Posts tagged Abay

What else I learn from my adult learner students

The other day was a potpourri of various talents who showed up for English practice that is meant for advanced speakers once a week.  Some of these university employees were more shy to speak up once the talkative ones found their stride.  Represented were those from Center for Energy Research, Economics, Admissions, Legal department, Strategic planning and the Library.  We got on the topic of occupations as a kind of carry-over from the week before when we discussed teachers and builders.

The conversation went all over the place from talking about Kazakhstan’s sports like boxing, football and hockey to the recent Asian Winter games to Tour de France, to Roza Bagnalova’s son to the profession of policemen to the upcoming presidential election.  Finally an hour was up and we were talking about Olympics and the Goodwill Ambassador Vladimir Smirnoff who represented Kazakhstan.

One of them asserted that the most popular professions in Kazakhstan are lawyers and economists, especially looking at what students are majoring in for their subjects at university.  Others didn’t agree so we quickly moved into sports.  Apparently the most famous footballer is Pele whose name means “useless” or perhaps “crafty.”  We talked a long time about his name and how his name means smart but doesn’t let on that he is, like in Russian (heat-tree.) I can’t tell from my notes because I had to write fast with six people all having an opinion about this athlete.  Supposedly he was quoted as saying that if Russia wins the World Cup, then Brazil will have a hockey team in hell.  Something like that, like I said, my notes after trying to decipher them 24 hours later leave much to guess work.

This I DO know they talked about and was new information for me, that the Klitschko brothers who are so famous in Ukraine for their boxing feats were actually born in Semipalatinsk, Kazakhstan. Their father was a military man and it is said as a kind of joke, I’m not sure if this actually happened.  One of the Klitschko brothers ran into Sasha Cohen in New York City, who made that despicable movie about Kazakhstan (which really wasn’t true to Kazakhstan and was filmed in Romania).  Anyway, since Klitschko is really a Kazakhstani, he had some strong words for Cohen and it put the fear into him.  You don’t want to mess with a boxer if you get him riled. Maybe this was just a joke but the point is, that the film has done little to bring good repute to Kazakhstan.

One thing that was supposed to bring Kazakhstan’s reputation up a notch or two was the Tour de France that was won by a Spaniard Cantador while he was biking for Team Astana last year.  We shall see who will rise from the Kazakh athletes to take over in cycling.  A nice stadium that was built just down the road from the university for the ice skating for the Asian games is really for cycle races.  It looks like a bike helmet from the outside.

We moved on to what all Kazakh people know internally but is little known in the western world about Roza Baglanova who died just last week.  She was a much loved singer and represented Kazakhstan in the former Soviet Union.  Apparently one of my adult learner “students” went to school with her son Tarzhen.  When he was born his grandparents went to register him with a good Kazakh name but when the father found out about it, he was furious and had it changed to a good communist name, Tarzhen. I’m unsure of the meaning but it sounds like Tarzan to me.  Apparently Tarzhen didn’t follow in his mother’s footsteps in music but his father’s as a businessman.  He is entrepreneur and his quiet and keeps to himself, a good father of 3-4 children.

Then we got into the subject of names of Kazakh children and what it was like in the past if you wanted to appear politically correct.  I mentioned that during the Cultural Revolution in China in the 1960s many young girls were called “Hong” for Red.  Someone said it was true in the USSR’s past that many had the names related to Lenin or Marx.  One poor lad was named after Albert Gore after he visited Kazakhstan.  With the Asian games now over, some girls are called Aizada (Asia) or boys might be called “Summit” after the OSCE summit last December. Or parents might use the word “Khan” or “Bai” or Abai going back to ancient times.  Some babies are given the name of the day of the week that they were born.  This has deep Kazakh roots to give names that honor an event.  Being BORN is an event here in Kazakhstan!

Somehow our conversation was directed back to occupations and several of these Kazakh people drive cars, so we talked about policemen.  After a Kazakh driver is stopped by a man with a white and black baton, the requisite forms are filled out. Some said they never pay a fine and talk their way out off whatever ticket.  Others who are in a hurry will pay the bribe just to get back on the road again.  You see, if you don’t want to go through all the steps of going to the bank and the police office to get the necessary paperwork down, you can give 1,000 or 2,000 tenge to the officer. However, this is NOT usually done directly, it might be slipped into a book or it might be left in the back seat of the squad car.

