Posts tagged Central Asia

Hats, hats and more hats!


Blue feather hats would be stunning


You can be patriotic and stylish too!


Some might prefer GREEN for their fashion look!

I have gotten through nearly two weeks of teaching composition at my university. Also, I have gotten my first 40 papers from my students to read through. Giving feedback to them will be easy because these have written good essays on their grandparents, I have read some very good “rough drafts.”  The one class is better than the earlier one that starts at 9:00 a.m.  I got to my empty classroom yesterday at 8:15 a.m. to set up.  At least I “thought” it was empty. No, there in the corner of this small room that seats 20 students, close to the open windows was one of my students sleeping soundly.  I let him sleep because I didn’t know if he was having roommate problems and just needed the extra shut eye.  Turns out that in this full classroom that the next two people who came into the room were a part of this guy’s table.They sat down right next to this deep into sleep guy. Finally, I woke Bubba up and he go up with a bright smile yet tired look.  He is a big football player, a nose guard. As it turns out, the coach uses my classroom on the second floor for early morning team meetings at 7:00 a.m.

Well, the two classes went well with my students handing in their first assignment and listening to the head librarian talk about our university’s research databases. I have read all of the papers now and will hand them back tomorrow with my feedback.  It takes a LONG time to read them and give the necessary and constructive comments.  Some need help on organization, others need to work on details in their content, while others need help with grammar and spelling.  A few need extra coaching on all parts of the writing process.  Uffda!

I have HATS on the brain. It is because on Oct. 24th, at the Carnegie, we will have a tea party with ladies. During the tea, we will have a silent auction on some of the hats that we have in storage at the Carnegie.  I have taken photos of over 135 hats and there are even more hats of all shapes and sizes at the museum.  They are a dime a dozen.  We hope we can make $25 or so on each hat when they are up for sale on Oct. 24th.  Lots to organize for that while we will have painting parties again for another fundraiser.  Always something going on.

I’m also thinking about being a party organizer for painting parties. I haven’t talked to my husband about this yet but I enjoyed painting FOUR different pictures two weeks ago during the five parties that we hosted at the Carnegie.  Oh, I DO have enough to do but I think this would be a good outlet for my artistic side.  So much to do…so little time.  In the meanwhile, we will have fun with the hats from the 1940s, ’50s and ’60s.  Hats, hats, hats!


This looks like a hat from Central Asia!

Leave a comment »

Twenty-seven questions and first impressions of Kyrgyzstan (Part II)

This blog continues from the other day where I was asked 27 questions in May of 1994 and I only got up to eight questions with their subsequent answers. My Mom was going through old letters and she had printed out my e-mail that I had sent so it is fun to see what my first impressions were after having lived in Central Asia for almost a year. I had done a Peace Corps training stint in Almaty, Kazakhstan the summer before and was on a Fulbright grant the following academic year in Bishkek, Kyrgyzstan. I was teaching at KAF (Kyrgyzstan Academic Faculty) which turned into another name that exists today.

Here are the following questions in bold asked by my friend Tanya with answers that may still be relevant today:

9) What kind of folk arts can you find? There are LOTS of wall hangings with the peculiar traditional designs of nature woven into them. They are sometimes done on felt or other brightly colored cloth. The carpets are almost always red while the wall hangings will be green and red or gold. The designs of nature are a kind of abstract leaf or bulls horns, mountains, etc.

10) Is there any carpet making or weaving? Yes, I have a carpet that has ALL the colors you can imagine in it and it has the leaf and horns motif throughout. This may be done with weaving felt together. I have also seen other handmade wool carpets but I have not seen much weaving that would be done on looms. These are a nomadic people who worked on carpets or wallhangings for their yurts (collapsable tents).

11) Do you see much needlework in Bishkek? Not the kind of needlework you are probably thinking about that the Hmong do. It is a different kind of needlework which is obviously hand done but it is more like threads of gold brocade on top of different patterns or designs of felt material underneath.

12) Can you tell me more about the courses you’re teaching? Last semester I taught Phonetics which I enjoyed thoroughly and Business English which the students seemed to enjoy thoroughly. They liked what I had to say in phonetics since it was all new to them, old to me since I used a lot of stuff from teaching ITAs [International Teaching Assistants back at the U of M, Minneapolis campus]. The students seem to be geared on business since they know that is their ticket to getting to the States and ultimately helping their country get ahead. Right now I am teaching Reading Lab which is a LOT of work for me and the students seem to be working hard at it too. Reading my home assignments and then answering comprehension questions when they come to class. I also give them periodic vocabulary quizzes based on the vocabulary words I have pulled from their readings. They also are doing extra credit reading by reading Longman classics and then writing reports on that.

