Archive for January, 2012

The Future of “World Class” Slave Mentality

Having lived in Astana, Kazakhstan for one year almost a year ago, I was in the very  bowels of the new university’s glorious start. The university once opened fall of 2010 has since been named after the current president of Kazakhstan.  I witnessed first hand how much was/is being invested into the higher education of young Kazakh students. I had many Bolashak [means “future” in Kazakh] scholars who were my working colleagues and friends. After they had lived in the U.S. or U.K. one or two years, they seemed to empathize with me as the westerner trying to wade my way through the murky politics of the new university.

However, I also saw that for their own protection they had to watch out for themselves while working unswervingly for the concept of the greater good, the future of Kazakhstan.  When I was no longer a part of the game of striving and finding my place, they struggled on without me in their own energy.  I believe the “slave mentality” existed for these young people on the lower end of the pole. Many Bolashak scholars were not paid much. Some of these highly trained individuals fared far worse if they could only secure jobs in the national universities in the old part of Astana or Almaty (former capital in southern Kazakhstan).  Supposedly obedience and slavery to the old order would help them rise to the top.

Astana means “capital” in Kazakh.  It was also known as Akmola and Akmolinsk [white grave] after it had been named during the Soviet era Tselinograd. Watch, there will be a name change soon to reflect the vision of the current president, it will undoubtedly be named after him.  “Astana” is just a place holder name.

This new city on the flat steppe may seem artificial with its strange architecture but it certainly gets your attention since most of the time there is extreme wind and cold to hamper its reputation as a capital city to be admired.  Perhaps the president has done much good in moving the capital from the south of Kazakhstan to the middle of nowhere in the north, but at what cost? Think slavery with the internal migrants (sex slaves from the rural areas of Kazakhstan in the brothels of Almaty and Astana) and the labor force who have been brought in from Kyrgyzstan and Uzbekistan to build these elaborate buildings.

I know for a fact the new university in Astana wants to be considered “world-class” but that can hardly be a reality if most of the people in the western world don’t even know about Kazakhstan.  That has to be infuriating and humbling for those Bolashak scholars who travel to U.K. Canada or U.S.  Yes, to discover people don’t even know their dear country, which they represent and is the ninth largest in the world, actually exists.

I think there is something very artificial about living in such a climate, no different from existing in the summer heat of Arizona where temperatures soar to 100 degrees F or more days on end. You can’t help but admire those who have lived in Astana for over 20-30 years.  The pecking order begins there whether you have any expertise in your field or not, if you have survived this city of wind and cold, you are to be reckoned with.  Note that those who are in the different ministries are the older generation who call the shots. They are to be respected and obeyed. The country will continue to lumber and lurch forward, all the while I wish the best for the Bolashak generation.  Please read this blog that shows photos of Astana and deals with his insights on Bolashak and Astana. “Molapse” was a fellow teaching colleague of mine when we taught at another “world class university” in Almaty. ‘Nuff said.

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“I’m just sayin’…” vs. “Have a good one!”

Yesterday I wrote about two post-Soviet expressions I find endearing in my former students’ essays.  Today, I will write about two expressions that Americans use which are in the above title.  The latter, “Have a good one” is one I have never gotten used to. I believe it started circulating in the 1980s, maybe earlier.  Hearing “Have a good one” got on my nerves where I would want to ask the well-wisher, “one-what?  Have a good evening?  Have a good dinner?  WHAT!?”  To me it ranked up there with what seemed to irritate everyone when someone like a bank teller or a sales clerk might end the transaction with “Have a nice day!”  I know it was intended to be chirpy nice but without any real feeling behind it.  I think we have all moved away from THAT expression because it is empty of meaning.

