Posts tagged ALZHIR

Unwritten Places in a Book Index…and a poem…

I’m speed reading the actual copy of the book “Till My Tale is Told” put together by Simeon Vilensky. I automatically went to the index to find Kazakhstan.  Nothing about this far flung republic of the former Soviet Union in a book that was published in Russian in 1989 and then translated into English and published by Indiana University Press in 1999.  So, what I see as I pored over the pages were many references to Djezkazkan, Turkestan, Karaganda, Kazakhstan, Aral Sea written by those female survivors who were exiled to Central Asia. However, no listing of these remote places in the book index.  To me, it shows a kind of Russo-centric approach to this faraway place from “Purge-Central” in Moscow.  In fact, the following is a quote that might be taken wrong by Kazakh readers who read this blog but it is actually what was thought and written:

p. 272 – Hava Volovich’s story: “In the UN, questions had been raised about Soviet violations of human rights, and there had been talk of sending a special commission to investigate.  Our representatives at the UN had stalled for all they were worth, but the home authorities had become alarmed and began to collect the “rubbish” and dump it as far away as they could, in places like Djezkazgan.

There had been mines there for a long time, but the exceptionally harsh living conditions (especially the lack of water) had meant that it was next to impossible to find workers, and the mines were limping along feebly.  But now there was a supply of prisoners, to whom ordinary human rights did not apply.  All you needed was rolls and rolls of barbed wire, handcuffs, machine guns for the guards, Alsatians…”

Where was Djezkazgan?  I only know about it because of a Kazakh friend of mine who was from there.  Several years ago she was in the U.S. for a summer on Work and Travel. Then she came to Astana to teach after she finished her pedagogical training in Karaganda.  This is what the book said about this far off place:

p. 83 – Djezkazgan – camp at Kengir – 50 miles from Karaganda – Copper mines there (on the waterless Solochak steppe – p. 271)

I need to find out more about Kengir and see if my Kazakh students who wrote narratives about their grandparents and great grandparents lives ever referred to this place.   Seems there is lots of history in Kengir, especially being a prison camp.  I’d like to find out more about this uprising:

p. 341 – 1954 – mass acts of disobedience by prisoners in Kengir (Central Asia) where tanks were used to suppress protests

Also, I want to find out more about this, I know my students have written about Basmachi in Turkestan

p. 89 – 1919 – anti-Soviet Basmachi groups in Turkestan (Central Asia) – Yelena Vladimirova helped organize famine relief in Volga region

I’ll end this blog post with a poem by Yelena Vladimirova, it shows just how very bleak things were for these women who were considered dangerous elements against Soviet society, similar to what was going on at ALZHIR.

p. 91 Poem “We’re Alive” by Yelena Vladimirova

“We grow fewer and weaker, my friends,

There are more farewells with each day…

We cannot tell what tomorrow may hold –

We don’t know what will happen today.

We live in hard, in frightening times,

Uncertainty followed by lies;

How we long to believe we are not alone,

To hear a cry from the dark, “We’re alive!”

As before, we hold true to the banners we love;

The skies may be clouded, but still

We measure our joy, now a thing of the past,

By what suits the commonweal;

Though my path be hopeless, though it be soaked in blood –

Yet I shall not cease my cries;

Summoning my last drops of strength, I’ll shout,

“Comrade! We’re alive, we’re alive!”

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Haunted by ALZHIR Stories (Part III)

Incredible things an American teacher can learn from her Kazakh students if asking the right questions.  Today was no exception as a continuation of what I learned about ALZHIR, but this time it was from my advanced learners. The photo shows the artwork on the ceiling of the lobby area of the ALZHIR museum which is titled “Freedom and Captivity.” This shows 15 different birds in various stages of getting free from their cage of captivity.   This symbolizes the 15 republics whose women from the era of the former Soviet Union who were trapped in this far away place close to Astana, Kazakhstan.

