Posts tagged Aral Sea

Unwritten Places (Part II)

I’m simultaneously reading the very well written book titled “The Long Walk” by Slavomir Rawicz which was published in 1956. The real author (in English) of this great story is Ronald Downing, but the Polish army officer, who showed true grit by surviving lengthy interrogations and brutal torture, is Rawicz who walked 4,000  miles to freedom in the early 1940s from a Siberian gulag.  I’ll blog more about this book when I am finished.

For now, I still can’t get over how an index of a book would ignore the place names in Kazakhstan in the other book I’m reading “Till My Tale is Told.”  The name of this book was taken from a poem I found in Afterword. Notice the word “ghastly” was left out of the title.” Perhaps no one would read a book that was that forbidding. Indeed, it is a painful book to read through from 16 women’s perspectives.

“Since then, at an uncertain hour

That agony returns

And till my ghastly tale is told

This heart within me burns.”

Preface to Russian edition “It seemed as if the monstrous Stalinist regime had given birth to a new type of human being, writes Vera Shulz, in her memoirs, “a submissive, inert creature, mute and devoid of initiative…”

I believe what Vera writes is the continuation of a the “slave mentality” that exists today in Kazakhstan, (i.e. bride kidnapping, human trafficking).  However, the old Soviet laws which the women “politicals” were found guilty of that I found in the index of the Vilensky book are telling.  Also, I think it is an interesting quote by Tolstoy that perhaps still holds true today in contemporary Central Asia.

Tolstoy “Russian laws are tolerable only because everybody breaks them; if not one broke them, they would be unbearable.”

Article 7 – measures in public interest

7:35 – socially dangerous elements

35 – specifying public interest measures

58:8 – terrorism

58:10 – subversion – discrediting a Soviet court

58:12 – failure to denounce

70 – Criminal Code

One more quote that refers directly to these unwritten places in the index but are very much in the contents of this book.

p. 164 – “More than a year passed, and I was living in exile in Kazakhstan on the shores of the Aral Sea, working in a local school teaching Russian to little Kazakhs. The town of Aralsk, if this collection of straw and clay huts spread out under the blazing sun could be called a town, drowned in the arid sandy wastelands around the Aral, and I felt completely homesick for the green of central Russia, blinking back the tears when ever goods trucks passed by loaded with Russian birch logs.” By Vera Shulz (this was written @ 1938)

I can only hope that if Indiana University Press plans to have a second edition of “Till My Tale is Told” they should go through and find the places in Kazakhstan that are “unwritten places” which are not found in the index but in the womens’ tales.

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“Till My Tale is Told” – Part VI – “Stalin’s Broken Omelette”

The following will be the last of my series from the book “Till My Tale is Told.”  Here are three quotes that were the “unwritten laws” and the mentality of Marxists, Leninists and Stalin himself was attributed for saying the following:

“You can’t make an omelette without breaking eggs.”

Obviously people of Stalin’s ilk knew nothing about cooking and nurturing of the family with providing food. However, he DID know a lot about destruction and keeping people off balance with his different diabolical tactics.  All the early Bolsheviks could think about was destroying the aristocracy and catching up with the western nations by industrializing. (Where were the environmentalists who claim to care about the environment then?  Look no further than the Aral Sea for your answer to Stalin’s broken omelette) The Soviet mentality was to crush as many people who stood in the way of that goal to be omnipotent.

Another quote common in that era of frenzied fervor was “If you chop down trees, the chips are bound to fly.” Also, these Soviet agitators against families who worked the ground for sustenance probably couldn’t pick up an axe and chop trees if their life depended on it.  All Marx knew how to do was write volumes on the very paper that came from these felled trees. Marx had a secure life, he was underwritten by a man who believed in what he wrote.  Oh, to have such a patron, but what devastating consequences because of Stalin’s zeal for revolution using Marx words to buttress his strategies.

Lastly another quote appropriate to the Russian Revolution of 1917 was, “You can’t make a revolution wearing white gloves.” How many people were wearing white gloves in those days?  The aristocracy perhaps but also if you did manual labor, gloves were a way of hiding the callouses on the hands. Much blood will be on the hands of Stalin and all who followed his orders, millions of people perished during his autocratic rule of 30 years.  His was a broken omelette and with this final series, I will use one more poem from Anna Barkova which she wrote in the Karaganda prison camp in 1935, close to Astana, Kazakhstan:

In the Prison-Camp Barracks

I can’t sleep, and blizzards are howling

In a time that has left no trace,

And Tamburlaine’s gaudy pavilions

Strew the steppes… Bonfires blaze, bonfires blaze.

Let me go, like a Mongol tsaritsa,

To the depths of the years that have fled;

I’d lash to the tail of my steppe mare

My enemies, lovers, and friends.