This other expression that Americans have grown fond of using, myself included, has a different ring to it.  “I’m just sayin’…” may have come from a t.v. show for all I know (having lived in other countries for as many years as I have, I readily admit that I don’t know the origin).  In any case, this has the air of knowing something others may not be aware while adding a kind of “aw shucks” attitude of getting it out there without appearing like a know-it-all.  It works something like this…

I recently read in an American’s blog about Kazakhstan that there was a fire at a brand, spanking new mosque in Astana on Jan. 13th of this year.  I can picture the location close to the Pyramid in the new part of Astana.  Apparently, Khazret Sultan was the largest mosque (able to fit 5,000 worshippers) in Central Asia and was not entirely completed yet.  No fire alarms were activated and thus the fire trucks were a bit delayed to the blaze to help extinguish it.  Unfortunately, one person died and I’m not sure how many were injured.  From reports about how the fire originated, it was said to be welding equipment that burst into flames.  Was it arson or was it REALLY an accident? (I’m just sayin’…)

Okay, let’s go back to Almaty when they were building a new airport there.  From the prior airport where my husband and I flew in and out back in 1993 to 1995, they definitely needed an upgrade.  Apparently, the contractors and builders of the new airport had it nearly completed and they wanted more money.  Their demands were not met and presto, the airport all burned down.  Supposedly, the combustion started from a kitchen fire, I’m thinking this was probably around 2005.  Or maybe it was soon after “Air Force One,” the movie with Harrison Ford in 1997. At the beginning it was filmed where the hijackers had the big jet land in Kazakhstan. (That segment was probably filmed in Moscow, Russia)

An Iranian friend of mine in Almaty was telling me this story of the fire (which I had never heard about)and  how she had to wait in people’s dachas near the airport for the flights coming in.  Pretty dismal.  Now Almaty has a newer airport to replace the old one and the other that burned down.  Was it arson or was it an accident?  “I’m just sayin’…”

One final and I think interesting note.  The president of Kazakhstan was reportedly at the Russian Orthodox church during Orthodox Christmas on Jan. 6th.  I heard this from a friend on Facebook who personally met him there.  You see the power of social media these days?  I would not have known about the fire at the new mosque in Astana and I would not have thought the president would actually celebrate Christmas with other foreigners.  However, I do know that Kazakhstan wants to promote the idea that they are a nation of PEACE and can co-habit with many ethnic groups and different religions.  Just take a tour to the top of the Pyramid and you will get the sense that THAT is what a HUGE table in the center is all about. Negotiations with people from all over the world with more than contrary viewpoints.

What I can’t get over is when I asked my Kazakh students about their ancestors, some were full of pride that they had ancestry going back to Amir Temur.  This king was also known as “Timur, the Lame.”  He was considered charismatic and never gave up.  Also known as Tamerlane and he ruled by the strength of his army and with great unity.  Or how about Zahiriddin Muhammed Babur.  Supposedly his conquests were in India but my Kazakh students like to go back to the late 1400s where Babur supposedly won victories against India that had armies four times his own.  You ask Kazakhs about their distant but glorious past and it will be mingled with bloodthirsty battles.

So fast forward to present day 2012, what is REALLY going on in Kazakhstan these days? What about those workers on the mosque and other new buildings all over Astana? Are they really in unity about the current president’s objective to make Kazakhstan look good and peaceful to Catholic, Jewish, Russian Orthodox and Muslim all alike?  All faiths are peacefully represented with their own buildings in Astana, cathedral, synagogue, church and mosques.

I’m just sayin’…”Have a good one…with THAT!”

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“Nowadays” and “To my mind…”

Been a while since I wrote anything strictly about Central Asia, today is the DAY!  While teaching in Almaty it was brought to my attention by a fellow American teacher that our Kazakh students over-used the word “nowadays.”  He was tired of it and suggested other words that could be used instead.  That didn’t bother me as much as “to my mind” which really was our way of saying, “I think” or longer version of “To my way of thinking.”  Fortunately I never heard my Russian speaking Kazakh students refer to their body as an “organism.” That used to really bother me while teaching in Ukraine but I think their post-Soviet English teachers must have cleared that vocabulary word up right away.

