Archive for August, 2011

Glass Bottle’s Journey from Kazakhstan to the Midwest since 1993

Back in the days pre-9/11, we could take almost anything on board a jet in our carry-ons, within reason of course.  Swiss Army knives (mine succumbed to security while traveling in China a month after the tragedy), glass bottles, whatever sharp objects are disallowed now.  Airline security rules have changed much in the last ten years post-9/11.  So have the labels on bottles, I don’t think they have glass bottles for mineral water in Kazakhstan anymore.

This post is about a happy journey of a glass bottle of mineral water that Ken and I had in our carryons as we were stuck in an Almaty, Kazakhstan airport because of weather conditions in December of 1993.  He was to meet my folks and family for the first time in Minnesota in what was one of the COLDEST winters to welcome guests used to Kansas weather.  He still married me and my family started a funny “Certificate of Transportation” of keeping this bottle moving.  See what has been posted on the side of the bottle since this game began.

Certificate of Transportation – Almaty, Kazakhstan December 1993  to hometown in northwest MN Dec. 23, 1993

Continue logging places and dates of bottle

Columbia Heights, MN July 31, 1994

South Minneapois Nov. 25, 1995

Hawaii, July 2-8, 1996 [How did it get there? someone has some ‘splainin’ to do.]

T1’s graduation June 15, 1997

Sat at K2’s until March 15, 1998

K1 passed through Twin Cities March 15, 1998 visited M1 in Lino Lakes

K1 passes it on to T1 July 24, 1998

T1 to M1 November 22, 2001

Dec. 22, 2001 Failed attempt to pass to M2 family by planting bottle on ZJ. Busted!

January 1, 2002 – from M1 to M2 via K1 and Minute Maid carton

April 14, 2002 from M2 to T3 in Wausau, WI Viva la H20!

June 25, 2006 – T3 got it into K1’s car

T1’s NE Mpls apt. June 27, 2006

Dec. 26, 2008 from T1 to K2 (via White Elephant present)

Dec. 26, 2008 To the M2 family thanks for hosting a wonderful family gathering. Best wishes from the M1 family

Dec. 26, 2010 – in someone’s car (T3?) [too cryptic to understand whose car???]

Aug. 19, 2011 at K1 in Oxcart Days, love from T3 family

Aug. 25, 2011 in K2’s car while visiting farm, gotta love vegetables!

Who next will receive this prize after traveling from Kazakhstan all these years?  It becomes more precious while the way to pass it off all the more creative.

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Kazakhstan and “Be What You Am” poem

The other day I posted a poem from a book first published in UK in 1947 by Isobel Kuhn, titled “Nests Above the Abyss.”  Not sure who the author of the poem was but it can be presumed that it was from black slave origin in the American South.  Coincidentally I found something printed up in a local paper while doing some research on something entirely different, this poem caught my attention because it has some of the same phrases.  Published in October 27, 1922, it is titled “Be What You Am.”  This also follows some of the bad grammar from the movie “The Help” that I saw recently and blogged about yesterday. Such as the phrase oft repeated by the black maid: “You is kind, you is smart, you is important.”

I’m an English composition teacher and bad grammar should bother me intensely.  However, in all three cases of quotes I took from the movie and these two poems, I really do NOT care if the grammar is correct or not.  The message comes across loud and clear…we should NOT try to be something that we are not.  Even pretending and creating a sham of being better or more superior than you are, grates against most American’s sensibilities.  Or maybe it goes against *my* immediate environment of Scandinavian ethnicity while surrounded by no-nonsense, hardworking Germans.  Whatever the case, I appreciate this poem and think that the Kazakhs might learn something from this “Negro slave” wisdom…

Don’t be what you ain’t

Jes’ be what you is.

If you is not what you am.

Then you am not what you is.

If you’re just a little tadpole, don’t try to be a frog.

If you’re just the tail, don’t try to be a dog.

