get marriage AGAIN in Bishkek for the benefit of my expat, Kyrgyz and Russian friends but mostly for my students.  I will move to where Ken’s job is, either in Almaty or Washington D.C.  We are expecting great things together!!!

Ken and I have two households stored away in the States and two separate ones in Central Asia to put together once married.  We do not need more THINGS!!!  If you feel really compelled to give, I would encourage you to consider New Life Family services as a worthy opportunity.  I really hope to see you on Dec. 24 though I know it is a very busy, family time.  We are coming from the “ends of the earth” to celebrate with you God’s love and grace in bringing two imperfect people together.  Love to all…

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Letters dates March 27 and May 5, 1994 – Kyrgyzstan

The following are bits and pieces from two letters I sent to loved ones back in the U.S. back in 1994 while living in Kyrgyzstan.  I put the two together because much of the other was not relevant for my reading audience on this blog.

March 27, 1994

I did go to TESOL in Baltimore and present my research on learning styles.  I DID meet many friend there and talked on the phone to others.  I DID meet Ken’s three children while in Wash. D.C. I DID eat at many fine restaurants and enjoy the life of leisure.  I DID get back on the plane and arrived safely in my home of Kyrgyzstan on 8:30 a.m on March 22 and went to teach class at 1:00 pm.  Needless to say, I was tired after being in air transit for 21 hours (from D.C. to Almaty) and 3 ½ hour car ride (from Almaty to Bishkek).

I have become so accustomed to traveling and living in strange countries, that any other kind of lifestyle seems foreign to me.  In the last couple of weeks I have felt a growing desire to return to China to visit friends and former students during my summer vacation.

Yesterday was a good day at the sauna.  I usually go every Saturday morning with Olga, Lena, Natasha and other Russian women.  We sit and sweat then jump in a cold pool then sip on tea and repeat the cycle about five times in two hours.  As I was leaving the sauna I thought of my 50 minute walk back home and I was favoring my one foot because I had developed a blister on the way TO the sauna.  There was Olga with her husband Andrey in their car and since I live close by, they offered me a ride home.  I felt very much loved.

May 5, 1994

I just celebrated Easter AGAIN in Almaty with my friend, Tatyana.  The Russian Orthodox church has a different religious calendar which they follow.  The main reason I went to Almaty was to visit Ken and to go to Kazakhstan’s “Grand Canyon.”  It WAS beautiful but cold so we turned around and came back.  Before this trip to Almaty on the public bus (it took 4 ½ hours) I took another trip.  Let me explain…

I walk everywhere in Bishkek since it is a much smaller city than Almaty.  But you really have to look where you are going because the sidewalks and streets are laden with potholes, cracks or other such traps.  When I saw the bus for Almaty pulling out of the bus station, I didn’t want to wait for another hour for the next one.  As a result I sped up my pace and took my eyes off the sidewalk.  There was an inch pipe running from one little garden plot to another.  That is what grabbed my right foot and pounded me to the pavement with a 30 pound backpack on my back.   I was in pain for the whole trip after THAT trip until I got to Ken’s place the next morning where he had plenty of ice packs.  My knee is better now, a week later, but it has ALL colors of the color chart throughout my leg.

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Letter dated February 14, 1994 – Krygyzstan

This letter was written on PINK paper for obvious reasons:

“It is wonderful to feel LOVED as I write a letter on this commercialized celebration of Valentine’s Day.  I feel loved by so many of you. Thank you for the Christmas cards that eventually made it to me.  I will keep them taped up until Easter, they are so pretty and colorful.  I continue to have parties for any excuse, just to have folks over.  Several weeks ago I had a hymn sing with ten people singing different parts and it brought back a flood of good memories back to my former Lutheran days.

Yes, I will be in the US once again for two weeks (March 8-20) to present at a TESOL conference in Baltimore and then to visit with my friend Ken in Washington, D.C.  He will follow me from Almaty two days after my departure and stay on until the end of March before he returns to Almaty.  His three children from a former marriage will be visiting him in D.C. on their spring breaks.  I want to meet them…I am convinced Ken loves me.

