Posts tagged Aktobe

A Kazakh Woman must have 40 souls

That’s enough for now about “Two Kyrgyz Women” if you have been reading my blog for the last several days.  One of my more astute Kazakh students wrote  on an interesting article on women’s issues. This astute student had chosen this journal article titled “The Relationship of Women’s Role Strain to Social Support, Role Satisfaction and Self-Efficacy.”  She wrote about her own Kazakh culture and how this related to the article.  I learned something from my student, I hope to learn a LOT of things from my students who are really teachers.  Here’s what Ainagul wrote:

“In our country the situation is rather different, because 1) of our mentality.  Please here think that a woman must handle everything, she must have a baby, keep the house, have a job, serve the guests, etc.  Even we have a saying, “A woman has 40 souls.” which means that nothing can break down a woman, she has a power to cope with all the problems.  Furthermore, according to our mentality, a woman mustn’t share the household with her spouse.  In a family, the role of husband is a provider, he brings money to house while a wife makes everything prepared for him at home. And that’s normal.

2) We have very few centres which are concerned in women’s psychological state.  For example, in Aktobe we have only centre where married women can come and ask for help.  It’s call “Umit” (hope) and a year ago was lead by Jennifer (we called her Jenny), a volunteer from Peace Corps, but now I don’t know who is the head. They conducted seminars and gave opportunities to women to cope with their marital problems.  I think, that is a great work.  If we had more such centres all over the country, maybe the range of divorce would lessen.

3) mostly employers give vacancy for unmarried women, they think that married women have more problems (with family, babies, etc.) That’s why unmarried lady has more chance to get a job.  Anyway, the situation is changing and I hope, in the near future, there will be no discrimination and women have less role strains.

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Young Kazakh Teachers making a Difference!!!

I am very impressed with a Kazakh teacher not only because of her English writing skills but what she has set out to do to help her country of Kazakhstan.  This young woman has a mission to help special needs individuals.  A topic that more Kazakh and Kazakhstani people need to be made aware of, specifically the plight of people born with birth defects or deformities.  I would hope she could eventually meet Ryan, an American who understands people with disabilities and came to Kazakhstan this past summer.  He helped small children in orphanages and others with their parents to do their physical therapy so that some might eventually be able to walk.  I featured Ryan’s postings about his experience a month ago, check them out.  

However, you MUST read below what a Kazakh teacher wrote in 40 minutes 600 words, about what her passion is.  I will feature a few other Kazakh teachers in the next several days, they all answered the question: “In what way do you think you can make a difference for the future of this country of Kazakhstan?”

Teacher #1 – Kazakhstan right now is a land of new prosperity, changes and good opportunities.  We got our independence only 15 years ago, so we still are young and growing.  When I arrived in Astana, I started to believe for the brighter future, better changes and everything told annually, monthly and daily on TV about Astana and the newly developed Kazakhstan.  Huge amount of work is being done but we still have destinations to grow, countries to look up to and examples to learn from.  I was introduced to the problems of society, lack of protection almost 3 years ago as I started volunteering for the Organization of Disabled People of Aktobe City.  At the same time, I worked and helped the Women’s Centre “Umit” (hope) organizing projects on domestic violence.  While working, we had everything: daily complaints, holiday celebrations, problems with the wheel chair factory.  But mostly I was astonished and deeply frustrated to see the vulnerable points of government’s system, city’s consideration about protecting and providing with facilities for the disabled. 

Here is the list of the most important, to my mind, problems of all our society:

1)      people do not know a little, if at all about volunteer works.  We want better, more humane society. But how are we going to build it if the community is not willing to contribute or even has no idea how to do it?

2)      Disabled people or any other vulnerable people are detached.  We have very few schools for special needs kids, any good work or well serving medical and social systems.

3)      It is really difficult for them to get a good education, to visit any building because the ramps for wheelchairs (panduses) are not comfortable and sometimes there are no pandus at all.