You can always pass the plate, if you can’t exhort and preach

If you’re just a little pebble, don’t try to be the beach.

Don’t be what you ain’t

Jes’ be what you is,

For the man who plays it square

Is a-goin’ to get “his.”

I like the phrase “for the man who plays it square” which essentially means if they are honest and have integrity, they will be rewarded.  In other words, “is a-goin’ to get “his” reward.  After 20 years of being an independent nation, there has been dishonest gain, especially seen in Kazakhstan’s education. When I mentioned that I think the Kazakhs should move away from the “pakazooka” [Russian word sounded out meaning “all for show with no substance behind it”] appearances of pretending to be something they are not, I got a surprise comment from someone back in Kazakhstan.  Here’s what he said:

” how witty you’ve compared this to the Kazakh realia! This isn’t a problem of a country’s policy, it’s how most Kazakhs live and act!”

Any other comments from my Kazakh readers about this cultural trend that I noticed while working and teaching at two western universities in Kazakhstan?  We all have pride to deal with and academicians can be the worst! The acquiring of knowledge should come from a humble admission of not knowing much and yearning to acquire more knowledge.  Sadly, there are many western professors who exhort and expound outside their area of expertise and believe they are experts on other things as well.

May the Kazakh people yearn to be who they REALLY are and be content in their humble estate.  Hopefully other nations of integrity would find this attractive and westerners would be curious enough to want to visit this amazing place and learn from the Kazakhs!

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Memorable Quotes from “The Help” and human rights today

I knew when I read the book by Kathryn Stockett titled “The Help” two years ago that it would eventually be turned into a movie.  I didn’t know that it would happen as quickly as it did when it opened to theaters in the U.S. on August. 10th.  We watched it last night to a nearly packed audience. I’m sure it will have receive many Oscar awards when that season begins. The range of up and down emotions you go through as you watch the movie are from lighthearted fun to intense ache and pain in the relationships.

I believe the movie stayed true to the book. The following are some memorable quotes I picked off of in no particular order. (Internet Movie Database)

Aibileen Clark  is a black maid who says to white baby girl she takes care of: “You is kind. You is smart. You is important.”
Charlotte Phelan says to her daughter Skeeter: Your eggs are dying. Would it kill you to go on a date?
Aibileen Clark: 18 people were killed in Jackson that night. 10 white and 8 black. I don’t think God has color in mind when he sets a tornado loose.
Preacher Green says to his congregation: If you can love your enemy, you already have victory.
Aibileen Clark says to Skeeter when she goes to interview Aibileen: I ain’t never had no white person in my house before.
Stuart Whitworth, Skeeter’s boyfriend: Isn’t that what all you girls from Ole Miss major in – professional husband hunting?
Minny Jackson maid who says to her flighty employer Celia: Fried chicken just tend to make you feel better about life.

Charlotte Phelan says to her daughter Skeeter: Courage sometimes skips a generation. Thank you for bringing it back to our family.

Minny Jackson says to Celia: Minny don’t burn fried chicken.

Celia Foote: They don’t like me because of what they think I did.
Minny Jackson: They don’t like you ’cause they think you white trash.
Now, how does this movie relate to human rights today?  Of course, everything that I see or hear goes through my grid about human trafficking in Kazakhstan and elsewhere in the world. I believe there may still be pockets of “slave mentality” in the deep South of the U.S. but after the Civil War that poisonous thinking was supposed to be totally eradicated. Right? We have laws in place that protect human life (except for Roe v. Wade which is another hot topic that I won’t get into in this blog) The unfortunate thing is that there is so much going on in the world that does NOT protect human life.  Human trafficking is not just in Kazakhstan but China and India and many other places where there are powerful, rich people who victimize poor people who have no other options.
So, yes, Americans will go to the movie “The Help” now and feel good about themselves that we, as a nation, have come a LONG ways from the 1960s where the blacks were put down and there was intimidation and fear.  However, they will willfully remain ignorant of what is happening in the rest of the world where little girls as young as two years old are used as sex toys in temples in India.  Yes, I just read an article about it today and it grieves me sorely.
(to be continued)

