Posts tagged Bay of Pigs

500 Tenge Conversation with my favorite taxi driver

The other day when I added it all up, I spent $10 on taxis.  If you are a local in Astana, it is much easier to talk the taxi driver down in fare. Since I’m a westerner, I’m “fair” game.  The other night one little old guy thought I was Chinese, that’s what he asked the Kazakh person who negotiated the ride for us to get to the old part of town.  I think he needs his vision checked because he also missed the sign for where I live. I have NEVER been accused of being a Chinese person before. Another guy last night thought I was a “Russkie” with my fur coat and Russian scarf. No, I admitted, “I’m American.”  He told my other Kazakh passengers who negotiated the price that if I knew how to speak in Kazakh, I would get my ride free.  Yeah sure.

When on my own, I’ve learned to state the price that is reasonable and start going for the back door to open it.  They usually don’t have time to say no.  If where I want to go is not in their direction, they will say no even before I negotiate my price.  I’ve learned that I can get to the university from my flat in less than 7 minutes if the lights are right and it should only be 400 tenge.  Today I had my favorite taxi driver chase me down from where he was parked, he was yelling my name.  Obviously he wanted ME to take him and not some gypsy cab off the street.  My loquacious taxi driver named Yaheya (that’s probably not how you pronounce his name and certainly not how you spell it) was more than happy to drive me to work.

Perhaps Yaheya, to make my trip out to the university worth the 500 tenge, he tells me the latest he knows in news.  You see, we are way past, “Where are you from?” and “Why are you here in Kazakhstan?” and “Which do you think is better, U.S. or Kazakhstan?”  We are past talking about the weather which is a reliable Minnesota standby for conversation.  Yaheya probably knows he is safe with using Russian cognates with me along with place names and people’s names.  Here’s what I recall was said 12 hours ago in my taxi ride with Yaheya.

I started out by telling Yaheya in my very bad Russian that the president of Kazakhstan had visited our university yesterday.  I listened carefully and had written out my notes in English because we, as foreign faculty, were given headsets so we could follow along with the president’s speech from a simultaneous English translator.  Her English was a little archaic, something of the Old School kind of translation.  I talked to a Kazakh administrator who sat next to me and asked if he understood the English that was spoken later by guest dignitaries. So he admitted, “I am like a dog, I can understand but I can’t speak it.”  Yes, I guess that description fits me when it comes to conversing with Yaheya. I can understand about 50% of what he is saying but I can’t speak it. That’s when saying in Russian “I don’t understand, sorry” comes in real handy.

Next ,we hit on something about the Russian and Turkish embassies off in one direction while the U.S. embassy was behind us. Perhaps the U.S. embassy being the largest, I don’t know.  I’m not sure where we were going with that but then we were rounding the bend by the Chinese embassy.  Yaheya said that it was a big country and then he pointed over to where the Cuban embassy was located.  He claimed it was the smallest embassy in Astana.  Then I think we talked about Khruschev and the Bay of Pigs and Kennedy.  Well, at least I KNOW we were talking about Khruschev’s infamous quote when he had been to New York in the 1960s and he had pounded his shoe on the table, “We will crush you!” I didn’t have to know the Russian words for this outburst. Just having Yaheya start talking about Khruschev in the same sentence and using his nonverbals by pounding on an imaginary table, I knew of Khruschev’s famous quote of hate towards Americans.

Well, at least I know Yaheya likes me. And to make sure this morning I got my money’s worth in a drive (and the stoplight change took about 5 times rather than the usual 2 times), he talked about the anniversary of Pearl Harbor.  Good thing I was up on the news myself because Yaheya’s “H”s always come out as “G”s making it sound like Pearl Garbor. Then, he reminded me it was the anniversary of John Lennon’s death which I didn’t care about. But this shows that my taxi driver is in the know about pop culture.  Of course everyone in the former Soviet Union followed the Beatles.

Now here comes the sticky part where you have ABSOLUTELY no idea what the guy is saying. By this time we were close to the Bike Helmet structure to the right and other stadiums which are close to the univeristy. I thought we could stretch this conversation out a little longer if he could only come up with some other words I might even have a hint I would recognize.  Nope, nothing doing!  I just had to repeat, “I don’t understand, I don’t know.”  Yaheya is always smiling when he tries to get his point across and we make eye contact frequently through his rear view mirror.  Don’t worry he isn’t speeding, he seems to be in control of his car at all times.

But I’ll not forget his running after me, yelling my name because he knew I was a sure bet and perhaps he is getting return customers back to town from where the university is situated.  In the meantime, I get a kick out of how much I can understand from my favorite taxi driver.  I really think I need to take a Russian course so I can understand more of what’s going on. It’s not like I can go to Google translator to find out what all the memos I get in Russian are about.

Nah, this guessing game every morning is fun, it kind of humbles you before you show up for work to be hit with more Russian or Kazakh.

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Democracy and Unchecked Power

I enjoy reading British authors C.S. Lewis and also G.K. Chesterton but for today I’ll use a quote from Lewis because politics have been on my mind a lot lately.  One can’t help it while being back in the U.S. with the constant bombardment of updates about the presidential candidates (I still think that Hillary is not entirely out off the picture yet).

I am a democrat because I believe in the Fall of Man.  I think most people are democrats for the opposite reason.  A great deal of democratic enthusiasm descends from the ideas of people like Rousseau, who believed in democracy because they thought mankind so wise and good that everyone deserved a share in the government.  The danger of defending democracy on those grounds is that they are not true.  And whenever their weakness is exposed, the people who prefer tyranny make capital out of the exposure.  I find that they’re not true without looking further than myself.  I don’t deserve a share in governing a henroost, much less a nation.  Nor do most people – all the people who believer advertisements, and think in catchwords and spread rumors.  The real reason for democracy is just the reverse.  Mankind is so fallen that no man can be trusted with unchecked power over his fellows…”

I wonder if C.S. Lewis was referring to a particular “fallen man” named Stalin and all the slogans he promoted during the Five Year Plans in the 1930s.  I’m just curious. Sadly, C.S. Lewis died on the very same day that President John F. Kennedy was shot, so there was little fanfare about Lewis’ passing.   JFK was an ardent anti-communist, I wonder what HE knew about the USSR people under Stalin?  Of course, you wouldn’t know from reading today’s history books that JFK was so vehemently opposed to communism except for the little incident that happened at the Bay of Pigs and the build up to that scenario with the Cuban missile crisis. 

Yes, I am a fallen creature as Lewis himself admits yet I am proud to be a part of the American democracy.  However, we seemingly are on the threshold of maybe losing the battles for our cherished democracy that were so hard fought to preserve our freedoms.  Lord, may that never be.  However, I think the unchecked power is the mainstream media and what lies they continually promote. I rejoice that the Old Grey Lady is tanking as are other tabloids that promote themselves as unbiased newspapers. Hopefully the Internet will continue our freedom of thought and speech, a luxury people in Ukraine and Kazakhstan did not have under communism.

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