I think all these problems are connected with each other and solving one we solve all three step by step.  Actually in my city, and I am very proud to be a part of it, we began finding solutions.  Realizing all the strengths I have, connections I found and hoping for my further personal growth in life and career, I think I can handle one more…my own volunteer club that will be an active one.  Having a club which will be a hand for needy people, place to learn life skills, having fun and doing something for the community I live in will help to realize my last, but not the least goal, to continue my work on youth initiative.  It means that I will try to educate youth on volunteering, social work, teach them skills they’ll need in life, help them grow and find their “thing,” stand open to the new things and the need of their society and country.

After having the club settled, I want to do much more fundraising, charity, events, trainings than I did this year and agitate healthy way of living by the project (a new one) that is international “I Hike for a Kaz” and trainings on HIV/AIDS sponsored by these fundraising.

These two things are not the only things I want to do.  Because there are also a lot of orphanages and poor families and bright students, I want to help to get all they can get from the future, go abroad, grow and get educated.

We need to develop and help non-governmental organizations as well.  So I want to be either the organizer of such organizations or their supporter and which is important I want to develop the youth, younger people, because their potential is amazing.  I hope my work will help to change our community and system for the better.  Word Count: 603

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Photos from Kostanay, Kazakhstan

Always good to see a new city in Kazakhstan outside of the two that start with the letter “A” Almaty and Astana.  We almost got to see the very western city of Aktobe when Irina I flew to Kostanay on Thursday morning because we overshot (due to some mechanical problems). We sat as transit passengers in the Aktobe airport for 50 minutes.  Once back on the Air Astana plane again we finally arrived to the Kostanay airport, very windy.

Later we found out we were NOT supposed to take photos of the airport, even the outside of it.  I had wanted one photo that was on the side of a building that was very Soviet looking. It had metalic, giant sheaves of grain as an emblem depicting the wheat production known to the area of Kazakhstan.  I would have liked to have taken photos in one of the libraries I stopped in looking for the Internet cafe in Kostanay but thought better of it.  The librarians were so helpful and acted as if they had never talked to a foreigner before.  Sadly the rooms and shelves of books were outdated, it was like stepping back into a time machine to the 1970s.  I thought it NOT appropriate to take photos of that because the people who worked there might have felt ashamed.

Kostanay is close to the Russian border and walking around the city on our way to the Tsum department store could have been anywhere in Ukraine.  The streets had trees that were fully grown (not to be seen in the new city of Astana), the buildings had the same architecture as anywhere in the former Soviet Union. I saw more Nivas, Ladas and other poor man’s vehicles in this town than the Mercedes, BMWs, Audis and Hummers you often see in Almaty. I bought three little plants I put in my carryon luggage that were much cheaper at the Tsum department store than any prices I had seen back in Astana, where things seem greenless, barren, and cold.  Good memories of the agricultural area of Kostanay whenever I will look at my little plants growing and flourishing in our Astana flat.  Check out the funny dress on the mannequin that probably sold for a LOT of money that no one could afford.  Cell phones? They were “celling” them everywhere on the first floor of Tsum!  I’ll stick with my old clunky Nokia phone that is about five years old.

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Kostanay Events thus far

Yesterday we awoke to continued wicked winds, cold blasts from the west. The flags everywhere were in full salute mode. These fierce winds had not let up from the night before where you could barely stand still at the stoplight, the strong wind pushed you in places you didn’t want to go. Especially tricky if there was ice and a slight slope to the tundra below one’s boots. In this case, I didn’t know if the Air Astana aircraft would be able to push hard enough against the wind to reach our western destination of Kostanay.

When Irina and I arrived to the airport with our luggage full of our university’s posters and brochures, we found out that we were re-routed to go to Aktobe first. This city is about the farthest west you can go in Kazakhstan and they are an hour behind in time. Once in the Aktobe airport, we waited as transit passengers for 50 minutes, we got back on the same aircraft with our American sounding pilot who had a Korean last name of Kim.