I get a little bit nostalgic for the things my Kazakh or Ukrainian students used to write and so I am including a few proverbs from some Central Asian students which applies to their culture of Uzbekistan.  I have often remarked to my husband that we could always go to Mongolia to teach.  He surprises me lately when he actually takes me seriously.  My pining for things foreign again is perhaps similar to the kid’s book titled “Alexander’s no good, horrible, bad day” where Alexander thinks moving to Australia will solve all his problems.  If only I had visited Samarkand and Bukara in Uzbekistan when I had the chance with my Russian friend Tatyana who wanted to bring me there nearly 20 years ago.  I knew Tatyana back when I was a Peace Corps trainer in Almaty the summer of 1993.  I should have taken her up on it because I believe Uzbekistan is closed off to Americans for now.

Anyway, doing a bit of reading up on the Uzbek culture I see they have similar attributes to that of Kazakhstan (small wonder since they are neighbors and come from the same gene pool).  Here are a few of the proverbs that seem to run counter to their governmental policies of keeping American tourists out.  I know Americans can get in, but from descriptions I have heard from fellow American travelers, it is NOT easy.

“A guest is as honorable as a father.”

“Hospitality is above enmity.”

“Seven neighbors are the parents of one child.”

“When guests come to one’s home, that family is full of abundance and luck.”

Finally, I’ll end with an Arabic proverb “Time is like a sword. If you don’t cut, it cuts you.”  I think it means to use your valuable time wisely in pursuit of useful activities.

“Nowadays,” I am trying to use my time wisely as I feel “grounded” in a good way in the U.S.  My husband and I continue to wait our summons on where our next job will be.  Stay in the U.S. or return to Central Asia (or even Mongolia).  Believe it or not, I actually miss seeing my students’ papers that read “to my mind.” Soon they will have such good English that all of those Russian translation carry-overs will disappear forever.

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“Iron Lady” and Meryl Streep’s Performance

I know this has nothing to do with Kazakhstan but in a sense it does.  Asians are much more tolerant of older people, they give them the respect that is due them.  “Getting old is not for sissies,” my 96 year old grandma used to quote.  I don’t understand why women, such as Meryl Streep, who pride themselves on being liberal and emancipated tear down other successful women. I don’t get it.  Meryl Streep did a huge disservice to the legacy of Margaret Thatcher in the latest movie “Iron Lady.”

Streep was very talented on imitating Julia Child and her walk, talk and mannerisms (think “Julie and Julia” movie), Streep did the same with the honorable Thatcher’s accent and movements.  However, what I find remiss is that Streep was ready and willing to play the role of an aging woman with dementia. There’s nothing attractive about witnessing the fragile years of a deteriorated mind especially of one who used to be a world powerhouse such as Margaret Thatcher.

The following are Meryl Streep’s thoughts on her performance in “Iron Lady” from Internet Movie Database imdb.com:

“It took a lot out of me, but it was a privilege to play Margaret Thatcher, it really was. I still don’t agree with a lot of her policies. But I feel she believed in them and that they came from an honest conviction, and that she wasn’t a cosmetic politician just changing make-up to suit the times.

We on the Left didn’t like her policies but secretly we were thrilled that a woman had made it, and we thought, “Wow, if it can happen there in England, it could happen here.” But we’re still waiting in America.

She’s still an incredibly divisive figure, but you miss her clarity today. It was all very clear and up front, and I loved that eagerness to mix it up and to make it about ideas. Today it’s all about feelings. You know, “How do I come off?” and, “Does this seem OK?” You want people who are willing to find a solution. I admire the fact that she was a “love-me-or-hate-me” kind of leader who said: “This is what I stand for.” It’s a hard thing to do and no one’s doing that now.

[on what appealed to Meryl Streep about playing Margaret Thatcher] Women and power, and diminishment of power, and loss of power. And reconciliation with your life where you come to a point where you’ve lived most of it, and it’s behind you. I have always liked and been intrigued by older people and the idea that behind them lives every human trauma, drama, glory, jokes, love.

I consider all the roles I play a privilege but this one was special because there are such vehement opinions about her. People seemed to look at her as an icon or a monster and I just wanted to locate the human being inside those caricatures that we’ve seen over so many years. And to investigate myself what it must have been like for her.

[Streep responding to those who have criticized the emphasis placed on Margaret Thatcher’s frail and confused old age] Some people have said it’s shameful to portray this part of a life. But the corollary of that is that, if you think that debility, delicacy, dementia are shameful, if you think that the ebbing of a life is something that should be shut away, if you think that people need to be defended from these images then – yes – then you’ll think it’s a shameful thing.”