13) How much English background do your students have? Near zero to university level. That is what makes my reading lab so difficult is that I have four different levels that I’m preparing for with about two or three different levels in each of the four classes. Arghh! Their background is from the privileged class of Kyrgyzstan so many have been abroad before with exposure to different languages and have been taught at the specialized English schools. We have a wide range with the 38 students we are teaching.

14) How many hours a week do you teach? Ten hours but that means an hour and 20 minutes of contact time but it is counted as two “academic” hours. I have five lesson preps because I teach the secretaries and teachers pronunciation for two of the other that I teach besides the four Reading Lab classes.

15) How much time do you need to prepare your classes? If I told you the number of hours that it took to read the different books, photocopy the ones that are appropriate for the different levels, cut out the extra to consolidate on less paper, photocopy for each class, come up with comprehension qustions, read through again for vocabulary words that might trip up the students, think of vocabulary quizzes, grade the comprehension questions, read the extra credit reading reports…it would prove that I didn’t love my job.  I have NO idea how many hours I spend in front of my computer thinking up exercises but since I enjoy stimulating the students to work, I count it as a joy.

16) Is the level of the university there comparable to an American university?  It is supposed to be, because at the end of their four years they are supposed to get a diploma from the University of Nebraska. However, about half of our students are not cutting it and it is more like teaching at the Minnesota English Center.  It is pre-university and maybe only about 15 of our students would be able to handle the course load of a real university in the States.

17) Do any of the faculty there have a background in EFL or Linguistics? Yes, one of the American teachers has an MA from Northern Arizona University in Flagstaff. The other American teacher is from Brattleboro with an MA from there. The other American teachers have undergraduate degrees with some experience in ESL. No, noone here has a strong background in linguistics which is sorely needed and wanted.  We can always rely on our Kyrgyz teaching counterparts to teach grammar which all of us Americans have a general dispassion for where they have a certain euphoria in drilling the students in grammar. Must be because Russian is so grammar-bound that they have such a zeal.

18) Or do they come from a literature background?  Not sure how to answer that. The Russian influence has brought a certain highbrow attitutde toward scholarly works especially by great Russians. Our school’s approach to learning has been of the humanities where our students are learning Latin their first year. Strange for a business school but we have a real mixed bag of things going on at our school which is a result of changing administrations, etc.

19) Is there any sort of speciality they might be looking for in future Fulbright candidates?  YES, EMPHASIS IN EFL/ESL WITH LINGUISTICS!!!

(to be continued)

Leave a comment »

Slavery in the 21st Century in KZ (Part II)

The following is a continuation of what I posted last week from Vox Populi.  Read on…

16. “Commercial slavery is a very profitable business for traffickers and pimps. Human slaves cost anywhere between 10,000 and 300,000 tenge on the black market and pimps make 20,000 tenge and higher a day. A family business associated with trafficking is the most fail-safe option. There have been instances where the wife is the pimp, the husband is the driver and nephews work as overseers or guard the girls. Girls are usually recruited from the streets, lured and deceived with offers of work as waitresses or nannies and then are forced into the car and brought to the den.”

17. “Sometimes commercial sex workers help us on a volunteer basis. They are registered in the center as volunteers. We help them to recover documents and children who were born outside of hospitals and the girls help us by telling us where girls are being kept, especially minors. We participated in raids together with the police. When the police enter the brothels, the pimps hide the girls and every corner of the apartment has to be searched.”

18. Victims of trafficking often try to escape, but they are caught and severely punished. Some girls try to commit suicide.

19. Written on a piece of paper belonging to one of the girls at the shelter: “It’s difficult for me to remember those days when we were together, you know that I want to return! Why did I ever come to Astana. Why did I leave home? Lord, please return everything back to my parents, my beloved ones!”

20. Saule (not real name) left home at 16 because of constant arguments, fights and alcoholic parents.

I came to Astana together with my friend. This one woman came up to us and offered us work. At first we didn’t understand what kind of work it was. When we got to the apartment, she told us what we’d be doing and offered us to stay the night and we could answer the next day. The next day we said that we weren’t interested and she answered us ‘I rented an apartment for you, fed you, and now you have to work off your debt.’ Then they just wouldn’t let us leave. One girl costs 5000 tenge/hour and one girl could serve anywhere from 5 to 20 clients a day. They beat us often. Once we had worked all night until morning but the clients wanted to extend their time until lunch. We refused. Then the pimps came, took us out into the Steppe, and beat us. Our pimp was a young 23-year old girl who herself had been a prostitute and our handler was an 18-year old boy.

21. 17-year old Lena has a psychologically-developed mind corresponding to that of a 10-year old child and was impregnated by a client to whom she became attached when she was a slave. She considered him her favorite person. Girls with mental illnesses sometimes only need just a hint of affection or some trinket and they become attached to him and believe him unconditionally.