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Kazakhstan and “De Sunflower Ain’t De Daisy” poem

I read this poem from Isobel Kuhn’s book “Nests Above the Abyss” and LOVE it still today.  I believe the meaning of this poem fits the university in Astana, Kazakhstan where I used to work and teach. This flagship university only opened their doors a year ago with 500 Kazakh students but want to be known and acclaimed as the “Harvard of the steppes of Central Asia.”  If so, the administration needs to continue to work hard at their goals of keeping standards high and not lagging in achieving those goals honestly.

See what you think of this poem when thinking about Kazakhstan striving to be in the top 50 of developed nations by 2030.  I witnessed this same kind of obsessive drive with China when I taught there for two years in Harbin in 1986-88. My Chinese students were programmed to talk about what they would do for their motherland. The word “reform” kept coming up over and over again.  See where China is today economically…but to what cost as far as their human rights issues?  What does China do against their own people?  What does Kazakhstan do or NOT do to their own people who are not fortunate enough to live in the big cities of Almaty and Astana?

De sunflower ain’t de daisy and de melon ain’t de rose,

Why is dey all so crazy to be sumfin’ also dat grows?

Jes’ stick to de place you’re planted and do de best you knows.

Be de sunflower or de daisy, de melon or de rose,

Don’t be what you ain’t,

Jes’ you be what yo is.

Pass de plate if you can’t exhaust and preach.

If you’re jes’ a little pebble don’t try to be de beach.

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Global Leadership Summit Notes (Part II)

What a privilege to hear all these speakers from their different areas of expertise talk about leadership. Please see yesterday’s to see what else I learned all the while thinking about education and human trafficking in Kazakhstan.

V. Dr. Henry Cloud – The Wise, the Foolish, the Evil

Truth, what do they do with it?  Reality is different from the assumptions of leaders who think everyone is kind and responsible like them.  Diagnose who you are talking to. There are three categories of people:

1)   wise

2)   fools

3)   evil

For the wise, the light comes and they adjust their eyes to it, they actually adjust themselves when they hear truth.  They tweak the formula if they have to. When they hear criticism, they say thank you with a smile.  When a coach gives feedback they heed it.  Resource them and keep them appropriately challenged.

However, the fool instead adjusts the light, adjusts the truth and is angry when they hear criticism. They change the truth and deny reality.  They shoot the messenger.

There is hopelessness and they don’t own the problem, they blame someone else

“Do not confront or correct a fool, a mocker will hate you.”

With a fool, stop talking to them.  Stop the insanity

They have stopped the plan of your mission because they have an allergy to the reality

Don’t talk about problems with them.  Take your talk to the pattern.  You have to know how to give feedback and set your LIMITS to exposure of the problem in perception.  The leader must protect the vision or the culture of the team

Some fools are living for show or fear reasons

Ask them, “What are we doing if you keep this behavior up?”  There are consequences.

Fools do not change

Limit exposure, clear about consequences, give choice, follow through

Finally, evil people, they are bent on destruction

Reject a divisive person, flee after second warning.  Have nothing to do with them

You may need lawyers, guns (law enforcement to help intervene) and money to protect yourself from evil.

VI. John Dickson, Sydney, Australia

Numbers 12:3 – Moses wrote that he was the most humble man. The word Humility had a different meaning back when Moses wrote that than it does for us in contemporary society.

Humility means To hold power in service of others.  Humility makes the great even greater

Cultivate this in life, five things about humility

1)   common sense – none of us is an expert in everything – a true expert must know that what they don’t know far exceeds what they know in their subject. Must use Competency extrapolation.