In the captain of our ship’s words as we were about to land in Kostanay, he said that the visibility was so low that we might have to circle a bit until conditions improved. Irina turned to me and matter of factly said that it might be possible that we would head back to Aktobe. Gulp. However, that wasn’t as bad as our traveling companions who had gone to the Astana airport with us. Iznaur and Gulmira had their flight cancelled and tried to get on the train to their second destination but that had been cancelled three times as well. Their travel plans were scrapped until a later date and with about 70 kilos worth of suitcase full of brochures they returned to work.

At least Irina and I finally landed in Kostanay and had only a half hour before we were in front of about 200 Kazakh and Kazakhstani students. We pulled out the university information from our luggage to distribute to the eager, but very young students. They ALL wanted a colorful brochure but we tried to give to every other student so they could share. We realized that not all students are interested in our university especially this younger crowd, some were only 9th or 10th graders gathered for an Olympiad. These were students from all over the Kostanay region and not from the top schools like we were used to seeing in Taras.

Irina and I quickly went through our powerpoint presentation of 23 slides explaining the program and procedure of registering for the English entrance test off our university website. I then asked for questions in English, of course. The students were a bit hesitant to ask, finally I heard a weak “How are you?” I smiled and said, “I am fine and you?” I could see their English abilities were on the shy side. Another used a different ploy, “Tell us about yourself.” I disregarded that textbook sentence because I had already given them a quick summary of who I was and why I loved Kazakhstan, a country of romance for me.

I didn’t go into detail about why I thought Kazakhstan was a place of romance and how I had met my husband in 1993 in Almaty. I told them instead that I had lived and taught in China, Philippines, Ukraine, Kyrgyzstan and finally Kazakhstan. I asked them a rhetorical question about which county I liked the best. I answered my own question with, “Kazakhstan, of course.” Those who were following my American English, smiled, they were pleased that I loved their country.

Actually, it was my husband who had wanted to come to Kostanay because of his interest in the grain production that this area of Kazakhstan is known for. However, just before landing, I could see that there was open pit mining, two huge craters of different levels continued to drop deep into the earth. I could see shelter belts but the rest of the land was under the snow, no way of knowing how successful their farming was. Everything looked pure but cold.

I asked for a show of hands of how many were interested in the different programs and about 10% were interested in engineering, I would guess about 20. About 5-6 each indicated an interest in economics, international relations, chemistry, physics, math. I had forgotten biology as someone shouted that out, oh yes, biology? Another five or so raised their hands. When it was obvious that we had answered their questions in the overly warm auditorium we let them go. Some stayed huddled in their groups while another 20 or so swarmed around Irina to ask her questions in Russian.

Other questions asked of Irina were “Do we need the ENT test?” “How many years for medical school?” “Will there be sports or gym facilities or teams to belong to in sports?” One parent asked, “If my child got 113 on the ENT, does she have special privileges?”

The best part of my day was to meet three young Kazakh girls named Adila, Medina and Aida from Kostanay. The first two were twin sisters and all three had wanted to go to the U.S. on the FLEX program but didn’t make the cut. However, they had friends who were in the US now on that program. These girls also had parents who wanted them to be in a particular discipline different from what they wanted. Aida wants to be a doctor but her economist mother is strongly opposed to that, she wants Aida to be an economist. The other two sisters have a mother who is a pharmacist but they are being strongly advised to pursue economics as well.

Something to consider is that these young people sometimes don’t know what they want to do yet, it is too early to tell at the tender age of 17 years. Also, these young people may have gifts and talents in one direction but due to societal or parental pressure will be forced into a discipline that is not their interest. I asked for a show of hands of how many considered themselves sportsman, about 25 raised their hands. I asked how many thought of themselves as musicians, good with the dombra, piano, violin, singing, another 25 raised their hands. So, those who have gifts in these areas might pursue that route and not be ready to be fitted into a rigid discipline yet. We shall see who signs up, who passes the test and who finally shows up next fall. I told them that I hope to see many of them at our university in September.

