Posts tagged Borovoye

Snow’s Purity Covers a Multitude of Lies

Almost a year ago I traveled by bus with about 35-40 work colleagues to Borovoye from Astana. For some time I had wanted to see this famous place among Kazakhs, a beautiful recreation area to drive away from artificial, glitzy Astana about 3-4 hours west.  I was amongst mostly Kazakh, about 15 Brits while I was the token American teacher on board. See my blog with photos that shows some of the sites.

What great memories of being in snowy Borovoye with very few tourists.  I was recently reminded of taking part in a x-country skiing competition, though I had NO intention of competing at first.  Not because I didn’t know how to x-country ski but because I had never competed and viewed skiing as a solitary form of recreation. The planners of this event had bought six pairs of skis ranging in sizes with the boots, ski poles and skis.  I finally consented to skiing on the marked off trail when no one else from our busload of people seemed interested.  One British guy had skied before, another Kazakh man was a downhill skier and clearly the other three had never, ever skied.  Turns out I won the first prize trophy much to the chagrin of the hotshot downhill skier.

Now that we have an adequate amount of snow, I’ve been x-country skiing a lot since back in Minnesota. The purity of the snow has almost covered over the fact that I had been lied to so many times while fulfilling my one-year commitment teaching at the “westernized” university in Astana. Almost.

Since I took on my job of teaching ten young Kazakh teachers, I had developed the Professional Development Program (PDP) coursework from the ground up.  At the beginning I had been promised my own computer for my office. That never happened.  I had also been promised a computer lab for my ten students. Again that never materialized as I watched hundreds of computers go to new office workers who were managers or consultants for the many departments that were springing up everywhere. The BIG, new university itself had just been built from nothing to hopefully being considered a “world class university.” (Buildings can be built overnight, reputations take much longer to boast about)

As on any university campus, people were vying for office and classroom space so I felt fortunate in having that eventually, but not without a struggle. My Kazakh students made me smile one day when they sat in their new classroom where the computers were supposedly to be stationed. They were typing away on imaginary keyboards.

Thankfully I was friends with the Kazakh librarians, so I was allowed to take my class to the library’s computer lab once or twice a week to accomplish assignments on Moodle, do blogs and other coursework that needed to happen with the high speed Internet. Fortunately for me, I had my own projector so that I could project lessons or Powerpoint presentations on our classroom wall.  So devoid was I of anything technology related when the main thrust of my coursework was to get these Kazakh teachers up to speed with the 21st century technology.

Here’s where the rub happened and I’m not sure if it was a planned attack from administration on high or if it was the hotshot downhill skier getting even with me for beating him in the x-country competition.  Based on all the other things that had happened with my contract and all other promises that were broken, I think it was the former, a bureaucratic breakdown. Maybe intentional so they wouldn’t have to pay me my last paycheck when I left the university and Kazakhstan for good.

When I had about a week left in Kazakhstan, according to my expiring visa and my plane ticket with Lufthansa, I was getting signed off from the different departments my last day at work.  I went to the library, computer tech, payroll, admissions, maybe about ten other departments whose top administrator would sign me off.  However, it wasn’t until I got to the one BIG office where the hot shot skier was in control of  office hardware like desks, chairs, tables, etc.  According to him, I had not returned my university computer to the university.  He was NOT going to sign my paper until I coughed up a piece of equipment that had never been issued to me.  I was incredulous.

By this time, I was a wreck. I felt like he and his minion office workers were adding insult to injury. At first I thought it was a joke but he did NOT smile and was clearly all business.  I got it, they were going to hold up my paperwork for clearance from the university on purpose so that I would be accused of stealing a university computer. I could not believe this was happening to me after all that I had sacrificed in trying to run a pilot graduate-level program without ANY computers.

Finally, this guy relented because he simply did not have any paperwork that proved I had been given a computer in the first place.  The computer tech guys, who were my friends, would have backed me up because I had been something of a pest about asking for computers from the very start. Where was my signature signing off on office equipment I didn’t have?

