Archive for January, 2011

Four Countries on the Astana River Ice and Opening Ceremonies

I don’t mean the Asian Games, it was just four of us skating yesterday morning, enduring the cold elements on a Sunday morning.  We represented four countries on the river ice close to the Eurasian University: German, Dutch, American and Kazakh.  The Asian Games Opening ceremony was last night at 6:00 p.m., so this staged event is a VERY big deal for Astana. (Almaty is included in this as well).  Supposedly there are 1,500 volunteers outfitted in these red uniforms in Astana and 3,000 in Almaty.  They are easily identifiable everywhere with their backpacks and snazzy outfits.  Hard to know what to believe about all this money being poured into the volunteers outfits, they have invested a LOT in the actual buildings where the competitions will take place.

However, as I understand it, the traffic was jammed around 4:00 or 4:30 yesterday afternoon because one of the bridges was closed off from the old part of Astana to where the event was held.  I’m glad I stayed put last night. This morning it was extra busy on Kabanbai Batyr street, to make the turn left took about 5-6 lights.  I love saying “Prop-key” to any taxi driver I might have on any given work day morning.  I said this to my favorite taxi driver, Yerik.  He seemed a little peeved about the traffic jam delay because he had another customer named Laura waiting for him who lives at the Diplomat hotel area who had called him just as I got in his taxi.  Of course, Yerik is ALWAYS happy to take me to work but today might have been an exception, many tourist busses and police out and about.

In fact, when I left the university at noon, on a Sunday, the buses were not running as regularly as they do during the week.  Many guards are currently at each bus stop in their blue camo uniform trying to stay warm during this week long Asian Game event.  I was about to take a taxi back into town but the guard said, “chazs” which I took to mean, “shortly” or “now.”  In the context it meant, “wait a number #10 will come soon.”  Sure enough it did.  I feel sorry for these uniformed guys who are out standing in the cold making sure nothing “funny” happens.  Wouldn’t it be something if they had little skating rinks at each bus stop so that the guards could at least skate around and stay warm?  I know, that is thinking way outside the box but it is always good to keep moving in this frigid weather.  I can’t wait to go to the women’s figure skating this Friday, that should be good to witness.  Enjoy the photos from yesterday’s amateur skating.

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Wonderful Skating on the River in Astana

We had four different sets of people who came over to our flat yesterday so today was my chance to break out and enjoy the wildly cold scenery on the old part of town.  This was close to Eurasian university and the sports complex close to the river. I hadn’t skated since I was at Medeo in Almaty several years ago. Before that, it was many years ago that I had last skated.  The wind was bitterly cold from the west this morning and so it was more prudent to keep moving on skates than to sit.  It is all about lacing up correctly and having the right number of socks on.  Especially true if you are a size 39 but the skates are 42.  Next week we will do the same, skate on the river and then warm up with tea or coffee somewhere that is open afterwards.

We heard the ice crack which is never a good sign if you are on the river but the depth of ice must be at least a meter or so.  Still it was a little unnerving.  I wanted to try my cross hatches going forward and backward but I didn’t dare too much. I did skate backwards and it was fun to let the wind just move you without exerting any energy. I felt with all my bulk that I was wearing that if I fell, I would have a hard time getting up. So, I did not fall, not once!  What fun to see the other three skater, we had the ice all to ourselves. When I have photos, I’ll put them up maybe tomorrow. Just a matter of downloading them from my camera.  My clunker cell phone didn’t like the cold weather either, once I got in the taxi again it was responding very slowly to all my commands.  My chocolate chip cookies were also frozen.  And we were skating in this weather?

Yes, the Asian games are going to be in full swing tonight with the opening ceremony at 6:00 p.m.  Reportedly there are 1,500 volunteers here in Astana and 3,000 in Almaty.  Supposedly there was not a need for all these volunteers but they got a whole wardrobe of jacket, pants, scarf, backpack, shoes, gloves all in RED.  Wow, who underwrote the cost of this, just in the outfits alone? Never mind the big sporting complexes that were built quickly for such a time as this. At this rate, there will be more volunteers than participants in the games and sporting events.

I’m glad I have tickets to the women’s figure skating this Friday and will be sitting in the new stadium that looks like a bike helmet, the kind Lance Armstrong would wear as a cyclist.  Yes, this is a GREAT show that Astana and Almaty are putting on for their foreign guests.  I hope all goes according to plan and that there are no unfortunate accidents.  Really, when it is THIS cold, that feels like an “accident of Nature” to survive the way it is!