Apparently, whoever wrote the “Iron Lady” script wanted the audience to be confused about Thatcher’s husband, Denis, appearing in her other world of delusion or reappearing in mere flashbacks in time.  Denis provides the comic relief necessary for this film and is entertaining when he tries to get Margaret to lighten up.  Endearing are their two children who wanted their mother to stay home and not follow her vision and passion to lead the country. Did Meryl Streep’s three daughters and one son have the same desire to have their mother home with them?  Seems she has racked up many movies in her acting career since the mid-1970s, same drive to follow one’s passion. Will someone play Meryl Streep’s tottering years when she goes senile?  I wonder.

What I liked best about the movie was the quote that Margaret Thatcher used.  If only Meryl Streep heeded these words and was not on the liberal left so ready to take an icon of freedom and democracy down.  A movie built around “selective memories” should instead showcase “Iron Lady” as having character of the right sort.

“Watch your thoughts for they become words,

Watch your words for they become actions,

Watch your actions for they become…habits,

Watch your habits, for they become your character,

And watch your character, for it becomes your destiny!

What we think, we become.”

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Media doesn’t get it…personal testimony does

Today I’ll deviate from what I’ve been blogging about lately on human trafficking, I’ll take my readers to Iraq.  I have two American friends who are working in Baghdad right now. They are friends of mine since we lived in Kyiv, Ukraine. I’m not sure they have connected with each other yet but we have mutual friends, it’s a small world after all.  I’m glad we are Facebook friends because when I see their status updates, I know they are okay.  When I don’t, I worry that something may have gone very wrong with security. Baghdad has had several explosions lately.

All that above as an introduction to our speaker we heard today at our Rotary meeting. A retired army officer talked for a half hour about his military experiences in Iraq from 2005-2008, almost three years.  Col. Martin Breaker was in charge of detainee operations after the Abu Ghraib abuse scandal. He showed the four photos that went viral on the Internet and had more to do with putting Americans in harms way.  He in fact,  during his tenure as commanding officer, lost 17 soldiers under him. Always very sad.

I did not know, and maybe it was because I lived in Ukraine and never got the straight scoop, that it was American soldiers who had taken pictures of themselves in jail cells looking as if they were being tortured by Americans soldiers.  The Abu Ghraib abuse scandal the media took to the extreme and didn’t give out the true facts. Two photos were made to look like Iraqi “victims” with their arms extended as if hanging on a cross (black mask over the head and in a black gown) The other two photos had threatening black dogs snarling fiercely at frightened supposed “detainees.”

How did these photos appear to the insurgency in Iraq who were being propagandized to hate Americans?  Those two photos with extended arms were perceived as detainees being held at Abu Ghraib and tortured to become Christian. Anathema for those in this Muslim land of Iraq.  Did these American “jokers” also know how lethal the symbolic meaning of having black dogs as attack dogs?  We have our own superstitions about black cats but this was 100 times worse for any Iraqi civilian to see these photos.  Because Mohammed’s son was killed by a black wolf, the Iraqis are terrified of black dogs. It goes far beyond superstition but a real phobia.

In any case, the usual suspects (Americans who posted these photos on the Internet) were rounded up and sent off to serve their own time in prison back in the U.S.  I’m not sure that the media is ever penalized for aiding and abetting in not getting the accurate story out.  What I found out from personal testimony of Martin Breaker was these errant soldiers did not have good leadership at this detention camp. Also they had been trained to be M.P.s and not simply guards for detainees.  (the guards have non-lethal weapons with rubber bullets) Martin had to go in and clean up the mess and help befriend the Iraqi people who were scooped up for being at the wrong place at the wrong time. If there had been a bombing or a blast, all in the area were considered suspects.