Apparently two years ago there was a big conference in Poland where three or four Kazakh professors attended because they were vice presidents of universities here in Kazakhstan.  Such an important event attracted many different people from many nations.  During one of the meetings, a Polish man stood up and said the following to these Kazakh representatives:  “I want to pay my respect to your country and thank the Kazakh people because my grandmother stayed in ALZHIR.  When everyone was very hungry, every day the Kazakh children would give them cheese and bread. Even when the guards thought the children were throwing stones at the poor women, they said, “see even the small children hate you.” So that is why we need to make education a top priority for the Kazakh children because of this situation where Kazakh children saved my grandmother from certain starvation.”

I had asked my students today about the following women: Lubov Babitskiy,  Lubov Vasilevna Ivanova, Ruslanova, Galina Serrebryakova, Bulbairam Kozhakhmetova, Natalya Satc, Katya Olaveynikova, Zagfi Sadvokasovna Tnalina, Raissa Moisseyerna Mamayeva.  These names were in the brochure that I got at the ALZHIR museum the other day and very little is known about them.  However, everyone seemed to know about Ruslanova who was a famous Russian singer. There’s a story about when the prison guards asked this talented singer to sing a song for them, she declined and said “A nightingale doesn’t sing in a cage.”  After she was released, she went to sing for the troops during the Great Patriotic War.

I questioned them about Galina Serrebryakova and all my students could say was that her husband was a poet so that is why she ended up at ALZHIR.  See some of the poetry that is displayed on the first floor which gives a background of the husbands who were labeled “enemies of the people” and why the women became victims in ALZHIR.

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Haunted by ALZHIR Stories (Part II)

The “Arch of Sorrow” is quite a monument in front of the ALZHIR museum in tribute to those terrified voices and plaintive cries of desperate women that have long since been silenced due to forgetfulness by design or sheer neglect.  However, the President of this fine country of Kazakhstan strongly believes  it was NOT Kazakhstan’s fault that so many women were brought by train from all over the U.S.S.R. to this barren wilderness near Astana to work hard or to die due to the deprivation.  Many of these women, who came were from the elite of the Soviet elite, their only problem was that they were married to Soviet men who were considered traitors to the communist cause.

One of my students commented that the train car in front of the “Arch of Sorrow” shows that the war against “Enemies of the People” did not play favorites even with the Soviet upper crust.  The symbolism shows  inside of the train car when you see two kinds of individuals. One that is clearly aristocratic in her bearing and clothes, another who is huddled in a weak mass in thin clothes and barely clad.  [Actually both are not dressed appropriately for the sub zero weather we have been experiencing in Astana this past week.  It will not let up until first of March.]  For the women who survived ALZHIR prison life, it was one cold day after another especially without their loved ones to care for.

One of my former students from Almaty wrote about her grandmother living through this dreaded experience at ALZHIR.  Please see her research paper from December of 2008 where she used different sources and also an interview of her grandma to reveal just how very difficult life was living in ALZHIR.  Looking at all the displays inside the museum and hearing the stories behind the pictures from our guide, after an hour we were all weighted down with just how very desperate and dismal these women’s lives were.

One story still haunts me.  Some of the Kazakh people in the nearby area of the ALZHIR camp knew that these women from all over the U.S.S.R. were innocent of any crimes or at least they knew they were not well fed and many were dying.  In front of the guards, while the women were cutting reeds from the lake, there were Kazakh children holding bags of stones and throwing at the poor women.  The guards laughed and taunted the women saying that even the young Kazakh children despised these prisoners.  When one woman fell down she smelled the stone as if it were cheese.  Yes, in fact, the neighboring Kazakh village had made balls of hardened, dried curd which was meant to feed the starving women.  Many other acts of kindness were shown to these innocent women by the neighboring Kazakhs even at risk of being caught and killed.