2)   beautiful – Sir Edmund Hillary 1919-2008 was the one who climbed Mt. Everest, he built hospitals in Nepal.  He was being photographed by some admirers and some other climbers came along and didn’t know who he was so they straightened out his ice pick he was holding.  He said “thank you.” That was a beautiful expression of humility because of COURSE he knew how to hold a pick but didn’t let on.

3)   Generative – generates new knowledge.  Scientific revolution took off with the idea to test, retest, evaluate with colleagues.  Humility encouraged science. Low place is a place of learning

4)   Persuasive – “On Rhetoric” by Aristotle, he talked of logos, pathos and ethos.  Ethos is the character of a persuader.  Most believable because you have others’ best interests at heart if you have good character.

5)   Inspiring – Collins “Good to Great” – leaders maximize other peoples’ potential, the others are aloof and unapproachable.  Great leaders are approachable, they are humble and other aspire to be like them

Four tools of leadership

1)   ability

2)   authority

3)   character

4)   persuasion

We went through the cruciform of a change at Jesus death.  From the ancient times it was not cool to be humble but rather to be competent and arrogant.  After Jesus death there was a humility revolution.  Thus, when Moses said he was the most humble, it was self-effacing back in his time.  Now we would never admit that we are humble, it is a quality other’s see in us and want.

VII. Patrick (filled in for Howard Shultz from Starbucks) – he wrote “Getting Naked”

We need to be reminded, more than instructed

Ken Blanchard wrote about the power of vulnerability

Manifest humility by being vulnerable

We in the western world try to avoid suffering at all costs but this is counter-cultural to following Christ

Why is it so hard to be vulnerable? Fear of losing business or fear of rejection

“Enter the danger”  Improvisation like in tv show “Whose line is it anyway?”

360 feedback forms

1)   speak kind truth – terminal niceness – don’t be afraid of being rejected

2)   fear of being embarrassed – ask the dumb question, Celebrate our mistakes, acknowledge our humanity

3)   fear of feeling inferior

Do the dirty work, go the second mile service. What did Jesus do? he washed feet

Honoring your clients’ work

Vulnerability which breeds loyalty

Not easy, suffering pain

Answering the call

Don’t get rewarded

Do it anyway when NOT rewarded

VIII. Chasing Daylight – Erwin McManus, film maker, L.A. California

Read from Eccl. 1 – Meaningless…all is meaningless says the teacher (written by King Solomon)

McManus loves Solomon and his transparency when he says “There’s nothing new under the sun.” he doesn’t agree with Solomon though

Is. 43:18-19

There is a creative process.  God is an artist. We are part of the creative order if we are Christians.  All others who are not Christians along with the animals are the created order.

Creative order vs. created order

Some might say, “Let’s make history” and that you can do to leave your mark

Others might say “Let’s change history” which you can’t do unless you are an avowed revisionist

Let’s create the future, that is God’s arena

Evil men don’t ask permission to change the world

Good people sit back and wait for permission to save the world.

McManus was asked what art would look like after the post-modern world.

He replied, “Whatever we choose.”

Why wait for others to choose our future?  Why is Star Wars and Avatar beating out the Christians in art?

Focus on creating future God has in mind

We are to be cultivators of human talent, be a good steward of what we’ve been given

Acts 7

Shakespeare wrote “Others have greatness thrust upon them.”

In schools and life, the extraordinary is beaten out of us.  There are hidden talents

We can be the incubator for those who are creative.  Sometimes dreams are trapped in people’s souls

Human talent and the glory of God

You, even at your best, will never be intimidating to God.

The Christian world used to have the best poets

There is the false narrative

We need to reclaim truth telling power

Revival of great story telling

Truths lost in a bad story

We need to be cultivators of talent, narrators of humor, story, acknowledge the mosaic and the masterful. Do something NEW!!!

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Global Leadership Summit Notes

The following notes are what I scribbled at a recent two day conference called Global Leadership Summit. My husband and I attended along with about ten other people from our hometown. All the talks went through my teacher grid all the while thinking about Kazakhstan.  Many people gathered from all over to hear what was being said in Chicago which was simultaneously beamed out to thousands of people throughout North America.