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Cogent Thoughts on Education from a Kazakh-Korean Friend

The following thoughts are from a Kazakh-Korean friend of mine who already has a law degree.  Aliya is currently studying in the U.S. at the School of Education at Vanderbilt College in Tennessee.  I’m eager to get more of her cogent thoughts on how she would compare her experience of post-Soviet system of learning to that of the American style.  We had a delightful chat over Skype the other day, when it was about 2:00 a.m. for her while it was 2:00 in the afternoon for me.  She shared with me what she was learning about cultural diversity concerning autonomy and the collective group think.  I queried her more between Kazakh and American cultural differences.  She is a wealth of information, a valuable resource in the up and coming generation who will change Kazakhstan for the better. She is one of the best of the best, and she counts me as her friend.

“I still remember the time when I was in secondary school in Aktobe city, all my thirty classmates including myself had exactly the same subjects to study.  Everyone struggled.  Some couldn’t understand literature, some—math.  I personally had difficulty to study chemistry as my strengths were in history, languages, grammar, literature, painting and music.  Even in my young age, I didn’t like the fact that everyone was taught in the same way by the same methods in spite of our talents and interests.  Ever since I was a schoolgirl, I cherished a strong desire to change existing school system.  I knew education should help a person to develop his potential and talents, but not to make him feel as “another regular pupil” with identical personality and strengths.

I enjoy being part of transformation process and relationships with different persons.  The backward teaching methodology and prevailing Soviet pedagogical ideology have stopped Kazakh education from the modern international development.  I, as a cell of new developing State structure, can make a difference. Young generation defines the future of economical, cultural, scientific and political growth of Kazakhstan.  In my personal experience, despite the fact that some of the issues I face in my educational career can be resolved by consulting relevant information through literature, I found that more serious flaws inherent in Kazakh current educational system that can’t be worked out easily.

A saying: “Some people dream of accomplishments while others stay awake and do them.” I truly believe that we need to stand for doing accomplishments to make changes in our society.

There are a lot of facts that cause poor quality of education such as: lack of sufficient finances form the government (it doesn’t allow universities to have necessary equipment and materials.  For example, USA funds 5-6% of its GDP to education, when Kazakhstan funds only 2-3% of GDP), lack of experienced professors staff (many of them still hold to old Soviet methods), lack of information materials, literature, Internet development, electronic databases, lack of students’ responsibility towards their society and future.  Kazakh education is waiting for progressive modification.  The first and most important change comes from mentality of human beings. In order to make significant changes, we need to change ourselves.

The current situation and business world reality dictates to the graduated students: “When you start working, forget what you studied! Let’s start over!”  It is affected by the strong gap between academic university knowledge and practical skills required by public and business institutions.  Out-of-date Soviet educational methods are practiced even after 17 years of independence of Kazakhstan.

I am also concerned about wide habit of “cheating” among Kazakh students at the exams and tests.  Their mentality doesn’t allow them to see the importance of gaining knowledge.  Students use this practice in 80% cases without realizing they are cheating on themselves and their future.  I truly believe – education defines who we are and who we become.

Russian proverb:  “One person is not a warrior in the battle field.” But I believe every single person matters.  I think step by step progressive people of Kazakhstan can change the nation to the better, including education.  My deep-longing dream is to change the world to the better.  Education is one of the tools to fulfill it.”

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Diana D’s Grandmother Believed in Music and Education

I think I have an amazing grandmother. She is my dad’s mother, and she always lived in our neighborhood, so we are very close with her. In her spare time she likes to tell us her stories, so I know a lot about her and my grandfather’s life. Her stories are always very interesting and I like to talk with her.  She is a strong woman, politically active, intelligent and a leader in her community.