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Haunted by ALZHIR Stories of Brave USSR Women

The wind is howling wickedly outside today worse than it was yesterday.  Yet with this fierce, cold weather we are enduring in Astana, Kazakhstan, we have so much to be thankful for compared to the Soviet women from all over the USSR who were cruelly deemed as cast offs, spurned to this desolate area of Central Asia.  All 15 countries or former republics of the USSR were represented.  Very few intelligensia were spared during the Stalin purges.  My students marveled that so many of the creative, smart ones were destroyed in the past while our university is currently trying to create an intelligensia to move this country forward.

As a class field trip, we went out to see this ALZHIR museum that was built in 2007.  We picked up taxis across from Mega Mall by the sauna and with four of us riding in each taxi, it cost 1,000 tenge one way.  The road is narrow and sitting in the front, I had to trust the skill of our driver to get us to our destination in one piece.  These drivers have no idea how unnerving it is to narrowly miss a hair’s breadth away from hitting the oncoming cars and trucks.  The bumps, crevices and potholes gave an extra thrill for those three riding in the back seat. Fortunately, we were able to get taxis going back into Astana (25-30 kilometers away) after not too much standing in the wind and cold.

How sad to hear all these women’s stories from our Kazakh guide. The cost was 100 tenge for student rate and 150 for me as their teacher.  It would probably take a week, 8 hours a day to really know and understand each sad saga that is represented behind the faces of these ladies whose pictures were on display.  I am eager to find out what my PDP students’ reactions were to all this.  One from the south of Kazakhstan didn’t even know this gulag existed so close to the capital city.  Another student showed me the name on a list of his grand, grandfather who was considered an enemy of the people.

These 18,000 women were considered political prisoners and first they had their husbands taken from them and then they were yanked away from their children.  Some women came pregnant and after their children were 3-4 years old, they were taken away to be put in an orphanage.  Sometimes the women were lied to and tricked into being interrogated to their own demise.  Initially they were told they were to meet up with their missing husbands again. In some cases, they would put on their finest clothes only to be placed on a train going south to Kazakhstan.  Another instance I read in the English brochure produced by the British Council is that a husband and wife met in the hallway where they were being interrogated.  They were in a mad embrace and would not let each other go until their arms were brutally hit with the butt ends of rifles.  Oh…the sadness!

Today I’ll show the photos from inside the main lobby area but we could only take photos on the outside.  Too cold to go to the back wall where ALL the women’s names were engraved into a stone slab similar to the Vietnam Memorial in Washington D.C.

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Potpourri of Astana Photos

Today, my PDP class is going to ALZHIR (Women’s gulag in the 1930s-1950s for wives of Enemies of the People). This museum is about 10 miles out of the city of Astana and so I’ll have photos to show from that field trip tomorrow.  For today I’ll show photos that I didn’t use before but will now, it is on my jump drive and I have too much to write so my fall back is to show photos.  What I REALLY regret is that I didn’t get the photos I should have of the Asian Winter games billboards.  I saw them every day when I would ride to work, I had NO idea that the people would pull them down so quickly.  If I don’t act quickly I won’t even get the photo billboard of Dennis Ten at one of the busstops.  I did get a small poster of the snow leopard poster at the Ramstore.  However, that is nothing compared to the colorful, abstract billboards of figure skaters, hockey players and speed skaters.  Rats!  I was too slow on the draw!

Below is the inside of the arena that looks like a bikers helmet on the outside.  What I really would like to write about but don’t feel I have enough information is about the polylingual issues that are taking up people’s attention, especially today.  I’ll miss most of a seminar that is about how to improve the problems of Kazakh language teaching methods, problems of teaching English to polylingual students, learning Russian as a mother tongue and as a second or third language and finally the vision of the Model and Concept of trilingual education.  All complex issues and there will be a brainstorming session about it at the end.  All this I’ll miss because we already scheduled this fieldtrip to ALZHIR about a month ago.  I hope the roads are safe from all ice and snow.  Note the books in Russian and Kazakh that I have on my bookshelves.