On our semester break, I went up to Almaty and managed to surprise Ken one day ahead of my intended arrival.  It was fun to visit with Ken and with my other friends from this past summer.  It was also fun to go cross-country skiing with Ken and his Kazakh friends in places close to Almaty.  Before all this fun though, I had finished up a busy semester of teaching Phonetics and Business English to my university freshmen.  Before this break, I was also getting four different syllabi prepared for teaching Reading Lab this upcoming semester.  I will continue to be busy reading many different books to find the most appropriate reading assignments for each of the four levels.  All the students seem in earnest to improve their English and thus their TOEFL scores in order to have a better crack at getting to the U.S. to study business and other related subjects.

The good news is that I was granted an extension with my Fulbright grant to stay and teach for ten more months at my university.  I am finding that I really LOVE Bishek and LOVE working with my Kyrgyz students.  That would keep me here until July of 1995.  The bad news is that Ken’s job is 3 1/2 hours away in Almaty and he finds that he is useful there.  Commuting through snowy and icy mountain roads is simply not an option.  I do enjoy Ken’s companionship and love and see him as God’s gift to me.”

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Letter dated November 2, 1993 – Kyrgyzstan

Read my three prior blog posts and you will understand that I wrote these pieces 17 years ago about my time in Central Asia when things were changing very quickly from the time of the former Soviet Union.  I really loved living in Kyrgyzstan!!!!

November 2, 1993

There is SO much to be thankful for (as my dear Norwegian grandma would sing song regularly) in the one month that I have been in Bishkek.  I have a really spacious apartment which looks out to the mountains from both my east and west windows.  I am able to see beautiful sunsets. It is nice to have this place since I plan to do a lot of entertaining as I have already been doing.

However, time spent in the kitchen is more than comical since I have been forced to made do without a lot of the necessary utensils we all take for granted.  Things like measuring cups and spoons, potholders, pie tins, Tupperware, baking powder, brown sugar, oatmeal…the list could go on and on.

I am very thankful for a fridge that works as well as a stove with four gas burners and an oven.  The challenge for all of us foreigners is to cook or bake as close to American food as possible with whatever materials you can find at the Osh bazaar.  Just buying meat with carcasses and heads of sheep, pig and horse hanging off hooks while birds are flying overhead is a sight to behold.

Well, to change the subject…there are six other American teachers at my university in Bishkek.  I am looking forward to have my three different phonetics classes come to my apartment in December for an American-style Christmas party.  Each class has about ten students in each room and we meet once a week.  It has been a joy to teach them American pronunciation.

I will be leaving for the States on December 18 so I can meet some of Ken’s friends in Washington DC.  A quick one week tour of the States, but I think worth it since our relationship has developed into something more than “just friends.”  Ken proposed marriage on Oct. 16th and I have not given him a “yes” answer (yet).  I have been an independent single for 38 years and it will be a major adjustment to be married.  However, the more I’m getting to know Ken and the more he treats me like a queen, the more I look forward to marriage (if I decide “yes”).

For now, my goal for these next 9 months is to be the best teacher I can be to my 30 plus students and also to learn Russian. We (four other English teachers) have two hour language classes most every day.  It is a struggle for me to be disciplined enough to study in the afternoons what I learn in the mornings.  The grammar is so difficult but I have to say that it is easier than learning Chinese.

My relationship with Camilla has improved, she seems to be treating me well.  However, she is very disorganized as a dean and  has managed to get the ire up of all the other American teachers at her school.  We are all trying to work out smooth communication despite the clash of teaching styles and methodologies that necessarily happen when Americans meet up with rigid Soviet-style methods.

Thankfully my e-mail has been up and running.  It is not always reliable because of bad phone lines but it is better than the mail service which is routed through Moscow and ends up at the top of a heap of other undelivered mail. Who said this is an exciting time for the former republics?  There is a lot of desperation and near panic due to the unstable economy.

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Letter dated September 21, 1993 – Minnesota to Kyrgyzstan

I’m continuing with what my emotional roller coaster I was traveling on from Kazakhstan to the U.S. and then back to Kyrgyzstan in the early 1990s.  Please read my two prior blog entries to understand what I was doing in Kazakhstan in the first place.

September 21, 1993 – I Pet. 2:12 is certainly applicable to me since my university in Bishkek, Kyrgyzstan wanted me to be teaching at the start of school on September 15th.  Due to a mix up of communication, I am arriving on October 1st, instead.  Thus, I am already starting out on the wrong foot with the dean of the school.  I need this situation to turn around since this woman, Camilla, is known to steamroll over people.  To cross her is NOT a good idea.  I have learned only too late and so I am looking at ten months of working with her.