About 50 years ago, when she was 23 years old she graduated from the state university, and worked as a teacher in a small school in a small town of Aktobe region, but she had great plans for her future. She was very ambitious, at first she founded a music band among small students and organized their concerts. At that time, most of the people were illiterate, and she wanted more people to be educated. For this purpose she wanted to open a new school in that town, so she went to Almaty to find people who could help her. Two years later finally a new school was opened, and till this day, the citizens of that town still remember her. After that, she met my grandfather and fell in love with him, but he was very modest, so my granny made a proposal of marriage to grandfather herself. They had 5 children, and now 11 grandchildren, last year we all celebrated their 50 years wedding anniversary.

Even though she had 5 small children, her social and political life was very rich, it was the Soviet Union time, and she received a Medal of Honor for her achievements in the social sphere. When she was 44 years old she became a Chief Magistrate of city called Kandyagash, and made a lot of good and useful things to citizens, opened new schools, hospitals, and organized concerts. Nowadays that city has a kindergarten named in honour of her.

I admire her, because I think she lived very balanced life, she had a happy family and she fulfilled herself in a successful career. She had a huge influence (in a good way) on all of us, she taught me the importance of helping others and of fighting injustice. She told me to be myself at any time. I hope when I’ll be at her age, I’ll be as respected as she is.

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Serikzhan’s Grandfather Hides his rewards and honors

My grandfather’s name is Taskaly. He was born in 1928 in the town called Furmanov. His childhood was gloomed by the Second World War. His two brothers died during it. This period was very hard for a young boy. However, he knew that he must work in order to help his family. He started working early, actually when he was 13 years old he worked as an accountant in his town. Later in 1944 he was promoted and worked as the main bookkeeper of Furmanov. Not bad for a 16 year old boy, but he didn’t stop improving himself, due to the fact that he was the bread-winner in his family.

Therefore, in 1946 he worked in the Ministry of Finance; in 1953 he was the deputy of his region. But he managed to work and study simultaneously, so in 1953 he graduated from Semipalatinsk Finance School by distance learning. He continued his study in 1956, when he was sent to Leningrad private finance school by the Ministry of Finance. Later, unfortunately the school was closed by Khrushev. At that time all students studied in KazGu, so did my grandfather. He graduated from that university in 1961.

In 1958, he was elected as a chairman of Uralsk’s RaiPotrepsouz and worked there for 5 years. In 1962 he moved from Uralsk to Aktobe, because he had a new job. He worked as the director of Aktobe’s KRAI for a long time. This was a very difficult time, not because his salary was low, but because of the fact that he had a family consisting of 10 people: 3 daughters, 3 sons, his parents and a wife. Although he had a good position he had never tried to take bribes, to steal anything whatsoever. This helped him to gain respect and he benefited from it later.

In 1983 he became a chairman of OblPotrepsouz. It was one of the highest positions in the town that is why he became famous. He retired in 1988 and nowadays he’s enjoying his rest. He has a lot of friends and they invite him to their houses, where they talk about their reminiscences. Our government doesn’t forget his contributions. He has been given many rewards since 1988 but he always hides them from me just because he doesn’t want to look like a conceited person.

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“Crowds of Cheering Fans” by Kazakh Students

My Listening and Notetaking students answers a second question related to watching the movie “Rudy” who had always dreamed of playing football at Notre Dame.  “Have you ever been in a stadium cheering for your favorite team or have you been a player on a team being cheered?  Describe your feelings in that particular sporting event.”

Crowds of Fans


Gaukhar N. – My favorite soccer team is Aktobe, because I’m from Aktobe and it is the best soccer team in Kazakhstan.  And my feelings were great when you feel like you are a part of the team cheering.

Diana – I like football, especially the team of MU (Manchester United) and the best team of our country – Aktobe, because it is my native town and good players are there.  So, I always went to the football games to the stadium and I want to say that it is really exciting feelings.

Serikzhan – When I was in Aktobe (my birthtown) I used to go to the Central Stadium and support our team.  I really adore this feeling, because you feel yourself as if you’re part of a team.