I. Courageous Leadership for Catalytic Times, Rev. Dr. Brenda Salter McNeil

In 1986 she and her husband were invited to speak about the black church in America to Birmingham, England.  One woman from Jamaica who was born in England stood up and yelled at her saying: “Where have YOU been?”  Implying that she was late. She went on to explain that they didn’t fit into the tight class system of England and they certainly were not welcomed back in Jamaica.  They were blacks without an identity.

The speaker did NOT know about their problem, she knew after that she needed to expand her global worldview as a Christian. This event was a game changer for her, a catalytic moment similar to what Chuck Yeager had accomplished with breaking the sound barrier flying in 1947.

McNeil challenged her listeners with “How have you responded to changes?”

Acts 1:8 was quoted “You will receive power to move outward from Jerusalem…” (home turf) where there is intercultural competency…to Judea (subculture of politics which can polarize in a church) to Samaria (that can be hostile to us, it is foreign such as prisons, sex traffickers, where there are child soldiers

She cited an example in Chicago where a priest had complained about a billboard close to schools where children would see the tantalizing ads.  The ad companies did nothing so he took it upon himself to paint over the objectionable parts.  The church is supposed to be counter-cultural, not go with the flow especially if it is harmful to the vulnerable.  We are to have the eyes of faith and not eyes of fear.

Are you ready to break through your sound barrier?

1)   Seek out your Divine Mandate

2)   Name catalytic events, God is always working on us

3)   Mobilize people to go, go to learn and NOT to help

Authenticity and credibility, invest self in culture

II. Poke the Box, Seth Godin, marketing blogger

Showed a picture of Betty Crocker in 1931 who was a legend in her time.  As if she was the best cook, helped sell many cake mixes on a mass produced level.

1940 Revlon had tv ads and sold more and then more ads which Godin says is the “tv industrial complex.” The mass marketing took off

Revolutions destroy the perfect

Death of industrial age, tribes – groups of people have formed where we have church, work and play in separate groups.

We all want to be in synch with one another [he used an example of clapping together]

Risky act with someone else’s wellbeing in mind, doing something FOR someone else

Henry Ford – mass production, our mentality now is “Keep line moving.”

Managers are different than leaders [this rang a bell with me about all the top heavy manager and senior managers that worked at the last university I taught at in Astana, Kazakhstan]

You are to fit in, to be ignored in this post-industrial age

There is no map or blueprint for being an artist.

Competence used to be important

Giving gifts, not favors

We have a chance to influence people and to Make a difference

We need you to lead us

Godin has an initiative to eradicate poverty – check out

 III. Bill Hybels – Tough Callings

In Jeremiah 20, Jeremiah cries out to God, “You deceived me (in other words, “you sweet talked me”) and I bought it. Jeremiah is known as the weeping prophet.

Sometimes our calling will not be easy.  We struggle between being faithful to God and aching for success, we all want to be successful.

Faithful vs. successful

Jeremiah in Lamentations 3, he writes that he is disappointed in God but after all the stresses, he comes up with “God’s mercies are new to me every morning.” Great is Thy faithfulness.

Rich Sterns took the helm of World Vision, meant to fix the ills of society because this world is broken.  This job as president of World Vision breaks your heart over and over again. Bill Hybels was on the selection committee to find the next person to take a low paying job with coach class flying and administrative skills needed to raise money for each disaster that arose.

A Canadian woman went on a journalism assignment to Somalia and she was kidnapped for 15 months before her family and friends freed her with paying the ransom money. She was deprived of food, ill treated, thought she was going to die.  After she got rehabilitated after her release, she went back to Somalia to help the children.