“When I lived in a dormitory for former orphans, a car came by and took two of our girls. The girls ran away. When I came out of the dorm once, I met a woman named Tanya who offered me to work in her café. I went to the location and Tanya said that I’ll be a prostitute. Girls who refused were severely beaten and even set one on fire.

22. Vera is mentally retarded, finished only one grade and can’t read or write. She can’t explain anything by herself. According to Anna Ryl, a man helped her by telling the police. They beat her in the brothel. Before that, Vera lived with alcoholic parents who sold her into slavery. When she first came to the center, she couldn’t put two words together.

“I lived poorly. They drank at home. Mom beat me on the legs, wouldn’t let me walk around, but I wanted to go outside. I have a stepdad and a father. I love my real dad more and wanted to live with him.”

23. 17-year Saltanat left home because of numerous fights. Together with her friend, she left for Astana to find work, where she fell into the hands of traffickers.

“There were four other girls in the apartment. We got up at 4pm, cleaned the apartment and by 7, the handlers brought customers. Sometimes we worked all night till 9am. My family doesn’t know anything. I just want to forget everything and return to my hometown.”

24. Veleriya is raising a year-old daughter.

“My mother drank a lot and to her I was just an unwanted child. I was ten when she told me how she tried to get rid of me when she was pregnant and how she would love to get rid of me now. After my grandmother’s death, she drank the house away and I was given to an orphanage. When I left there, my mother told me to come live with her so that, as it turned out, she could sell me to some Uzbeks. When she disappeared, I was only 15. During the day, I tended sheep for my owners, but at night…”

25. “I managed to escape. Without documents or any things, I ended up on the streets. A lot of bad things followed, but now I’m here. At first I had the desire to find my mom, but now I don’t want to see her. The most important thing is my daughter, whom I give all the love that I never received from my mother.”

26. In addition to commercial slavery, the Komek Center all works with victims of labor slavery.

“The International Organization for Migration helps us with migrants. With their help, we are able to communicate with social workers in Uzbekistan, Tajikistan and other countries so that they might conduct investigations connected with their citizens. Last year, we had 11 men of Uzbek nationality, of whom 4 were minors. Their passports were taken at work and held. On the phone, they trusted us and turned to us for help. As a result, together with the migration police, we helped the migrants to prepare documents and return home. As for the employers who violated Kazakhstani law, administrative actions were levied against them.”

27. “Two years ago, three people came to us who had been held anywhere from 4 to 15 years at the wintering grounds of Karakuduk in the Shetskiy District of Karaganda Region. Ukrainian citizen Tatyana Tverdokhebova was a labor slave victim from 1995-2009, Vladimir Solomatin from Temirtau was in slavery from 2005-2009 and Oktyabr Lee from Karaganda was held from 1995-2009. Oktyabr was the only one who stayed in the center. He has had poor hearing since childhood. After his release, due to inhumane conditions and poor food, he had to undergo four operations.

“I worked on this farm since 1986,” tells Oktyabr. “After the Soviet Union collapsed, there wasn’t anywhere to go and farmer Tursunbek Akzhunusov asked me to help him on the farm and I agreed. At first I was treated well, ate together with the owners, they weren’t rude and didn’t hit. He promised a lot of money, but never paid. The work was hard – I had to tend to almost 900 sheep and take care of each animal and clean the barn. When I started getting older, they understood that they I didn’t have much good to me and started to treat me like an animal. Sometimes Tursunbek would hire workers and pay them 20,000 tenge but all that was left for us were beatings and scraps. Tatyana showed up on the farm in 1995. She was a good worker on the farm, but the owners didn’t spare her and beat her while Tursunbek’s son was raunchy with her, raped her and did bad things to her. She begged to go home but they only answered with beatings and cut rations.

28. “In 2005 came the last of us, Volodya. Not a very tall man but a very healthy man. He tried to escape but was caught and was beaten like a dog, tied to a horse and dragged around in circles. The shepherd had seven sons and they all beat Volodya. I told them, ‘God will punish you for doing that, you can’t treat people like that…’ but they kept beating him while the 60-year old farmer, seeing that Volodya was completely battered, laughed, saying, ‘What happened, did you fall hard?” The beatings left him disabled for life.