If you were to pay directly and officially with all the extra time spent to do it, it would cost about 6,500 tenge.  In the capital city of Astana it is not as bad to pay bribes to police officers as down in the south of Kazakhstan, like in Almaty. Perhaps this doesn’t happen in Astana because the police are more tightly controlled or they have other more important functions to deal with such as security for the president and other VIPs.  Maybe they are better paid than those officers to the south.

We talked of other things of course, such as the football match with Tartastan where the Dutch played in Moscow and the temps were -20 C and they played in the cold and mud with a score of 2-0.  Better than the score during the Asian games where a hockey match was 30-0. That would have been no fun to watch but one of my “students” witnessed that lopsided game.  Others saw the same ice skaters I did and we all talked about the opening ceremony.  I was surprised that one Kazakh woman didn’t even watch the Asian Games Opening ceremony on her t.v. I think she is too busy with her job and raising a family.

That’s it, from Lake Kaz-be-gone.

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Abai’s Words of Wisdom and Russian Spies

A central literary character in Kazakhstan’s recent past is Abai Kunanbaev. In today’s blog I will document some Kazakh proverbs I found in his “Book of Words.”  To me it seems reminiscent of the melancholy words found in Ecclesiastes combined with proverbs. Thankfully Abay’s words of wisdom is on the Internet translated into English. I appreciate Richard McKane and David Aikyn’s work as translators found on the link of the prior underlined words.

The following are Kazakh proverbs that Abai wrote about, some he took issue with, others he agreed with.  Abai is an interesting person to know and understand if you want to understand the Kazakh culture.  He speaks of his own people being lazy and too crafty.  He admonished his own to study Russian and highly recommended to learn from the foreigner (the Russians at that time).  Below the Kazakh proverbs, see what our own Thomas L. Friedman had to write about the Russian spy swap that just happened recently.  He has a good quote from Leon Aron.

Word Six

“The source of success is unity, and of well-being- life.”

Word Twenty-Nine

“If you live in need, forget your shame.”

“A clever fellow can set even the snow on fire.”

“If your name is unknown, set the field on fire.”

“Even an angel will stray from the path at the sight of gold.”

“He who has shame also has iman.”

Word Thirty-nine

“He who cannot forgive the fault of his neighbor will be offended by a stranger.”

“He who seeks the right path will find treasure, but he who seeks greatness will find woe.”

Word Forty-three

“In what we seek too persistently we find evil.”

This New York Times article written by Thomas L. Friedman titled “The Spies Who Loved Us” had an interesting quote from Leon Aron:

“Importing ideas and technology from the West has been a key element in Russia’s ‘modernizations’ since at least Peter the Great in the early 18th century. … But Russia has tightly controlled what it imported: Machines and engineers, yes. A spirit of free inquiry, a commitment to innovation free from bureaucratic ‘guidance’ and, most important, encouragement of brave, even brash, entrepreneurs who can be confident they will own the results of their work — most certainly no. Peter and his successors sought to produce fruit without cultivating the roots. … Only a man or woman free from fear and overseers can build a Silicon Valley. And such men and women are harder and harder to come by in Russia today. … Disgusted and scared by the lawlessness and rampant corruption. … Russian entrepreneurs are investing very little in their country beyond their immediate production needs.”

How does this relate to Kazakhstan?  Well, those westerners who live in Kazakhstan and have worked with the university system might sit up and take notice.

Tomorrow I will include the vocabulary of Kazakh from the writings of Abai

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“Why We Teach Overseas” (Part IV)

This story about a ring of Russian spies being caught by FBI is a strange kerfuffle in my estimation. It may be a news media set-up to distract us from where the REAL news stories are happening.  I watched the Wall Street Journal videotaping of the Anna Chapman (not her real Russian name, of course).  She had no substance, didn’t talk like an entrepreneur and I think the WSJ interviewer knew it.  Simply political posturing by those in high places and Anna is being used, her interview was a joke! It must be heady business to get the news media to take a byte out of that whopper.

The following are my last reasons why my husband and I live and work in Astana, Kazakhstan. Look back several days ago and you will see other reasons “why we teach overseas.”