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Blog Tired and Wish Bone Tired

Were you surprised by the link at the end of yesterday’s blog? I think I have created a monster with asking my students to write blogs, that means I, as their diligent teacher, must read what they write.  They only have to read mine but I WANT to read their 10, each day. That is, if they write that often, most do not.  I’m not tired of blogs….ooooohhhh nnoooooo!  When I stop writing every day, then you will know I’m fed up with keeping this daily diary online for others to read.  Today was about as action packed as yesterday, I’m bone tired.

I went to hear a speaker at the international women’s club, she is connected to the United Nations and has special projects throughout the country of Kazakhstan.  It was helpful to hear all the programs that are meant to help the Kazakhs.  Then I got more books for the upcoming book fair and got a ride back to campus with a woman from Georgia. (the country and not the state). Then, I showed her around after she helped me to bring books to store in my office.

On the ride out to campus she told me an amazing thing. Her husband’s grandmother had been at ALZHIR for 8 years.  She was arrested in Georgia and brought up to Kazakhstan to work in this concentration camp that is about 10 miles away from Astana.  What is incredible is that she was in the middle of teaching her class when they came in to arrest her in front of her students and all.  She had four children and the youngest baby died in her absence.  Tamara’s husband was the youngest of the four then and they were brought up by relatives.  Ironic that they have a posting here in Kazakhstan where his grandmother had broken health and yet she did survive and was rehabilitated.  She had come from a wealthy family and her husband had been beaten and murdered for being a so-called “Enemy of the People.”  This was back in 1937 when purges were routine and Stalin seemed to pick on his own country of Georgia a little more rigorously.

Then I taught a one hour lesson to the employees and we talked about different professions. After that I was ready to do “battle” with the security guards anticipating a hold up with my six students from the outside and our guests from the U.S. embassy.  That went without a hitch and my students enjoyed finding out more about the different exchange programs and other English programs throughout Kazakhstan.  Great opportunities.

Finally, someone called about bringing more books to me for the charity bazaar sale.  I’m sure I’ll be getting more but today was the deadline because next week will begin the lock down of transportation of the big summit meeting where Kazakhstan will be hosting 55 different countries.  Oh, what will we do?

I’m hearing different stories that in order to cover for the Dec. 1 and 2 summit meeting when things will be closed down, we will get the days off.  However, I’m told also that we have to make it up this Sat. and Sun.  That means we would not have American corner movie because the Sat. would be a Wed. and I wouldn’t show the last movie on campus on Sunday because that would be the Thursday.

I don’t think it will happen that way because I’m also told that “the show must go on…” that we will be the only university functioning.  The rest of the universities throughout the city of Astana will close and students will go home for a week.  Okay, which is it?  In any case, I need a rest from this very busy but productive semester.  I’m bone tired but looking forward to tomorrow when we will celebrate Thanksgiving day at two different places for me.  I should enjoy turkey at both places but right now I’m wish-bone tired.

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Could write in LOTS of directions

Today is the day after Korban Ait (not sure of spelling since I’ve seen about ten different variants of it). We will celebrate this grand holiday tomorrow in unison as employees at the university cafeteria.  As a friend of mine wrote on Facebook, “Korban Ait is not a good holiday for sheep.”  The same could be said for our upcoming American holiday next Thursday, “Thanksgiving is not a good holiday for a turkey.” I plan to celebrate Thanksgiving with some other Americans and French people late in the evening next Thursday.  Nice but not the same as being with family and I know there were Kazakh students at the university that missed being with their family. They live far away and could not afford the long train ride home.  In any case, next week I hope to do some singing to ward off all the extra calories of good home cooking from both these events of sheep and turkey.