29. “We were literally fed scraps from the master’s table: moldy rolls, stale bread soaked in water, spoiled soup. In court they told us we could have left by train! But where are you going to run away to? Climb up any hill and all you can see is Steppe. All around were Tursunbek’s people – half the village were his relatives. Three of his relatives worked in the local government who covered for the slaveholders. And we weren’t the only ones in this predicament – over at the neighboring farm they also held workers. Their conditions were even worse, they were fed animal fodder. There was a woman there who toiled away like Tatyana. The woman was impregnated by the master and they started beating her, hitting her in the stomach, so that she’d have a miscarriage, disfigured her face…

30. “One time, Tatyana managed to pass a note to one of the workers hired by the master. The person who got this note went to Karaganda and told his sister everything. Together with her brother, they returned to the village and took Tatyana. But at the nearest station, the shepherd’s son Yerzhan and his friends caught up with the escapees, forced Tatyana out of the car and beat her liberators. When the latter returned to the city, the local police pulled them over and told them not to stick their nose in other people’s business. Having returned to the city, they turned to the Department of Internal Affairs and a SWAT team came and for us and took me and Tatyana away but the master hid Volodya for another two months in the barracks. What a court case was launched against the farmers, the owner has to clean up Volodya, fatten him up, nurse him back to health. Before the trial, the Akzhunusovs tried to buy me off and promised that if I signed a statement, they would pay me 300,000 tenge. To which I answered that for 15 years they owe me no less than 3 million tenge. They refused to pay. The older Akzhunusov openly announced that ‘he would cut ten heads off and can buy anyone that he wants, including the courts.”

“In organizing a court session to take place at the village,” says Anna, “the courts did not exercise concern for the safety of the victims. Having seen the farm, where every room, barn, and handle from a shovel reminded the victims of how they were jeered at, they literally went into shock. Experiencing it all again brought them back to a state of fear and led to them not being able to objectively answer the judge’s questions. Of the three, only Tatyana was considered a victim in the criminal case according to article 126 (illegal deprivation of freedom). Judge Tokabekova sentenced Tursumbek Akzhunisov to a 3 year suspended sentence and his son Yerzhan to a 2 year suspended sentence. We learned that the judge lives in the same town as the accused and this causes difficulties in getting a fair verdict. But a “suspended” punished for 15 years of slavery it completely absurd. After the trial, we turned to the city court of appeals, but the outcome was similar to the first. Most interestingly, the prosecutor, speaking in court, was on the side of the guilty, saying that the victims of slavery wanted to extort money and the slave owners were decent people…

Most recently, the Komek Shelter received three victims of trafficking: a 35-year old woman from Tajikistan who is a victim of labor slavery and two minors, a 13 and 14-year old. The children were abducted and exploited in commercial slavery.

31.For those who want to help the center or consult with experts, here is their address: 1 Pushkin, Astana, Kazakhstan. Email: State short number: 1409

Leave a comment »

“Nowadays” and “To my mind…”

Been a while since I wrote anything strictly about Central Asia, today is the DAY!  While teaching in Almaty it was brought to my attention by a fellow American teacher that our Kazakh students over-used the word “nowadays.”  He was tired of it and suggested other words that could be used instead.  That didn’t bother me as much as “to my mind” which really was our way of saying, “I think” or longer version of “To my way of thinking.”  Fortunately I never heard my Russian speaking Kazakh students refer to their body as an “organism.” That used to really bother me while teaching in Ukraine but I think their post-Soviet English teachers must have cleared that vocabulary word up right away.

I get a little bit nostalgic for the things my Kazakh or Ukrainian students used to write and so I am including a few proverbs from some Central Asian students which applies to their culture of Uzbekistan.  I have often remarked to my husband that we could always go to Mongolia to teach.  He surprises me lately when he actually takes me seriously.  My pining for things foreign again is perhaps similar to the kid’s book titled “Alexander’s no good, horrible, bad day” where Alexander thinks moving to Australia will solve all his problems.  If only I had visited Samarkand and Bukara in Uzbekistan when I had the chance with my Russian friend Tatyana who wanted to bring me there nearly 20 years ago.  I knew Tatyana back when I was a Peace Corps trainer in Almaty the summer of 1993.  I should have taken her up on it because I believe Uzbekistan is closed off to Americans for now.

Anyway, doing a bit of reading up on the Uzbek culture I see they have similar attributes to that of Kazakhstan (small wonder since they are neighbors and come from the same gene pool).  Here are a few of the proverbs that seem to run counter to their governmental policies of keeping American tourists out.  I know Americans can get in, but from descriptions I have heard from fellow American travelers, it is NOT easy.

“A guest is as honorable as a father.”

“Hospitality is above enmity.”

“Seven neighbors are the parents of one child.”

“When guests come to one’s home, that family is full of abundance and luck.”

Finally, I’ll end with an Arabic proverb “Time is like a sword. If you don’t cut, it cuts you.”  I think it means to use your valuable time wisely in pursuit of useful activities.

“Nowadays,” I am trying to use my time wisely as I feel “grounded” in a good way in the U.S.  My husband and I continue to wait our summons on where our next job will be.  Stay in the U.S. or return to Central Asia (or even Mongolia).  Believe it or not, I actually miss seeing my students’ papers that read “to my mind.” Soon they will have such good English that all of those Russian translation carry-overs will disappear forever.

Comments (1) »

Who are following these girls (Part II)

I’m picking up from where I left off with Philip Cameron writing about the organization he founded “Stella’s Voice”  in Moldova, check out this website with an interview with one of the orphans.