Aizhan – Once my sister and me stayed at home together and we had nothing to do that evening.  We decided to watch TV.  I had never been interested in watching or playing football before, but my sister persuaded me to watch it.  And surprisingly, I found it quite interesting.  Brazilia and Japan were playing.  My sister and me were for Brazilia, but our team lost first part of the game and we got so sad.  Fortunately, at the end of the match, at the very last five minutes, Ronaldo goaled.  We even started to cry (say loudly “Aaaaa! IGA!” I’ll never forget that feeling.  Afterwards, I adore football!!!

Karashash – Two years ago I went to the football game “Portugal vs. Kazakhstan.”  Actually, I went there only for C. Ronaldo – the best player in Portugal team.  But when I came and saw so many people cheering for favorite team I felt excited!  That was great! From that time, I like football a lot!

Almas – Once I had cheered at the football stadium – Kazakhstan vs. Portuguese.  Of course, I was cheering for the KZ team, however, in my opinion half of the stadium came there just to look at Christian Ronaldo.

Galimzhan – I had been in a stadium of Almaty in 2007 when Kazakhstan national team of soccer was playing with Portugal for a chance to go to the World Cup of soccer.  After those matches, I lost my voice for a few days.

Aslan – When I played for my class football team in school’s championship, we began as the most unpopular team.  Then we became the most cheered team.  I noticed such kind of things during breaks in the game, because when I’m playing football, I see only the field, ball, opponents and teammates, and I do not pay attention to the other things as the crowd and so on.  But I’ve been to Olympic stadium in Beijing.  It was at New Year and that big stadium is really impressive to stay on it’s ground [?]

Julia – I’ve been in a stadium cheering the Kazakhstan soccer team.  They played against Turkey.  Our team lost with the score “6 – 0”  I was very disappointed and discouraged.  Although I knew that, our team would lose, I didn’t expect such a result.

Ruslan – Yes, I’m a soccer fan, so that I’ve been to stadiums a lot.  I can say, that these feelings cannot be forgotten, you’re encouraged with them.  All fans are cheering for their team and it is fantastic!!!

Gaukhar D. – I was at the stadium cheering for our football team.  I love this atmosphere when everybody around you is excited.  I mean it’s a wonderful feeling when you are just like a part of a big family and for some time you can share joy with them.

 Tolegen – It was actually recently with the match of Kazakhstan vs. England.  I was really excited and thrilling and evening though our team lost, I was glad to be there.

Elbar – Once when I had been in England, I visited “Fly Emirates” Stadium.  There was a match between Arsenal vs. Real Madrid (Real, the team which I support for six years). It was exciting to see our team, my favorite team in REAL life.  I felt so cool, that I could see all players, that I had seen on TV before.

 Olzhas – I have been in a stadium. There was a football match, not American football.  It was very interesting match because I had never been at a football match before.  Maybe that’s why it was great.

 Sergei – I have been in our Almaty stadium with my friends.  We watched how our football players played with players from Ukraine.  It was a bad game, we lost to them.  But we screamed a lot at the stadium, like “Come on! Come on!” or “We need to beat them up!” and some other things like this.

 American sports

Abylaikhan – I went to a Buffalo Bills vs. Miami Dolphins game.  My family’s “fav” team was Bills.  When we got to the stadium I felt excited.  The stadium was full of Bills fafns, and they were cheering all the time and singing: “Let’s go Buffalo (;-) That’s unexpressive feeling.  I loved it!  (;-) Buffalo won that day.

Nurlan A. When I was in the States, my host family took me to the Red Sox game.  Even if I didn’t know the rules of the baseball game, the crazy atmosphere at the Red Sox stadium took me away.

Indira – yes, last years I was cheering for our football team the Titans, it was really cool.  I liked it very much.

 Other Sporting events and Concerts

Amina B. – Okay, it wasn’t a sports event, I don’t like looking at such thing.  But I’ve been in the concert of my favorite group.  That was the BEST DAY!  I still remember the date, October 5, 2007.  My emotions, I can’t describe it!  I WAS CRAZY, HAPPY, CHEERING.  And I was under the impression for 2-4 months. And I still can talk a LOT about this concert.