Yesterday was a legal day off for ALL of us at the university. Therefore, it was my husband and my chance to go out on a date after we did some work at home.  I baked pumpkin cookies and finished up on reading apps so it was time to celebrate with a nice meal at the fish restaurant at Khan Shatyr, the tipped tent.  We walked to work up an appetite against the cold west wind.  Then after our meal we decided whimsically to take the splish splash roller coaster ride. Things didn’t look good when they could only provide us with WET towels to sit on.  In the middle of our ride I knew something wasn’t quite right when Ken and I couldn’t get up the steep hill and then our water car finally jerked forward and up.  What goes up, MUST come down.  Down we splashed into the water that sprayed all over us. This particular ride cost 400 tenge each.  I ask you, would you knowingly pay about $3 to get your clothes wet?  That’s what this thrill ride is about.

So, once through that, the drama wasn’t over, we had five cars ahead of us that were stuck. There were worried attendants that thought we were the suing type because our car was starting to fill with water.  We were like sitting and very lame ducks. Ken quickly jumped out and that brought the car up a bit.  I followed his lead on the narrow track to get back to where we had started.  The attendants were helpful by carrying our backpacks and wet towels. They were very apologetic.  So much so that they had us go for FREE in front of the line for the other electric car ride that goes around 5-6 stories above ground.  By this time I knew I didn’t want to look down and I wanted to make sure that Ken didn’t rock the boat.  I could just see us catapult to the crowds below. I had had enough adventure already with the top of the water ride.  We made it back okay to the start and then walked home after buying some groceries at the supermarket below.

With the wind on our backs, we were able to get our clothes dried out and came home to a hot tea and watched “Hoosiers.” That was our date night on an unconventional Tuesday night. I had to prepare for my lessons on Wednesday which is the OTHER direction I could go in writing today’s blog.  On Monday I had prepared my class to do “SurveyMonkey” and to come up with 10 questions related to their research project that they could query their classmates and other colleagues from work about online.  I showed a survey I had made up as an example, one they had answered. We created another survey in class after looking over three students 10 questions. This way they could see how they would input all their questions tomorrow at the computer lab.

Another direction is that we got into a discussion about morals. I asked what is taught in school to girls and boys about abstinence or purity in sexual relationships. Surely I know from reading the book “Two Kyrgyz Women” and talking with the author that these issues about sex are taboo, a very private matter.  One teacher said that she was yelled at by her mother every time she had questions about sexual relationships.  Another student knew that she could NEVER talk to her mother about this topic.  I just wondered what is done in the school system or if there is anything in the Muslim faith that exhorts a woman to remain pure before marriage.  If it is not talked about or discussed, how do kids know what is inappropriate in the lyrics they hear from rockers or rappers from the West?  Much of the garbage called “music” is really a hatred of women and debasing them as sex objects. Oh, what a critical problem this is when Western “mores” meet eastern private sensibilities.

Today we also got on the subject of teachers salaries. I found out that Kazakh teachers, even though they are paid a low salary, at least they are always paid.  Well, that is not true of some teachers as near to Astana as Akmola.  Since September they have not been paid and this little village is where the prison camp ALZHIR was back in the Stalin years for women who had the misfortune of being married to “Enemies of the People.”  If this is true about a city close to Astana, what of the other villages and towns throughout Kazakhstan, are teachers being paid or not? I remember this happened in Ukraine that the teachers were a dedicated lot, they were like mothers who would not give up on their own children no matter how difficult living was.  Teachers in Kazakhstan are just as dedicated to their profession, they have to be because they are not paid much. The show must go on, they will teach despite not being paid.  No such thing as teachers’ unions here in Kazakhstan.

So, that reminds me of an American I know who has worked terribly long hours this semester and has not been paid. This person has been spitefully used like a slave to the Kazakh students. The students are the delight, it is the administrators who are the culprits!  Who is reaping the benefits of this arrangement with misusing an expat? Perhaps the rector of the university, perhaps someone else in administration but apparently oral and written contracts between two parties mean nothing.  So goes what I wrote about in yesterday’s blog concerning transparency and trust.

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