“The magnitude of this misery in Moldova is astounding.  Over 450,000 girls have gone “missing.”  Nearly half a million girls have vanished into the night…and as the clock counts down more will join them…”

…As Chrissie (Philip’s wife) and I began to comfort orphaned children it became evident that what they craved most was a smile and a warm embrace.  I realized my personal mandate was not just bringing them “stuff”…what these precious orphans needed from me was to be their Dad.

That’s where I met Stella.  She was a small handicapped girl, with a pronounced limp, but who possessed a huge personality and spirit.  We formed a special bond and she became my ever-present helper during trips to Modolva.  I joyously watched her grow from a young girl to a delightful teen.  But then on one of my return trips I walked into the orphanage and Stella was gone.  No one seemed to know where to find her.  I was heartsick.

I searched relentlessly for her. I would ask everyone: “Have you heard where Stella went? Do you know how she’s doing?” Then one day my answer came…Stella was dead.  She became a victim ensnared in Europe’s vicious sex trade.  She was used by men over and over again, contracted AIDS, and perished, homeless, helpless and victimized until she took her last breath.

Stella and innocent girls just like her are abused because they have no place to call home when they turn 16.  And the sex traffickers are sickeningly clever. They approach girls like Stella pretending to be a friend.  Here’s how they deceive: A woman may approach a girl on a bus and ask if she would be a live-in nanny for her children.  Or a man may approach a girl and tell her that his brother owns a restaurant in Italy and needs workers for the kitchen.  He’ll pay $300 a month.

The innocent and homeless girl will jump at a chance to be a part of something and traffickers prey on this vulnerability…Instead they are sold into the sex trade for as little as $3,500. And then, there is no escape.  A girl is raped 30-40 times a day with their owners profiting as much as $350,000 per year until they are ‘used up’ or dead.  The only way for us to dry up this market of innocent girls was to establish homes where good could triumph over evil…one girl at a time.  An in doing so, Stella’s “voice” remains alive for girls who would otherwise be homeless, powerless and eventually silenced.

In 2007, the original Stella’s House was born…” Check out the website…

However, I believe the traffickers have moved to Central Asia where they can prey on other young girls who are vulnerable and unprotected because it is not talked about.  People are becoming more aware in Kazakhstan but there is much work left to do to create a safe environment for girls.  Did you see what happened to the young girl in Afghanistan who was kidnapped to marry some guy in the military and they tortured her to go into prostitution.  She fought it tooth and nail. (literally she lost several finger nails and had her ear burned) I may blog about that tomorrow.

Leave a comment »

Answers to Questions about Kazakhstan (Part V)

Merry Christmas! Here’s my final installment to this five part series of answering 11 questions about Kazakhstan. I’ve had fun recalling scenarios that happened to me or things I thought about during my 3 1/2 years of teaching in Almaty and Astana.  These questions asked by another foreigner were good, I thought.  I invite those who feel more knowledgeable than me, to add your comments so we can all benefit.  Not much is known about this BIG country of Kazakhstan. I would wish MORE people from the West would know and visit it.  Here’s the last part:

6. What is the role of Multi National Companies in Kazakhstan?  The multinational companies such as Deloitte, Citibank, Shell, Chevron and other oil companies all provided jobs for those Kazakhs who were well educated.  It was said that a lawyer from Kazakhstan who knew Kazakh and English and how to write well could easily start out with a salary of six digits in US dollars.  The incentive among young Kazakh people is to get hired in a multi national company for better pay and a chance to travel outside the country.   Sorry, since I only worked in education I can’t answer that question very well. I DO know that in Almaty, where I taught English at the university, the emphasis was on business. Many of these students got jobs right away with the multinational companies once they graduated with their “western” degrees.


7. What are the key factors driving the economy and will this be sustainable in the long run? The country is flush with natural resources in minerals and oil. They are also the highest exporter of uranium, surpassing Canada, so supposedly they have money. However, I think that there are certain people who are getting the money and others who are languishing.  They do not seem to know about philanthropy, they have been taught under the Soviet system that capitalists are greedy. So when capitalism was opened up to them, they are on the take and will take full advantage of “opportunities” that come their way legally or illegally.

With this kind of mentality to be out for number one, it is not sustainable.  There is corruption and those who are at the bottom will rise up against this.  I think we are already seeing this happen in western Kazakhstan with the strikes at the mines.  Something is very much amiss in Kazakhstan with the “slave mentality.” I saw this worked out in the university where the higher-ups lorded it over those who were to be subservient. Nothing egalitarian about conducting staff or business meetings.  The human trafficking is another issue that is not good.  The traffickers are moving into Central Asia and Kazakhstan is a target as well as a harbor for those victims who are trafficked from other countries.


