Archive for February 22, 2012

Snow’s Purity Covers a Multitude of Lies

Almost a year ago I traveled by bus with about 35-40 work colleagues to Borovoye from Astana. For some time I had wanted to see this famous place among Kazakhs, a beautiful recreation area to drive away from artificial, glitzy Astana about 3-4 hours west.  I was amongst mostly Kazakh, about 15 Brits while I was the token American teacher on board. See my blog with photos that shows some of the sites.

What great memories of being in snowy Borovoye with very few tourists.  I was recently reminded of taking part in a x-country skiing competition, though I had NO intention of competing at first.  Not because I didn’t know how to x-country ski but because I had never competed and viewed skiing as a solitary form of recreation. The planners of this event had bought six pairs of skis ranging in sizes with the boots, ski poles and skis.  I finally consented to skiing on the marked off trail when no one else from our busload of people seemed interested.  One British guy had skied before, another Kazakh man was a downhill skier and clearly the other three had never, ever skied.  Turns out I won the first prize trophy much to the chagrin of the hotshot downhill skier.

Now that we have an adequate amount of snow, I’ve been x-country skiing a lot since back in Minnesota. The purity of the snow has almost covered over the fact that I had been lied to so many times while fulfilling my one-year commitment teaching at the “westernized” university in Astana. Almost.

Since I took on my job of teaching ten young Kazakh teachers, I had developed the Professional Development Program (PDP) coursework from the ground up.  At the beginning I had been promised my own computer for my office. That never happened.  I had also been promised a computer lab for my ten students. Again that never materialized as I watched hundreds of computers go to new office workers who were managers or consultants for the many departments that were springing up everywhere. The BIG, new university itself had just been built from nothing to hopefully being considered a “world class university.” (Buildings can be built overnight, reputations take much longer to boast about)

As on any university campus, people were vying for office and classroom space so I felt fortunate in having that eventually, but not without a struggle. My Kazakh students made me smile one day when they sat in their new classroom where the computers were supposedly to be stationed. They were typing away on imaginary keyboards.

Thankfully I was friends with the Kazakh librarians, so I was allowed to take my class to the library’s computer lab once or twice a week to accomplish assignments on Moodle, do blogs and other coursework that needed to happen with the high speed Internet. Fortunately for me, I had my own projector so that I could project lessons or Powerpoint presentations on our classroom wall.  So devoid was I of anything technology related when the main thrust of my coursework was to get these Kazakh teachers up to speed with the 21st century technology.

Here’s where the rub happened and I’m not sure if it was a planned attack from administration on high or if it was the hotshot downhill skier getting even with me for beating him in the x-country competition.  Based on all the other things that had happened with my contract and all other promises that were broken, I think it was the former, a bureaucratic breakdown. Maybe intentional so they wouldn’t have to pay me my last paycheck when I left the university and Kazakhstan for good.

When I had about a week left in Kazakhstan, according to my expiring visa and my plane ticket with Lufthansa, I was getting signed off from the different departments my last day at work.  I went to the library, computer tech, payroll, admissions, maybe about ten other departments whose top administrator would sign me off.  However, it wasn’t until I got to the one BIG office where the hot shot skier was in control of  office hardware like desks, chairs, tables, etc.  According to him, I had not returned my university computer to the university.  He was NOT going to sign my paper until I coughed up a piece of equipment that had never been issued to me.  I was incredulous.

By this time, I was a wreck. I felt like he and his minion office workers were adding insult to injury. At first I thought it was a joke but he did NOT smile and was clearly all business.  I got it, they were going to hold up my paperwork for clearance from the university on purpose so that I would be accused of stealing a university computer. I could not believe this was happening to me after all that I had sacrificed in trying to run a pilot graduate-level program without ANY computers.

Finally, this guy relented because he simply did not have any paperwork that proved I had been given a computer in the first place.  The computer tech guys, who were my friends, would have backed me up because I had been something of a pest about asking for computers from the very start. Where was my signature signing off on office equipment I didn’t have?

I still to this day do not know whether he was answering to someone over him, my Kazakh boss or if in fact it was his own petty way of paying me back for beating him at the x-country competition from several weeks before.  Whatever, I’m far away from the office politics and I think I’ll go out to ski on our fresh, pure Minnesota snow.  Somehow that covers the multitude of lies that were told against me.

Now maybe my blog readers will understand why I continue to write about human trafficking and slavery in Kazakhstan. I felt in a small way after teaching 3 ½ years in Kazakhstan that I was a victim of the slavery mentality.  I’m glad I am free of all that. Now I REALLY must go skiing!

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