On Sunday, September 26th at 2:35 p.m. I will be boarding a Delta plane to go back to Central Asia. I have more than enjoyed the past month of staying in Minnesota with family and friends.  For the past four months working in Kazakhstan for Peace Corps, life was just plain hard work.  Thanks to good fellowship in Almaty, I was able to survive the rigors of living in a culture in flux.

I know what I am getting myself into as I prepare to leave and there is both a feeling of dread and excitement.  I look forward to getting to know the Kyrgyz people more as I will be teaching phonetics and listening comprehension at the Kyrgyz State University.  Fortunately I will not be alone but teaching with another American Fulbright scholar who is there for only three months.  She arrived two weeks ahead of her schedule to accommodate the university’s needs.  I am not sure if we will be sharing living quarters or not.

I need wisdom on how to proceed with a relationship with a man I met at church five months ago.  Ken has been the recipient of many e-mail messages since I got back to the States.  He works for the U.S. government for the Department of Agriculture as an economist and deals with many of the same issues of living in this Central Asian culture.  He will be three hours away in Almaty while I am in Bishkek.  I pray that my e-mail can be hooked up in Bishkek so we can continue in “close” communication.  I will be spending Christmas with him and his friends in Wash. D.C.

Once I know what my e-mail address is, I will be sure to let the e-mail users know. That is the most efficient way to keep in touch with me since the mail system cannot be trusted.  I will bring back a new laptop computer which also has fax capabilities.  I need to learn about that too so it can be up and running while trying to get prepared for my classes.

There’s lots to learn and experience in these next ten months in Kyrgyzstan.  I have so many, many people to thank for making my one month visit in Minnesota so special.  I was able to use my parents’ car, stay the whole month at my friend’s apartment while they moved out, visit with others in Minneapolis.

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Letter dated August 2, 1993 – Kazakhstan

The following letter is a continuation of what I had been through while training Peace Corps volunteers with the first group in Almaty, Kazakhstan the summer of 1993.  It was an arduous time for all of us with hot weather, very bad quality food in the staloviya (student cafe), fiesty trainees and stressed administrators.

August 2, 1993

Last week I needed a rest, even having a Type-A personality, I took a rest.  I’m willing to admit it.  I don’t like being driven but being involved with “training” compelled me into the center of the ring.  I do not like to give up on challenges very easily and this one was my match.

I have a second assistant working with me and it is so fun to get to know her.  I met Damira at church on the 4th of July and knew I wanted her to join me since she has computer skills.  She has been such a blessing in getting the Cyrillic script typed out and also knowing Kazakh.  Along with Tatyana (Polish background), I have a wonderful team to work with.

This counters some of the other bad elements I had to deal with in the Peace Corps office.  The most difficult part of any new post is that we are up in front of very tired and worn out trainees who demand to know all the answers.  But if we have never been in this country before, we don’t know and we don’t know people who MIGHT know.  However, I did find Sandy, who had been teaching and lecturing in Russia for the past five months.  I had her give a lecture on her experiences to the group.

This past week while the trainees were out on their site visits, I took a little one of my own.  I went to my future home of Kyrgyzstan and really do love the country and the people.  I had a chance to visit my friend Elizabeth Macdonald who is doing the same job I am doing with 20 trainees.  Elizabeth has been a wonderful resource to me from the first time I met her in Wash. D.C.  We traveled together to Almaty and she will be leaving one week earlier than me.  That is, if I can get my plane ticket changed from Sept. 4 to Aug. 28.  I really don’t want to stay here any longer than I have to.  I am burned out from this city, the trainees, the dorm AND Almaty.

That is why it is good I took this rest.  I went away to a lake called Issy-Cul and read “The New Russians” and did nothing that was work-related for about 5-6 days.  The lake is beautiful with mountains rising up all around it.  It is 60 miles long and mile or two wide. There are white caps and the water is cold due to mountain runoff.  I was thankful the Peace Corps authorities permitted me to go there.  I really felt homesick though as I was returning to Almaty and I saw the rolling hills just harvested which reminded me so much of North Dakota. I never thought I would get teary-eyed over my memories of that state.  I kept telling the Lord that something mighty powerful will have to pull me back to Bishkek come this fall.  Right now I really want to be where I am in control of my meals, my sleeping hours, my working hours, etc.  I felt I have had much of my independence stripped from me.  I can relate well with what the trainees are feeling and they are committing to two years here!!!