 Yesmurat – Once I participated in a tournament of table tennis and I reached the final.  My rival was very good player.  When the game was started, my friends were cheering for me.  It gave me strength and I won him.

Rustem – I have a little brother who is 16, he’s a wrestler and a year ago he had a competition.  All our family went to cheer him.  At that moment I was very proud of him when he won the third place.

 Valerie – I have never been in a stadium cheering for a favorite team, I’m not interested in it.  Possibly, I will do this later, if I have a passion or someone invites me.  I heard from my friends that it is so great.  Maybe it is.

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Aisulu’s Humorous Grandma Believed in “Simplicity”

My Grandma was born in 1920 in Aulie ata – former Taraz in Zhambyl oblast. Her father was born in Kazan and was a tailor. He was a very interesting person – curious and smart. Being a little boy he dreamed of a career as a soldier and wanted to enter Kazan’s cadet corpus, but his mother wouldn’t let him go there because she believed that that there he would be made to change his religion. So he failed in his dreams and became a pupil of a tailor. In early 1900’s he took his family and moved to Kazakhstan in search of better life. At last he settled in Aulie ata, where my Grandma was born.

Grandma was brought up in a very big and united family there were 5 brothers and 3 sisters and she was the eldest of sisters. That is why she had spent all of her childhood looking after younger brothers and sisters. She attended only two classes of primary school and then her parents decided that it was enough for her. At that time in Kazakhstan there was used an Arabic alphabet and till her death she had been writing everything in Arabic and it was rather funny to open her phone book and see all the names written Arabic alphabet. And another curious thing about her was that if you ever met her you would never say that she is unable to read and write in Russian! So clever, wise and well-mannered she was. You’ll laugh but she was really surprised when I had told her that the Earth was like ball. All her life she thought that the Earth was as flat as a table! But I think that was not her fault it was the fault of her time.

She was born and raised in a very hard and tough time. Collapse of tsarism, civil war, years of victimization, famine, collectivization and so on and so on… Her eldest brother was arrested in 1930’s and then killed in a prison. He was only 28 years old, a talented poet but he left three little kids and a pregnant wife. Those were cruel times… She only told me once about the famine of 1930’s. It was caused by collectivization and thousands of people died during the famine. People were dying on the streets, even the richest ones were starving to death.

She married my Grandpa at the age of 20. He had just graduated from a Saint-Petersburg state university. A young well-educated Kazakh man, he was 27 and needed a wife. A “public enemy’s son” he changed his surname and left his home city – Aktobe. He moved to Aulie ata where he got acquainted with Grandma’s father and became his good friend. So that when my Grandpa told him that he is looking for a wife Grandma’s dad offered him to pay his attention to his daughters. So that is how the love story was! Grandma didn’t know my Grandpa well but married him because her father wanted so. Her father was sure that this young man would never hurt her and would take care of her. And he had been right they lived a long life together, gave birth to four children.

The most important thing my Grandma taught me was – the simplicity. Be simple everywhere with anyone, the more you respect everyone the more everybody respects you. If you are simple it will be easier for you to rise and then fall. All of our life we are kind of climbing up and down the mountains and it is easier to make your journey with the help of people who are ready to help because they respect you. Talk to people in a simple manner, and never think that you are better then the others. People are just not the same, no one is better no one is worse.

Money was nothing for her. She had never measured people with money. And she had never respected someone just because of his treasures and money. She believed that the true treasure in this life is a good friend.

She loved her family very much and when I told her that I’m going to go to study abroad, the first thing she said was: “But you won’t be able to come when I die…”. Good sense of humor, isn’t it?

I decided to name my first daughter – Asiya… After my Grandma!