IV. Students First, Michelle Rhee, as an administrator of schools, she made a difference in Wash. D.C. school district by firing many principals and teachers and cleaning up the bureaucracy. She lost her post when the mayor of D.C. lost his re-election but he was ready to put his political career on the line to support whatever she did. She tolerated a LOT of hate and vitriol all because she wanted good teachers for her own two daughters who were in the public school system.  Some people would pull her aside and say that she was moving too fast.  She claimed she was not reforming the schools fast enough. She has a new project called  She was in the movie “Waiting for Superman.” This Korean woman from Toledo, OH took on a hard job, tough calling.  Loved it and would rather have angry people than apathetic ones.  Amazing!!!

Of these four speakers perhaps the last one was the most impressive to me because this sort of shakeup has to happen in Kazakhstan.  Who has the leadership skills to do what Michelle tried to achieve?  She put students FIRST!!!

(to be continued)

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We Want to DO something… (Part II)

Ladies in our group want to DO SOMETHING about eradicating slavery and human trafficking!  That is why we arrived at having a sale of our castoffs.  We hope to get more donations to turn into money so victims of trafficking in Kazakhstan  and Central Asia can turn it back into clothes, beds, kitchenware, all the kinds of things we are purging.  Too bad we couldn’t just ship everything that is excess for us to the shelters that need them to help rehabilitate those victims who have come out of being slaves.  Cost prohibitive.

Another thing mentioned the other night was that most all the clothes we buy and the places we buy things at inadvertently use child labor.  We, as Americans, are used to receiving minimum wage in our U.S. jobs but that would be laughable and unheard of in other third world countries.  One article mentioned by someone in the group listed all the stores that are on the black list which is similar to the website (Free2work) we talked about earlier where companies are given grades from A to F.

Well, we are satisfied that we don’t do any shopping at the elite stores who are on the black list.  Many of us go to thrift stores or some sew their own clothes.  Those of us who go to second hand stores talked about how we could make our rummage sale different.  Maybe like one American Red Cross store that had everything laid out and when they go to pay, the shopper is asked, “What is it worth to you?”  Well, then in your own mind you have to tally it up and in a sense give a donation.  We could do it that way or price everything at 50 cents so that people fix those prices in their heads while bigger items would be priced if they are worth more (furniture, exercise equipment, etc.)

We could also ask for donations from different stores or companies around town.  Having a silent auction was mentioned or maybe selling tickets for some things that are donated from the stores around town.  Someone volunteered to write up a paragraph that would go into church bulletins to announce this event that is a citywide garage sale.  However, again, we want to make sure this is different from all the rest of the rummage sales.  Explaining that all the profit made would go to this mission of helping trafficked victims here in the U.S. and also in Central Asia.

A way to advertise would be to put it on television or the radio website.  We could have a flyer printed up that would advertise at different places around town about what we would be selling.  Just in time for college students returning in the fall who want to establish their dorm rooms or rental homes.  We could have this as a Facebook event so these same incoming college students would show up. Maybe put an advert on Craigslist.

We would certainly be on the list for the community wide yard sales.  However, OURS would be different! Someone else mentioned that we could also have a Bake sale where everyone brings something they baked and sell it.  The thought would be to put a pamphlet about human trafficking in every bag that leaves the sale.  The shoppers would go home to read it if they didn’t see the displays that were set up or the powerpoint or DVD that plays continually through about human trafficking.

Someone mentioned that Demi Moore is into working against this problem of trafficking.  We could invite her but in case she doesn’t show up (tongue in cheek), we would maybe see what she reports on her website. We would see what other websites like “Not for Sale” and other organizations have in promoting their programs in the U.S. and abroad.  All in an effort to inform people in the community what is going on.  We must all be aware!!!

We discussed many other things such as where the donations of clothes and things would go and the wording of the pamphlets and flyers.  Many details to work out so we will have to have another meeting soon to discuss who will be in charge of what.  The other night was a floating of ideas.  Next time we will nail down the nuts and bolts of who will be responsible for what options they feel most comfortable with and are talented in getting done. We can make this a tri-focussed event.  Donate, buy or be aware!!!

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