6. I have many years teaching both at home in the U.S. and abroad. I can detect a problem in the classroom that can be remedied quickly.  For instance, when I taught in Kyiv, Ukraine I had 40 students bunched together in a big classroom.  I found that the black leather jacket guys who were enamored by their cell phones and did not care about what I was teaching, were disruptive and rude.  This disrespectful attitude became a terrible distraction for me and the rest of the class who wanted to learn what I had to teach them.

After putting up with this behavior for several weeks, I finally determined to purge 10 of them from my class of good, hard working students and create a new class for them, meeting at a different time.  The dynamics of the class changed drastically once these “characters” were separated out.  It also served notice to the other Ukrainian students who might have considered being absent to show up for my class or else they would be put in the remedial class.

7. I know the Kazakh educational system has many huge obstacles. This reminds me of the Kazakh saying, “Getting an education is like digging a well with a needle.” One problem that impacts the whole country is to require all Kazakh students to be taught tri-lingually (Russian, Kazakh and English) in the elementary and secondary schools.  The pressure is keenly felt by the Kazakhs to realize their own identity after having it suppressed for so long.  Many middle- aged Kazakhs feel they are “shala” Kazakhs because they do not know their own language or even their old customs; they are Kazakh in ethnicity only.

Second, undoubtedly China does pose a threat to Kazakhstan.  This Asian country just east of them is burgeoning with people, and Kazakhstan would appear to the Chinese like an empty, unoccupied land of only 16 million people.  Of course, learning a fourth language, such as Chinese, would be out of the question.  The Kazakhs have gained their independence and they will do what they can to maintain that.  However, the Kazakhs have a proverb they like to quote attributed to their highly revered, wise man, Abay.  Abay highly recommended learning seven languages. “Try to master seven languages and know seven sciences.”

Perhaps because Kazakhstan is close to the Silk Road, knowing many languages was considered good for bargaining power and knowing seven sciences fits with the goals of the new university in Astana. However, Kazakhstan is on a mission and that is one to succeed.  I want to be here in Astana, working with the future of this country. That future sits in the desks of every classroom throughout Kazakhstan and is in the minds of the bright young Kazakh students. They want to work hard to build up their country to be recognized by the rest of the world.  My husband and I are here in Astana to help in whatever way we can to facilitate the new university to reach these achievable goals to educate Kazakhstan’s future.

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Talk with Anara about Kazakhstan (Part I)

We had a Kazakh family visit us for several days and the following is what I found out about Kazakhstan culture. I learned there is a fourth grouping of Kazakh in the traditional sense of the Kazakh tribes. There are the first zhus who were the farmers, the hard working types. They are known to be deliberate and rational thinkers. Nazarbayev comes from this category.

Second, are the intellectual Kazakhs from which Abay and Valihanov came from. They are known to be wise and good advisors. They are the dreamers and philosophers, that is the second zhus.

Third are the warriors who were in the western part of Kazakhstan. They are not afraid of taking risks and are the best in business. Of course, it helps that most of the oil being drilled out of Kazakhstan comes from the territory where they once fought hard battles to protect their borders.

The fourth group of Kazakhs don’t mix with the other three groups, they are known as Kozha Kazakhs. They are considered the royalty or “white bones.” They believe their original stock is from an Arab tribe and they are the “blue bloods” among Kazakhs. This, of course, was more true before Soviet times, but if someone even now says, “I’m a Kozha Kazakh,” this is meant to impress the listener.

To sum up, there is a Kazakh proverb that goes with these groupings: The older zhus, give them a staff and put them in charge of the livestock. Give the second group of zhus a quill from a feather and they can prove everything with their writing. Then the third zhus, give them a long javelin and put them in front of the enemy to fight.”

Something else Anara told me was about her family’s background on her dad’s side. Her grandfather, who was from the Semipalatinsk area, escaped to China from the Soviet communists in the 1930s because he was considered a rich man. He had big pieces of gold that he broke off and used as bribes so he could escape with his family. There was other gold and treasures he had buried and is still underground somewhere to this day. Anara’s father was born in China, some of Anara’s aunts are living in China still. In 1963, when the borders opened up between the Soviet Union and China, he went back to the Taras area. Anara’s grandfather, a former prominent Kazakh shepherd, worked with 200 government turkeys in a collective farm under the Soviet regime.