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More Bleak Facts with KZ’s “Growing Pains”

As an American teacher of Kazakh teachers, I believe it is my duty to make them and others aware of what is REALLY happening in this great country of Kazakhstan.  I try to bring out all the wonderful qualities that are here but there are facts that cannot be ignored.  Such as the following:

Based on data in last 12 months from only one centre for people who are victims of trafficking:

  • almost every day in Astana at least one under 18 girl is identified as providing commercial sexual services (voluntarily or forcibly)
  • 45 victims of trafficking rescued and provided with shelters
  • there were 11 girls of age from 12-18 rescued from forced prostitution
  • 12 illegal and legal workers rescued from forced labor
  • reported at least 3 cases of pregnant women forced to provide sexual service up to a date of delivery and already 4 days after. They were denied medical treatment.
  • 4 girls were providing sexual services in presence of their babies and small children

I talked to an older and wiser Kazakh woman who knows there IS a problem and she said that she had seen a movie about a Ukrainian girl who had been used as a sex slave in Italy.  This movie got top prize in whatever film festival but she couldn’t remember the name of it, the young girl was played by a famous Russian actress.  Apparently as the story goes, whether it is true or not, it builds on the reality of many Eastern European girls who are used as prostitutes against their wishes.  They are told one thing, and they are forced to become prostitutes.  In this case the girl birthed nine children and never saw them.  She had a man she loved but he was killed and she found his remains in at a garbage dump.  If anyone knows what the name of this movie is, among my blog readership, please comment and let me know.

The following are comments made by my students about this terrible topic:

“It was terrible to read the information about sexual trafficking of women. How can people do it? How do they dare? Don’t they have their own mothers, daughters, sisters? How can this ever happen? How can somebody force another one to have sex when she doesn’t want? There are many girls who would do it with pleasure. Why not take those girls and leave alone those who don’t want to?”

Another student wrote this:  The story she gave in her presentation is like the ones that Marinka told us. This girl is very lucky to be escaped. What about the others who are still there? What about those who went missing or even died? “Don’t be afraid of bad people’ be afraid of those who are not afraid of God” once I heard an old man saying. I think the recruiters are never afraid of God as they do such things. So I think it is up to us, teachers, to make our students be aware of human trafficking and be careful.

Next sensitive student wrote the following:

This case have much in common with those Kyrgyz women’s ones. All of them underwent the hardship of being rescued once they get involved into the business of human trafficking. The thing that shocked me most off all is about the victims of trafficking in Astana, in the city, where we live. We used to think that such awful problems happen somewhere far away, far away from us, but it is not so. Who knows, perhaps, we meet those victims everyday in the streets of our capital city.

We say that world is getting better, but we do not always know what the real meaning of it is. Yes, I do not deny, the conditions for life is getting better, the amenities to live with comfort is improving. But! The most important creatures of the world – people – are dehumanizing themselves. That’s a big problem. It is the problem that causes a lot of them. The things that we create with hardships, we destroy at a glance.

Finally, this comment takes a different direction with those people who claim to help the poor and underprivileged but in fact pocket the money for themselves.  Here is an example of how greed of one person is corruption to the country’s detriment.  God bless those expats who are here in Kazakhstan from the outside who try to help rescue these vulnerable people.  Each person is valuable in God’s sight.

“As an educator I am aware of the situation with children`s rights in our country, but that knowledge painful for my heart. The government, NGO and of course UNICEF do much to improve the situation, but it is very common in our country that every good beginning will fade or ruined by corruption.

Remember the case with children infected with HIV in Chimkent several years ago, the fund was formed to gather money and donations to help families of those kids. A good idea! People could not stand aside and a big sum was gathered, but the money did not reach the point of destination. The head of the fund spent it on organizational needs such as a leather bag for 24,000 tenge, office equipment and transportation, he also invested money into some business for a year.

There is no law in our country about funds, so that man wasn`t afraid of it, but the moral law meant nothing for him also. You may argue saying that it was the only case, but people, it is a very example of our mentality, unfortunately.”

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Bleak Facts about teen suicide in Kazakhstan

I shared the other day some statistics of teenage suicide in Kazakhstan which our guest speaker from UNICEF shared with my Professional Development class.  These are startling figures and sadly behind every number there is a grieving family who asks the question WHY?  My own students waxed philosophical on this distressing issue.  The following are the questions we ALL should be asking:

“I was shocked to learn that Kazakhstan is on the 1st place by the suicide rate among teenagers. I wonder what reason force young people to kill themselves? The right of life is considered to be the main human right. Why do young people who have the whole life in front of them deprive themselves of this right?”

My Kazakh students are educators of young people, so they feel the pain acutely.  They know that they might be a small part of the solution to this problem that has gripped Kazakhstan.  I was told by one older educator that suicide is considered a “growing disease” or “growing pain” of a developing country such as Kazakhstan.