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More “Buried Treasure” in Kazakhstan

I am getting family stories from my students in dribs and drabs and I got another from Gulbakhyt who is an attractive young woman.  She has a 13 year old son and a five year old daughter.  Her father takes care of their daughter while she and her husband are at work.  Her father has an interesting story that seemingly is buried while living in our modern, globalized city of Almaty that is changing so quickly.  He used to be a driver or chauffer for a corn factory but now he is not working full time because he has problems with his liver.  Gulbakhyt’s mother is an elementary school teacher.  Gulbakhyt’s grandfather on her father’s side was from Semey.  On Gulbakhyt’s mother’s side, she was from southern Kazakhstan, close to Almaty. 


Gulbakhyt’s family story on her father’s side is one of fleeing the communist authorities which goes along the same line as several of the others I have heard from other students.  Because his family was rich back in 1936, her grandfather escaped to China. Back in Soviet Kazakhstan they had been labeled “kulaks” simply for having too many sheep or herds of cattle.  Consequently, Gulbakhyt’s father was born in China and went to school there but he only knew Kazakh.  His family returned in 1956 to Karaganda, Kazakhstan when her father was about 9 or 10 years old. 


As is true of other stories I have heard about “buried treasure” Gulbakhyt’s grandfather had buried all the gold and silver he owned before he left for China because he knew at the Chinese border he would have been stopped by the guards and would have lost all.  We oohed and ahhed about what might have been if they knew where the treasure was hidden.

This triggered a memory from her classmate Baktiyar who has an aunt on his father’s side who escaped to Tashkent.  They lived in a very bad situation before they moved to back to Bishkek.  Recently the aunt’s family received a letter from a Swiss bank telling of money deposited by their grandfather when he went to Switzerland during the purges.  We joked with Baktiyar that he could help his distant aunt in retrieving the money by accompanying her to Switzerland.  No, he would rather stay in Kazakhstan and let them sort it out on their own.


Another one of their classmates named Medet told us about his grandfather on his father’s side who was from Taldykorgan.  He had owned many horses.  He died in 1997 and had worked as a farmer on a kolhoz (collective farm).  His grandmother had died earlier than her husband with health problems in the lungs.


Medet’s father studied at the medical institute and after he graduated as a dentist, he went to Semipalatinsk with his family.  Actually it was a military city of Iagos where his father was stationed.  Medet is the second in the family and his name means “Hope for Parents,” his brother was born in 1982, Medet born in 1984 and his sister in 1986.


As any good Kazakh should know, Medet was able to name all his ancestors back seven generations.  I should have asked for the correct spelling of the names but this is how it sounded to me.  His grandfather – Abuzatik, GG – Sulimin, GGG – Zahiby, GGGG – Mohamajan, GGGGG – Kozhakart.  Next time someone gives me these important ancestor names going back that far, I will be sure to get the accurate spelling.  I asked for the meanings of each of these names but Medet didn’t know.


On Medet’s mother’s side of the family his grandfather was also employed at a kolhoz and he was known as a manager who cares for the biological part of running a big farm.  In other words, he was the Harvest Engineer.  His mother was from the Aktobe or northeast part of Kazakhstan. Medet’s father and mother met in Almaty.  His mother went to the Medical institute and became a pharmacist, his older brother is a dentist and his sister works for Air Astana with child care.


I learned a Russian expression from Baktiyar the other day, in the rough translation it is “don’t sit on my neck.”  This means, “don’t be a burden on others or to be a freeloader.”  In actual truth, the young people of today, especially in Kazakhstan, highly respect the older generation.  Older people are not shunted aside or ignored and yet I’ve heard stories where many widows or babushkas cannot survive on the pensions they are currently living on.  Those without family are nearly destitute.  I want to put in a plug for the “Hands of Mercy” ministry that helps feed at least 90 older people in Almaty because noone else is helping them.  I have met and know the people who bring cheer to these cast aside living “treasures.”


My students have inherited from their grandparents some amazing stories about their family histories if only we would take time to sit and listen to them.  It makes me respect this culture more and more and desire that many more westerners would appreciate the hardships these older people from different nationalities living in Kazakhstan have endured. 

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