Anara also said that the Uighurs, who live in western China, have a very rich background. They have a deep history with their own alphabet, own capital and they had their own land in China. There was also a famous tribe called, the Nimans, who were the original Christians. When Mohammed came along later in Kazakh history, many Kazakhs converted from paganism over to the Muslim faith. (to be continued)

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Three Kazakh Girls Talks (Part II)

This blog entry is a continuation from yesterday where I showcased threearays-grandpa of my former writing students who gave a talk at an AIWC weekly meeting to about 40 ex-pat women (and men) who are from all over the world.  They shared from their hearts about their grandparents stories, quotes and photos.  First up was Aray, whose great grandfather is the famous Abay.  Her grandfather is pictured behind the president of Kazakhstan some years ago, he is wearing medals. 

 This is what President Nazerbayev said about Abay in 1995 which was voted as “The Year of Abay” by UNESCO: 

“Honestly, there is no need to find the basis of our strong Kazakh beginnings somewhere abroad. All we need to do is find Abay… the world of Abay is our guiding star. Each person who cares for the wealth of his nation, ought to read Abay, ought to grasp his wise advice.”

On the last slide Aray showed a photo of Abay with the following quote: 

“The world is the ocean. Time, like a wind races the waves of generations, changing each other. They disappear but the ocean remains the same.”

lauras-grandpaThe next speaker was Laura whose grandfather was sent to Siberia for 15 years because it was thought he was a Kazakh nationalist when he presented a paper titled: “About Preparing Scientific Specialists in Kazakhstan.”  He was sent to one of the most terrible gulags as part of the intelligentsia.  However, not only did he live among other political prisoners but also there were killers and thieves at his gulag.  Many died not only from hunger and cold but some prisoners were murdered.  This is what Laura wrote:

“But as my father told me, everyone respected my granddad because of his justice, erudition, wide reading and strength of will.  Fifteen tormented years he struggled with death, repeating to himself again and again: “I will survive.”  He was not one of those men who ever gave up.

He DID survive and several years after his release, my grandfather defended his dissertation in math and was a highly respected professor at a university.”

Finally, Aida spoke about her grandmother who had survived ALZHIR, a prison camp for women who were married to “Enemies of the People.”  She was still a young newlywed when her husband was taken away and she was sent to do hard labor for ten years.  She found out later that her husband had been killed, she remarried and the photo below is her family that she hoped to live and see.


Aida had interviewed her on May 25, 2005 and these are her words from that interview, she has since passed on.

“One day when we came after very difficult working day to our barracks, I started to recite the poem of the Alexander Pushkin about bravery and hope…The jailer of our barracks stayed silently and then added: even if we separate you from your family and your high elite community and force you to work, you are still morally unbreakable.  I wonder at your power!”

Is it no wonder that I love teaching these kinds of students who have such amazing stories passed on to them from their grandparents?  Indeed, I am very, very privileged to know these three Kazakh girls among the 100s others who have been my students this past year in Almaty, Kazakhstan.

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Three Kazakh Girls Give Talk on Grandparents’ Stories

p3100084Three former students from my Academic Reading and Writing class gave a talk today based on their papers they did for me last semester.  Many chose different topics relating to Kazakhstan’s history.  Aray, (right) the first speaker talked about her famous Kazakh great-grandfather Abay and also her grandfather’s achievements.  The second speaker, Laura (left) spoke about her grandfather surviving the Siberian gulag for 15 years.  Finally, Aida (center) spoke about her grandmother who survived ALZHIR , which is close to Astana.  As a newlywed, Aida’s grandmother had worked in a labor camp for wives of “Enemies of the People” for 10 years, her husband had been killed soon after their wedding. 

All three girls had various quotes on their powerpoints that they used from their academic papers which were buttressed by journal articles they found from the electronic databases at our university. Most all their sources were in English with the exception of  some material they had translated from Kazakh or Russian.  They know their teacher, yours truly, would NOT permit any spurious material from the Internet.  No Google, and heaven forbid NO Wikipedia are ever allowed!!! Not on my watch!!!  Who needs that when these young women had such great stories that had been shared orally among their family, passed down from one generation to the next.  I was happy they were able to share their grandparents’ stories with the AIWC (Almaty International Women’s Club) today.  I was very proud of all three of them, they did a fine job.


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