I still to this day do not know whether he was answering to someone over him, my Kazakh boss or if in fact it was his own petty way of paying me back for beating him at the x-country competition from several weeks before.  Whatever, I’m far away from the office politics and I think I’ll go out to ski on our fresh, pure Minnesota snow.  Somehow that covers the multitude of lies that were told against me.

Now maybe my blog readers will understand why I continue to write about human trafficking and slavery in Kazakhstan. I felt in a small way after teaching 3 ½ years in Kazakhstan that I was a victim of the slavery mentality.  I’m glad I am free of all that. Now I REALLY must go skiing!

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More things learned about KZ outside of a textbook

Since going to Borovoye last Saturday, I have plenty of things to talk about with my Friday noon, Advanced speaking group among the university employees.  The following are more things I learned from them about this marvelous place.  I also learned about other places I should travel to in Kazakhstan before I leave this amazing country.

First, Okshepis is the Kazakh word for “mountain so high that an arrow can’t reach it.”  However, there is a legend about a beautiful girl who was the daughter to a rich bai. This rich Kazakh man met many worthy suitors who wanted his daughter’s hand.  They had just come back from war and wanted to marry her.  However, she was in love with another fellow whom her father did not approve of.  So a competition was arranged that whoever succeeded in shooting his arrow to the top of this mountain would marry the beautiful girl.  If they did NOT succeed, they would be beheaded.  (Yikes, the stakes were high).

Apparently in order for her lover to win, the young girl climbed to the top of this Oktopis and placed a scarf so that her lover could see where to aim.  She also sang a song for him to hear her voice.  I guess if he did not win, she was ready to commit suicide because he too would be beheaded with the rest of the suitors.  I’m not sure how this legend ended because there were so many variations that started sounding the same.  But clearly this country is a land of romance. Oh dear, I DO hope the young girl got the man of her dreams.

We also went to a deer farm, they are called maral.  Their antlers are used in a panta cream that is a kind of Chinese medicine.   Apparently when the antlers are cut from the deer, they feel no pain. Also the hooves of the deer are used for medicinal purposes. One more thing I learned is that the blood from these deer is useful to drink for good health.  So, these 170 deer at this farm we went to visit will have everything used from head to toe! (antler to hoof)

Next, I asked my adult students if there is any other place close to Astana that is similar to Borovoye in beauty.  Apparently there is and it is south of Pavlodar and directly east of Astana, something like Baianor or Bainayl (I can’t read my scribbled notes.)  There could be so much more tourism that Kazakhstan might profit from but supposedly the infrastructure is missing and successful tourism needs good management.  A part of Kazakhstan’s strategic plan is to invest more in tourism by 2020.

Other places I would like to go to would be Turkestan which I learned a LOT about from another adult student I had who used to live in the Chymkent area.  Actually, she lived in Turkestan for three years and helped to bring the big artifact that had been stored at the Hermitage back to Turkestan by way of a big Soviet truck.  I hope I still have my notes after talking with her about Turkestan.  From what I understand Turkestan is a very ancient city, over 1,500 years old and is considered a holy place.  Many Kazakh warriors were buried in Turkestan.

Also, the oldest capital is in western Kazakhstan which is known as Sarashik.  I learned about the ritual according to Tengri, a very ancient religion where they used to pray to nature, like sky and moon, etc.  Apparently there are still elements of Tengri in Kazakh traditions that are observed today.

Looking at the map of Kazakhstan with my students, I didn’t realize that Semipalatinsk was so close to the Russian border and is a very beautiful city with the mountains and Irtsk river going through it from China.  Apparently the damage done at the Polygon with nuclear testing for about four decades is 500 kilometers away.  But still…not so good to encourage tourism where there still might be radioactivity.

Another thing I learned was that in the area close to Semipalatinsk there used to be Christian believers there. That would be many, many years ago in the northeastern part of Kazakhstan bordering to Russia and China where missionaries from the very early days were there.  That claim will have to be investigated.  I’ve heard  also that there are blue eyed Kazakhs, which seems even more interesting in this Central Asian land.

So, that is what I learned about Kazakhstan the other day, all this needs to be explored further.  Enjoy one last photo of our group who went to Borovoye last Saturday at the deer farm.  What a memorable trip, hopefully more to come.