This same person told me that on the news she hears every week how many teen suicides are happening in the Semipalatinsk area.  Many disabilities and deformities have resulted due to that area in eastern Kazakhstan that was used for maybe 30-40 years during the Soviet period, as a nuclear testing site.  We learned from our speaker that there are not adequate funds to help rehabilitate those with disabilities or provide orphanages for them. Even in many village schools, there are not enough resources to help educate the “normal” children.  In any case, that might be where the high frequency of suicide deaths are occurring to bring Kazakhstan ahead of Russia in preventable and avoidable suicide deaths.

Another factor to consider would be that the Kazakh children of 19 years old are those who were born during the critical time of the collapse of the Soviet Union.  Their parents had been assured jobs in the collectives or factories but that was all stripped away and so the parents who had young children had to fight to survive during this calamitous and chaotic time.  Their parents did not get an education and so either these children who commit suicide have no model of how their parents worked in a regular job OR they were living in poverty and could not afford education.  Either way, there seems little hope for these youngsters to improve their lot in the villages of Kazakhstan.  Thus, to solve their problem they believe suicide will remedy the hopeless state.

Something else that was mentioned in our discussion among my mature Kazakh students is that some of these children who commit suicide come from wealthy homes.  In this case, the parents work very hard and put in long hours to have the nice house, car and all the material things they couldn’t have during communism.  In some cases, the busy parents are flying off to Turkey or China to buy goods but leave their children unattended to dabble in different things that are not healthy for them.

Some Kazakh children despair that they might not pass the national exam.  Here is what one of my students wrote:

“One of the main reasons is the National Test that the students take while graduating the 11th grade, because their teachers always say that if they don’t pass it they won’t enter any university or even get a certificate about the graduation (we call it “attestat”), and parents say that in case their child doesn’t get enough points on the test they won’t pay for his studies, he has to earn for his livings himself. That’s why they loose their interest and hope in life if they fail.”

Another of my students wrote this:

That’s why I feel upset to see my country showing the highest suicide rates among 15-19 year old adolescents, especially among women. Yesterday we discussed about the reasons that force them to commit suicide. As one of my group mates said most of them are from wealthy and normal families, so I wonder why they commit such things.

No easy answers, but it could be that there is much bullying that goes on at Kazakh schools.  Older students pick on younger, smaller students and hustle them for money.  Maybe the child is not as smart and needs another smarter student to help him with getting good marks on an exam.  There could be a plethora of scenarios of what is played out in the school playground with the bullying problem.  I’m thinking that Central Asia perhaps has felt bullied by other bigger nations and this is just a symptom of that on a micro level.  The “kick the cat” problem where social needs are not taken care of within the home and it leaks into society or, in other words, the lack of civil society.

I’m thinking of how the Mafia game has taken over as a kind of “fun” and cheap distraction for young people to play where there is an assigned killer and always a victim.  There’s a fortune teller and a witch.  These are dark subjects for some so young who want to do better for the sake of their country.   But I’m getting into another topic that needs to be explored.  Perhaps one Saturday night I will sit around with this age group and play “Mafia” to see what is going on.

Yes, growing pains is right in more ways than one when considering the terrible facts of suicide among teenagers in Kazakhstan.

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Sobering News from my taxi driver

Another day like yesterday but not as bad, I’m ready to go home and just “vedge” out with a DVD after eating wild rice, vegetable soup.  Not as cold in Astana today which makes everyone seem friendlier.  My faithful taxi driver Yaheya took me to work today and he never fails to bring up world news.  This morning he talked about the tragedy in Moscow where there were 35 dead and about 180 wounded after an explosion in the airport.  I think I got the numbers right. This conversation with Yaheya was all in Russian and sobering for my early morning going to work thoughts.  I pity the Russian families who are dealing with this latest sad tragedy.

Here are some other thoughts that are a bit more uplifting, if they are true:

Apparently Albert Einstein once said if he had one hour to save the world, he would spend 55 minutes defining the problem and only five minutes finding the solution.  I do believe we need a solution to this terrorism that stalks many airports and also our schools and universities.  Our world has been turned upside down by hate-crazed people who want to plague others with terrorist tactics.  I wonder how Einstein would have solved this problem of terrorism?

Did Napolean really say this about what he does about problems?  “My genius is that with a quick glance, I cover all the difficulties of a situation, but at the same time all resources to overcome these difficulties and that is the reason why I have superiority over others.”  I think this little man was an egoist, as my students like to write.  I’d say ego-maniac would be more descriptive of Napolean.

“Reading a book means gaining an author’s lifetime experience.” I would agree with that and I have also heard it said that usually a person who writes has only two books to write. One on his particular topic and another on himself (autobiography) when he becomes famous with his first topic.  All other books that follow are the same theme and formula.  I suppose there are those authors that try different genres but that is what I read somewhere.

I like the following quote of what Prophet Mohammed said:

“If you are concerned about next year, plant rice.

If you care about 10 years, plant a tree,

If you worry about centuries, raise educated children.”