And you, the world that I’d conquered,

My savage revenge would lay waste;

While in my pavilion the fallen

Ate the barbarous meats of my feast.

And then, at one of the battles –

Unimaginable orgy of blood –

And defeat’s ineluctable moment

I’d throw myself on my own sword.

So I am a woman, a poet:

Now, tell me: what purpose has that?

Angry and sad as a she-wolf

I gaze at the years that are past.

And burn with a strange savage hunger,

And burn with a strange savage rage.

I am far from Tamburlaine’s bonfires,

His tents are far away, far away.

Karaganda 1935

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His Honorable Thesis Statement, King of the Rodeo

You will have to read Part I of my blog from yesterday about “Mr. Controlling Idea MEETS Ms. In-Text Citation” to understand the content of today’s blog.  I’m too tired to write anything about His Honorable Thesis Statement, thus, I will use some of my students’ examples which they used in their last mid-term writing exam.  They were expected to think quickly and formulate their thoughts after a week’s time of reading the assigned four journal articles regarding the Aral Sea.  The mid-term essay was to be done in 50 minutes.  Would American students be able to do such an assignment, I wonder?  It makes me think that the Kazakh culture of matching wits about who knows the most proverbs and to quickly say them plays into this writing exercise.  How would YOU create a thesis statement for a discursive essay in the first five minutes to the following question?:

“The reason of environmental disaster around the Aral Sea is not merely human activities.”

“Even though pollution was the reason for extinction, humanity should pay more attention to what surrounds us, because people have plenty of global environmental problems that we must solve.”

“Even though the Aral Sea is one of the largest lakes in the world, environment around the Aral Sea is critical because there are a lot of toxins near it and there is not enough water to fill it.”

“How much of the Aral Sea tragedy belongs to human activities?  Or maybe it was something else that caused a disaster? There are two main opinions about the reasons of such a tragedy.”

“Even though people intensively cultivate agriculture in Aral Sea, people should take into consideration that environmental disaster around that region is not merely human activities because it is a nature cyclical process.”

“Even though people think that environmental disaster is their fault, they should consider that they are not the only cause of Aral Sea deterioration because it is natural process and it comes cyclically over the millenniums.”

“Even though some scientists believe that the desiccation of the Aral Sea is a natural process, men’s negligence should be considered as the main factor of “nature’s revenge” because Soviet irrigation plans for the Aral Sea led to drying of its water making people suffer from consequences of this catastrophe.”

“Even though the water pollution and desiccation occurs because of men’s activities, people should take into account the intractable and inevitable cyclical processes occurring in the bowels of the earth.”

The above are some of my better students’ examples of how they approached the essay assignment with their thesis statement.  They had no way of knowing what the exact question was to be except that it would have something to do with the Aral Sea’s destruction.  I am proud of many of my students for accomplishing this assignment.  Now we will forge ahead with our Final problem and solution essay.  May the Force be with us as we have about five more weeks to solve the problems of such an assignment. I want my students to ENJOY this process!!!

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Calibrating our Scores in Coordinated Writing Courses

Our Academic Reading and Writing teachers had a very good rubric to score each others’ students writing by during “Reading Week” what should be REALLY considered our mid-semester break. “Break,” meaning a rest from the usual grind.  I suppose everyone has their own definition of what a “break” constitutes.  It would seem that something fell apart in the implementation of calibrating our scores when we put our students’ discursive essays all together to divide out amongst the nine of us teachers. Turns out there were five of us for Stage One of our experiment of politely working together.


Keep in mind that we are all professionals with busy lives of our own, therefore, we did NOT want to spend hours quibbling over the finer points of how to grade our students on three different types of questions.  Seems that my students had the more complex question to answer about the destruction of the Aral Sea, the others were straightforward, something like:  “Discuss if the Aral Sea should be revived or let it die?” or “What is more likely, was the Aral Sea destroyed by man-made factors or natural causes?”  In some cases, upon getting the results back for my students’ essays, I had high scorers give their feedback to my students mid-term exams. I know the student, I would have graded lower.

Unfortunately, other scorers just did the easy way out and did the copy-cat rating of the first rater’s score.  We were ideally supposed to have two raters score the same essay twice.  I rated over 50 essays when all was said and done.  I only have about 30 students.


After nine weeks of working with my students, I know their abilities and strengths.  I also know the ones who don’t show up for class and are lazy.  Most of those have already been withdrawn from my class or curtsied out on their own.  Those who have remained on my class roll have faithfully done their reading and writing homework assignments which amounts to 30% of their grade plus three vocabulary quizzes on the textbook units.  The mid-term exam has 20% of the weight, according to our syllabus. 