Who were these detainees at Abu Ghraib? Often the insurgents would find those who are extremely poor and offer them $300 to do the dirty work for them.  Anything from digging ditches to setting off bombs.  In some cases, they had no choice. Marty gave one example where the terrorists came to a home packed with Iraqi people. When they refused to comply, they took the youngest girl outside and shot her dead. Then the terrorists came back into the house to get the expected cooperation they had been initially looking for.  Another case where there was a farmer living close to the 12 foot cement barriers surrounding the camp, he had a 16 year old daughter. The soldiers who were patrolling the camp would often throw over the wall some bottled water to give to the family.  Turns out the insurgents killed the daughter because she had talked to Americans.  Such is the hate of the terrorists for their own Iraqi people, think how much more they must hate the American soliders?

Martin’s job was to not only clean up the mess created by the Abu Ghraib photos that were used against Americans but to also get information from the Iraqis once they were befriended.  He wanted to marginalize their effectiveness as terrorists by showing that they cared about them. The average time spent at the camp was 18 months and at one point there were 60,000 people, mostly young men between the ages of 18-29. To adhere to Geneva Convention protocol, millions of dollars were spent to make sure they had three meals a day and clean water and also shoes on their feet.  Many Iraqis had never owned a pair of shoes before.  Their tents were air conditioned which was especially helpful when the temps in the summer would shoot up to 127 F degrees. Each person was provided a prayer mat and also a Koran if they could read it.  Some of them realized that they had been lied to about the good will of Americans.

Many of these poor people who had been abused by their own Iraqi government before and then were being terrorized by the insurgents, when they were processed into the detention camps some had very severe health issues.  Saddam Hussein had not helped his people and those considered wealthy were people who could afford medicine.  One problem when administering remedies for the high frequency of diabetes and T.B. was that people would hoard their medication and not take it.  Those in charge with the diagnosis had to make sure they would make themselves better and not try to sell the medication once released.  Those with T.B. were isolated for about six weeks from the rest of the camp.

What was their favorite thing to watch on t.v. or watching movies?  Mickey Mouse cartoons.  Were there women?  Yes there were some.  Also families were allowed to visit which boosted the morale of those detained.  Martin talked of one man who was being interrogated for information that might lead to better intelligence (no waterboarding was used). There was one old man for six months who would not talk, they dubbed him Mr. Mute. Once they got a woman officer who was 30 years younger to come in to ask him questions, all of a sudden he started talking and giving valuable info.  He continually asked her to marry him.  She, of course, had no interest but hey, whatever works.

I had asked if there were some who did NOT want to leave the detention centers.  Afterall, for some of the Iraqis, they had never been treated better or fed so well.  Martin had an answer where an older gentleman didn’t want to go back home because he had four wives that would be nagging him.

Martin also talked about the trial for Saddam Hussien which could take a whole ‘nother blog but suffice it to say that being in this madman’s presence was enough to know he was a psychopath.  Martin said it would be easy to imagine Saddam talking to two people, shoot the one person dead and continue to talk to the fortunate living person as if nothing had happened.  He complained of many things and once the verdict was found he was guilty, Saddam was released by Martin and the U.S. military into the hands of the Iraqi people. You know the rest of the story…

Martin ended his slide show with “Freedom is Never Free.” That can be true for any country, any time period.  Our American freedom was bought with a price, maintaining our freedom from two world wars meant great sacrifice.  I fear that we trivialize our freedoms and the Arab world is preying upon what we have. The use of terror was something that Stalin was adept at.  Btw, Saddam had his library full of books about Stalin, so he was taking his marching orders from a fellow madman.  I hope that my American friends stay safe in an environment that is very volatile.  I’m glad that Martin shared from his perspective what it was like to be in a place where he was shot at and threatened with mortars on a daily basis.

We have SOOO much to be thankful for and I believe we need to personally thank our servicemen and women who give up their family life and comfortable homes to do the dirty work for us, making our lives free and secure.

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Who is following this 15 year old girl from Afghanistan?

Would you consider this 15 year old girl fortunate because her uncle alerted authorities about her condition?  If you read this story, you will be

shocked and appalled at what evil people do to get vulnerable girls to become prostitutes.  This incident happened in Afghanistan and it continues to go on, but child brides are also supposedly kidnapped in Kazakhstan. The numbers of victims have escalated.