I’m glad I have my PDP students, they are working hard on their final project.  I worked out a tentative schedule for the rest of the time we have together this year.  I will miss these dear students but I feel that I am planting a harvest of good seed with these very active teachers who will sow more seeds with their pupils.

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Good news/Bad news on mortality issues in Kazakhstan

Today was that kind of a day where I had one thing after another after another and there is more to come as I write this.   The tempo is picking up with our PDP classes and I am very proud of my students for listening very attentively to our guest speaker, Hanaa Singer from UNICEF.  My students asked excellent questions from their Kazakh educators point of view and I just watched it all happen.  Of course, Hanaa, is a remarkable speaker and she knew how to draw out a good discussion and relevant comments from her audience.

So much information that Hanaa gave us starting with a five minute movie that shows photos of beautiful children, the most vulnerable part of any population the world over.  Then she gave information that is close to her heart regarding Kazakhstan’s issues and then a slide show that showed more statistics to make her points.  This proved a good example for my PDP students who will have a chance to share their findings and readings from their final research paper in their 15 minute ppt presentations which they will give in about a month.

For now, let me just write down just a few things that struck me about what Hanaa shared with us.  There were many more things but this is the good news/bad news concerning Kazakhstan.

The good news:

Infant mortality rate decreased since 2008 from 21% to 17%

Under age 5 the mortality rate dropped from 23% to 19%

Maternal mortality rate dropped from 37 in 2009 to 23 in 2010 per 100,000.

Bad news:

When I heard Hanaa speak last spring, she spoke of Kazakhstan being second to Russia concerning suicide rate among 15-19 year old Kazakhs.  That has changed now according to her statistics.  Kazakhstan has moved ahead of Russia and this is not something to be proud of.  Suicide deaths and large numbers of them that are avoidable deaths are never something that is healthy for a nation. Especially a young developing nation like Kazakhstan.

According to her graphs, she showed that Kazakhstan had over 30 suicide deaths per 100,000 of males and almost 20 suicides for females, almost 50 of 100,000.  Whereas Russian had 40 with 30 males/100,000 and 9/100,000 females.  Lithuania had 30 suicides out of 100,000 and Estonia with 27 and Turkmenistan with 25 next.  About 20 countries were represented in this graph.  What’s interesting is that there were less male suicide in Turkmenistan than in the other higher countries.

We discussed this as a group and it was thought that suicides are happening in Kazakhstan among rich families where the child gets everything materially but they are not shown love by their parents.  Also, Hanaa suggested that there have been many cases of bullying amongst this age group of 15-19 year olds.

Very sobering subject.  I think I’ll try to find more baby photos tomorrow that I meant to post earlier.  Over and out.

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“Opposition to fur drops with the temperature” and other quotes

What does the above quote have to do with anything in Astana, Kazakhstan?  A LOT!!! We are experiencing very cold temps and lately I have seen some very lovely furs worn by women.  We had a somewhat mild fall leading up to the Christmas and New Year holidays and now THIS.  My husband and I arrived to Astana about a year ago at this time.  It was insufferably cold but those of us who survived, have something in common in our survivor society.  “We prevailed” despite the cold weather and we will do so again.  That’s what keeps us going when the temps plummet.

That’s also the way Minnesotans think and that is an eternally safe subject to talk about because there is so much material to discuss.  Therefore, I love wearing my fur coat in Astana when it gets cold and I need to find a proper fur hat like all the other Kazakh ladies in Astana wear.  I want to go “native” so to speak and that would do it.  So those people out there who oppose fur don’t live in a place that drops to 20 or 30 below zero.  These same people and I know among my readership there are many, will wear leather coats or shoes or carry leather bags but for some reason disdain fur!  Let them live in a climate where the temperature continues to drop!!!  I’d like to know what they would do then.

On to other quotes I picked up along the way, this one by Nelson Mandela “A good head and a good heart are always a formidable combination.”

Here’s a Latin proverb: Errarum humanum est = “He who makes no mistakes, makes nothing.”

A Kazakh proverb: “A friend says the truth even if it breaks your heart, but an enemy says what you want to hear even if it is a lie.”

Henry Ford supposedly said: “Don’t find a fault, find a remedy.”

Napolean said “Ability is nothing without opportunity”

Charles Marice was quoted as saying: “I am more afraid of an army of 100 sheep led by a lion than an army of one hundred lions led by a sheep.”

F. Dostoevskyi wrote: “The main distinction between a human being and the person, is the ability to have one’s own opinion.”

Abai, the noted Kazakh philosopher and poet said: “You are one brick in creations of our world, so find that place on the wall intended for you.”

What do any of these quotes have to do with the title? Nothing, I just like them and wanted to share with my reading audience.  Maybe we can all agree on the truth of these quotes? Yes?

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