Here is the start of the inequities I observed in this erratic scoring.  In one case, a student of mine who was averaging 23% in his assignments and quizzes got 75% for his mid-term essay grade. He is retaking the course, so perhaps he knows how to take tests and doesn’t want to be bothered with going to my class.  However, two other girls, who are very consistent, hard workers with an average of 83% and 88%, were rated the same 55% for their mid-term exam.  Another student who has the abilities but doesn’t show it in his scores got 90% on his midterm but is averaging 60% in my class!  What gives!!!


I am VERY discouraged with our cross-checking amongst my teaching colleagues of mid-term essays between raters from very divergent teaching backgrounds. I am used to having weekly meetings when I taught ITAs at the University of Minnesota and we concertedly worked together to be on the same page. We necessarily had to calibrate our scores all the time. It is quite depressing that I’ll have to ask a third rater to analyze the work my students did. 

As it stands, I can NOT give back the essays or their midterm grades tomorrow in class, it will have to wait until Thursday.  That goes for about half of my students. I have been watching my students’ progress over these past nine weeks, some have made major improvements. I am very proud of most of them. It does not speak well for me as their teacher to have so many with failing midterm grades.  So the question remains, am I in the way of my students’ learning?  I certainly hope not.


A 50 minute sampling hardly shows the abilities of students’ hard work in writing over the course of nine weeks.  Over the course of the semester, the ONE and ONLY semester these students will get in academic writing, it takes writes and re-writes to do this kind of skill justice.  Of course, I enjoy those eager students who really, really want to improve their writing too.  I am not interested in haphazard students.  Also, I’m not concerned about grammar but content and passion to get the main point across.  That is what I try to inculcate into my students. (sigh) Well, we WILL prevail with our final and second essay of the semester called a Problem and Solution essay.  Seems we have a classic problem with how we teach this writing course.  I am open to suggestions on how to solve the problem of getting our students to write plagiarism-free essays that are interesting for the teachers to read and grade.


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My Students Write about Kazakhstan’s Past Disasters

Which disaster is worse?  Semipalatinsk or Aral Sea?


Both the disasters that happened in Semipalatinsk and Aral Sea are horrible and had very negative effects on ecology, environment, people’s physical and mental health.  The most shameful thing about Aral Sea is that it used to be very beautiful place, some kind of a resort back in the times when my Mom as a good Pioneer has been sent there to rest and improve health. Also, it used to be a very industrial region: with lots of fishing and cotton growning, but now it is a place where almost nothing grows or lives, people only stayed because ethey are so attached to their homes (Kazakh’s mentality).  Also, if we compare Semey and Aral Sea, Semey is somewhat better because people there have an ability to survive even live very well because of other natural resources (metals) that are there whereas Aral Sea region has nothing.  Additionally, Semey is no longer a polygon, it is a past but Aral is still continuing to harm not only KZ’s environment but the whole world, because salt blown away, makes icebergs melt by adding to global warming.


Both of these disasters are awful and shameful for Kazakhstan and Soviet Union, but I think that the Semipalatinsk tragedy is even worse than the Aral Sea.  I think so, because, even the Aral Sea disaster is also caused by people, still Semipalatinsk polygon was created by people, so nobody expected such a disaster in Aral Sea, but Semipalatinsk was built with the knowledge, that huge amount of people will suffer, or even die.  I still cannot understand why those people were not evacuated?  I know it was a very big secret, so nobody knew about it, especially another countries, but why, why ordinary people paid for it?  They paid a very big price and what for? Who gain?  They still pay this high price, with crazy children and death diseases.


People in Aral Sea and Semipalatinsk suffered from very dangerous illnesses and what is very interesting fact is that they even do not know about the disaster, for example 10 of 1,000 infants were died because those environmental problems.  I was terrified when I saw these numbers.  The most shameful thing, I think, is that government let it all happen.  The government (head of the government, chief executives, etc) act selfishly, even if they know abut the damage result of these tests and even being informed about mortality rate, they didn’t stop their tests.  How they can be head of the government, how they can be head of the nation when they even do not care about the future of the nation???


In comparison to the disaster occurred in Aral Sea, the Semipalatinsk’s problems much worse.  Aral Sea problem can be explained somehow.  It’s some kind of decisions being unaware, that consuming so much resources would lead to the changes that then couldn’t be reversed.  As for the Semipalatinsk, that’s very unfair to the people, who lived there and didn’t know about was happening.  Government (Moscow Center) did it on purpose.  It seems to me, that even Aral Seas’ problem is very important, it’s on the global level (because salt is spread all over other countries too), the nuclear testing consequences are worse.  Radiation has a periods of active moments.  For some elements, it’s only minutes, for some thousands of years.  So, if Aral Sea can be self-cleaned or turned to previous condition by some methods, radiation can’t be eliminated as we want it to.  Putting them underground it’s not a solution, because there is ground water.  Hopefully both of these problems will ever be solved, because I’m as a Kazakhstan citizen worried about my countrie’s future.  I hope…


In my opinion both environmental disasters are horrible.  However, Semipalatinsk site is worse because the land, air and water of that region is still extremely toxic to the people that live in that area.  There are many people died in that area from various diseases.  As an example, cancer. Many of children born with some kind of deformity or if they healthy later they get sick or die.  Pregnant women pray to God every day so they will have a healthy infant.  I think mortality rate is growing.  People that had an ability to move away they did so however there are many people who still live there and they can’t do anything about it.