Anyway, it is an honor to have the Fulbright grant to look forward to in Bishkek.  Someone at church who is in academia said that I either am really smart or close to God. I know the first doesn’t apply to me and sometimes I feel that I have been too busy to sense God’s presence.  I can relate to Mark 6:31, I needed this rest.

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Letter dated June 11, 1993 – Almaty, Kazakhstan

Remember letters where you used stamps and envelopes?  The following is a letter I wrote when I first came to Kazakhstan as a Peace Corps TEFL trainer to 30 Peace Corps volunteers.  Our training happened on the campus of what was then called Beng Institute but is now KIMEP, a western styled university in Almaty.  Much has changed since I wrote over 17 years ago, some things have remained the same:

June 11, 1993

I have been in Kazakhstan for six weeks and the adjustment has been easy in some respects but difficult in other ways.  I went to church the day after arriving in country and have been attending there ever since.  I found a soulmate (Tatyana) who is my friend, assistant, translator, interpreter and colleague.  She has been wonderful to work with.

The first three weeks were consumed with just struggling over basic needs such as eating good food, finding laundry facilities, adjusting to dormitory life, etc.  I have needed to gain strength in the face of adversity.  I feel dismal sometimes.

The trainees arrived a week ago and they are under a great deal of pressure to learn two languages, Kazakh the first week and then Russian the second.  After that they will choose which one they want to focus on and that will determine their site placement.  I took Russian for my first three weeks here and I can tell you it is not easy but I prefer learning that over Chinese.  I have been able to use my Chinese whenever we go to the Chinese restaurant, but that has not been often enough.  There are other Chinese speakers here and it is fun to use the little I know.

The real work for me will begin the 1st of July since the technical aspect of learning how to be an EFL teacher is taking backseat while they learn their language.  It actually is nice that their language learning dovetails with their having to learn the teaching methods that Peace Corps is so fond of.  The Russian and Kazakh teachers had to learn all the American methods of teaching before they got their [Am.] students.  I have seen Russian teachers in action and it is a good thing they got some American indoctrination.  There would be cultural conflicts from day one because they are used to drill, drill, drill and memorization only.

I will be giving many different presentations on how to teach grammar, reading, writing, speaking, listening, vocabulary, etc.  I am so thankful for Bill Perry’s help in this new experience because he has a lot of background materials to use and also 17 years of teaching ESL experience.  He has been kind enough to let me use his laptop to send e-mail messages, watch CNN, eat and sleep at his house when he and his wife are out of town, etc.  So, I am being taken care of.

The struggle that I have is with office politics and personality clashes with my immediate boss. We have totally different personalities about how things should be done.  She is a nice person otherwise, the only problem is that I have to work under her and I believe she has poor management and organizational skills.  I need to have a better attitude towards her.  Yet I feel as if my hands are tied behind my back while I am expected to do a big job of training 30 PCVs to be EFL teachers.

The true test that I need to pass will be when the PCVs have to give mini-lessons the last three weeks in front of Kazakhstani students.  I want them videotaped and this will facilitate in giving them feedback which will in turn give them confidence in the two years they are committing to, to be good teachers.  These 30 people are very bright and talented and Peace Corps doesn’t want a failure in Kazakhstan as has happened in other FSU republics.  Time will tell.

I have a lovely view from my fifth floor dormitory room and I bought a video camera from Brenda Oldfarmer who went back to the States.  So, I will have some good shots of different events when I go back to Minneapolis on Sept. 7th.  I am looking forward to that visit before I am off to Bishkek, Kyrgyzstan on Oct. 1st.

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Final Photos of Kazakhstan

The following photos are in no special category, no theme that I could put together.  These are the last of the photos that I really like which were taken by photographer Martin Lee.  These same photos can be found in calendars that are being sold at Eagilik in old part of Astana, I’m not sure if they can be found in Almaty or elsewhere.  You must get the permission to use these photos from Martin Lee, I’m glad I did.  I love showing off his talent in capturing the essence of Kazakhstan!

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Photos of Kazakh Yurts (Part VIII)

The yurt is a home base for the nomadic Kazakh who travels by camel or horse along the steppes. Notice what the top of the yurt looks like.  Notice this great photographer, Martin Lee and next time you are looking for a 2011 calendar for KZ, they are being sold at Eagilik in old town Astana.

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