8. How do you view the standard of living in Kazakhstan (e.g. medical facilities / poverty gap / infrastructure / education)? Medical facilities in the big cities are adequate. I visited quite a few while in Almaty. But anything outside of the big cities are probably abysmal just judging by what I know of the educational system.  Imagine having a doctor who cheated on his exams, he will not make a good doctor where there are real people with real life and death problems involved.


9. Comment on tourism in Kazakhstan.  Tourism could be a great thing for Kazakhstan if they could get their beautiful and scenic areas cleaned up.  Unfortunately, the Kazakhs do not know how to keep their environment pristine.  My husband and I visited several of the nearby lakes to Almaty and the people just throw out their garbage so that it looks like a big trash dump.  There is no civic pride in keeping their park areas beautiful.  People will not go to far out of the way places where it is still untouched because the roads are so bad and they would have to really rough it to have that kind of adventure.  Someone with an entrepreneurial spirit would have to take advantage of what is there but I suspect they would have to pay lots of bribes in order to get anything done.  Such is the corruption that exists at every level of government, local, province and up to the top management on a national level.


10. Please comment on the cultural heritage of Kazakhs.  I do not know that much about the Kazakhs’ cultural heritage since I don’t know their language and really didn’t study their history much.  I did ask my students to tell me about their great grandparents. They did so with great pride.  You are considered a good Kazakh if you know the names of your ancestors going back seven generations.

11.     What is the impact of tightening government control on country legislation (registration of religious groups) This last question is very tricky. The tightening of control of a lot of things such as not letting blogs flourish is an example of no freedom of expression by young Kazakhs. This is the freakish thing about a young country that is run by older people who were schooled under the Soviet system. Their default button is to become more centralized and tighter controlled instead of less so.  Picking on certain religious groups will only backfire but it is true they are afraid of extremist, terrorist groups.  Once that goes awry like an Arab spring, then that will scare off the multinationals who bring in good business for their country.  Trust is needed for peace and calm to reign throughout the land. So the leader of the country is doing a very delicate and dangerous dance.  Keeping the terrorist influences at bay while being courted by the Chinese who are communist and trying to relinquish the fingerprints of the stranglehold that the Soviet past gave to them.  There has not been a democracy in Kazakhstan and when the leader expires, the vacuum created by no future leader being groomed for succession will be the most awful thing to witness…”


Comments (2) »

Answers to Questions about Kazakhstan

Today I will take a departure from my usual writing about human trafficking issues. Recently I was asked to answer some questions about Kazakhstan and I felt ill equipped to do so.  I made sure that those who were asking the questions knew that I was an outsider to this complex country and that they would only get answers from my American perspective.  That didn’t seem to dissuade them to ask 11 questions of me despite my disclaimer.  I will parse out my thoughts for my reading audience over the next week so you have something to read over Christmas break if you are fortunate to have a few days off.

The following are my answers off the top of my head, obviously I had MORE than a “comment” about the educational system in Kazakhstan. I have blog material which covers every day I taught in Almaty and Astana from fall of 2007 to March of 2011:

1.      Can you comment on the education system in Kazakhstan?

This question is my favorite and what I mostly blogged about the 3 ½ years I lived in Almaty and Astana. Essentially, if you could put everything I wrote into a bite-sized capsule it would be this:  Kazakhstan, after the fall of the former Soviet Union, inherited a very broken system of education.

However, I am quick to add that the standards the Soviet Union initially had in place were competitive because they did have intellectual integrity yet by the time it trickled down from the centralized system of governance from Moscow to the far reaches of Central Asia, there were different permutations of what “education” looked like. I would also add that what was very broken as of 20 years ago has become even worse under the current system of education in Kazakhstan.  I will elaborate on that later but first I will explain how I define “broken” in terms of what the Soviet Union handed to the Kazakhs.

It did not matter what former republic you looked at whether it was, for example, Estonia, Georgia or Ukraine, all the schools had the same textbooks, curriculum and style of teaching from the top down, from Moscow’s department of education. One size fits all.  How quickly each former republic of the USSR embraced the Soviet style of education depended on how closely they were aligned to a teacher-centered type of classroom and Soviet principles.

But take, for example, what the Kazakh nomads historically had to know about cattle and sheep raising and transform that kind of knowledge to a collective farm where they were supposed to change to become farmers? Well, they were doomed to failure from the beginning because herdsmen and shepherds are not the same as farmers.  In Ukraine, when collectivization happened in the 1930s, it was easier for a peasant Ukrainian farmer to think in terms of farming on a collective.  But for a Kazakh who only knew the freedom of the steppes as grazing lands for sheep, horses and cattle to change over to farming, that was a significantly different story. A very sad story indeed.  Millions of Kazakhs died of starvation when collectivization was enforced.