Aral Sea disaster is sad as well because we don’t have Aral Sea anymore.  When you see pictures or movie about sea it makes you depressed.  It looks like a ghost town place.  Old fishing ships are standing there, almost nothing grows there, waste is everywhere.

We know that all these happened during Soviet Union period and we know who we should blame.  However, I hope learning from this experience this will never happen again.

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Aral Sea or Semipalatinsk: Which is the Worst Disaster?

I asked my students in a quiz based on a short excerpt from Christopher Robbin’s book: “What is the difference between the two environmental disasters of the Aral Sea and Semipalatinsk?  Which is worse and why?” The following are their answers:


In my opinion, the disaster in Aral Sea is uncomparable with the environmental disaster in Semipalatinsk.  It’s quite a different thing.  The most shameful in both of these catastrophes is that now our government doesn’t pay any attention on the victims.  In Soviet times somebody planned the solutions of the problems, made decisions.  But now we can see nothing!  Where are these plans?  We have only facts:  Kazakhs allowed to make a polygon on their land, Kazakhs can’t make any money with the Aral Sea, people die from diseases because both Semypalatinsk and Aral Sea are disasters.  But our government can only talk too much about the consequences and do nothing with them.  This is the most shameful!


About Semipalatinsk, we have some communities that are working with this problem like “Nevada-Semipalatinsk”as some governmental project that wants to reduce influence of radiation and to help people that live there.  But there are only few communities that work to help Aral Seas problem.

Maybe everybody thinks that radiation is more dangerous than vanishing of sea.  But vanishing of Aral is world-size problem.  I read that salt from Aral was found in Central Russia.  Can you even imagine what distance it is?  It is so it can influence on Syberia, Northern Africa and Europe.


Aral Sea was the place where people can rest, it was a place where fish was widespread, of course after cultivation of cotton, Soviet destroyed the natural environment of Aral Sea zone.  Nowadays when someone goes to that zone, they’re afraid that they can get some illness, you can call Aral Sea zoneà”Dead Zone.”

But Semipalatinsk tragedy is also, and more disastrous than Aral Sea problem.  The effect is still widespread, the nuclear things still in the ground, that’s why Semipalatinsk fruits and vegetables are the worst selling ones.  People are afraid to try that product, because they are afraid that someday they will give a birth, and a child that is born will be disabled, as many of them in Semipalatinsk region are.  It’s the tragedy that still affects on our society, both of them are!


The Aral Sea disaster clearly shows that insatiable human desire for more and more and its consequences.  It also shows Moscow’s indifference to the other countries of USSR and their citizens.  I think at this point a lot of Kazakhstan citizens became disappointed in Russia’s image of “Big Brother.” Comparing Aral Sea disaster with Semipalatinsk disaster is very hard especially in terms of their negative effect on people’s health but there are two reasons why I think Aral Sea disaster is worse.  First, is that it affects flora and fauna of not only Aral Sea region, but even further.  As we heard in the article, salt form the Aral Sea brought by wind to the Europe.  The second reason is the time needed to bring everything back to the good.  It will take a lot of time to bring Aral Sea to the past size and bring life to that region back.


What I find most shameful is a huge Soviet Union with a lot of scientists who couldn’t think about this action!  I mean if there were enough clever people in the USSR, they should thought before doing something!

But I still find the situation in Semipalatinsk worse, because the affect of this catastrophe is still existing in that area!  And people who died, suffered and those who suffer even now can’t even blame anybody, as there is nobody to blame!  That was really awful action and completely irresponsible one!  Soviet Union put it’s step in our history and environment and although there were some good acts, those two are really bad.


The problem of Aral Sea…The worst part of it is that it is probably one of the biggest mistakes of humans referring to environment.  When you see the ships standing in the middle of what used to be a sea and now is a desert, and look in the eyes of men – former sailors, it’s a sad picture.

I really hope that the scientists will come up with a solution to Aral Sea disaster, because it causes a lot of problems not only in Kazakhstan  – the salt from the sea gets to the Arctic!


The disaster of Aral Sea is more widespread.  The Soviet Union government did many stupid and harmful things.  If we destroy nature, nature destroy us.  The effect of Aral disaster is longer, more time consuming to repair.

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