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Taxi drivers, ppt presentations and more Borovoye

Yesterday my two taxi drivers (Yerik and Yaheya) were waiting for me as usual in the parking area of our building complex. This time I went with Yaheya and he was his usual chatty self.  He talked in German, Russian and English (with lots of hand motions) about ALZHIR.Then he started talking about Guantanamo and I was clearly out of my depth in understanding what he was saying.  Thankfully we got to the university before we got into REALLY heavy politics.  I paid him the usual 500 tenge fare, because that is what both drivers expect even though you can get gypsy cabs to go this same distance for only 300 tenge (@ $2).  That is why they are happy to take me to the university, I pay them better than a Kazakh passenger would.

The other day Yerik explained (all in Russian) why he had asked 700 tenge for our car ride to the university.  I thought he was mad at me about something and really what he said was that over ice and snow when driving conditions are dangerous and there are traffic snarl ups, he expects 700 tenge.  Okay, I thought he was trying to get rid of me for a richer, more gainfully employed passenger.  We are back on smiling terms again because that is what Yerik does well. He smiles while Yaheya talks and smiles and drives all at the same time.  One of these days I’ll get a photo of both these characters.  I might add, Yaheya has the most ridiculous looking fur hat but it keeps him warm. I’ll try to get a shot of him in that!

Well, I fully expect one or the other to be out waiting for me to take me to my second big day of entertaining expat guests at the university with a business lunch in the cafeteria, a quick tour and finally  buckling down to watching my last five students do their ppt presentations.  I’m amazed at what they can put together using graphics with pie charts, bar graphs and other incredible things.  Hopefully my expat guests will be impressed this afternoon when they hear and see presentations about motivating weak students, how reading “rocks,”  listening skills, integrating content with English and finally instructional technology.

That is why I really enjoyed my trip to Borovoye last weekend, I knew I was in for a tough week of logistics, timing and schedules and peoples’ feelings. Seems that if I browbeat my students about how pathetic their citations are or their reference page isn’t up to hoyle, they bounce back just fine.  I was feeling guilty about being too rough with one of my students…no worries. So now for some photos to show off amazing Borovoye once more.

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Photos from Borovoye (Part III)

My body is finally back to normal after the 300 meter x-country race I “won” on Saturday in the pine forests of Borovoye.  I’ve never raced before, just always considered x-country skiing as a solitary sport out in our back woods in Minnesota.  Yes, I suppose the Asian Winter Games has inspired everyone to compete in winter sports. I think everyone at my university thought how could an “old lady” like me beat some other athletes?  Yeah, good question which my aching muscles the next few days were crying out for a reasonable answer.  Well, I could load my readers down with more amazing facts about Borovoye from travel brochures translated into English, but I think the photos will do for now.

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Photos from Borovoye outing (Part II)

Saturday was a refreshing day for many of us from the university in Astana as we traveled north to Borovoye. We each paid 2,500 tenge to travel by bus to the area close to the small city of Kokshetau. This tourist attraction is known as the little Switzerland of Kazakhstan.  Emphasis on the word “little.” Sadly, there are many brightly lit up, small casinos here that are outlawed everywhere else in Kazakhstan. But seeing forests and small mountains is most welcome to the eyes if you live in Astana for any length of time.  Flat, flat, flat and cold!  Temperatures have been unmerciful in Astana this past week and last Wednesday there was a brutal wind that reminded some of us how tough life must have been for the early Kazakh nomads who travelled these parts.  But going to Borovoye, our spirits seemed to lift with seeing a different kind of geography, seeing beautiful pine and birch trees and drinking in the pure mountain air once we got out of the bus.  Here are more photos of the activities we enjoyed.

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Photos from Borovoye outing with work colleagues

Yesterday was taken up with over eight hours on the bus and eight hours seeing the sites of Borovoye.  Words to describe all our activities (besides 35-40 of my work colleagues from our university sitting on the bus) are the following:  eating, drinking, sliding on ice, climbing rocks, skiing, skating, playing games, buying souvenirs, breathing fresh air, singing, laughing, sleeping (on the bus), watching old Russian movies (on the bus), talking, meeting new friends…enjoying life in Kazakhstan.

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