Therefore, you had Kazakhs who were historically nomadic and who knew where their property lines were for the different seasons to move their livestock but then the Soviet Union came along and prohibited their language and their cultural traditions. As late as the 1970s, the weaving of the dowry carpet of a young Kazakh bride which told her own story was prohibited.  It was considered too cultural and everyone was to think Soviet and not one’s own ethnic heritage.

The Kazakhs learned very quickly after being forced into a starvation period (1930s) that the only way to survive as a people, they needed to learn Russian and NOT speak Kazakh anymore. Those Kazakhs who went through the educational system in the bigger cities forsook their own culture and language but now are called “pretend” Kazakhs.  They are called shala Kazakhs, since they are only Kazakh skin deep and no further. But I get ahead of myself in answering this question since it is a large and comprehensive one to try to answer.

(to be continued)

Comments (1) »

We Want to DO something… (Part II)

Ladies in our group want to DO SOMETHING about eradicating slavery and human trafficking!  That is why we arrived at having a sale of our castoffs.  We hope to get more donations to turn into money so victims of trafficking in Kazakhstan  and Central Asia can turn it back into clothes, beds, kitchenware, all the kinds of things we are purging.  Too bad we couldn’t just ship everything that is excess for us to the shelters that need them to help rehabilitate those victims who have come out of being slaves.  Cost prohibitive.

Another thing mentioned the other night was that most all the clothes we buy and the places we buy things at inadvertently use child labor.  We, as Americans, are used to receiving minimum wage in our U.S. jobs but that would be laughable and unheard of in other third world countries.  One article mentioned by someone in the group listed all the stores that are on the black list which is similar to the website (Free2work) we talked about earlier where companies are given grades from A to F.

Well, we are satisfied that we don’t do any shopping at the elite stores who are on the black list.  Many of us go to thrift stores or some sew their own clothes.  Those of us who go to second hand stores talked about how we could make our rummage sale different.  Maybe like one American Red Cross store that had everything laid out and when they go to pay, the shopper is asked, “What is it worth to you?”  Well, then in your own mind you have to tally it up and in a sense give a donation.  We could do it that way or price everything at 50 cents so that people fix those prices in their heads while bigger items would be priced if they are worth more (furniture, exercise equipment, etc.)

We could also ask for donations from different stores or companies around town.  Having a silent auction was mentioned or maybe selling tickets for some things that are donated from the stores around town.  Someone volunteered to write up a paragraph that would go into church bulletins to announce this event that is a citywide garage sale.  However, again, we want to make sure this is different from all the rest of the rummage sales.  Explaining that all the profit made would go to this mission of helping trafficked victims here in the U.S. and also in Central Asia.

A way to advertise would be to put it on television or the radio website.  We could have a flyer printed up that would advertise at different places around town about what we would be selling.  Just in time for college students returning in the fall who want to establish their dorm rooms or rental homes.  We could have this as a Facebook event so these same incoming college students would show up. Maybe put an advert on Craigslist.

We would certainly be on the list for the community wide yard sales.  However, OURS would be different! Someone else mentioned that we could also have a Bake sale where everyone brings something they baked and sell it.  The thought would be to put a pamphlet about human trafficking in every bag that leaves the sale.  The shoppers would go home to read it if they didn’t see the displays that were set up or the powerpoint or DVD that plays continually through about human trafficking.

Someone mentioned that Demi Moore is into working against this problem of trafficking.  We could invite her but in case she doesn’t show up (tongue in cheek), we would maybe see what she reports on her website. We would see what other websites like “Not for Sale” and other organizations have in promoting their programs in the U.S. and abroad.  All in an effort to inform people in the community what is going on.  We must all be aware!!!

We discussed many other things such as where the donations of clothes and things would go and the wording of the pamphlets and flyers.  Many details to work out so we will have to have another meeting soon to discuss who will be in charge of what.  The other night was a floating of ideas.  Next time we will nail down the nuts and bolts of who will be responsible for what options they feel most comfortable with and are talented in getting done. We can make this a tri-focussed event.  Donate, buy or be aware!!!

Comments (3) »

We want to DO something about Human Trafficking in Kazakhstan

We heard an incredible story at our tri-birthday party that happened just that same day to one of the ladies. I think it best sums up our mission to do something about human trafficking.  Admittedly it is a HUGE problem, what can we do as a little group?

Here’s a good example, she was driving on the Interstate and a driver in front of her looked like they were drunk. The car was going all over the road and then suddenly stopped right in the middle of the fastlane. (!!!)  Big semi trucks and cars were whizzing by at 75 miles an hour!  If it hadn’t been for this meeting tonight and keeping in mind about unfortunates who are used, the teller of this tale might have gone to the right in the slower lane to bypass this erring driver as well.