Who is following up on these girls? Can the authorities be trusted to do their part in upholding the law? Most of these girls go unwillingly to be “brides” or wives to their captors and the in-laws, that is known as “bride-kidnapping.”  In some cases it is due to economics and where elopement saves face for the families to avoid the payment of dowries. Whatever happened to the young child brides from 100 years ago in Kazakhstan who would work on their dowry carpets to bring to their new home? (I hope to find out more from a Kazakh woman who lives in Tucson, Arizona) I also learned that Kazakh families in the past, who had children marry each other, became very close.  How does that work out now when a Kazakh (or Afghan) woman is trapped into being married to a man and then is essentially a slave to her mother-in-law and the rest of the family?

I’m wondering how much of the traditions from yesteryear were stamped out entirely during the period of communism when in the 1960s it was outlawed for young women to create their dowry carpets.  So many questions about Kazakh traditions and culture…so many MORE questions about how young girls are being currently snatched up to not be kidnapped brides but to be prostitutes either in their own country of Kazakhstan or exported out by their traffickers to other countries.  Too…many…sad questions.

This young Afghan girl is hopefully getting a new start on life after she heals up in India.  She has certainly gotten the world’s attention by her resisting what she knew to be wrong. Thankfully her uncle cared enough to try and save her. How many other young, innocent girls at this present hour are trapped?  What can we do to help half way around the world?

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Who are following these girls (Part II)

I’m picking up from where I left off with Philip Cameron writing about the organization he founded “Stella’s Voice”  in Moldova, check out this website with an interview with one of the orphans.

“The magnitude of this misery in Moldova is astounding.  Over 450,000 girls have gone “missing.”  Nearly half a million girls have vanished into the night…and as the clock counts down more will join them…”

…As Chrissie (Philip’s wife) and I began to comfort orphaned children it became evident that what they craved most was a smile and a warm embrace.  I realized my personal mandate was not just bringing them “stuff”…what these precious orphans needed from me was to be their Dad.

That’s where I met Stella.  She was a small handicapped girl, with a pronounced limp, but who possessed a huge personality and spirit.  We formed a special bond and she became my ever-present helper during trips to Modolva.  I joyously watched her grow from a young girl to a delightful teen.  But then on one of my return trips I walked into the orphanage and Stella was gone.  No one seemed to know where to find her.  I was heartsick.

I searched relentlessly for her. I would ask everyone: “Have you heard where Stella went? Do you know how she’s doing?” Then one day my answer came…Stella was dead.  She became a victim ensnared in Europe’s vicious sex trade.  She was used by men over and over again, contracted AIDS, and perished, homeless, helpless and victimized until she took her last breath.

Stella and innocent girls just like her are abused because they have no place to call home when they turn 16.  And the sex traffickers are sickeningly clever. They approach girls like Stella pretending to be a friend.  Here’s how they deceive: A woman may approach a girl on a bus and ask if she would be a live-in nanny for her children.  Or a man may approach a girl and tell her that his brother owns a restaurant in Italy and needs workers for the kitchen.  He’ll pay $300 a month.

The innocent and homeless girl will jump at a chance to be a part of something and traffickers prey on this vulnerability…Instead they are sold into the sex trade for as little as $3,500. And then, there is no escape.  A girl is raped 30-40 times a day with their owners profiting as much as $350,000 per year until they are ‘used up’ or dead.  The only way for us to dry up this market of innocent girls was to establish homes where good could triumph over evil…one girl at a time.  An in doing so, Stella’s “voice” remains alive for girls who would otherwise be homeless, powerless and eventually silenced.

In 2007, the original Stella’s House was born…” Check out the website…

However, I believe the traffickers have moved to Central Asia where they can prey on other young girls who are vulnerable and unprotected because it is not talked about.  People are becoming more aware in Kazakhstan but there is much work left to do to create a safe environment for girls.  Did you see what happened to the young girl in Afghanistan who was kidnapped to marry some guy in the military and they tortured her to go into prostitution.  She fought it tooth and nail. (literally she lost several finger nails and had her ear burned) I may blog about that tomorrow.

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