Turns out it was a very frightened woman from Nigeria or some African country that kept repeating “I am missing, I am missing…” to our friend who had abruptly stopped behind her in an effort to help. That was the extent of the African’s English vocabulary. Finally it was figured out the poor woman was very lost and wanted to get back to the main city where she lived.

Here’s the analogy about what this person (angel in disguise) did to help. God will make opportunities to help others available to all of us.  It is up to us to open the door to walk through to help people who are down and out and not to walk past them (think Good Samaritan story). We, as American women, have options (trafficked victims don’t have any options) to help those in need or we can just speed on by.  Earlier in the narrative our friend had called 911 to report a supposed drunk driver but no help ever came.  Therefore, sometimes you have to take things into your own hands as this person reported to us last night and help those who are in trouble.  Yesterday it was this scared African lady whose “angel” directed her back into town.

What made the evening so amazingly powerful was the energy and dynamic power that undergirds each woman represented. She has a loving husband who supports her and she can speak her mind freely. Sadly, the same cannot be said about those held in bondage as slaves in Central Asia.  That is why we got together last night to discuss ways we can raise money to send to the shelters in Kazakhstan through people I know and trust in Almaty and Astana.

Two months ago, someone came up with the idea to have a rummage sale and everyone admits that they have “stuff” they are willing to part with.  In fact, we in the U.S. have an overabundance of things. These “things” are exactly what the people who are trapped in trafficking need and want.  Some of the necessities such as furniture, kitchenware, bedding, children’s clothes etc. to help their families would be what we would be selling.

In many cases, older Kazakh or Kyrgyz women are tricked into a “too good to be true” scheme because it is fabrication meant to be an enticement.  If only these women knew the truth behind the unbelievable things they hear.  Many times, they are so busy trying to keep life and limb together for themselves and their children because the husband is either an alcoholic, gambler, womanizer or all three and more!!!

That was the summary of what our earlier meeting was several months ago when we first discussed the book “Two Kyrgyz Women.”  We need to make other people aware of this problem that is not only overseas but also at our backdoor.  Someone cited a case where a trafficking ring was busted in South Dakota or along I-29 and I-94 where illegals from Mexico were being used and not paid.  Of course the biggest thing for those unfortunates to step forward is that they have no documents and no rights to be in the U.S. in the first place.

(to be continued)

Comments (2) »

“Weeping Camel” movie about nomadic life on Mongolian steppes

National Geographic made a great film titled “Weeping Camel” if you want to know what life on the nomad’s steppe is like in Mongolia. It could just as well have been filmed in Kazakhstan. It showed several Mongolian families in their yurts and featured one of their camels delivering a baby camel.  It took two days and was a very difficult delivery.  The mother camel rejected her baby that was white, which is rare for camels.  I thought the best line in the film is when someone in the family, an older and wiser person said, “We must find a good violinist” to help with the ritual of getting mother and colt back together.  All is subtitled in English because the conversations are all naturally in Mongolian.

Here is how the movie starts, quote taken from

 Now my children I’ll tell you the story of the weeping camel. Many years ago, God gave antlers to the camel as a reward for the goodness of its heart. But one day a rogue deer came and asked the camel to lend him his antlers. He wanted to adorn himself with them for a celebration in the west. The camel trusted the deer and gave him his antlers, but the deer never brought them back. Since then the camels keep gazing at the horizon and still await the deer’s return.

I’m not sure how National Geographic was able to do the filming but they got a LOT of intimate shots of the children getting bathed, baby girl crying when she was put on a leash inside the yurt next to grandma, sharing meals, etc. We also saw the delivery of the baby camel and how they tried to coerce the mother to return to her baby while the baby camel wailed and moaned.  They had to force feed the baby camel from a horn filled with milk from another mother camel.  Arduous work, best that the mother camel do her job as a mother.

The cutest part is the little Mongolian boy about 5-6 years old wants to ride with his older brother on a camel to the nearby town where they must fetch the musician who will do the ritual.  Remember, they must find a good violinist.  Keep in mind that their violin has only two strings but the same kind of bow that we are used to seeing.  It looks like an er-hu that the Chinese play but is boxy instead.

The little boy can’t even mount the camel by himself.  He is in awe of the television set that people have in more civilized areas.  He asks why they can’t have a t.v. and his older brother’s reply is that they have no electricity in their yurt.  They do buy batteries for their grandfather’s radio which is their only connection to the outside world.

I highly recommend renting or buying this DVD. Though it is slow moving, the photography and the story line are great.  I won’t tell you the ending whether the mother camel and her offspring finally get together. That would be a major spoiler to the whole plot of the movie.  Enjoy the extended family, how they live without any outside interference from the rest of the world.  This gives you a clear picture of what life used to be like in Kazakhstan and Kyrgyzstan and other parts of Central Asia.  Life is close to nature with herding sheep, cattle, camels and living off the land.  Simple as that.

Comments (6) »